House Of Mythology – 7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Having unveiled the Sic Transit Gloria Mundi EP via their Bandcamp page last November – and subsequently on all of the usual digital platforms, Ulver are finally giving the EP a physical release. The initial release was somewhat hurried as the band were about to embark on a lengthy tour to support the album The Assassination of Julius Caesar – so now, in addition to the three studio tracks (two originals which had lain dormant, incomplete for a time, and a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’) – they’re giving fans four live tracks recoded on the aforementioned tour as an added bonus.

The studio material – offcuts from The Assassination of Julius Caesar – continue the band’s pop-orientated evolution, and as with the material from album which spawned them, there’s a very mid-80s synth-rock style in evidence. Now, some aspects of 80s revivalism make sense: the dark times in which we find ourselves seems to demand bleak post-punk inspired sounds. But is there anything that can truly justify the revisitation and recreation of radio-friendly pop-rock, the overproduced sound of mullets, hair gel and rolled jacket sleeves? Ulver have fully made the transition into purveyors of sleek, slick and ultimately overtly commercial. I’ve no objection to pop per se, but let’s not pretend that sonically or lyrically, Ulver 2018 are any more challenging than Bastille. Then again, there are shades of darkness in a lot of 80s chart music that are often overlooked, and Ulver still brood, with hints of Depeche Mode and Disintegration-era Cure in the many-layered mix. And the cover – a song that feels somewhat underrated in the FGTH discography – is done justice with an extremely faithful rendition.

The live tracks are, as one would expect, pristine in both performance and production. It’s perhaps easier to marvel at the fidelity and the quality than it is the dynamics and the passion, and there’s nothing that connects the silent scream of pain of Francis Bacon’s ‘Study After Velasquez’ used on the cover art, but music where synths are dominant tends to sound a lot cleaner and more polished live anyway.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar opener, ‘Nemoralia’, is presented here in extended form, its dreamy disco on sedatives groove stretching past the six-minute mark, and ‘Rolling Stone’ is allowed to breathe in all its epic glory. ‘Southern Gothic’ (which does bring some atmosphere and emotion to the partly) ‘Transverberation’, both recorded at Labirinto Della Masone, Fontanellato showcase the band’s stadium-filling, reverb-soaked sound to optimal effect. And the fact of the matter is, I can’t fault it. I’m just not really feeling it, either.

AA

Ulver – Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

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