(Head Not Found - 1995)
5 tracks, 33 minutes of unique melodic black metal that borders on the atmospheric. What makes it special is the blend of soothing melody, lots of acoustics, buzzing black metal and even blast beats. Also, the vocals are mostly sung in a solemn monk style delivery that I found refreshing and done very well. The whole effect of the album is one of somber atmosphere and mood - even the blazing bits fit right in with this. The experience comes off as a concept album, what with all the varied styles and changes, and the mysterious piece in the middle that features a piano as a backdrop to the sounds of someone running... Technically, the instruments are all played wonderfully, the production is warm, and while the music doesn't really do anything amazing, it's an effective and very enjoyable album. Easy listening for black metal fans.
(Head Not Found - 1996)
While the debut had plenty of soft acoustic movements with various instruments, this album still came as a total surprise. Featuring only a cello, a flute, clean vocals with harmonics, and acoustic guitars, this album cannot be classified as metal. But the somber mood is retained and the album effectively showcases Ulver's musical direction without any of the harsher elements. For those of you that wish for a soft soothing album without the typical cheesiness of pop or rock ballads, your ship has come home. This release provides a magical, mood-setting and very charming collection of beauties that nobody but the closed minded can object to. They keep things interesting too, shifting from pure a capella vocal harmonies to acoustic guitar solos, and to wonderful and simple melodic meshes of all the instruments. A pastoral release devoted to Eastern European folklore and imagery, and a must buy if it sounds like your thing.
Nattens Madrigal
(Century Media - 1997)
Always the ones to keep us on our toes, Ulver churn out this harsh blitzkrieg of abrasive and simplistic black metal, wiping away any attempts at pigeonholing (in case you haven't given up already). But I think most people seem to have missed the atmospheric connecting thread between the trilogy of albums. If you listen closely into the heart of the music, the feel of all three are actually the same thanks to the textures and melodies, only it is delivered with different instruments and styles. Harsh is the name of the game this time though, the album boasting a recording studio of a four track recorder in a forest (!), unrelenting blast beats, fast, tremulous guitar riffs, and sandpaper screams. In between each track are some eerie sound effects to tide you over until the next assault. Under all this still lies the Ulver harmonic melody and atmosphere only it's backed by this harsh wall of raw noise. The trouble is that this primitive sound gets dull very fast when it's so non-dynamic, and the monotonous blasting drum beat drives one to boredom all too often. Also, while a primitive production often enhances dark music, in my opinion, this particular album has too much melody or not enough cold atmosphere to absorb the boost of the raw production. Some tracks stand out as dark and ugly mood setters that you can sink into, but overall I'd say this album fails in that it doesn't breathe.
Themes from William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
(Jester - 1998)
Rarely has such a confusing buzz of noise, rumors, accusations and reviews sorrounded a release. Personally, I felt less clear on what to expect from this double CD release with each review that I read. After listening to this album a few times, here are the words that can be applied: Bold, experimental, electronic, avante-garde, industrial, eclectic, esoteric, and ambient. Here are the words that cannot be applied (as opposed to other reviews): Ulver, metal, sellout, techno, commercial, and catchy. Like a one-time encryption pad, I'm afraid that the only proper review for this album can come from the album itself. The only 'recognizable' elements are some of the clean vocals by Garm that have been used before with Arcturus. Otherwise, think non-commercial trip-hop and experimental electronic-ambient-industrial together with a whole slew of other elements. A few examples: eerie ambient sound effects, rough industrialism with distorted guitars and vocals, acoustic guitars, avante-garde electronica, female vocals, soft ambient music, trip-hop, a combination of some of the above, etc... The second CD contains much less soft ambience and more guitars with structured music but also contains a 26 minute song with only 5 minutes of music.
Thus far is the objective description. Subjectively, I found some brilliant or interesting arrangements, and some pleasant and effectively moody moments, but the overall majority of the album failed to grab or grow on me. I believe there are too many radical changes and mood swings, too many dull ambient tracks and mechanical electronica programming that failed to evoke anything in me, and even occasional annoying vocals and pretentious, crude readings of the literature. This is obviously a love-it-or-hate-it release though, so pick this one up if you think your tastes are up to the experience. The choice is a brilliant path-blazing release or a failed experiment, and I choose the latter.
Two unrelated postscripts: This album gets the award for the most confusing and complex track listing (try matching the two different track listings with the actual tracks), and there is an ambient instrumental on the first CD (#9) that seems to have been ripped from the Full Metal Jacket soundtrack.
(Jester - 1999)
A four track EP with four different moods. First comes a pure techno track with a fast flowing rhythm, atmospheric keys and complex superb programming. It's tons better than all the idiotic stuff I overheard in the streets and I actually liked it a little despite myself, but is this what Ulver has come to? Passionless commercial music. Next comes Gnosis, a multi-faceted dark ambient track that moves along very nicely until the vocals cut in and unfortunately, disrupt the superb moody imagery. The third track is more electronica with advanced programming but a lackluster effect. The last is a very quiet, moody ambient track with subtle, repetitive and ominous sounds that are supposed to go with the song title (Of Wolves and Withdrawal). Too repetitive and dull I think, even for an ambient track. Overall, it's obvious that this album will alienate almost all fans that somehow held on so far. If Ulver sticks to the darker side of electronica with less commercial 'drumming' I may be interested in checking out their next effort, but otherwise it may be time to stop reviewing this band...

The Last Exit 1996-

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