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Taking second wave black metal's "grim" sound cliche to its extreme logical conclusion, the infamous third album by Ulver is also their final statement in that style. Newcomers would be forgiven for thinking that this was maybe their first effort, given the purposefully repulsive production job. In fact, their debut album was an unforgettable take on "soft" folk black metal with an abundance of clean singing. The next album dropped the metal element entirely for an fully acoustic approach. Strange then, that the next one should be the harshest sounding of all. Even stranger is the fact that this was the first album the band recorded for a big label and were given a presumably big amount of money with which to do it. One rumour I heard was that they blew all the money on cocaine and expensive suits. Another is that they recorded this album in a forest...I'm inclined to go with the former.
A point that should be made when discussing "Nattens Madrigal" is that it isn't exactly "raw" in the true sense (that is, a low fidelity recording). The production quality itself is actually pretty reasonable (you can hear the bass, for instance), only it sounds like the treble on everything has been boosted to the point of feeling like ice picks in your ear drums. I must say it works rather well, despite being something of a fabricated rawness. This is an album dedicated to the beast in man, and the harsh and ugly sound goes a long way toward tapping into something primal and ancient in the core of the listener, in the best tradition of true black metal, Nattens Madrigal offering a particularly savage take on that feeling. The melodies are raw and powerful and undeniably Ulver, the drums mostly in the form of a constant blastbeat, pounding like a pulse beneath it all. Garm's vocals are possibly his most violent performance, no chanting or singing to be found here. A brief and incredibly pretty acoustic break in the first song, and the ominous interludes joining the tracks together, are the only reprieve offered from the constant attack on the ears. A brilliantly detailed and evocative cover art (courtesy of the obviously skilled artist Tanya Stene, see the previous two Ulver covers) completes the package.
This is an album everyone with even the vaguest interest in black metal has at least heard of, if not listened to. I think it would be very easy to miss the point of it all and pass it off quickly without realising the purposefulness behind the abrasive sound, one of the most abrasive of the whole genre. "Transilvanian Hunger" is definitely a touch easier on the ears. After this Ulver left the metal genre behind, and began their exploration of more unusual and electronic sounds, with some very good results. However their original "trilogie" remains as solid and powerful a body of work as has ever been made within the world of black metal, which, despite the admittedly one dimensional approach of this album, was a genre where they were perfectly willing and able to bend the rules. Even with their purposeful pastiche of the genre's cliches, they created something that was not only superior, but has spawned countless imitators.
It kinda goes without saying but Ulver were never the most committed of black metal bands; they always had that streak of genre-hopping, ‘a pinch of this and a pinch of that’ about them and regardless of the actual quality of their output (I personally think it’s pretty ropey), they’ve done well out of constantly shifting shape and changing form much like some old Norse god. I mean I’m sure that Garm and the boys have certainly graced the Norwegian Grammys with their presence and I’m certain that some of their glitch ambient pieces have been played in allsorts of funky, upmarket Oslo bars where, for the price of a small Mediterranean island, you can purchase a gin and tonic (bar snacks are on the house, however). Again, it almost goes without saying that since Ulver were never the most committed of black metal bands, they were also never the most convincing. Bergtatt is a fine album to be sure, but the more aggressive, ‘typical’ black metal moments are often quite lacking – they’ll simply blast for 30 seconds over a standard issue Norse riff and then move on to something more interesting. So what of this, then? Well, it’s Ulver playing a harshly produced black metal album, or rather, Ulver playing tribute to harshly produced black metal with some of their own melodic flair.
I’d be lying if I said that the album played to Ulver’s strengths; they’ve never been the strongest band when it comes to more ‘normal’ black metal, so, it makes sense that their two previous albums are better. The production is supposedly ‘terrible’, too, with its piercing high-end sound, as if you took Darkthrone’s early black metal works to an extreme. Unlike Darkthrone, however, the production isn’t quite masterful – there’s a bit too much presence on those guitars and the snare sound does leave something to be desired. It seems likely to cause ear fatigue to the uninitiated and leaves some riffs sounding a little static-y. So, yeah, I’d like a little bit less treble and presence on the guitars and the drums could be a bit more roomy (after all, Nattens Madrigal was recorded in a forest, right!?). That said, it’s far from a bad production – you can make out all the instruments and the initial impression is quite striking. Claims of Nattens Madrigal being ‘unlistenable’ are quite ridiculous that’s for sure. I mean, sure, your mother won’t like it… but she thinks Sons of Northern Darkness is Immortal’s best album and she keeps on buying Ihsahn’s solo albums.
