Review Summary: Ulver's excellent use of subtle melodies and restraint results in their best non-metal album of their career.Ulver
are one of those eclectic bands that have done so much during their careers that in order to completely delve into their past it would end up being longer then this entire review. Suffice it to say that no matter what genre Ulver
has chosen to dabble in, they have always released a high quality album, and this one is no different. On this release, Shadows of the Sun
have taken a decidedly more subtle approach to songwriting and the mood they’re attempting to create, but what a mood it is. The feeling that you get while listening to this album could best be summed up by the word “serenity”. Granted, it is a somber form of serenity, but the word still fits perfectly.
accomplishes this serene atmosphere by removing a lot of the more abrasive elements of their past albums. Gone are the loud/quiet dynamics and the aural dissonance of albums such as Blood Inside
or Perdition City
. Instead what we get is their most mellow release since Svidd Neger
, but mellow does not mean boring. Ulver
have done a superb job of making the most effective use of subtlety that they can, and in doing so have also made the best non-metal album of their career, and that includes Kveldssanger
. Through their expert use of pianos, keyboards, subtle effects and beats, eerie sound effects, brass instruments and the best vocals of Garm’s career Ulver
have finally accomplished what only a few bands such as Radiohead
have done before, they have created their own genre that no other band could ever truly replicate.
The album starts off with a gloomy synth melody that slowly increases in volume, followed by some of Garm’s most effective vocals of his career. I love Ulver
, but I have no problem saying that in past releases Garm’s vocals were occasionally cringe-inducing, but that is not a problem anywhere on this release. After Garm’s soothing vocals establish the mood, a few other delicate synth melodies materialize as well, and continue to just allow you to drift along with the song. Near the midpoint violins are added to the song as well, and Garm’s vocals acquire a distant sound as if you’re hearing them from across an isolated, dark nothingness where you continue to drift and the creator of these vocals is just out of sight. It’s a great atmosphere and one of the better songs on the album.
The next song, “All the Love”, is only marginally less mellow then the opening track because it actually contains a beat, albeit a slow one, but it still effectively gives you a feeling a floating, only with just the slightest bit of turbulence. In addition to the synths of the first song, this one also adds piano, a horn, as well as cello, and, of course, some more top-notch vocals from Garm. The feeling of floating that is created within this song is accentuated by a slight feeling of movement based on the rolling nature of the piano melodies, and the slow drive of the beat. As this song fades into the next track, and if you’ve been paying attention, it begins to feel like you’re almost on a journey within your own mind.
The album continues to give you that feeling of floating and serenity through its effective use of subtly and melody for the next few tracks until track six, “Let the Children Go”, which is the most similar to songs from the last few albums. It starts with a great mellow female-choir effect coupled with more of Garm’s much-improved vocals, but it only stays mellow for about a minute. After the first minute of the song, it introduces one of the rare moments of dissonance in the form of a rolling percussive sound, and some slightly distorted synth lines. After a few moments it loses the percussion and moves into a more epic sounding section where Garm layers some of his higher vocals over some deeper vocals, all accompanied by synth, trumpet, and a smooth bass line.
The final three tracks close out the album in the same way it began, with a great use of subtlety and melody, combined with Garm’s vocals, all working towards giving you the feeling of just floating through empty space while sounds occasionally drift by from the darkness. If there are any problems that some may have with this new album it is going to be the same thing that is going to make others love this album, and that is its subtlety. Whereas on Blood Inside
and Perdition City
the albums commanded your attention due to their frequent shift from soft to loud sections and their regular use of discordant sounds, Shadows of the Sun
will easily fade away from your attention if you don’t give it the awareness it deserves.
Despite the fact that this is without a doubt the best of Ulver
’s non-metal outputs; due to the persistent use of subtlety on this album I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend this to someone who has never heard Ulver
’s later works, especially if they have heard their metal albums and enjoy them. The album recommendation for those people would obviously have to be Blood Inside
due to it’s ability to force the listener to pay attention. For those that have heard their later works and enjoy them or simply take pleasure in the mellower side of music, this is by far Ulver
’s best non-metal album and most worthy of your focus, preferably in the dark with headphones.