Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nécropole


Nécropole - Ostara
Résilience, 2015
Genre: Black Metal

1. Immanence
2. Trahison Fratricide
3. Nécropole













After "Atavisme" I was quite eager to hear "Ostara". Now, the samples of Nécropole I first heard from this release, but they were so excellent, that I had to track down the first demo as well. "Ostara", essentially, continues down the "Atavisme" journey with their particular blend of the French and Finnish sound. "Ostara" feels a little more thunderous and intense than "Atavisme" at times, so it has a more vicious feel rather than what heard on "Atavisme".

"Ostara", certainly, maintains that melodic Sargeist/Horna induced riffing style, but things feel faster and more intense this time around. There are times when I feel like influence from the Québécois shows up and this is a pleasant inclusion into the Nécropole sound. On this release, I realized that vocally they remind me a lot of the vocal style from Malleus Maleficarum, which is another excellent band from France if you haven't heard them before. I usually don't go for the higher pitch vocal performances, but like Malleus Maleficarum, it really works and it's pulled off quite well. It has enough mid-range in the overall tone to not screech through the tape. The drums feel far more varied this time around as well, I felt like on "Atavisme" they mostly just blasted their way through every section, but here we get a bit more of a diverse performance and it really helps the music feel more dynamic. Even though this material is rife with blast beats galore, it adds in that slight variation to make it special amidst all the blasting. Don't get me wrong, blasting is essential in this style and I wouldn't have it any other way, I just appreciate the variation with fills and patterns.

Even though "Ostara" has a bit of a different feel to it than "Atavisme", it's still an excellent follow-up. I can only hope that a full-length is imminent at this point since three songs just isn't enough to slake my interest in the project. So, if you're looking for some very well performed Black Metal, I highly recommend looking into this project sooner than later.


Nécropole - Atavisme...
Résilience, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

1. Le ver Immonde
2. Perdition de l'Atavisme Cristallin
3. Souveraineté du Maudit













I feel like I haven't been watching the French scene nearly as much as I used to and I'm always surprised to get recommended some of these wonderful little gems turning up in that scene from time to time. Heritage aside, I have always considered France to have one of the strongest collection of bands and musician, but lately I've been more entranced with Poland, Germany, and Québec as of late... then Nécropole showed up and I find myself looking into the French scene and missing the days when I paid rapt attention waiting for the next amazing band. Nécropole sets up a strong group with members of Caverne and Angmar. I haven't gotten my Caverne tapes yet, but if Nécropole is any indication of the writing, I'm looking forward to them quite a bit.

Reading reviews for Nécropole leads a lot of references to Finland and early Deathspell Omega. These aren't too far off base to me, but I think Nécropole's riffing style is more in line with Annthennath than early Deathspell Omega. Nécropole has this glorious underlying epic quality to their riffing, which makes the experience a bit more expansive than the raw hate that early Deathspell Omega material evokes. They definitely draw from the realms of the Finnish greats like Sargeist and so forth, with the way their riffs wend their way through raw melodies. There are times when the usual French ugliness shows through, which is one of the draws for the French style. There's this interest in dissonance and tense or ugly riffs that show through. In Nécropole this is rather minimal, but it does show up from time to time and it stands in rather stark contrast to the exceptionally melodic Finnish style. Even though the songs rand in the near nine minute mark on average, they stand as being good lengths and I never really got tired of the song or felt that it really dragged on, instead I was rather sad that it had to end. That being said, with the closing track clocking in at over ten minutes, it is the perfect closer. It's varied and haunting, and just all around an immense listen.

