As far as I am aware, Upyr are the first metal band from Bulgaria that I've ever listened to, and judging by the bleakness of their demo Altars / Tunnels it must be a fucking horrible place to live. Seriously, despite doom becoming the most prevalent genre of metal to arise in the past few years, very few new releases sound as genuinely miserable as this.
Opening with a spot of string-strangling feedback, 'Altars of Necrotic Karma' soon unveils its malicious intent when the skull-rattling drums and doomed-to-death riff kicks in. The mix unfortunately leaves the drums sounding a little too echo-y and out of sync with the rest of the band, but seeing as this is their first demo recording, it's a small fault that can be forgiven.
A fast-paced midsection allows the band to drag things out of doom territory for a short while before the tempo comes crashing back down again, making the slower sections seem all the more devastating. It's clear that the musicians in the band have a grasp of dynamic songwriting that is often all too lacking in the doom genre, whilst vocalist Brodnik has a great range, switching between death growls and blackened shrieks. If UPYR are able to develop the depth of ideas heard in this first track alone, their debut full-length is going to be something truly special.
Second track 'Into the Tunnels of My Sleep' begins with sparse, mournful guitar before unfurling into a monstrously bleak slab of funeral doom. Here Brodnik's vocals are akin to the almost drawled delivery of Scott Kelly, before he dredges up a truly harrowing bellow to accompany the crushing atmosphere of the music. As much as I hate to just endlessly focus on the vocals, there's another section in this track where you would swear that they managed to rope in Jeff Walker to lend his foul rasp, it's such an uncannily accurate piece of Carcass karaoke. The interplay between guitarists Spasm and Tymnokryw is excellent, especially towards the end of the track, when one of them takes the opportunity to rip out a solo that flows perfectly alongside the main riff. It's one of this chill-up-your-spine moments. So damn good.
'Hymn to Pan' opens with some pretty, plaintive guitar, a stark contrast to the oppressive heaviness of the previous track. It's a welcome variation, though you can't help but wonder how long this peace can last? It turns out that the majority of the track is in this vein, but the overall vibe is one of unease, constantly wondering when the calm will end and the storm will descend.
Final track 'Welcome to the Ritual' is exclusive to the cassette release, and is an early rehearsal recording. The blown-out drum sound of the earlier tracks is thankfully replaced by a much more organic sound here, while the music is a heady mix of hypnotic passages and lurching, stop-start riffage. It sounds completely different from the previous tracks, which rather than making the demo sounding messy or unfocused, is an excellent indicator that UPYR simply have more ideas than they know what to do with. If they continue to crank out such interesting, varied tracks on future releases, they could well become Bulgaria's premier exponents of all things heavy.
You can pick up a copy of this demo on cassette via Serpent Eve Records which I highly recommend you do as it's one of the best demos I've heard in a long time.