Ulver Delivers Dark, Spiritual Music Rooted in Improvisation and Imagination
Ulver has been on one long and hypnotic journey since it crawled from the depths of black metal two decades ago. The group’s fixation with blending progressive rock, the avant garde, electronic music and, to some degree, world music in a rich cauldron of inventiveness has yielded more positive results than negative ones and so it should be the case that this collection arrives in 2016 to persuade us that Ulver has once more created something memorable, something that will appeal to several audiences but compromises none of the group’s initial darkness for the sake of acceptance.
The basis of this new double LP, ATGCLVLSSCAP, comes from a dozen shows the band performed in early 2014, not long after the unit had issued its postmodern requiem mass Messe I.X-VI.X. The material here is the result of the group improvising in the live setting, blending the dark electronic elements that it has become known for with traces of the psychedelic, dashes of minimalism and rhythms that sway somewhere between Scandinavian primacy and ornate Latin temples to movement and time. Now placed side-by-side the pieces form two possible interpretations: the first of which is an album that evolves with a tension and release strategy in its sequence or a composition with 12 chambers that take the listener through all the same movements and emotions of a well-wrought symphony.
The opening “England’s Hidden” is a nearly eight-minute invocation of the muse that calls to mind the meditative spiritual ecstasy achieved by the Norweigan collective’s sometime collaborators in Sunn 0))); it gives way to the Latin-inflected groove of “Glammer Hammer” which imagines a meeting of, say, Portishead and some sort of sinister dance collective that has met up to score a film that probes the core of human ferocity. The simple melodic figures hypnotize the listener but also open a path toward something akin to musical enlightenment, another plane of existence, of being, of artistic ecstasy that is then enhanced by the psychedelic-cum-soul-cum-blackened electronica of “Moody Stix” and the highly imaginative and completely unforgettable “Cromagnosis”, which carves an exit for the band from the record’s first act.
From there, we take a turn into the atmospheric, the ethereal with “The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible” and “Om Hanumate Namah”, a darkened meditation that calls to mind a more coherent and sophisticated Meddle-era Pink Floyd and, like the rest of the album, provides a glimpse of the possibilities of musical improvisation and the promise of a collective musical mind that can’t be bothered with self-consciousness. (You know, the kind of thing King Crimson could have done better in the past when it wasn’t so caught up in being King Crimson.) From there, we leap to a more esoteric, minimalistic turn via “Desert Dawn” and the aptly titled “D-Day Drone”. These are not lesser tunes, of course, just shifts in the album’s psyche and a righteous counterpoint to the record’s first act and the perfect preview of what is yet to come in tracks such as “Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Cat Nap)” and the closing poem “Solaris”.
As always, Ulver creates its own world with this album, exists on its own terms and asks us to consider embracing something that is outside the norm but well within the human experience and worth the journey of transformation it takes us on. Ulver has once more created a record that will live far beyond this time and will be spoken of in the most reverent of tones and that’s as it should be.