"Atavisme" serves as an incredible debut foray for this project. The songwriting is already top notch, as far as I'm concerned and if you like harsh and well written Black Metal, Nécropole may be a new project to pay attention to. They certainly bear a lot of qualities similar to the early days, but they really do it justice, in my opinion. I really look forward to hearing more from this project and after hearing this, I hope a full-length would be on the horizon for us.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Zwartplaag


Faagrim & Zwartplaag - United Wolfish Hordes
Thor's Hammer Productions, 2011
Genre: Black Metal

Faagrim:
1. Intro
2. Die Zeit der Wintersonnenwende
3. Mein Pakt mit dem Wolf
4. Flamme empoer (Sieg oder Walhall)
5. Pagan Brotherhood
Zwartplaag:
6. Intro/Renewed Vision of War
7. Black Visions of Hate
8. Wolventyrant




Side Faagrim: ...coming eventually...
Side Zwartplaag:

After hearing the new songs on "Haatstorm" I was looking forward to hearing the all new material for this split. Sadly this is the last recording Zwartplaag would ever produce before breaking up. It truly is a sad thing, since the material they were making was only getting stronger as time went on.

The material here certainly continues what was started with "Haatstorm", but it feels a lot more refined and the riffs are much stronger this time around. The drum production and overall mixing is a lot more balanced as well. It truly is a shame the project was put to end after this, because they were, surely, onto something much bigger had they continued. There are very few bands that play a simpler form of the late 90's style that interest me these days, but Zwartplaag has managed to make the music interesting and thus has a certain level of maturity to their writing. I think this is what really separates them from the other bands that immediately give off the feel of "I've heard this a million times already", even though some that can be attributed to their sound, I think they pull it off with a far stronger appeal and this sets them above the rest in many ways.


Zwartplaag - Haatstorm
Heidens Hart, 2010
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro
2. Forgotten Tower of the Moon
3. Countess of Blood
4. Nachtkwaad
5. Last Stronghold of Eternal Hate
6. Imperial Death March
7. Winds of Desecration and Lust
8. Den Plaag Geleden
9. Haatstorm
10. Outro






This is one of the times where I must stand corrected in my original assessment of the demo. Apparently Heidens Hart heard something in this band that I didn't. When I saw a lot of the songs from "Nachtwaad" appear on their full-length, I was a bit skeptical, but, wow, they translated quite well to a studio performance. Naturally, I found the newer songs stronger and I wish they had made more of those rather than focus on re-recording the demo below.

To be honest, this was the first material I heard from Zwartplaag and I did quite enjoy it immediately. Even though "Haatstorm" would be considered far more simplistic, but the riffing style struck something with me. It reminded me a lot of the later 90's style Black Metal that was out. I hear a lot of material like Isegrim or a lot of other material put out by Last Episode. I know there is a decent amount of Black Metal fans out there that did not enjoy that label, and to some degree I can understand why, a lot of the bands they produced were overly simplistic and the music had this rather "samey" feel as we listened to it. There are large tracks that feel rather dry, but for some reason "Haatestorm" feels a lot stronger than that. Opening the booklet and seeing one of the members wearing a Funeral Winds shirt comes as no surprise and perhaps that influence makes this a bit stronger. Even though there is a focus on just one guitar rhythm and no interplay of layering, Zwartplaag's debut still manages to pull off a solid sound. The only major complaint I could have is the drum production. It's almost "too triggered" and the drums sound like an e-kit, which they may have used. That's really the one thing that mars their rather raw feel. The vocals are heavily reverbed, which comes as no surprise and a minor complaint is that they are a bit loud in the mix, but not so loud that they totally take over the music.

This isn't the best thing I've ever heard, by no stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoyed this for what it is. It's a primitive old school style of Black Metal, and while others may find it a bit contrived, I think a large portion of the riffing is strong enough to stand up to this kind of criticism. If you enjoyed some of the bands I referenced above, then you may want to check out Zwartplaag.


Zwartplaag - Nachtkwaad
Heidens Hart, 2008
Genre: Black Metal

1. Intro
2. Forgotten Tower of the Moon
3. The Last Stronghold of Eternal Hate
4. Interlude
5. Nachtkwaad
6. Outro










This is Zwartplaag's third demo and I highly doubt I'll be able to track down any earlier releases. Indeed, I believe I am lucky enough to have tracked this down rather recently. "Nachtkwaad" was released on cassette to an unknown limitation of hand-numbered copies and I have #206. Some copies come with a read cover, while others are the cover above in black and white.

