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Music / Ulver

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"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:

  • 1994 - Bergtatt - Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (Black Metal, Folk Metal)
  • 1995 - Kveldssanger (Neofolk)
  • 1997 - Nattens madrigal - Aatte hymne til ulven i manden (Raw Black Metal)
  • 1998 - Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Industrial Metal, Progressive Metal, Dark Ambient)
    • Commonly Shortened to "The Blake Album"
  • 2000 - Perdition City: Music to an Interior Film (Trip-Hop, Electronica)
  • 2002 - Teachings in Silence (Electronica, Dark Ambient; anthology of material released in 2001 across the EPs Silence Teaches You How to Sing and Silencing the Singing)
  • 2002 - Lyckantropen Themes (Electronica, Dark Ambient)
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  • 2003 - Svidd neger (Electronica, Dark Ambient)
  • 2005 - Blood Inside (Avant-Garde, Electronica)
  • 2007 - Shadows of the Sun (Dark Ambient)
    • This release is often mislabeled as being Electronica as well, despite that almost all of the instruments are the real deal (including the strings), and there is very little sampling at all.
  • 2011 - Wars of the Roses (Avant-Garde, Progressive Rock)
  • 2012 - Childhood's End: Lost & Found from the Age of Aquarius (Psychedelic Rock, Cover Album)
  • 2013 - Messe I.X-VI.X (Modern Classical, Dark Ambient, Progressive Rock, Post-Rock)
  • 2014 - Terrestrials (collaboration with Sunn O))); Dark Ambient, Drone)
  • 2016 - ATGCLVLSSCAP (Avant-Garde, Dark Ambient, Post-Rock, Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Electronica)
  • 2016 - Riverhead (Dark Ambient)
  • 2017 - The Assassination of Julius Caesar (Synth-Pop)
  • 2019 - Drone Activity (Dark Ambient, Drone)
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  • 2020 - Flowers of Evil (Synth-Pop)

