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modern clASSical - 94%

caspian, October 9th, 2013

Rather unsure what was going to happen with this album- Childhood's End was pretty good, if not the most earth-shaking thing ever, but I'm still somewhat traumatized from the flat out awfulness that was War of the Roses. Ulver's awful fanbase rarely helps.. it's hard not getting totally burnt out from the avalanche of Ulver: MOVING BEYOND BLACK METAL, ECLECTIC MUSICAL OPEN MINDEDNESS (really? wow! how about that, crazy innit) reviews that were plaguing my news feed/everywhere I looked. Therefore, it's rather lucky that Ulver have done a very good album here- maybe even their best post-Bergtatt effort, because when you have such a cloying, massively over-the-top fanbase it's hard not to write off everything the band do. This stuff kills and I really enjoy it, despite the baggage that comes with it.

Yeah, Messe is a pretty all-time effort. The simplest way to describe this is: get Shadows of the Sun, strip away all the rock music elements and voila. This is a simplification, though; it's not just a Godspeed You Black Emperor ripoff (and I'm really grateful for that!)- it's based far less on repetition than you may think, and it's definitely been super thoroughly composed. I don't want to say "this defies description" but this sort of contemporary, very modern, rather academic "modern classical" stuff is hard to describe unless you're doing modern composition at a music college. Perhaps the best thing I can come up with is to imagine a very engaging soundtrack for an extremely depressing movie.

It does the slow and somber thing remarkably well, and it's a pleasure seeing Ulver throw an occasional electric guitar or bit of electronics (the sublime Shri Schneider a fantastic example) into an otherwise very familiar sonic palette. Here, I think, is where Ulver really succeed in this album- there's an accessibility to this whole deal, even though it's generally just a whole lot of gentle, string driven depression. Textures are introduced, key changes happen- Glamour Box's fantastically paced, perfectly placed outro-, things are often morphing into new and exciting things, going in unexpected directions, etc. There are flaws- the first song does stretch the attention somewhat, and Garm's vocals seem to be getting increasingly bad as he gets older but yeah, this stuff is good man. Again, it's those little things- that awareness of when to change things up a tiny bit, or to throw a subtle, somewhat dissonant interval in a place to throw you off guard and get you engaged. Really, really good composition throughout.

There's little to criticize here, if we're being blunt. Certainly, the minimalist, fairly quiet tones throughout make this a bit of a challenge to listen through super actively, but it sure as hell makes hanging out the washing a dense, thought provoking experience. Much respect is due to Ulver for releasing a record that's fascinating, deep but most of all, an almost immediate pleasure to listen to. Their best in a long time, and well worth yours!