I guess what it really boils down to is that Ulver aren’t really strong enough riff writers to make this style work. They’re at their best when they’re writing flowing, beautiful melodies rather than vicious black metal riffs and as such they just can’t make this album work in the way they’d want to. The best tracks on this album are, unsurprisingly, the ones that remind me more of Bergtatt. The opener ‘The Wolf and Fear’ is genuinely great and that acoustic break is something else (Ulver always had excellent acoustic passages and, tellingly, my favourite Ulver album is Kveldssanger). And there’s the fact that there are some ridiculously happy sounding parts on this album, too. The opening to ‘The Wolf and Passion’ is probably one of the earlier examples of the dreaded shoegaze influence on black metal that we’ve come to suffer so much in the past few years and it’s really no surprise that Ulver is a huge influence on all those worthless bands. Simply put the band really fails to capitalise on their strengths here. ‘The Wolf and Man’ has some excellent riffs but then they intersperse it with some completely unmoving stuff and so what should have been a fantastic track (oh, sorry, a hymn!) ends up being quite drab.
It’s often been said that this album is a sort of tribute to Darkthrone or, rather, Transilvanian Hunger. I wouldn’t go that far, myself, as Nattens Madrigal is certainly full of Ulver’s trademark mournful melodic sense. However, there’s a lot of that simplistic Transilvanian… riffing here and it’s really rather poor. It seems to me that, Transilvanian Hunger – however good an album that is in its own right – should never have been copied ad nauseam, because its copycats are can never make much of interest from such simplistic rhythms and droning riffs. However, it’s telling that Ulver – one of the least convincing and certainly the least metallic bands of the original Norse scene – chose the said album as an inspiration. It’s certainly hard to imagine them coming up with riffs akin to those heard on Under a Funeral Moon.
Nattens Madrigal is certainly a divisive album in the metal community – both revered and reviled – but, as per usual, I find that the truth is somewhere in between. This is neither a classic, nor a phoney attempt at cosying up to big boys of Norse black metal for some credibility. Nattens… has some highly successful moments and the opener is some really riveting black metal, just as ripping and powerful as the rest of the album wishes it was. Elsewhere, it’s a very mixed bag; when Ulver combine their typical melodicism with a harsher aesthetic, it certainly works. When they coast by on lifeless tremolo riffs… well, it’s just as dull as any other Transilvanian Hunger-inspired act who drone on and on until they start foaming at the mouths and falling over backwards. A rather sheepish effort overall, I’d say.
After releasing a couple albums that had little or nothing to do with black metal, Ulver returned in 1997 (or 1996, according to their official site) with Nattens Madrigal. This album featured a much different approach and sounded like a completely different band, for the most part. While Bergtatt featured a mixture of generic black metal with an overuse of folk parts, Kveldssanger abandoned the metal, altogether. So it was a shock to many when the band changed their sound, once again, this time opting for an extremely raw and minimalist approach.
My first impression upon hearing this album, years ago, was that this was Ulver's belated response to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. Other than an isolated acoustic break in the first track, the entire album consists of blast beats and high-speed tremolo melodies. Musically, this is about as primitive as Ulver ever managed to sound, and they did a fine job of it. One has to wonder if they were serious with this record or just taking the piss out of some of their peers. Either way, the result is not bad, at all. While the style of playing is similar to early Darkthrone, the actual melodies are quite different and most of the songs feature more than just a couple riffs. The atmosphere of the melodies is a far cry from that found on Transilvanian Hunger, as this is not nearly as dark of an album. The average tempo is a little faster as well, as if the record is playing at double speed. Even though these guys are utilizing different techniques for this release, the actual melodies are still quite similar to what they did in the past, giving the album a lighter feel than one would expect. As Nattens Madrigal progresses, the riffs get weaker and weaker.
The production is the real focus, here. Ulver stripped things down as much as possible, without straying into garage territory. The guitar tone is razor-sharp and pierces your ears almost to the point of bleeding. It is not exactly a cold sound, just sharp and painful. The buzzing echoes in your skull for hours after the music ends. The drums are fairly limited, being just high enough in the mix to keep time but not really possessing any sort of character. The vocals are quite strained and intense, adding to the overall effect. The lyrics are in archaic Danish, which also lends a bit of an obscure vibe to Garm's voice. This was all about creating a sound that was raw and ugly, and the band succeeded in this. It is too bad that their songwriting skills did not match the sound, since it demonstrated that they had a weak grasp on what they were doing. Rumour has it that the band recorded this L.P. in the forest, though that seems quite ridiculous and implausible.
Nattens Madrigal is a fairly average album. It is decent for those that wish to hear something with an extremely raw sound, but the actual content is lackluster and only a couple of tracks stand out. This is one of those releases that gets hyped to death, but fails to deliver. It may satisfy the Century Media crowd, but real black metallers should pass this up and invest their time in something more worthy.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Well, here we have one of my favorite black metal albums ever. It took a good few months and a lot of perseverance to get to that status, but once it finally reached that plateau, I can't ever see it being toppled from my own personal top ten. I think the thing that stopped it from being an immediate classic for me upon the first few listens was the super raw production - if you think Darkthrone's 'Under a Funeral Moon' had a harsh production, you obviously haven't heard this album. This is black metal 4-track hell, so if you're expecting some kind of dubious multi-faceted symphony filled Dimmu-like affair, please move on now before your eardrums are severely assaulted with treble, treble and some more treble to top it off. Of course, the terrible production adds to the whole vibe greatly for me now, and it's nowhere near as extreme as a lot of efforts released since I first heard this (Striborg's album productions for example, make this sound like it was produced by Bob Rock in comparison).
