You can't just call a band 'black metal'. It doesn't work.
You have to have all of these silly tags like 'symphonic', 'raw' and 'folk'.
Sometimes you just wish you could just say "ok damn it, if it's black metal, it's black
Ulver sure gave that notion a square kick in the balls. From the release of Bergtatt
in 1994 (black metal littered with acoustic, folk sections and almost Gregorian vocals) to Kveldssanger
in 1995 (gorgeous folk), Ulver would remain ever so keen to escape the 'black metal' tag, yet they could never stop themselves from playing it, it seems.
That changed in 1998 with a foray (read: escape) into electronica entitled Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
, a recital of a novel against the music. 2000's Perdition City
, a fully electronic experience almost, delivered a righteous kick in the balls to all "cult" and "necro" black metal fans.
AaaanyWAY, you probably already knew all of that. I like writing biographies.
Released July 12 2005, Ulver continue to make music that as at once inaccessible, complex, subtle and inspiring with Blood Inside
When one lays one's eyes upon the album art and promo photos, one instantly gets the idea that this is an album about hospitals. What's weird is that the lyrics don't actually have a concept to them (Christmas, for example, being a talk about religion), but there is a definite story in the music, especially with the last two songs (The Truth ends with an operator picking up the phone, seguing into Operator which races forward with emergency sirens, like you're being rushed through the hospital).
Now, there is a thing these days where every bit of music has to have some sort of retro twist to it. Every rock band these days wants to sound like they're from the 70's or 60's. Death Metal bands always want to take the listener back to the violent Middle Ages. Black Metal groups envoke scenes of gothic churches burning down, with their symphonic flourishes and twisted lyrics.
Ulver do this, yes, but instead they take you back to a more friendly, relaxing age; the 50's. It's a very calm, laid back album. You will find yourself tapping your foot in a lot of moments. A good example is the end of In The Red, with its big-band jazz samples and looped hi-hats (with added distortion) instantly conjuring up images of being in a bar watching Miles Davis toot the old horn.
That doesn't go to say that the whole album is classical and jolly, though. Blinded By Blood and Dressed in Black have themselves some pretty eerie ambience. Some sections, like the beginning of In The Red, instantly recall dark ambient bands of the 80's/early 90's, like Coil.
Now, onto the instrumentation.
The line-up for Blood Inside
is as follows (thanks to DarkLyrics.com):
Trickster G. (Kristoffer Rygg aka Garm): Vocals
Tore Ylwizaker: Programming
Jørn H. Sværen: Drums
BOSSE: guitar solo on For The Love of God.
CZRAL: drums on Operator.
JEFF GAUTHIER: violin on Your Call.
HÅVARD JØRGENSEN: guitar on Dressed in Black, For the Love of God and
MIKE KENEALLY: guitar on Christmas, solo on Operator.
ANDREAS MJOS: vibraphone on Blinded by Blood and In the Red.
MAJA S. K. RATKJE: choir on Your Call.
KNUT AALEFJAER: drums and percussion on For the Love of God,
Christmas and Operator.
Yes, that shocked me too; the drums on this aren't programmed. The sound of them is very thin and electronic, and some of the fills and cymbal hits are obviously looped. Nevertheless it sounds amazing, it retains the vintage, jazzy feel without losing the trip-hop beat.
The occasional guitar solo does give a welcome breath of fresh air, yet they still retain that relaxed, jazzy feel.
The violin and choir give, yes, that old 50's atmosphere. There are some sections where I cannot tell if it's actual string instruments or synthesizers, which is definitely an upside because often in music like this the feel is ruined by try-hard synths trying to sound epic.
I would love to avoid the cliche of devoting an entire paragraph to the G man. But the man simply deserves it, nay, needs
it. I disliked his vocals at first because I was thirsty for something along the lines of his performance on The Sham Mirrors
. What we have here is a very calm, relaxed Trickster who obviously doesn't want to draw much attention to himself. People have complained about his vocals, about how they're not 'spectacular' etc., but I can't help thinking they suit the music better than anything else could.
I'm assuming Trickster handled the production on this too (helped in no small way by Ronan Chris Murphy, who has produced works for King Crimson, Yes and Genesis). He is my favourite producer, no doubt. Every instrument has space to breath, you can hear everything loud and clear. It sounds brilliant, unlike a certain other Norwegian "avant-garde" group's 2005 release.
Samples are used very subtely in this, which is expected as this is a Trickster band. They do help carry the 'hospital' theme across this album.
That's one of the many things I love about this release. Instead of it being a lyrical concept album, it's a musical
concept album. You can almost figure out the story from just listening to the album. Just another way in which this album sounds classical.
Now, some of the low-points.
This does take quite a while to grow on you, because the songs tend to sound a bit thin before you "penetrate" the surface and discover all their subtle touches.
Some parts of the album tend to jump-around a lot, which happens in a lot of "avant-garde". This means that once you get into the groove of the song and start tapping your foot to it, it completely changes. You get used to it though, and it doesn't happen often enough to annoy you.
Now this album really deserves a 5, because it gradually reveals its genius through subtle, little flourishes. It would get a 4.5 if compared to such works as Bergtatt
, Arcturus' La Masquerade Infernale
, but as it's completely different I won't be making such a comparison.
So in summary, this is a brilliant work that shows us the future of music by looking at the past. It refuses to follow any convention and flows as it wants. The band does not care if they sound pretentious or self-indulgent, though Trickster sounds like he's holding back a bit.
This isn't courage, it's more than that. It's ULVER
Conventions are for the weak.
* Sharp, clear production that lets everything have its space at the right time.
* Brilliant, suitable vocals from the G man.
* Drumming that, at once, sounds jazzy but electronic and spastic.
* Unlike most electronic music it feels very organic and real.
* Clever use of samples and looping.
* Christmas would be the greatest song here.
* Takes a damn long time to grow on you.
* Sounds a bit thin in places.
* The drum fills, which are mostly just looped, can sound a bit awkward at times.