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Ulver - Atgclvls­scap

Ulver - AtgclvlsscapUlver are a strange, unique band. Breaking out of the Norwegian Black Metal scene 23 years ago they chose to eschew their roots and explore other musical avenues. Since then they have never repeated themselves musically, evolving at every step. From the dark electronica of Perdition City through to the downbeat Shadows Of The Sun, from the ambitious Themes From The Marriage Of William Blake's Heaven And Hell to the orchestral grandure of Messe I.X-VI.X, Ulver have resolutely trodden their own dark path. A band who do what they want to without a care as to anyone else's opinion, this is what makes this band so special. Their musical bravery means this collective of musicians are true artists and if you look up the word eclectic in the dictionary I'm sure you would find a photograph of Ulver.

This album has it's roots in the band's last tour. Not wanting to repeat themselves from previous tours and having no new music to play, they bravely opted to play freeform jams every night. These jams were recorded, sifted through in Daniel O'Sullivan's home studio afterwards before being worked, reworked and pieced together by Anders Møller, Kristoffer Rygg and Tore Ylwizaker into the dozen songs that make up ATGCLVLSSCAP (the album's title is made up of the initial letters of the twelve star signs).

The album starts with a clamour of church bells, calling the faithful to worship no doubt. What follows is six seconds short of eighty minutes worth of avant guarde soundscapes, dark ambient noise and pure magic. The bells eventually cede to the swelling noise of the main section of England's Hidden, full of eerie effects that emerge from the layers of keyboards only to be subsumed again. This glorious sound bleeds seamlessly into the rythmic Glammer Hammer, with it's hauntingly familiar musical undertones; the basis for parts of this echo sections of Messe I.X-VI.X. The second half of this composition is immense as a huge barrage of drums propels the music forward before it collapses in on itself like a dying black hole, leaving us with the sound of gentle birdsong.

Many different styles of music can be heard as the album progresses. You can hear oriental idiosyncrasies influencing Moody Stix and the swirling middle eastern tones of Om Hanumate Namah. You can also hear subtle influences of other bands. There's the flavour of Floyd here, a hint of Hawkwind there; a touch of Krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk, a splash of Vangelis, a dash of Deep Purple (circa Made In Japan) in full unfettered flight, especially on Cromagnosis where the band really let rip in spectacular fashion. However these are just vague reference points as Ulver push their own musical boundaries almost to breaking point, surpassing what most other bands are capable of.

Each song takes us on a unique musical journey and as with much of Ulver's music the tracks that make up ATGCLVLSSCAP sound like the soundtrack to a film that is waiting to be made; and you know that film would be shot in grainy black and white and very disturbing. Every composition is unique which makes this a mightily hard album to pin down. The band seem to revel in this musical freedom, throwing off the restraints and sculpting masterpieces like the playful Dessert/Dawn and the mesmerising Gold Beach.

Most of ATGCLVLSSCAP is instrumental but there are a couple of tracks with vocals. Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen) is a haunting version of Catastrophe/Nowhere from Perdition City and Ecclesiastes contains spoken word sections from the book of the Bible of the same name (much of it in Norwegian) with a droning, choral backdrop and a mournful piano motif.

There is so much on offer across these dozen remarkable pieces of music that it's almost impossible to take it all in. Repeated listens will be essential in order to unravel the mysteries that lie beneath the surface. Peel away the layers and soak yourself in the dark ambiance and you will be rewarded. Be warned though, this is not easy listening or background music. Lack of concentration will see the album slide past and any hope of delving deeper will be lost. Like all of the best music this album challenges you, almost defying you to lose yourself within.

The album winds down with the eerie Solaris and as the final piece of music fades away you can only sit in awe at Ulver's achievement. Kristoffer Rygg wanted to try an experiment to get away from "a band as set in their ways as us". He and his band mates have succeeded spectacularly. Superbly produced this is an album of rare beauty. At turns both hauntingly fragile and monumentally heavy, if only all bands could be this brave, this free to break the shackles of convention. An early contender for album of the year.

Photo credit: Marius Sachtikus

Released: 22.01.16

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