Zwartplaag's demo is merely okay to me. It opens with keyboards that are very reminiscent of the old Dungeon Synth style performed by Mortiis, and I actually really liked this throwback feel. It's fairly generic Black Metal, but this is extremely common with a lot of newly formed bands. I think I was hoping the music would be a little more interesting by the time the third demo rolled around, but some bands take a while to brew a more interesting take on what has already been done. "Nachtkwaad" is not a bad demo, but it's certainly nothing new. The guitar riffs are heavily rooted in tradition, there is no fresh take on a differing blend. The drums sound programmed, but nothing is stated about this on the release... this would sort of make sense though since it lists Onmensch as doing everything except vocals. Perhaps this standard fair approach to Black Metal is why I never originally found this demo, because the project never really tore through the scene back then. It was only on the later material that we see some really nice stuff shine through.

I would class "Nachtkwaad" as not really a necessary listen, there are many bands who play this style and many who have done it a little better. "Nachtkwaad" shows that Zwartplaag can certainly meet the standard of what has come before... but the real question is will they be able to build something more into their sound to make it truly their own or play an atmosphere that feels extremely well done.

Tyhjyys


Tyhjyys - Tyhjyys
Grievantee Productions, 2010
Genre: Black Metal

1. 0
2. 1
3. 2
4. 3
5. 4
6. 5
7. 6
8. 7








Hailing out of Finland Tyhjyys really plays up the obscurity factor. Not much information can be found about the project. The reason I wound up picking this up is solely due to the fact that I've enjoyed a lot of Grievantee's releases over the years, so I decided to try my luck with this as well. As usual, Tyhjyys proves to be a solid band for their debut full length.

Tyhjyys sort of sits somewhere between the realms of harsh Black Metal and atmospheric Black Metal. I don't think the riffing is quite enough to push it to that atmospheric level that I'd expect from the likes of Csejthe, but there are moments where this is surely the case. Listen to the song "5" and you'll hear riffing that transcends the standard fair Black Metal.  Even so, Tyhjyys, sits somewhere in the glory of Horna and some of the more raw German styled bands I find quite endearing. The vocal performance is a little weak, but its wisely put in the back of the mix. Despite the lackluster performance here, it really doesn't mar the overall nature of the music. The vocals are also show up quite sparingly throughout the release, so the real focus is on the music and Tyhjyys gives us a great experience in that regard. They do a pretty good job between having some fast raging sections and slow melancholic periods. The real problem with this release is that at first glance it feels painfully generic, but you need to listen to this multiple times to really tease out the charm of the release. Only then do we realize that the foundation being laid here is quite well done.

With such a solid foundation, I am curious to see where Tyhjyys would go next. Will they release something in the future? Or will this be their lone standing effort and allow the project to fall into true obscurity where only a few listeners remain to remember what was done here...


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shores of Ladon


Shores of Ladon - Eindringling
Eternity Records/Sol Records, 2013
Genre: Black Metal

1. Durch die Augen des Raben
2. Eindringling
3. Sturm der Unrast
4. Rauhnachtserwachen
5. Waldlied
6. Ungebrochen









It seems "Lupercal" was a success enough to get Shores of Ladon moving towards their debut full-length, "Eindringling". This was, honestly, my first experience with Shores of Ladon and it was originally sort of a random purchase from Iron Bonehead Productions, while I was a doing a larger order. I gave a quick listen to one of the tracks on youtube and they seemed interesting enough to check out further, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Now that I've heard "Lupercal" I was expecting more of that very interesting blend of sorrowful raw Black Metal and "Eindringling" really delivers this to us. The strange with the Shores of Ladon material is that it has all been released before, just like "Lupercal". Prior to this a lot of the songs were released via two song tape releases over the years. It seems the band takes quite a while to compose its songs and at this point I can only hope that amidst this re-recording of old material its giving them the necessary time to write new and even more powerful material.