However, at the time, this was undoubtedly a contender for the 'most acerbic production of 1996' award, with the riffs flaying, filleting and slicing the ear drums with hissing blistering riff after riff, all belted out at top speed. Behind these, Garm's ultra throaty snarl coats the album with unmatched vitriol and animalistic rage, with the relentless drum blastage merely acting as a backdrop for the carnage being brought forth by the destructive vocal and guitar combination. The best way I can describe the album as a whole, is that it acts in a similar way as a pissed off Cobra would if you were poking it with a stick, viciously attacking and biting at your face, spraying its venom to leave you dazed before going for the throat. The thing that shines through on this album is the riffs, although vicious and unrelenting, there is a lot of melody to them which brings similarities to a faster, angrier early Satryicon. Surprisingly, there is a 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' part which utilizes Acoustic guitar, though it's merely used as a short break between songs, which coupled with a few tiny ambient sections between songs, hardly affects the overall hateful scorching tone of the album as a whole.
So yeah, for the un-initiated, Ulver actually used to be a great band before they turned into… well…something completely different. This is a prime example of primitive black metal brilliance, full of spite, disdain, pedal to the metal aural violation and of course, a ton of fucking face biting acidity which fizzes and burns in the face of commercialism and polished productions everywhere. Essential.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Ulver is a unique band, to say the least. Their musical career has taken them through all sorts of genres, from their roots of Norwegian black metal to trip-hip, electronic, and ambient. One thing that has become well known about Ulver is that they always seem to please the audience that the genre applies to, and that’s mostly true with Ulver’s black metal period. I was first introduced to Ulver about a year before writing this review, and since my first time hearing the atmospheric and haunting black/folk metal masterpiece Bergtatt, I’ve been searching local CD stores and the Internet for a copy of an album by the band from their black metal days. I only just recently came across a box set for Nattens Madrigal, which came with a vinyl, CD and T-shirt representing the album. The album has arrived, and I decided to review it while it’s fresh in my mind.
Unlike their previous black/folk metal release, Nattens Madrigal absolutely breathes raw black metal. That means it’s nothing but the traditional lineup: guitars, bass, drums. It also means machine-gun drumming, tremolo-picked guitar riffs, heavy distortion, and an overall speedy tempo. The first thing that I notice right off the bat of this album is how far they go with the distortion. There’s a lot of fuzzy hissing that makes the drums pretty far back in the production while the bass guitar stays pretty much non-existent until the last song, where it gets a short little section where you can hear it better. If the back of the record sleeve hadn’t mentioned that Skoll was in this album, I would have believed it. The distortion can easily hurt your ears if you’re listening to the music with headphones, and it can get a tad annoying until you’re used to it, but that excessive distortion highlights those guitars, making it clear that this is a guitar-oriented album.
Almost every riff of every song seems to jump out at me from the sea of distortion, and a lot of the riffs are loaded with passion and emotion. Not only that, but they’re fast too. As soon as the album starts, we get a super fast tremolo-picked guitar riff with the drums keeping up speed in the background. Almost right away, we get a solo that quickly breaks into an amazing acoustic section, which will sorely remind you of Bergtatt. The folk section is maybe the best thing in the while album, but unfortunately, there isn’t any more acoustic passages on the entire album, which is a little bit disappointing. The drums aren’t bad, in fact, they’re quite good, but unfortunately, we don’t get anything outside of blast beats. There isn’t anything technical or detailed about the drumming, which is unfortunate, considering the drummer is AiwarikiaR, who had proven himself as a very talented drummer in Bergtatt. He can do much more than just blast beats, but in this album we don’t get to see that. It must have been part of the bands idea to make the album seem more raw, and it does, but it’s still unfortunate having AiwarikiaR around without fully utilizing his talent. The vocals are by Garm, and they’re great as always, and this time they don’t even touch upon being clean and melodic, which isn’t a bad thing for this album. Melodic vocals would not have gone well in this album. His vocals are all growl here. They’re full of energy, and are great black metal vocals, but how well you can hear his voice tends to fluctuate throughout the album.
Another thing to mention about this album is that there is a short section of ambience in between each song. It lasts 15-25 seconds for most of the songs, and in my opinion it’s probably an interlude to let your ears rest before the next song crashes in. Every song on here has some memorable riffs in it, and each song keeps me interested. The box set was well worth the money, and I’m glad I have it.
So, despite minor problems here and there, Nattens Madrigal is a well-received classic piece of black metal loaded with excellent guitar riffing. It definitely doesn’t compare to Bergtatt, but I still enjoy listening to the album for its standout guitar work. For those black metalists that love it as harsh and as raw as possible, this album is highly recommended, because while raw black metal isn’t my favorite, Ulver definitely do it well, but I still think they should have toned down that distortion a bit. There would have been a lot more to hear if they had kept it at the level of distortion that Satyricon used in “Dark Medieval Times”. If you can’t tolerate what you hear in the first song, don’t bother with it.
