Music / Ulver

"Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish to be stigmatized as such. We acknowledge the relation of part I & III of the Trilogie (Bergtatt & Nattens Madrigal) to this culture, but stress that these endeavours were written as stepping stones rather than conclusions. We are proud of our former instincts, but wish to liken our association with said genre to that of the snake with Eve. An incentive to further frolic only. If this discourages you in any way, please have the courtesy to refrain from voicing superficial remarks regarding our music and/or personae. We are as unknown to you as we always were."
Ulver, 1999

Ulver is an experimental Norwegian music group formed in 1993, fronted by Krystoffer Rygg. The band has gone through numerous style changes, so much so that each "major" release is considered to be a different genre altogether, many times defying contemporary classification.

A quick rundown of their major releases:

This artist provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: As one might infer from the title, "Ecclesiastes (A Verbal Catnap)" derives a significant portion of its lyrics from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
  • Audio Adaptation:
    • The namesake of The Blake Album is used in its entirety as the lyrics to the album, and the music is derived from its themes.
    • The lyrics of "Vowels" are taken from a poem by Christian Bök, published in his 2002 book Eunoia.
    • The lyrics of "Christmas" are derived from a 1922 poem of the same name by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The first three albums are sung almost entirely in an archaic form of Danish (note that modern Norwegian evolved from Danish), with occasional digressions on one of the albums into modern Norwegian. A track on their remix album, 1st Decade in the Machines, contains a conversation entirely in German. "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)" contains a spoken-word section in Norwegian. Not to mention their very name is Norwegian for "wolves".
  • Bookends: "What Happened?", the last song on Shadows of the Sun, has an instrumental outro that is very similar to the ending of "Eos", the first song on the album.
  • Breather Episode: "Een stemme locker", a tranquil folk track on the black metal Bergtatt.
  • Concept Album: Perdition City is meant to be "Music to an Interior Film" (as it says on the cover). The Blake Album as well, see Audio Adaptation above. Bergtatt and Nattens madrigal are also concept albums.
  • Cover Version: The band covered Black Sabbath's "Solitude" on Shadows of the Sun and Prince's "Thieves" for a tribute album. Furthermore, Childhood's End consists entirely of covers of material from the late sixties, mostly quite obscure (Jefferson Airplane's "Today" is by far the best known song covered).
  • Darker and Edgier: Nattens madrigal is this to both Ulver's previous work and to much of the Black Metal at the time. It plays with the trope, however, in that it's still a tremendously melodic album; it's mainly the thoroughly abrasive production and liberal use of Careful with That Axe that make it a difficult listen for newcomers.
  • Downer Ending: Bergtatt ends with the trolls imprisoning the main character in their mountain kingdom forever. Possibly subverted by the minute or so of uplifting folk music following a lengthy pause after the closing track.
  • Epic Rocking: Quite a few songs. Perhaps the best examples are "Silence Teaches You How to Sing" from the EP of the same name (the band's longest composition at just over twenty-four minutes in length), every song on its companion EP Silencing the Singing, "Ulvsblakk" from Kveldssanger, "Proverbs of Hell, Plates 7-10" and "A Memorable Fancy, Plates 17-20" from the Blake album, "Providence" and "Stone Angels" from Wars of the Roses, most of Bergtatt, and about half of Perdition City, Messe I.X-VI.X, and ATGCLVLSSCAP. Terrestrials consists of this too, although not so much the rocking part.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Nattens madrigal's full title translates to "The Madrigal of the Night - Eight Hymns to the Wolf in Man," and its eight songs, numbered "Hymn I" through "Hymn VIII," in a Concept Album about... Well...
  • Fading into the Next Song: The compositions on ATGCLVLSSCAP do this a lot. Generally the only gaps in the first half of the album are for LP side breaks. There are more gaps in the second half of the album. Their film soundtracks also mostly use either this or Siamese Twin Songs for transitions between songs, and there's a fair amount of this on The Assassination of Julius Caesar as well.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Bergtatt tells a Fairy Tale type story based on old Norwegian folk legends about trolls kidnapping young maidens.
