Album Review: Ulk - Shellbound

Updated: Jun 3

I recently came across Ulk's music while searching related artists on Spotify, and I was immediately drawn to the artist's careful blend of dark ambient music mixed with prominent melody work, which lands in a beautiful creative space between the medieval folk style that has grown popular in recent years (ie Fief) with the protracted drone of true ambient music.

I was also immediately curious about the artist's turtle-themed artwork (as well as the turtle-themed play on the word "spellbound"), which remains a lovely mystery to me.

Ulk's music reached me at an ideal time, as the artist just released a stunning five-song EP called Shellbound, and I'm feeling so inspired by it at the moment that I had to set aside my other work on this spring morning and say something about it.

The entire EP is gorgeous, but I'll focus here on the opening track, "Hours of Idleness," as I have more than enough to say about it and nearly everything I feel about that track extends to the remaining songs on Shellbound.

"Hours of Idleness" may be the most exquisitely patient and understated track I've heard in any form of music in years. The song is carefully withdrawn and secretive in its opening moments, but over the course of its all-too-brief seven-minute running time it reveals new and captivating layers of its identity through calculated compositional shifts.

Following a brief and deceptively quiet intro, Ulk begins introducing new elements into "Hours of Idleness" until the listener is suddenly steeped in a world of dark fantasy that is equal parts grim and beautiful, tragic and inspiring, vast and intimate.

Dungeon-like tones echo out beneath sparkling string melodies that flicker like raindrops on a placid pond, creating a wonderful tension of emotion and imagery. Light percussion and bright synth tones mingle in the mix, helping to build a rich sense of immersion before the instruments quietly retreat and leave the listener suspended in near-total ambience.

Carefully, and with an uncanny sense of progression, Ulk begins weaving melodic tones and percussion back into the environmental drone, soon returning to a rich tapestry of instruments whose notes enrich one another in an elegant and beautifully balanced interplay.

In a strikingly humble decision, Ulk closes out "Hours of Idleness" with a lone melody that evokes a wooden wind instrument, its heart-wrenching solitude reflectively lending what came before it a sense of wonder and opulence.

The progression through these stages is so stunningly subtle that it leaves me in awe of Ulk's songwriting skill each time I listen through the track.

There is immense grandeur in this music, yet that resplendence remains carefully tucked away where only the patient listener will find it, leaving most travelers to pass by without ever realizing the treasure they had within their reach.

For myself, I am all too grateful to have discovered the riches in Ulk's Shellbound.


Buy the album on Bandcamp

Stream it on Spotify