Wolf and Fear: A great acoustic passage makes it stand out from the rest, and the whole song brings back memories, being one of the first Ulver songs I had heard.
Wolf and Man: A really powerful song over all, particularly in the beginning, and Garm’s vocals seem a lot more noticeable in this song.
Wolf and Destiny: Very good riffs in this song, as I write this review I have part of it stuck in my head. Listening to this song will get the song stuck in your head all day.
What a weird, wild journey ULVER has undertaken...from black metal outcasts to digital/techno, well, outcasts, Trickster Fiery G.arm Maelstrom and company seem to have quite the knack of making the listener guess as to what's coming up next. Under usual circumstances that leads to satisfying listens...but ULVER don't necessarily have that ability (you either like electronic music or you don't). But those of the metalhead spectrum descend towards the first trilogy, some of them forsaking all that transpired post-"The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', and with good reason. The ULVER crew were able to create works of strikingly good folky black metal while keeping their distance from the church-burning hordes. But none would strike so fervently than "Nattens Madrigal".
Strike being a relatively good description...
This album contains quite possibly some of the best and most well-thought out black metal material ever composed. The band dives head-long into the musical equivalent of touring a forest at night, escaping the baying of blood-thirsty wolves that lap at the poor victim's feet closer and closer with every cringe-inducing tremelo pick. Who knew that a batch of outsiders would turn the entire grim black metal genre completely on its head like this? Speedy tempos back-boned by consistant blast-beats, slicing harmonic guitar tandems and unholy wolfen growls create a grim, dire atmosphere the likes of which few of the black metal elite were able to concoct back in the early 90s. But the main issue here is that just about 100% of the entire album's production is rendered painful to listen too...the guitars WAY too loud and WAY to thin, akin to a dentist's drill filing away the inside of the ear cavity, the drums more like the tapping of sticks on cardboard, the bass barely audible...the entire album is very much like a painting wherein the artist took a lot of time, effort, and obvious talent to create, but is so offensive you can't look at it for more than a few seconds at a time before turning away. Which is sad, as the music is breathtakingly chaotic and beautiful at the same time. Tracks like the opener "Of Wolf and Fear" (especially with its folky acoustic interlude which gives brief respite from the cacophony), "Of Wolf and Man", and "Of Wolf and Passion" choke the very light out of any and all goodness held sway recorded music could ever possibly possess. And it is in that desperation that the music and overall performance comes off simulteneaously bitter and sweet.
So in the end this album contains incredibly well-made music strewn through a jagged-metal filter. Definately an album to own, but subjection and consequent ownership will take more than a few listens to appreciate. Art in and of itself nonetheless.
When most people think of Black Metal, bands like Darkthrone, Emperor, Mayhem, Burzum, etc come to mind. Ulver is not a band that most would think of when thinking of such an extreme form of music. Today, Ulver is a band that plays a mix of Ambient, Electronic, and various other types of experimental music. If you are a fan of their more recent releases, you would never expect an album like Nattens Madrigal to come from the same band. Nattens Madrigal is a raw, evil Black Metal album with some of the worst production ever heard on any record of any genre. What some people don't know is that before the new, experimental Ulver, they were once one of the best bands in the Black Metal genre and this is their crowning achievment.
I'm going to start off with the best part about this album and that is the vocals. The vocalist is Kristoffer Rygg, better known as Garm. Garm has two sides to him. He can either sing in a beautiful singing voice or he can do some of the most menacing Black Metal screams known to the genre. On this album he goes with the latter. Garm sounds like a man possessed on Nattens Madrigal. If you're looking for him as a singer i advise you to go get an Arcturus or later Ulver album because you're not going to find any beautiful singing on this album. Black Metal vocalists everywhere should learn from Garm on this album.
Now as i mentioned earlier, the production on this album is very, very terrible. In fact, there is a rumor that the band actually recorded this album in a forest because they spent all their money on beer. The guitars on this album, although very low in the mix are played extremely well. This is probably the best guitar playing on a Black Metal album. The riffs are very melodic for such a raw album. They are very melodic, but are also played very fast. There are also a couple of quick solos here and there. The pace does slow down for about a minute on this album in Hymn I when there is a nice break from all the madness for the acoustic guitars to work their magic. It only lasts about a minute and then its right back to the chaotic nature of the album. As for the bass guitar, it is non-existence. I couldn't hear the bass for one second during this album and i doubt anybody will be able to hear it.
The drums on this album are played in one style and that is blast beats. Fast, crazy blast beats is the style of drumming for the entire album and the only time it stops is when Hymn I slows down. Also, at the end of each song there is about 30 seconds, sometimes more, of Ambient parts. After that it blasts right into the fast tremelo picking of the next song.