Regardless, the studio recordings of this songs really brings out the majesty of the material. If I thought "Lupercal" had some wonderful material on it, I wasn't prepared for how incredible "Eindringling" would be. They simply do a wondrous job of marrying the spirit of ancient Black Metal and re-casting it in a more modern writing style, making, to me, Shores of Ladon not just another Black Metal band. Material on here conjures up all the memories listed on "Lupercal", but I feel the tracks on here can hit along the atmosphere of Ulver's "Bergtatt" at certain times, which is quite a beautiful reference. Minus Garm's clean vocals of course, but, honestly, if you're not Garm you should probably stick with harsh vocals and this is exactly what Shores of Ladon do. I tend to fall on the side of preferring harsh vocals over clean, so Shores of Ladon are doing it right, as far as I'm concerned. At times you can kind of tell the difference from their earlier songs compared to the newer, because the composition on the newer is a bit more refined and mature. Nonetheless the re-recorded material from their 2010 release is still quite solid as far as Black Metal is concerned.

As with "Bergtatt", "Eindringling" is only 36 minutes long and feels a bit short. I wish there was just one more song to hear! In any event, Shores of Ladon seem to be poised for becoming one of the stand out projects in Germany and I've taken to recommending them whenever people ask me for new Black Metal recommendations. I really hope totally new material is on the horizon, but, as with everyone else, I really do want quality over quantity, so I'm willing to wait as long as Shores of Ladon need to create a new full-length.


Shores of Ladon - Lupercal
Eternity Records/Sol Records, 2012
Genre: Black Metal

1. Einklang
2. Knochenstaub
3. Lupercal
4. Brut und Seuche (Intro)
5. Brut und Seuche












I don't hold out much hope of finding the material released prior to "Lupercal" from Shores of Ladon. The good news here is that much of the prior material has been re-recorded by this point and it seems a lot of the "Promo 2010" material is still unreleased. However, I've decided to just start with "Lupercal", because this band is simply too good to ignore any longer.

Despite being a relatively new project this band really harnessed the sound of the early German Black Metal scene. The spirit of the mid-90's is definitely alive with this band and bands that can really hit this style well are something I really end up loving. It doesn't matter that they may not be doing anything new, this sounds absolutely wonderful to me. The EP opens with a somber guitar passage that feels reminiscent of the work found on Bethlehem's "Dictius te Necare", making me instantly interested in this. Indeed much of Shores of Ladon's riffing has a very somber feel to it, sort of answering the question: "What if Bethlehem had decided to play raw Black Metal instead..." and the answer is something wonderful. A lot of the elements feel reminiscent of fellow countrymen Pest, who put out some simply stellar material over the years. Shores of Ladon seem ready to take up their flag, but with a far more sorrowful backdrop, but nonetheless filling the space with extreme Black Metal. These wonderful passages are backed by shrieked vocals and blast beats, making Shores of Ladon's particular blend of influences feel rather different than your run of the mill emulators who simply want to revive Darkthrone for the millionth time.

I simply can't help but be instantly drawn into Shores of Ladon's world and I feel this will instantly appeal to quite a few Black Metal fans out there. The production is still rather raw, but very audible. Think later Moonblood releases and I think you'll get a decent picture of their quality. Or think early Pest releases. All very good and really helps add to the dark and raw atmosphere Shores of Ladon manages to harness.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ulver


Ulver - Trolsk Sortmetall (1993 - 1997)
Century Media, 2014
Genre: Black Metal

Disc 1: Vargnatt:
1. Her Begynner Mine Arr
2. Tragediens Trone
3. Trollskogen
4. Ulverytternes Kamp
5. Nattens Madrigal
6. Vargnatt

Disc 2: Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler:
1. I Troldskog faren vild
2. Soelen gaaer ba Aase need
3. Graablick blev hun vaer
4. Een Stemme locker
5. Bergtatt - ind i Fjeldkamrene

Disc 3: Kveldssanger:
1. Østenfor Sol Og Vestenfor Maane
2. Ord
3. Høyfjeldsbilde
4. Nattleite
5. Kveldssang
6. Naturmystikk
7. A Cappella (Sielens Sang)
8. Hiertets Vee
9. Kledt I Nattens Farger
10. Halling
11. Utreise
12. Søfn-ør Paa Alfers Lund
13. Ulvsblakk
14. Synen

Disc 4: Nattens Madrigal - Natte Hymne til Ulven i Wanden
1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV
5. V
6. VI
7. VII
8. VIII

Disc 5: Nattens Madrigal - 4 track rehearsal, summer 1995
1. I
2. III
3. V
4. VI

This box set is really what prompted me to revisit Ulver's original recordings before even delving into this release. I had fond memories of a lot of Ulver's material and it really must have been nearly ten years or more since I had listened to "Bergtatt". Being prompted to revisit these old classics was quite enjoyable for me, which is probably one of the major points behind this box set.