  • Fun with Acronyms / Genius Bonus: The title of ATGCLVLSSCAP refers to the constellations on the ecliptic line in their respective order, starting from the vernal equinox. note  They also happen to be the signs of the Zodiac.
  • Genre Roulette: One of music's most extreme practitioners of this trope.
  • Genre Shift: As demonstrated above.
  • Improv: The compositions on ATGCLVLSSCAP were constructed over live recordings of improvisations the band did from twelve shows. They're far from typical improv fare, though, as the band has composed tightly structured pieces over them. Naturally, some of the band's live performances have played this trope straighter. Despite some of the material having been recorded live, ATGCLVLSSCAP is considered a studio album due to the large amounts of studio overdubbing.
  • Instrumentals: Messe I.X-VI.X, Terrestrials, and ATGCLVLSSCAP are mostly instrumental. Lyckantropen Themes, Svidd neger, and their contributions to Uno also fit, being film soundtracks. They're not the band's only examples either.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The last few tracks on 1st Decade in the Machines are heavier and more terrifying than anything else the band released.
  • Lighter and Softer: Kveldssanger and nearly anything they released after Nattens madrigal. 1st Decade in the Machines subverts it by initially being this trope, but eventually becoming heavier than anything the band did during their metal phase. (Hiring Merzbow to remix your material will usually have that effect).
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: There have been two versions of this for the band's "black metal Trilogie". One, released in 1997, was called The Trilogie: Three Journeyes Through the Norwegian Netherworlde, which was a box set with three picture LPs and a bunch of Feelies. The second, released in 2014, was called Trolsk sortmetall 1993-1997 and included either five CDs or four LPs and a cassette along with the requisite Feelies, which were different this time around (also, unlike The Trilogie, this included the band's demo Vargnatt and a rehearsal of four Nattens madrigal tracks). The material was also remastered for Trolsk sortmetall.
  • Live Album: The Norwegian National Opera (Recorded at... Well... Guess) and Live at Roadburn provide two different takes on the trope, with the former presenting mostly reinterpretations of the band's old material, while the latter provides live renditions of Childhood's End material and one closing improvisation.
  • Long Title: In addition to the album titles seen above, there is also the song title "As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples with Ghosts of a Bloody Past", which is taken verbatim from an actual news headline from Reuters concerning the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Kristoffer Rygg called the piece "an indication of concern" and stated, "we have no ideology for sale. Only our sadness".
  • Loudness War:
    • Nattens madrigal has a ReplayGain value of -16.22 dB, which indicates a gigantic amount of volume compression (especially considering that there are probably five minutes' worth of ambient passages between the tracks dragging the values down somewhat). This was likely a deliberate aesthetic choice to make the album's production even colder. To their credit, the band took care to avoid any clipping when mastering it, and most of their other albums are mastered at more reasonable levels. Additionally, the remaster of Nattens on Trolsk sortmetall (supervised by Krystoffer Rygg himself) averts this; it's over six decibels quieter and comes in at DR7 instead of DR3. Unfortunately, the version of Bergtatt on the same release is louder than the original (though not painfully so). The vinyl editions, as is usual with Century Media, are more dynamic and were likely given separate masters, with all albums in the set falling in the DR10-DR12 range.
    • As for their other releases, many of the tracks on 1st Decade in the Machines are badly affected, but since all but one of them were remixes by other groups, this probably isn't Ulver's fault. Their other badly affected full-length releases are Blood Inside, which actually does clip in some parts, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which tends to be quite loud. The EPs Metamorphosis and A Quick Fix of Melancholy are also affected throughout (except on the last track of the former), though not particularly badly by modern standards. Most other releases are only badly affected on one or two tracks, and Shadows of the Sun and Terrestrials aren't affected at all. The other releases do sometimes clip, but still have good dynamic range overall (ATGCLVLSSCAP, for example, comes out to an average range of DR8, with only one of its twelve tracks, "Glammer Hammer", being under DR7).