My advice is, if you're a Black Metal fan, you should get this. That is if you don't already have it. This is my favorite Black Metal album of all time, even beating out some of the greats such as Transilvanian Hunger, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and In The Nightside Eclipse. I'm not going to say any highlights because every song is a highlight. Classic album for sure.
I don't know how to give this album a positive review without saying what's been said about it already, but here goes. Despite the raw production of this release, there is actually some talented musicianship happening here. It's like hearing Iron Maiden if they played Black Metal. This album is dominated by superior musicianship and double melodic guitar attack, just like Maiden. The only thing really differnt from Maiden is Garm/Trickster G's vocals, obviously.
If there are any doubters that say black metal musicians can't write good riffs and melodies, I would beg them to give this album a listen. Just listen to all that intricate guitar work, which is driven by the dual guitar attack of Haavard and Aismal. There are some very interesting melodies and harmonies here, and most of the time it sounds like one guitar is playing one thing, while the other is playing something else; yet, combining to make a interesting riff. It brings to mind Iron Maiden material. The riffs are very raw, agressive, but VERY beautiful and melancholic. Ulver sets an example on how to have a double guitar attack in Black Metal and make it work. Aiwarikiar's drum playing is very consistent and not overdone. His work on this album is mostly snare blast beats set to a really fast pace. Oddly enough though, he has some good double bass kicks that are easy to hear despite the raw and hectic production. Aiwarikiar is comparable to a more technical and aggressive Fenriz from the Transilvanian Hunger days. Last but not least, let's get to Trickster G's vocals. To be honest, his vocal style doesn't impress that much but yet there aren't many black metal vocalists who sound like him either. Generic; yet not so generic. As for the bass, well to be honest, I can't hear it, but I can't hear bass in 98% of the stuff I listen to.
The production on this album, like most great raw black metal albums, is as tough as nails. Don't listen to this album if you don't like audio hisses, too much reverb, treble and feedbacks. But it is the album's production that gives this masterpiece the atmosphere it delivers. So what's the atmosphere like? Simple. Imagine standing alone in a great forest in a cold winter night with full moon abound and wolves howling and you get the picture.
Recommended for all Black Metal fans. If you don't have this you're missing out!
Standout tracks: IV, VI, VII
The year is 1997. You just purchased Ulver's newest album, Nattens Madrigal. Judging by the first two albums, you have some idea of what you will hear on this new album. Right away you're thinking clean singing, acoustic guitar passages, and Norwegian folk elements. Then you pop in the CD.
However, what you forgot to consider with a band like Ulver; expect the unexpected!
First of all, the production is god awful! But being black metal, it really doesn't matter. All black metal has terrible production, so big deal right? Well, if you listen to a shitload of black metal and never heard this album, you will be surprised at the general sound of Nattens Madrigal. It is unlike any black metal album in terms of production. It is hard to explain it. You really have to hear it for yourself. It's fucked up!
There is also another unique aspect to this album. The album is mixed very strangely! In order to explain it effectively, I will ask you to use your imagination. Close your eyes and picture Ulver playing this album together in a forest. In order to create the sound they have created here on Nattens Madrigal, the guitarists would be at the front of your mental picture. Then about 50 feet back, Garm would be screaming away and about 10 feet further back of Garm would be the drummer. The guitars are just that dominant. This is clearly a guitar-centric album and thankfully the band pulls it off. The guitars have a harsh, crunchy tone that is unique to this album alone. They are loud, raw, and to the average person, they are cacophonous. However, if you are a fan of something a little different, then you can learn to love them.
Vocals are provided by the infamous Garm (Arcturus, Borknager). I will have to say that this is not his best vocal performance. Usually known for his top notch clean singing, Garm uses nothing but his grim voice here. He does not sing a note. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't love his black metal voice; it's just that on Nattens Madrigal he sounds weaker than usual. He is very hollow, or faded out here. He is very much in the background which is rare for him. However, it matters not because if he was stealing the show, the album wouldn't sound right.
As mentioned before, the drums on this album are ridiculously quiet. The drummer basically just blastbeats from the beginning of the album to the end. He rarely changes backbeats or slows down. It is a very raw sounding smashing on the drums.
All songs on this release are stupendous. If I had to choose favorites, I would choose “Wolf and Fear” as the best, and “Wolf and Man” as second best. I absolutely adore “Wolf and Fear” because it contains huge riffs and the only acoustic passage in the whole album! The acoustic passage is very beautiful and it is buried in the mist of the ugly sounding guitars for an effective beauty and the beast style song. “Wolf and Man” kicks ass because it has an amazing guitar riff that stands out.
Nattens Madrigal is the perfect end piece for Ulver’s black metal trilogy. However, it is not for everyone. This is a very controversial record. You will either love it or hate it. So beware! On the other hand, if you listen to it and hate it, listen to it again and again because you can gain an appreciation for an album like this. You are not going to understand it right away! I did not care for it the first time I heard it, and now I can’t get enough of it. So if you like music that makes you think, then I highly recommend you purchase Nattens Madrigal by Ulver.
