Ulver is a murky conundrum. They delineate musical paths through a world that is constantly turning; like some ever-onward, yet no-where-going pack of fog-shrouded changelings they are always leaving behind what they just were and just created. Tapping into the world of Ulver is a little like being in a motionless boat on a ripple-less surface with a starlit sky above: you are yourself the demarcation between reality and its mirror as you are suspended between heaven and hell, or at least the firmament and the deep, by that unfathomable spirit and force that is Ulver’s music. The likeness of mind, or of the mazes therein, with the great visionary mystic William Blake was expounded with Ulver putting music to his demiurgic epos The Marriage of Heaven and hell, which was Ulver’s fourth album release when it came out in 1998.
Antecedent to that they had released a trilogy of albums from the “Norwegian netherworld”
-A corpus of churning, sinister music with archaic lyrics and occult folk allusions. From the start –Ulver formed in 1992 - they were a pioneering Black Metal outfit, and the trilogy was a demonstration of the singular interpretation Ulver gave the expression: more mind-expanding and conceptually bewildering than their contemporaries and Black Metal peers who spoke of the Devil as though they did not know him as a gentleman.
With the Blake project Ulver proved to the world that their scheme was grander still, and gave indication of the misty expanses that they were set on exploring musically. The record was a break with the raw metal of the past, or a furthering rather, -into denser, and categorical, obscurities. The sense of enigma was now escalating, and elusive, nonplussing phrases were beginning to flow steadily from Ulver’s mouth; like some uncanny monk – initiated but also mad- in an Umberto Eco story. With Ulver one is reminded of the Greek term Aletheia, which means that which shows itself by concealment.
Ulver’s next utterance was the album “Perdition City”, released in 2000. Suffice it to quote metal magazine Kerrang’s description: “This is evolution on such a grand scale that most bands wouldn’t even be able to wrap their tiny little heads around it.”
For it is not only conceptually that Ulver scope so widely and bewilderingly: As in a turmoil of conspiracy their restlessness resides first of all in the music itself and in the way it is always turning and contradicting and moving; on paths with no terminus, as a quest with no narrative identity except dark enigma itself. Professionalism is too small a word for Ulver: the standards they strive for, and the vision they hold up for themselves with each song and each album is beyond what is wholesome and “fruitful” in the normative sense. They have left behind the healthy logic of a life that strives for ease and simple acclaim, and rather opted for the never-ending quest for musical perfection in a field that lies beyond all category and genre. Being Ulver is like being in a labyrinth and only occasionally getting word or statement out to the sunlit world beyond.
After a series of EPs, compilations and motion picture soundtrack projects, Ulver issued the first full length album in five years in 2005. Of “Blood Inside” things were written like: “Both reverent and deeply nihilistic, Ulver has built its strange temple to human mystery -- a temple well worth worshipping in.” (Las Vegas City Life)
Regarding the record that is now out, entitled Shadows of the Sun, Ulver says it is low-key, dark and tragic –as they are (Sic.). Born, again, out of confusion, they claim it is their most personal record to date. And one does get the feeling that it is truthful -this insistence on forever almost not making it, always walking a tight rope -for their music is beyond artificial devices and contrived cleverness; it is simply too probing.
“Shadows of the Sun” has received rave reviews in Norway, and the verdict is spelled out in familiar phrases: The music is impossible to categorize. Bewildering and held in place only by some irrational constancy of dark emotion, it oscillates from primitive, inky metal, to acoustic shimmers, acid jazz and low-fi electronica. The leitmotif is the unrestricted property of the music itself. Their most hushed effort so far, “Shadows of the Sun” is beyond genre, but sure to send shivers down any and every spine.
“Shadows of the Sun” was released by Ulver’s own label Jester Records on October 1st. sd
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