Posts Tagged ‘Ulver’

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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House Of Mythology – 7th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Patchy’ would be a reasonable assessment of Ulver’s work over recent years. While ‘ATGCLVLSSCAP’ was the manifestation of a band pushing themselves experimentally, ‘Wars of the Roses’ was pretty toothless. Their collaboration with Sunn O))), on the other hand was a belter, but then, the extent to which the album’s success was down to the hooded doom colossi is not easy to measure. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a band trying out something different – in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Few phrases are more irksome than ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know’, and bands who churn out the same predictable fare album after album, Quo style are simply careerists, not artists, and personally, I’m not interested. It all becomes wallpaper, aural chewing gum after a while.

But Ulver, a band who’ve evolved from their black metal origins to become a band synonymous with variety, perhaps suffer from a lack of self-awareness. Pursuing a different trajectory is fine, but it’s important to be able to assess whether or not it’s actually any cop.

And so it is that their pop album fails not on account of the fact that it’s a pop album, but on account of the fact it’s a second-rate pop album. It apes the slick production values of the mid to late 80s, and is dominated by bombastic but bland mid-tempo synthscapes. The choruses are ultimately forgettable and there really isn’t much to get a hold of, despite what the cover art seems to imply.

Modelled on A-Ha but without any nuts, filtered through the blandening contemporary reimagining of the 80s a la Bastille but minus the hooks, and with some sub-Depeche Mode stylings thrown into the mix, it all makes for a bollock-numbingly dull affair.

 

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