Now, I could never get into Ulver's career after "Nattens Madrigal". I'm not a huge aficionado of electronic music, but I don't think it is poor music overall. I just listen to very little of it and what I look for isn't what Ulver plays. So, for me, this box set is  the definitive Ulver discography. Here Ulver's entire Black Metal career is compiled onto five discs. It's not enough to just re-release the material, it has also been entirely remastered and there are a few extras.

You'll notice that "Kveldssanger" features an extra track, "Synen", compared to the original pressing. This was originally released for the "Souvenirs from Hell" compilation and I had never heard this track before. It's a very wonderful track and fits on this release perfectly. Everything on the original "Kveldssanger" was so cleanly recorded, naturally, that the remastering doesn't really add a whole other layer to it, but adding the bonus track certainly makes it worthwhile. The second extra we get is disc five. This is a rehearsal of some "Nattens Madrigal" material. It's all instrumental, so it looks like this was just to get down song ideas. You find out why this was never immediately recorded, because one of the members was leaving for military duty, so the band had to hold off recording the album for a full year. The 4-track recordings are actually pretty well done and they're not nearly as ear-piercing as the original recording and I think they should have just recorded it this way!

Now, if other peoples experiences with "Vargnatt" were like that horribly noisy bootleg I referenced in my review, then this is a massive improvement. First off, we have all the tracks from "Vargnatt" here and the quality is very clear. So, while "Vargnatt" wasn't my favorite from Ulver, I really did appreciate have a decent quality version of their demo finally. The remastered version of "Bergtatt" is simply stunning. I felt like this was a wonderful new way to experience the depths of "Bergtatt" and if you enjoyed that release as much as I did, then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with how well this turned out. One of the major things I was interested in hearing was a revisiting of the "Nattens Madrigal" recording. I feel like they managed to fix a major problem I had with the album, it doesn't feel as ear shattering as the original. The recording feels a lot more in balance and, thus, a far more enjoyable experience on my end. It really makes the beautiful aspects of "Nattens Madrigal" all that much more appealing. All of this just made experiencing their trilogy all that more satisfying. I still think the album is a bit overrated by the major fanatics out there, but I think I managed to find a bit more merit in it with this version.

If that wasn't enough, this came in a beautiful box set with a 104 page booklet! This is beautifully done, complete with lyrics and rare pictures of the band from that era. On thing that I found interesting is that rather than just give a band history, they have two, basically, essays from Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen and Mark Pilkington. Mark Pilkington's essay reads more as an historical overview, but Jon Kristiansen's was far more personal. Kristiansen was the creator of Head Not Found, which was the first label to release Ulver material, and a lot of other good material over the years as well. So, his writing is very interesting and for more a retrospect of what he remembers from those early days. Both essays point out how Ulver was never really involved with the major Norwegian Black Metal scene. They were never really involved with the inner circle activities, so the band always felt as if they were outsiders. Indeed some of their approaches, musically, were a bit different, thus their influential status over the years, so I can see where some of those feelings came from. Strangely, by '97 the band felt that the scene was offering nothing new and thus they seem to have left the Metal world altogether. I assume to forge out new territory... but I just find it's awfully strange to say this about the Metal scene and then delve into the electronic scene. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but some of their criticisms of Black Metal seem painfully silly given the fact they transitioned to electronic music. Granted you probably have more unlimited creative possibilities, given you can make just about any sound and thus less boundaries... but still, I hear a lot of the same sounding material get released out of that genre too. Hence, I think this is a common trappings of genres and people just need to get over that...

