Karl Tolhurst - Lead Guitar
Ümläüt were formed in 1993 in Milton Keynes by school friends Karl Tolhurst, Steve Leywood, Simon Richarson and Rob Jones. They initially gigged in the local Milton Keynes area, and saw steadily-growing local support, which eventually led to their being signed by Jos van de Planke's Yeoman Records at the beginning of 1995.
Their debut album "Images of Cohesion" achieved notable success, especially in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Rob Jones left shortly after completing the album, to be replaced by former Kriegslok bass player Bryan Harrold.
In February 1997 the they added a fifth member; classically-trained keyboard player and violinist Ravila Shanavaran, as they returned to the studio to begin work on their second album.
Recording took much of the summer and autumn of 1998, interrupted by a short European tour in September which gave the public the first glimpse of the new lineup.
The groundbreaking album "Fragments of Chaos" was released to critical acclaim on December 1st 1998. Sales exceeded expectations in both Britain and Europe. The band toured heavily throughout 1999, taking in the whole of Europe, and giving American and far east audiences their first chance to see the band in a live setting.
Fragments of Chaos
This, the second album by Milton Keynes' finest, makes a dramatic change in direction for the now-reshaped band. Those of you that saw them last autumn will have some idea what to expect; gone is the formulaic industrial sludge-metal of the debut album 'Images of Cohesion'. In it's places is a dark, complex swirling sound that truly defies classification.
The lush orchestral sounds courtesy of new keyboardist and violinist Ravila Shanavaran provide a contrast with the grinding metal riffs from guitarist Karl Tolhurst. And new boy Bryan Harrold's hypnotic basslines underpin it all together with the Simon Richardson's ever-solid skin-beating.
The album opens with 'Necrodestination', Vocalist Steve Leywood's tortured vocals matching perfectly with Tolhurst's definitive doom-laden guitar riff, the closest thing on the album to their old sound. Next up is hypnotic 'Shift of Reality' with more of Leywood's strange and mystical lyrics. Three more numbers in the similar vein follow before the band decide to rock out with the more metallic 'I am the Demon'. This is followed by the album's highlight, the eleven-minute epic enigmatically titled 'Pflugh'. The gentle acoustic ballad 'Before the Madness Came to Stay' precedes the the lengthy closing number, 'Sunken City', ending the album in an extended instrumental workout of intertwined guitar and violin.
Hammersmith Apollo, May 1999
Ümläüt took the stage at the what I still call the Hammersmith Odeon, penultimate date on their British leg of their marathon world tour, before a packed house of loyal fans, many of them dressed in black with hair dyed to match, just like their heroes. I hadn't seem them live since their days as dodgy sub-Black Sabbath doom-metal act two years ago, like a lot of others, I wondered how the complex new sound of the groundbreaking "Fragments of Chaos" would sound on stage. I was not to be disappointed.
The stage set resembling a surreal kind of gothic mansion, complete with a lighting rig shaped like a chandelier. The band, as before, dressed in black, the demonic presence of vocalist Steve Leywood centre stage, to his left stood guitarist Karl Tolhurst with a mountain of guitar effects pedals, and to his right stood the black grand piano sometimes played by new keyboard player and violinist Ravila Shanavaran. Bassist Bryan Harrold prowled around at the back next to drummer Simon Richarson's oversized drumkit.
Much of the set was new material. FoC was played in it's entirety, and the remaining songs from the debut were rearranged to suit the now expanded band, in the case of "Crying Myself to Sleep", so much so as to be almost unrecognisable with it's lengthy atmospheric introduction, and Ravila's violin taking what had been the guitar line. The Fragments of Chaos songs took on a slightly harder edge, shorn of the multi-tracking of the studio versions, the live versions of songs 'I am the Demon', 'Necrodestination' and epic 'Pflugh' taking on more sinister and threatening dimension. The only weak spot was the extended guitar and violin duel from Karl and Ravila which reminds me too much of Nigel Tufnel's solo from 'This is Spinal Tap'.
Surprisingly, they chose a couple of covers as encores. Fortunately we're spared the hoary 'War Pigs' they used to perform in the black metal days, but we did get a truly spooky version of Blue Öyster Cult's "Nosferatu".
The band fly to Japan next week, followed by a three-month stint in the US