Bergtatt is Ulver’s first album, as well as the first of their Black Metal Trilogie, which includes Kveldssanger and Nattens Madrigal. Out of those three, this is definitely the best. Kveldssanger, which is a purely folk album (ironic that it’s a part of the “Black Metal” Trilogie, huh?), tends to drag a bit and Nattens Madrigal is just impossible to listen to sometimes due to its extremely heavy, raw sound and awful production. Bergtatt is somewhere in the middle. It contains the folk elements of Kveldssanger and the heaviness of Nattens Madrigal, but neither element ever outdoes or overtakes the other. The balance between heavy and light (in both the vocals and music) is perfect, making this one of the most accessible black metal albums out there. While bands like Burzum and Emperor make music that will most likely only appeal to someone who already has an appreciation for extreme music, just about anybody can pick this album up and enjoy it upon first listen. This is a great album to bridge the gap between black metal and other genres.
A lot of the more popular black metal bands don’t fool around much with clean vocals, indeed, the genre isn’t known for them, but Ulver used them to a great extent on this album. Vocalist Garm can sing like an angel. While it may seem ironic to describe a black metal singer’s voice as angelic, that really is the best comparison there is. He usually chooses to sing in a higher range than one might expect in the genre, but it works with the music extremely well. Instead of traditional singing, Garm opts for a very rhythmic chanting style that is almost hypnotic in nature. Of course this wouldn’t be black metal without the traditional growled vocals. Garm does not disappoint with those either. While they aren’t as enjoyable to listen to as his clean vocals, his growl is definitely one of my favorites in the genre, probably second only to Varg Vikernes. Garm is definitely one of the most well-rounded vocalists ever, not only in black metal, but in every other genre as well. The opening scream in “Bergtatt – Ind I Fjeldkamrene” is easily one of my favorite moments in music ever.
The music that backs Garm up is just as enjoyable to listen to as his vocals are. The blend of folk and metal really showcases the musicianship of the band, who used acoustic guitars for much of the album as well as the standard raw distorted electric guitars. The music is very atmospheric; it conjures images of a deep, dark forest at the foot of an ominous mountain that looms high over the countryside. One thing I love about black metal is the bands’ abilities to convey imagery and atmosphere through their music. The riffs are heavy but also catchy, and their acoustic work is phenomenal. The band’s mix of chordal picking and fingerpicking would put even the most accomplished folk musicians to shame. “Een Stemme Locker” is a four minute acoustic instrumental (well there are some vocals but it’s largely instrumental) that’s incredibly soothing and relaxing, and although it’s essentially the same thing repeated over and over, it never gets boring. Each of the four other songs contain acoustic passages to contrast the heavy sections, and the band makes flawless transitions from heavy to light and back again.
One thing that is sort of unusual about this album is the production quality. Everything sounds great; all the instruments get equal treatment as far as the mix goes, and everything can be heard loud and clear. Good production is atypical for the black metal genre but once again, Ulver chose to exceed the boundaries and standards set by other bands. Other black metal bands almost seem to take pride in the low production quality of their albums, but this is not so with Bergtatt. I can only wish that they followed this same formula with Nattens Madrigal, but beggars can't be choosers.
This is my favorite black metal album. Everything about it is perfect, from the vocals to the musicianship to the song arrangements. In my mind, the three essential black metal albums will always be Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, and Ulver’s Bergtatt. This is the best of the three. If this can beat those two albums then it is certainly something to behold. I don’t care what genres you prefer. Get this. It’s probably the easiest black metal album to get into, and once you hear it you’ll probably want to delve deeper into the world of black metal and extreme music in general. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of music should consider this an essential listen. Ulver smashed the standards set by the black metal bands before them and created their own, one that is certainly almost impossible to exceed by anyone, even themselves.