Ulver
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell


4.0
excellent

Review

by Trey Spencer STAFF
September 27th, 2007 | 34 replies | 12,363 views


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ulver transition from metal to electronica on this release and despite a few hiccups are fairly successful at it.

Anyone that has followed Ulver’s career knows to expect the unexpected as they’ve always been notorious for making every album much different then the previous one. Here was a band out of Norway that started out with a folk-influenced black metal album that broke from the norm by featuring an abundance of clean singing and folk influences. On their second release they dropped the metal entirely and released a fully acoustic folk album with hardly any lyrics at all. To follow up an acoustic folk album they subsequently released one of the noisiest, most primal, black metal albums of the late 90’s. With that diverse collection already behind them, no one ever thought that Ulver’s fourth release would stand still or offer something similar to what they had already done, but no one expected this either. No one expected a double album full of Industrial and Drum&Bass influenced music mixed with a slight nod to their folk roots all created specifically to present the epic The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake in musical form. Even their label was caught off guard to the point that Ulver was dropped and forced to find someone else to release their album. If the label dropped them, then some might assume that it was because the music was terrible, but that is not the case. Actually, much like the subject matter within the poem, there were both good and bad forces at work within this release.

It should be expected, in hindsight, that there would be both good and bad on this album since it turned out to be a transitional release on their way to becoming a fully electronic band. One of the good benefits we get from this being a transitional album is the presence of guitars; both electric and acoustic. The acoustic guitars take exclusively from the folk-leanings of the first two albums, in that they are very melodic and atmospheric, the difference being that they are played over electronics and programmed beats this time. The electric guitars are actually a departure from the past as they have more in common with industrial-style guitar playing then that of black metal, although there are occasional melodic leads thrown in from time to time.

Another good holdover from the past is the increased use of vocals compared to later offerings. Almost every song has some kind of vocals on it, from spoken word parts to Garm’s unique clean singing, but Garm isn’t the only one you can expect to hear on this album. A new feature added just for this album was the use of female vocals. The female vocals are used in a lot of varying capacities on this album, from spoken word, to singing, to simple background chants and they go a long way towards making this album a much more diverse offering. In addition to Garm and the female vocalists, the final track also features a guest appearance by Samoth and Ihsahn of Emperor reading some parts from the book, and they do a great job as well.

Not every part of this album can be considered as great as what was already described above though. It becomes very obvious by the mid-point of the first disc that there was still a lot of missteps taking place, things that probably would have been left out if they had more experience with this new style of music. The main one is the overuse of minimalism and silence to try to set a mood. In subsequent releases Ulver would learn to perfect that skill but on this one a lot of the minimalist parts are just boring due to the fact that nothing is going on. In fact, if they had just cut all the random pieces of silence and mild droning, this could have been turned in to one very solid offering, but as it stands, this album requires patience or the “forward” button to reach the actual songs from time to time.

Something else that should come as no surprise when listening to a transitional album is that there are some places within the songs that just sound quirky and out of place, but not in an intentional manner. It more seems like they got a song to sound as close as they could to what they heard in their head, but lacked the experience to fully develop what it was they were shooting for. So, while that fact creates some awkward sections from time to time, the songs are still developed well enough that it is generally only a mild and occasional irritation.

The opening track of disc one actually features almost everything I’ve already spoken of. It starts with a slow industrial beat, a few different synth lines and Garm’s vocals, except he seems to be trying to reach something he is not capable of, causing them to sound flat and monotone through the first quarter of the song. Soon after Garm starts singing in a more typical fashion the song picks up and adds some distorted guitars and some interesting electronic effects at which point you realize that this album, while good, is going to be a challenge for both good and bad reasons. The second track starts with a lone guitar harmony and a pair of female vocalists, but as good as the song is, it still does not seem to go anywhere and ends with a minute and a half of a mild bass drone which just kills the quality of the song.

Fortunately after that droning, we are spared anymore minimalism until near the end of the disc. What we do get, though, is an awesome mixture of beats ranging from trip-hop and Drum&Bass to Industrial mixed with some well done electronics as well as folk guitars and industrialized riffs. All of that peaks on the best track of the first disc which is track ten, “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13”. It starts out with just a few keyboard sounds followed by a trip-hop beat that quickly morphs into an acoustic drum beat playing a variation of what sounds like a military marching rhythm. Over that is a mixture of Garm’s spoken word vocals, female vocals (both spoken and chanted), and some very mournful sounding string instruments. After a few minutes the beat slows down to a more trip-hop beat while retaining all the elements that were already present, but that only lasts a minute or so as well. Soon, the drums have returned to their military rhythm and Garm’s vocals are distorted into a sinister and evil sounding voice to end the song on a dark note. Unfortunately the disc does not end on the same high note, with track 12 consisting of almost five minutes of virtual silence, which leads into another 30 seconds of silence on the closing track only to slightly pick up with a bass line and some processed mumbling vocals.