As Ulver had demonstrated twice before the release of Nattens Madrigal, they weren’t afraid of doing a little exploration into sounds that usually strayed away from the typical results of most of their countrymen’s and other black metal enthusiast’s contributions of the same time. Bergtatt - Et eeventyr i 5 capitler offered some of the greatest folk black metal from any period in the history of the genre, and Kveldssanger was a complete abandonment of metal entirely; for that which was acoustic, which was still none the less an impressive and successful attempt for a young band who, at the time, were hinting a shift in their musical expression early in their career. Yet again with the arrival (release) of their third official installment, Ulver would not only provide listeners with a sound that was completely alienating to its predecessor, but would again offer yet another prime example of how a certain form of music should be performed.
Nattens Madrigal has been said by many (time and time again) to be one of the very best examples of that which is the more raw side of the black metal genre. This for the most part, is an absolutely true and undoubtedly accurate statement. Nattens Madrigal stands in a league of its own, as it is a definite standout from most other’s offerings when it comes to being completely primitive and purposely under-produced in nature, as there have been very few bands before or after that have been able to create music that captures the very essence of grimness (oh, how cliché) in audio form. Such as Ulver had done with their third (second black metal wise) and final release which was associated with the metal genre altogether. Since as most know, their fourth release - “Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” was the beginning of the more “electronic” side of Ulver which combined many other genres of music together, and is thus not a definitive metal release from what little amount of metal elements it contains. For the most part however, the “truly” metal days of Ulver had ended after their triumphant contribution of the masterful black metal content that can be found on Nattens Madrigal - Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden, and most fans would agree.
Nattens Madrigal has the type of production and sound quality that would make most want to plug their ears or reach for the stop/pause button as soon as the first track begins, yet it (as well as its two predecessors) still has the unmistakable ability of providing an incredible amount of atmosphere in its overall delivery. Nattens Madrigal is a non-stop (most of the time) barrage of blast beats and riffs that are of constant tremolo picking (which still provide melody), as well as Kristoffer Rygg’s (aka Garm’s) vocals which can be considered some of the most harshest and distressed sounding vocals that have been recorded for any metal release. This screaming performance of Garm’s, shows just how good his vocal abilities really are, since nowadays; unlike his black metal days, most of his vocal work is in a much more beautifully sung manner. All of this extreme negativity (as it can definitely be referred to as) adds up to a very chilling and agonized performance, as Ulver had set out to provide with the whole theme of this release.
There’s not very much left to say about this release, other than that it will always remain as one of the most harshest, unforgiving, and beautiful efforts in the entire black metal genre. This was definitely a great way to leave your mark on a genre that’s now filled with clones who really don’t offer anything as monumental as the mighty black metal era of Ulver once did.
18 reviews this album has, not one of them negative. That's right, not a single one. So when I first heard this album, and quickly winced in pain from the horrid production enhanced treble spikes, and then jumped to the conclusion that this album was rubbish, I felt I must be doing something wrong, and that my ears were crap, because those were the only possible explanation. So I've persevered, and I've listened to it in full more times than I've listened to some of my favourite albums, I've kept it on my MP3 player despite it filling up, and I having more music just waiting to be put on there, and I have kept this up for over a year. And I have to say that in the end of it all, this just isn't a very good album. And after such a long period I have finally figured out why.
It's certainly nothing to do with the guitars, which offer up a pretty good array of riffs from start to finish, the bass work is clearly audible and solid, as it's seemingly avoided the static drenching that the guitars have received, and the vocals are good if a little quiet. Not to mention the drumwork isn't all that terrible, despite an overabundance of blast beats, if anything they're saved by the quiet mix they've been given, and really, the production isn't doesn’t really alter the way the instruments sound, it just adds pain. The problem is that Nattens Madrigal is dishonest and non-heartfelt music. I respect bands for going for production that enhances atmosphere, and rawness certainly makes albums feel colder and harsher, but what Ulver has done here is pretend that they are doing just that, when really it's just an unnecessarily poorly produced album, which is done not to improve the listeners ability to feel the albums emotional side, but merely to try to trick people to think this is what they're doing.
There is a point to roughly produced music, which is to give an impression of darkness and evil in the sound, or to sound cold, or just generally make the passion behind the music shine through. However, eventually there is a line where this is met by plain being hard to listen to, this is usually caused by poor equipment and lack of funds, there’s nothing that can be done about that, so I won’t hold it against Akitsa for sounding like they recorded from inside a wind tunnel. Where this becomes a problem is when bands consciously aim for this second, horrid and unengaging sound for no reason other than to seem more ugly and evil than they really are. I stand fully behind bands which take steps back in production in order to obtain the perfect sound to engage the listener; unfortunately Nattens Madrigal is aimless in its goal to be raw. It isn't trying to make the music stand out more, nor is it trying to guide the listener to get the most out of the music. The band knows they want to album to be harsh, and that's basically it, so they've haphazardly made this sound as poor as possible. Where Ulver have gone wrong is that hey have both gone a long way into the territory of just being annoying to listen to, AND they feel like they're not doing it for any good reason.