In the end, this is a wonderful Ulver collection. I think this is, absolutely, worth having if you enjoyed the early years of Ulver. A lot of care went into the creation of this set, which I fully appreciate. This is more than just a collection of their early material, which is why I found a lot more enjoyment out of it than I normally would have.

Ulver - Nattens Madrigal
Century Media Records, 1997
Genre: Black Metal

1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV
5. V
6. VI
7. VII
8. VIII








Sometimes I look back on "Nattens Madrigal" and find it to be a bit overrated. Oh, it is certainly a fine album, but I'm not sure it really beats out listening to "Bergtatt" for me. I feel like part of my problem is how overboard a lot of people can get when they talk about this album. People herald this as an iconic album of the genre, but it came out in 1997 and I feel much of the genre was very well established by this point in time. Ulver's general musical approach hasn't deviated that much since "Bergtatt", the only major change is in the quality of production, which is far more primitive than their debut. The other changes a general lack of acoustic passages and clean haunting vocals, which sort of makes sense considering this follows an entire album of that style.

In many ways, I understand why this is done this way. However, we've seen a lot of these bands shift into Black Metal being more of a global phenomenon with labels growing in size. Here we see Ulver enter into working with Century Media as Century Media seeks to grow its metal label and joining in on the Black Metal phenomenon. Indeed, many albums were licensed to the U.S. via Century Black, which is how I got a lot of Black Metal in the late 90's and even saw a lot of releases appear in many music store chains. Part of me feels like "Nattens Madrigal" is sort of a mockery to this commercialization and given Ulver's massive shift away from all things Metal after this release, I feel like that's more and more true. The Black Metal on here is quite good and very old sounding, and the album claims writing an arrangement occurred in 1995, where recording happened in 1996. The mockery part of the scene, I think, comes in with the production values. It's noisy and at times nearly ear piercing with the guitar tone. It's messy sounding and not very refined. The opening song starts with what sounds like an error in the second guitar, before it comes in with the blazing lead line (I think the blazing guitar solos on here sound terrible, by the way). As more and more bands shift their sound into crisper and more clear production, Ulver throw all that aside and seem to re-create a demo-tape quality release for the masses. A giant middle finger to the changing scene perhaps? While many bands seek to balance well produced music with a raw and harsh sound, Ulver just seek out as raw as possible and run with it. It could be all in the name of the art, for their concept is a primal one and thus engaging the listener to something that is difficult to hear.

While "Nattens Madrigal" is very good Black Metal, with guitar work that is, at times, quite wonderful, some of it is lost in the mix. The guitars are often not well balanced and the recording feels more like a rehearsal of the band performing each track once. Around the time of release, there were all kinds of rumors about how they recorded the album out in the woods or something like that... kind of more of the reason I feel like they started disengaging with the scene as time went on. This "rehearsal" feel to the recording quality has its own charms, but it is hardly an icon of the scene or the genre, which is why I feel like this is a bit overrated. "Bergtatt" felt more groundbreaking, but "Nattens Madrigal" offers a solid album, but it hardly molded the future of the genre. A large amount of bands had already done this before Ulver. Another thing that grates is the drum line. There's only one drum beat and I can't remember ever hearing a tom fill happen. It just grates on you after a while and really does a disservice to some of the guitar lines. "VII" just drags on forever and never really goes anywhere... it just seems I can say this is objectively a bad song.

While "Nattens Madrigal" may not be as iconic, to me, as many would like me to think it is, I believe it is iconic for a decent amount of US musicians out there. If you weren't involved in the early realms of the scene, then hearing something this primal and vicious might have taken you aback, especially if you hadn't quite gotten to the demo history yet. I once encountered an Ulver fan who's engagement with Black Metal seemed to be based on whether he thought a band was better than "Nattens Madrigal" and he would often ignore the rest of their discography for this one album. This is what I mean when I say the album is over hyped by some fans out there. I think the album gets better as it progresses, and I will not deny that it is certainly worth hearing, especially if you love the older sounding Black Metal. This is where Ulver's discography really ends for me. I really don't care what they put out after this. It all sounds entirely boring and disinterests me.