Disc two is definitely the more consistent of the two discs featuring more actual songs and none of that boring silence occasionally found on disc one. It opens up with one the most solid songs of the album, the eleven minute, “A Memorable Fancy Plates 17-20”, which features everything that is right with the album. It has some great industrialized beats, the very capable singing of Garm, some cool distorted guitar riffs, interesting use of electronics and many different movements and moods. The disc continues this high quality ending with “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27” which ends the overall album on a very high note. That song starts out with an almost danceable beat and the spoken words of Ihsahn. Soon, the spoken words of Samoth replace Ihsahn and the beat adjusts slightly as if to accommodate another vocalist. After that the song really breaks out with Garm’s vocals and a guitar harmony that for whatever reason reminds me of “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. Soon another guitar comes in under the vocals playing a fairly fast guitar solo and the vocals become processed into a growl similar to the chorus on “Nowhere/Catastrophe” off of Perdition City, before slowly fading out.

Overall this is a very good album full of experimental music and poetic lyrics. Due to the nature of the lyrics and the broad scope of musical influences though, this disc will take a lot of patience and many listens to fully get into. Due to the fact that all the lyrics are from a book, there aren’t any choruses or anything that you’re going to be able to immediately latch onto or get stuck in your head. Instead, it will just take time and the willingness to give it a chance to sink in (as well as the occasional use of the “forward” button to pass the minimalist parts), because despite a few short comings, this truly is an excellent album.



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user ratings (186)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Willie
Moderator
September 27th 2007



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's a little longer then I wanted, but I had already gutted a lot out of the review...

Digging: Teramaze - Esoteric Symbolism

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2007



15977 Comments


Impressive review.... I'm not sure if I'd like this, although I absolutely loved Kveldssanger.

Digging: Tiamat - Wildhoney

BallsToTheWall
September 27th 2007



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The cover looks vaguely familiar to the sameal disk. I've only heard bergtatt from these guys and love it. Long but good review.

Willie
Moderator
September 27th 2007



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks you two... I spent a few hours today at work trying to find more ways to make it shorter, and have actually been working on it, off and on, for the last few days.

If you liked Kveldssanger and can deal with electronic elements, I think you could like this album.

Now, if you've only heard Bergtatt, then you may be in for more of a shock.

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2007



15977 Comments


I own Bergtatt, Kveldssanger, and Nattens Madrigal.... I've never heard anything from their electronica days so I'd have to listen to a song or two before I think about buying this.This Message Edited On 09.27.07

Darkness
September 27th 2007



67 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really cool album, with a very good review to help promote it.

Nice work.

Willie
Moderator
September 27th 2007



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Even if you listen to a song or two, it's still not really representative of the album as a whole, but it's better then nothing.

@ Darkness... thanks.

Wizard
September 27th 2007



18755 Comments


Excellent review! Can't say I'm a big fan of their newer stuff.

Digging: Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
September 27th 2007



17911 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This is pretty bad man.

Willie
Moderator
September 27th 2007



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It takes some time and attention to really get into, but it's worth it, I think.This Message Edited On 10.02.07

silkforcalde
April 3rd 2009



404 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Would give this a 5 but some of the silent moments drag a bit. Otherwise, such an ambitious and clever album. Also, it gets points for adapting one of my favorite poems from my favorite poet.

fireaboveicebelow
April 3rd 2009



6837 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I wish I could get into this..maybe I'll try again

silkforcalde
April 3rd 2009



404 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I was into it by the end of the first song but it had a perfect storm of synchronicity for me by being released at the point in time when my tastes in music were switching from electronic music (especially trip hop and industrial) to metal. The late 90s was such a creative time for the Norwegian metal scene. In the Woods, Arcturus, Ulver, Solefald, Fleurety, Ved Buens Ende... those were the days.

fireaboveicebelow
April 3rd 2009



6837 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

the ambition of the album isn't the problem, it's mainly garm's hilarious vocals

silkforcalde
April 3rd 2009



404 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Acquired taste I guess, by the time that album had came out I was well used to Garm's melodramatic deep style of vocals he used so much on La Masquerade Infernale, another album I would consider to be among the best in metal. I do appreciate Garm's newer vocal styles more, but his older Kveldssanger deep style is still cool imo.

BallsToTheWall
June 21st 2009



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Very solid.

Willie
Moderator
June 22nd 2009



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It would be even better if they had cut the quiet parts out and made this one album.

FR33L0RD
July 20th 2009



1458 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lyrics of extreme wisdom clarity & musically interesting.

TMobotron
Contributing Reviewer
January 17th 2010



6920 Comments


My freshman year of high school I had to do a report on william blake, and we had to bring in one audio or visual prop. Most people made posters, but me being a lazy fuck found this and just brought in my ipod and some speakers and played proverbs of hell in the background of my presentation. Back then I had no idea what Ulver or any good music for that matter was, and was just like What is this shit? Oh well. Its funny to now know better that I was using a song from such a kick ass band.

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
January 21st 2012



16125 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

So this is finally being released on vinyl.



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