Honestly, to me, the bands third release in their black metal trilogy, which interestingly enough only consisted of two black metal albums, sounds like they've done a production-wise St Anger on us. Please, put down the torches, let me explain. To me, this sounds almost like they recorded everything properly, and then tried to make it sound all harsh and gritty after the fact. Underneath all the distortion and random treble spikes which can literally cause physical pain, and the layer of static which doesn't seem to be created by any instrument in particular, the guitar tone is really quite solid. Not to mention it's clear as day, and you can easily understand what's being played. The static layer which makes it all harder to distinguish almost seems like it's been added purely for the sake of making it harder to hear. The bass sound seems to have missed this treatment, as if they forgot to mangle the sound in post production so it's left blaring in its clear quality over the top at full volume. Like the guitars, both the drums and vocals have quite nice and clear sounds, they're just buried underneath the sourceless static ocean this album bathes in, and are mixed poorly, seemingly increasing and decreasing in volume as if a young child was playing with the volume sliders pretending they were race cars during the recording.
Think about it, what gain does this release have by sounding like rubbish? It would lose a little kick from being produced like Bergtatt, but the riffs are intricate, and could do with being shown off a little more, not to mention the whopping number of melodies on offer are a little against the ultra raw music grain. Also the length of the songs would probably be more easily digested, where at this point of time they all seem to run around two minutes over time. Rawer production was definitely the right way to go with the music on offer, but Ulver did it wrong and have severely harmed the way this album sounds. If you're going produce and album with a sound beneath what you're capable of, you better have a goal in doing so, something you specifically want to get out of the sound other than "just be lo-fi". The band doesn't seem to have tried to have had any reasoning beyond that in making their decision.
So, lengthy spiel aside, the music on Ulver's Century Media debut and final album isn't really all that good. It's good enough, but not really great. I commend the guitar work on this release, it's really quite good. All of the songs have a good mix of high speed tremolo picked riffs, and quite beautiful melodies, although not as many as you would think from the band. The only problem is that the good riffs seem to be spread out a little thin. Sure there are a lot of them, but since the band constructs each of the songs so well, with each track clearly having it's own theme and approach, each song only seems to have about four minutes of enjoyable well suited riffing. The rest either seems lacklustre or interchangeable. The bass work which I have applauded for its volume honestly wouldn't be all that impressive if it wasn't for the way that it stands out above the mash of the other instruments fighting for volume.
The drumwork is an oddity for the band, certainly a negative oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. Where the band has often opted for vast and roomy drumwork, or just plain not had it for the main part, suddenly AiwarikiaR has decided to hit us with a never ending cascade of blast beats, most songs have a 30 second or so long break from the onslaught, but generally, this is in Fredrik Andersson of Marduk fame levels of blasturbation. Unlike Andersson, the drums are really low in the mix though, so the problems that are generated are minimized. Still, he is a huge contribution to the album feeling far too long, and all the songs getting boring by the time their 6 minutes are up.
The final touch is Garm’s vocals, the album consists of nothing but his harsh screams, which are ok. Honestly it's his cleans that make him stand out from the crowd, and without them he could really just be any black metal vocalist, Not that cleans would fit anywhere on this album. Add in the low mix and the various mucky sound anomalies over the top and he's rendered completely standard. He doesn't stand out at all.
Nattens Madrigal is an album I have tried so very hard to enjoy and I just can't. It's probably only worth a low-mid 70 on the music being played, and with the production disasters this album is built on things just get highly unenjoyable. I really hate to be the first to say bad things about this album, because I really like this band, but I can't lie, this album is generally boring, capable of causing physical pain, lacks true emotion, and doesn't inspire any from the listener either. This feels like passionless music, it just doesn't give off the emotional response that one searches for in raw music or Ulver's music, it's almost as if it parodies the raw BM scene, rather than joins it.
With their third album Ulver tweak the black metal aesthetic to deliver a performance representative of the entire genre. Much in the same way as early Dark Funeral, Ulver create an aesthetic experience that is the culmination of all the great second wave bands. The difference however is that Ulver have taken this aesthetic, and used it to deliver a work of artistic genius rarely matched in modern music.
What one immediately notices about this album is the melancholy folk tinged melodies that form the basis of these songs. Clearly these are a continuation of ideas from Ulver’s previous albums but where they were previously used as pure folk music; they have now been incorporated into the metal aesthetic bringing together the beauty of the best of both genres of music.
The more melodic and accessible side of this music combined with the derivative aesthetic has led many to believe that it was a deliberately unoriginal work with the intention of fooling a generation of black metallers into believing that this was a classic album without actually making a valid artistic statement. It is easy to see why people would believe this album is contrived, but these ‘flaws’ are only such when they are detached from the album in its holistic sense.
Each song on this album is a perfect example of continuity in melody. The melancholy folk tinged riffs often seem fragmentary, not fully formed, as if they are waiting for the following riff which, while it effortlessly moves from and completes the previous one in an example of flowing melodic perfection, is left waiting for the next. This constant cycle is resolved when the melody eventually returns to its beginning. This brilliantly expresses through music the cyclic nature of reality, and how each of its parts functions as an integrally within the whole.