Ulver - Kveldssanger
Head Not Found, 1996
Genre: Folk

1. Østenfor Sol Og Vestenfor Maane
2. Ord
3. Høyfjeldsbilde
4. Nattleite
5. Kveldssang
6. Naturmystikk
7. A Cappella (Sielens Sang)
8. Hiertets Vee
9. Kledt I Nattens Farger
10. Halling
11. Utreise
12. Søfn-ør Paa Alfers Lund
13. Ulvsblakk


I'm not sure the world was really expecting this as the follow-up to "Bergatt". After such an iconic Black Metal release, Ulver have turned to an acoustic driven Folk sort-of album. I'm not sure how much real "folk" is behind this, as the guitar work feels very modern in composition and I feel like people default to labeling something as "folk" as soon as acoustic guitars show up.

"Kveldssanger", which means "Evening Songs" is quite a beautiful release. While, I was semi-disappointed there was no Black Metal on here, I've embraced what "Kveldssanger" is and that is a dark, yet very relaxing journey. It is rather clear that you can capture the idea of a woodland evening in the rural lands of Norway from this release. The appearance of cello and flute only stand to enhance this imagery as we wander through this album. This album shows off some of Garm's clean ranges with elaborate vocal layering and at times have a rather Gregorian Chant feel to sections of the album. It's an impressive piece of vocal work, but I think Garm was still young with some of this and I feel his later vocal performances were even stronger. Regardless, his work on this certainly fits the feel and expression of the album and at the time it was quite a different idea for the scene to engage. It's a beautiful journey and had these guitar lines been translated to distortion this would have certainly been a wonderful Black Metal experience, and this really is what a lot of well written Black Metal would often sound like in an acoustic setting.

This is probably the Ulver album I listen to the least over the years, mainly because it's pretty rare for me to listen to instrumental or acoustic material in general when not blended with Black Metal. This is still a beautiful piece and has certainly influenced many acoustic only songs by bands over the years, along with the acoustic work of early Satyricon and Old Man's Child, it would become a rather major part of the genre showing up for years and years to come. I think most bands have the good sense that not everyone can sing like Garm, so most bands don't even try to emulate this, not that many ever could for that matter...


Ulver - Bergtatt
Head Not Found, 1995
Genre: Black Metal

1. I Troldskog faren vild
2. Soelen gaaer ba Aase need
3. Graablick blev hun vaer
4. Een Stemme locker
5. Bergtatt - ind i Fjeldkamrene











I've been trying to go back and review some of the classic and influential bands to the Black Metal scene and since my earliest engagement was mainly through the Norwegian scene I've been trying to prioritize various bands from time to time that are considered absolute must hear classics by most fans of the genre. When people reference Ulver, for me, I think of "Bergtatt" and I was surprised going back to "Vargnatt" that I did not like the demo that much. It's rather surprising how much of a difference "Bergtatt" is compared to "Vargnatt". Just the sheer amount of musical growth between the two releases is extremely impressive. I think I picked this album up around 1996 or 1997 or so and this was one of my earliest experiences with Ulver, which is really what captured my interest in the band.

"Bergtatt" boasts some major line-up changes in the world of Ulver. Only Garm and Haavard have continued on with the project, so the beautiful acoustic pieces on "Vargnatt" are still quite present here. However, the massive line-up shift and style growth means nothing from "Vargnatt" would be re-recorded. I'm almost thankful for this, because nothing on "Vargnatt" would fit with the majestic and wondrous "Bergtatt" release. "Bergtatt" is a truly wonderful album and I feel like Ulver draw a lot of influence from the world of Enslaved. However, Ulver's style feels a lot more beautiful and wondrous, whereas Enslaved come off as far more aggressive. Garm's clean vocals have an ethereal sheen to them that make the album a very interesting experience. He's certainly a stronger clean vocalist than Grutle, but I think I like Grutle's harsh vocals even more than Garm's at this stage. Garm would go on to be an extremely versatile vocalist performing some of the most iconic vocal performances in Black Metal with the likes of Arcturus and Borknagar. Now "Bergtatt" certainly has its aggressive moments and I think back in the early 90's like this they were still just piecing those styles together. So the shift between ethereal beauty can shift harshly into vicious and intense Black Metal. I think the modern scene that is built off of these origins is trying to be more conscious on blending the elements more seamlessly, but its something I've noticed quite a bit when revisiting these old releases.