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Ord" from Kveldssanger is a mere 18 seconds long, while "Fuck Fast", "Sick Soliloquy", and "Poltermagda" from the Svidd neger soundtrack are 20, 21, and 28, respectively. Some of the other songs are pretty short as well. (Note that the Svidd neger soundtrack is mostly connected through Siamese Twin Songs and Fading into the Next Song, so these could be considered very short movements of a longer piece rather than very short songs).
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Anywhere from a 1 to an 11 or even beyond. Strangely, most of their 11 moments are from their remix album released after they abandoned metal; their heaviest metal album, Nattens madrigal, is too melodic to qualify for an 11, despite the thoroughly abrasive production (it's a solid 10 all the way through, though). The remix album verges into Harsh Noise territory at its heaviest (which should be no surprise since Merzbow was one of the remixers).
  • New Sound Album: Basically, All of Them.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: The bass is nearly inaudible on the original version of Nattens madrigal. The remaster included with Trolsk sortmetall fixes this, as well as the Loudness War issues.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The subject of Nattens madrigal, if the subtitle didn't make that obvious.
  • Pop-Star Composer: They scored the films Lyckantropen, Svidd neger, and Riverhead in their entirety, and contributed additional songs to the soundtrack of the film Uno.
  • Precision F-Strike: In "For the Love of God" and "Norwegian Gothic", as well as the song title "Fuck Fast".
  • Rearrange the Song: They were planning to make an orchestral version of Nattens madrigal, but Garm revealed about ten years back that the project "is in a state of total dormancy" and little has been heard since. As for completed work, a few of the songs on ATGCLVLSSCAP rework previous compositions ("Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen)" is based off of "Nowhere / Catastrophe," for example). Additionally, there's the remix album 1st Decade in the Machines and the song "Eitttlane," which, as discussed below under Significant Anagram, is based on "Nattleite."
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: "It is Not Sound" features a lengthy quotation from Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in its coda.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Played somewhat straight on Nattens madrigal. Mostly averted apart from that.
  • Sampling: Used quite frequently on their electronic albums.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: The songs on Nattens madrigal are connected seamlessly by a series of ambient interludes. This is also liberally used on their film scores alongside Fading into the Next Song.
  • Significant Anagram: "Vowels" is an anagram of "wolves," and every single word of the lyrics contains only the letters of "wolves." "Eitttlane" is a re-imagining of "Nattleite," and its title is an anagram of the latter song's title.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Demonstrated in "Your Call," a good deal of The Blake Album, and several songs on Bergtatt.
  • Spoken Word in Music: They have used this sometimes, like on the Blake album and on "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)".
  • The Stinger: After the final track of Bergtatt has finished fading out, there is a lengthy silence and then a hidden track consisting of uplifting, instrumental neofolk.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "I troldskog faren vild" and "Een stemme locker" from Bergtatt and "Trollskogen" from Vargnatt. The latter two are folk songs without any electric instruments and the former contains only clean singing. After this point Ulver would vary their style too much for any of these changes to be considered surprising, although Terrestrials may be considered an example due to Sunn O)))'s metal background and the absence of anything resembling metal on the album.
  • Trope Codifier: Bergtatt arguably started the subgenre of folk influenced atmospheric black metal that later bands like Agalloch, Drudkh, and Alcest would expand upon.
  • Uncommon Time: Vargnatt uses this liberally, with at least one appearance of the trope in every black metal song on the demo (specifically, there are at least three songs that use 7/4, one that uses 9/4, and one that uses 10/4). Later recordings don't use it as much, but "Operator" seems to be one example.
  • Urban Legends: The reason why Nattens madrigal is so under produced is either because they recorded the album in the woods at night or because they stole all the money their label gave them to buy Armani suits, cocaine, and a new car. Word of God dismissed the former as impossible but said the band did have rather expensive tastes when asked about the latter, though they also denied buying a new car, saying there wasn't enough money. (Note that Black Metal band When Bitter Spring Sleeps did later record their albums in a forest, though; you can even hear the nature sounds on their recordings).