This artist provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: As one might infer from the title, "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal 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.
    • "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)", as mentioned above.
  • 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".
    • "We Are the Dead" contains the phrase "Wir sind die Toten", which is the song title in German. (The title may also be a Literary Allusion Title to George Orwell's 1984, in which this phrase appears verbatim several times, though this is not confirmed.)
  • 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: They have at least five:
    • Bergtatt is inspired by Norwegian folklore about trolls taking maidens into the mountains.
    • Nattens madrigal tells a story about lycanthropy (as the subtitle suggests).
    • The Blake Album, as mentioned under Audio Adaptation above.
    • Perdition City is meant to be "Music to an Interior Film", as it says on the cover.
    • Childhood's End has a loose concept about the cultural loss of innocence that occurred in the 1960s, which the band tried to express through the songs they selected for the album.
    • Finally, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, as (again) no doubt suggested by its title, is a loose one centring around ancient Rome.
  • Contemptible Cover: The cover of Childhood's End features "The Terror of War", Nick Ut's infamous "napalm girl" photograph from the Vietnam War of nine-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc fleeing naked down a road after being burnt by napalm. Arguably a much more justified example than most; it's a World Press Photo of the Year and Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, one of the most recognisable images of the Vietnam War, and a stark representation of the album's concept (explained directly above).note 
  • Cover Album: Childhood's End consists of covers of various psychedelic rock songs from The '60s.
  • 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.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Jørn Henrik Sværen wrote lyrics for three of the songs on Vargnatt. He has been an official member of the band since 2000. (Interestingly, one of those tracks, "Tragediens trone", later had its lyrics translated to English for the musically unrelated Arcturus song "The Throne of Tragedy".)
  • Either/Or Title: "Porn Piece (or The Scars of Cold Kisses)".
  • 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 and Drone Activity consist exclusively of this too, although not so much the rocking part. (Drone Activity contains the band's second longest song, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea", which is nearly twenty-two minutes long, and its shortest track is still nearly sixteen minutes long.)
  • 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.
  • Foreign Language Title: They have quite a few in quite a few languages. Disregarding their early black metal albums, which are mostly in archaic Danish, we have:
    • German: "Der Alte", literally meaning "The Old", and more practically translated as "The Old Man".
    • Greek: "Gnosis" ("Γνώσης"), meaning "knowledge"; "Catalept" ("Κατάλεπτ"), meaning "falling"; "Eos" ("Έως"), meaning "until". Also, "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)" refers to a book of the Bible/Tanakh, but according to Wikipedia, in Greek the word ("Ἐκκλησιαστής") means roughly "one who convenes or addresses an assembly". Finally, "Cromagnosis" looks like a word of Greek origin (in the Greek alphabet it could be written as either "Κρομαγνωσης" or "Χρομαγνωσης"), but there don't appear to be any cases of it being used as a single word in Greek script; it may be a pun invented by the band, and it appears to be intended to mean something like "Colour of Knowledge" or "Cry of Knowledge", depending upon which spelling was intended ("χρώμα" matches with "colour"). The band may also have intended a pun on the Cro-Magnons, the earliest known humans.
    • Hindi: "Om Hanumate namah" ("ॐ हनुमते नमः"), apparently meaning "Om, All Glory to Hanuman".
    • Italian: "Ante andante", literally meaning "Before Walking". (This also works in Spanish, but since "andante" is a commonly used musical term of Italian origin, it's likely the band meant it to be Italian.)
    • Latin: "Somnam", meaning "dream"; "Funebre", meaning "funereal"; "Angelus novus", meaning "New Angel". Finally, Sic transit gloria mundi means Thus Passes the Glory of the World; the usage of Latin here is appropriate given that it's a companion EP to the Roman-themed The Assassination of Julius Caesar, as is the title itself.
    • Spanish: "Noche oscura del alma", meaning "Dark Night of the Soul".
  • 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, frequently switching between genres that have basically no relation to each other whatsoever. Broadly speaking though, most of their albums since turning away from black metal have been some variety of electronic music, be it the jazzy, noir Trip Hop sound of Perdition City, the drones of ATGCLVLSSCAP, or the Synth-Pop of The Assassination of Julius Caesar. That doesn't encompass all of their albums, however, with outliers like Childhood's End being psychedelic rock or Messe I.X - VI.X being neoclassical.
  • Genre Shift: As demonstrated above.
  • Horrible History Metal: The Assassination of Julius Caesar is Horrible History Synth-Pop. The opening track "Nemoralia" is about an ancient Roman religious festival and mentions Nero's burnings of Christians, "Transverberation" is about the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, and "1969" contains a series of references to events that happened in that year, such as the Moon Landing and the film Rosemary's Baby.
  • 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: Teachings in Silence, Messe I.X-VI.X, Terrestrials, and ATGCLVLSSCAP are mostly instrumental, as is about half of Perdition City. Lyckantropen Themes, Svidd neger, Riverhead, 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.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • 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".
    • There's also "A Little Wiser Than the Monkey, Much Wiser Than Seven Men", a remix by Alexander Rishaug from 1st Decade in the Machines. Runners-up include "Østenfor sol og vestenfor maane" ("East of the Sun and West of the Moon"), "Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City)", "Porn Piece or the Scars of Cold Kisses", "Silence Teaches You How to Sing", "Bog's Basil & Curry Powder Potatoes Recipe", "I Love You, but I Prefer Trondheim (parts 1-4)", "Only the Poor Have Time to Travel", "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)", "The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible", "Idle Hands Are the Devil's Playthings", all five song titles from Bergtatt, and quite a few from the Blake album.
  • 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).
    • The Assassination of Julius Caesar clips a bit, though it's far from the worst example out there.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Nemoralia" is a beautiful synth pop song that's primarily about an ancient Roman festival, but also includes lyrics of Nero burning Christians alive sung in the same blissful tone as the rest of the song.
  • 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.
  • Not Christian Rock: A few potential cases:
    • The Blake Album uses a (very unconventional, given his leanings towards Gnosticism) religious text from William Blake as the source of its lyrics.
    • Messe I.X-VI.X uses religious imagery throughout (for instance, "Noche oscuro del alma" is named after a religious poem by the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross), but is apparently structured as sort of "peace mass" for Lebanon.
    • "Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)" uses the Book of Ecclesiastes as the source of most of its lyrics.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: The subject of Nattens madrigal, if the subtitle didn't make that obvious.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Almost certainly unintentional, but Childhood's End can be seen as one to the album Stars on ESP by experimental dream pop group His Name Is Alive. Both are Genre Throwbacks to the music of the 1960's with a theme of lost innocence made by Genre-Busting musical collectives, but their approaches to this concept are quite different from each other. Childhood's End is a Cover Album with a focus on hard rock and psychedelic rock featuring exclusively male vocals that focuses on the "loss of innocence" theme in a very abstract way, using its song choices to convey the idea of a collective, societal loss of innocence. Stars on ESP, meanwhile, is an album of original songs with a focus on Baroque Pop, folk, and soft rock, drawing heavy influence from The Beach Boys in particular, which features exclusively female vocals. It also has a more personal, nostalgic atmosphere, with a strong theme of Growing Up Sucks, and has a more unified feel due to its use of Recurring Riff and Fading into the Next Song.
  • 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".
  • Pun-Based Title:
    • "Bored of Canada", a play on Boards of Canada.
    • "The Future Sound of Music" is probably a mash-up of the electronic duo The Future Sound of London and the musical The Sound of Music.
  • Questioning Title?: "Darling, Didn't We Kill You?", "What Happened?"
  • 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, which covers, as the title suggests, the first decade of Ulver's career.
    • Finally, the song "Eitttlane," as discussed below under Significant Anagram, is a remix of "Nattleite."
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The song title "As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples with Ghosts of a Bloody Past", which takes this trope Up to Eleven - it's an actual headline, used verbatim.
  • 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.
  • Song Style Shift: Perhaps most notably in "Rolling Stone". The first half is pretty straightforward (and catchy) Synth-Pop. The second half delves into Avant-Garde Progressive Rock, and it also employs a blast beat for most of its climax, which arguably makes it the closest Ulver have come to performing Black Metal in over twenty years.
  • 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.
  • Teen Genius: They were in high school when they made Bergtatt.
  • 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/folk 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).


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