To this day, "Bergtatt" is really my "go to" album when I listen to Ulver, which has tapered off over the years. One of the reasons I'm trying to revisit the classics. It's probably been ten years since I last heard "Bergtatt", so its really a wonderful thing to be able to revisit the album today and still find enjoyment in it. It really says something about how "Bergtatt" has stood the test of time with it's writing and style. Naturally, it would influence a host of future Black Metal bands and Ulver's blend was a bit of a shift from what was being performed in the early scene. I always felt bands like Einherjer, Enslaved, and Helheim were performing a similar style, but Ulver's style, at the time, was always a little different in feel in some respects, but not in a way you could outright call them Viking Metal.

"Bergtatt" is such a refined album compared to the demo and I think that shift in quality was wholly unexpected. Truly a classic to be remembered.


Ulver - Vargnatt
Self-Released, 1993
Genre: Black Metal

1. Her Begynner Mine Arr
2. Tragediens Trone
3. Trollskogen
4. Ulverytternes Kamp
5. Nattens Madrigal
6. Vargnatt










Ulver has certainly grown to legendary status over the years, albeit their career in Black Metal has been extremely brief. Prior to"Vargnatt" there was also a rehearsal released the same year, which I've never heard and am not that interested in tracking down at the moment. The only version of "Vargnatt" I had been able to acquire is the one pictured below and it's a very poorly made bootleg.
The transfers are extremely noisy and loud and I would think the recording is actually a rehearsal rather than the actual demo. It seemed like a decent idea at the time because it also featured Immortal's demo material. So, I've found a better version elsewhere and am listening to that in order to capture the actual music performed on "Vargnatt". The bootleg doesn't even have the full track listing, so it is quite the rip off in the grand scheme of things.

The way this band starts is quite strange in the grand scheme of things. Ulver's career has boasted some of the major players in Black Metal, but during the "Vargnatt" days only Garm and Carl-Michael would go on to be involved in the genre more, until Garm changed genres and seems to have backed off from Black Metal for the later part of his music career. Carl-Michael (drums on "Vargnatt") is still heavily involved with Metal performing in bands like Aura Noir still. Jørgensen would go on to play guitar in Ulver, but after that he seems to go onto other things after Ulver, but he only performed acoustic guitars on "Vargnatt".

So, it's kind of clear that Ulver's "Vargnatt" would have a bit of a different feel compared to their later works. There are a lot of elements on here that feel outright awkward and some of the guitar work feels similar to what Ved Buens Ende would later produce. Garm's vocal work on here is simply strange, at best. He has some standard rasps, but at other times he has this sort of whiny clean voice similar to what Misanthrope's vocalist is fairly known for. He also invokes some weird falsetto parts, which sound terrible, but they are very few on this release, thankfully. The guitar works ranges from mid-paced Black Metal, but with a lot of acoustic material blended in. At this point it doesn't sound so much like a Folk/Black Metal band at all really... it just sounds like a Black Metal band with acoustic guitars. The title track, however, is actually very good and they close the demo on a very strong note. There are a lot of good sections here and I can see why the band was picked up to release a full-length next.

In the end, there wasn't a lot I found appealing with "Vargnatt". I think people laud over this more as a novelty item than anything else these days. In the modern era, I feel like it's really in vogue to be an Ulver maniac, and while I like Ulver's material, I have to say I did not like "Vargnatt" very much. The only aspect of "Vargnatt" that I found remotely enjoyable was the acoustic guitar work and some of the Black Metal riffs here and there. But when Garm comes in with that falsetto he just drowns out all the guitars... it's just no good when that happens. Certainly, a novelty in Ulver's career and certainly different than the rest of Black Metal being produced in the same years, but not nearly as strong as what Ulver would eventually become on later releases.