Unlike folk music which is a pure reflection on the beauty of nature, this album uses its metal influence to place the individual within that whole. The extremity of aesthetic and the harsh emotional melody reveals not only the extremities of nature, but the tragedy and existential suffering involved in the individual realising the inevitability of death.
The fact that this individual suffering is very much within the whole of this album, and not encompassing it shows the link between the two. One is a continuous whole, one is a transient fragment. This relationship is expressed on different levels throughout the album. Each song is formed of fragmentary riffs making up a flowing melodic whole, and the entire album consists of songs which are fragments in the context of the whole, which is a constant flow of melancholy, nocturnal and yet strangely gentle mood music bringing together the best of folk and metal. When seen as a whole this album is pure beauty, and the tragedy of death a necessary part, the entire album is a statement in relentless nocturnal atmosphere using the more extreme side of nature to reveal the extent of its beauty. The brilliant flowing melodic articulation combined with the unrelenting and thick atmosphere as well as the superb aesthetic make for an album of a standard rarely matched in black metal.
With their first two albums, Ulver trod a fine line between atmospheric folk music and bursts of ripping Norwegian black metal. "Bergtatt" combine the categories to make one of the best albums to come from the Norwegian BM scene in the early 90's, while "Kveldssanger" let the band show off their neo-classical and folk influences, being an exercise strictly in acoustic music.
So of course, it was more than natural for Ulver to go from one extreme to the other. "Nattens Madrigal" ranks among the best of Norwegian BM albums, and with damn good reason. Not many albums like this come around. Except for a short acoustic break and the ambient interludes between songs, there is not a trace of the band's previous outings here. It's raw, unbridled, and fiercely passionate black metal. What makes it such a great album is the fact that, contrary to opinion, it's so unlike the other albums in that era. Rather than putting the term "ugly" to use beyond reason with their music, Ulver sound just as beautiful here as on their past work. By utilizing emotion-stirring lead work and steeping the entire release in a palpable sense of mystery tied with mythology, Ulver created a one-of-a-kind album. Using an archaic Danish tongue to recite the lyrics, (though Middle English translations are given in the layout) there's a strangely ancient feel to this album, as if it belongs to a time where superstition ruled human thinking. (Which, ironically, was probably the point.) The disc's layout helps to add this sense of mystery; minimal information is given about the recordings or the band; Furthermore, a foreword by Garm, explaining the concept behind the lyrics, only helps to open the listener's imagination to Ulver's real intention with this album.
Musically, you would hardly expect this to come from Ulver. (What the hell was I thinking? Expect the unexpected.) The album's production is anything but polished, but keeps itself out of the depths or murk found in the albums of this era by being as sharp as a razor. Hands down, this is the most grit-filled and trebly guitar tone I've heard on a black metal album, rivalled only by Satyricon's "Dark Medieval Times." But shit, this is ten times louder than most black metal albums. Grinding, constantly blasting drums are pushed to the forefront of the mix for an added degree of chaos, guitars seethe and bleed, and even the bass is audible at most points. Garm's nasty, venomous, throaty snarls still stand in a league of their own by black metal standards. Don't let this fool you into thinking that it's "good" production, though; it's absolutely filthy and lo-fi, just the way it should be. I don't know what or where the band recorded this, but they obviously told the engineer, "Make this as raw as fuck." As with the majority of black metal, the atmosphere and emotion is only enhanced by the raw production, as seen on the firey ending of "Wolf and Man," or the cathartic examples of "Wolf and Passion" and "Wolf and Night." The guitar work is simply incredible; whether it be the ripping solo found on "Wolf and Devil," the acoustic break on the opening track, or the light-speed tremolo picking of "Wolf and Hatred," Ulver do not fail to express the true fierce nature of the compositions. Drumwork is largely blastbeats, which never fail in their consistency; but some parts do let up, albeit if not for longer than a minute or so. The band do not fail in their instrumentation. Everything is spot-on and incredibly tight without seeming mechanical.
Often misunderstood, sometimes loathed, "Nattens Madrigal" still stands as true monument to the spirit of what black metal should be and emobody. It is a musical catharsis that will unleash a multitude of fierce passions, desires, and emotions to, of course, unleash the beast within man. As Garm says, "May the beast crown thy soul."
Favorites: "Wolf and Fear", "Wolf and Hatred", "Wolf and Man", "Wolf and Passion."
A Quite funny story!
I knew Ulver ever since Bergtatt which was a great atmospheric and melodic Black metal album. In fact this one along with Emperor¢s “In The Nightside Eclipse” and Gehenna¢s “First Spell” were for the true definitions of atmospheric black metal. Then they released” Kveldssanger” which was also a great album which was an album consisting only of acoustic guitars that were creating great melodies and an overwhelming atmosphere.
Then I hear that Ulver have joined Century Media and I am like: “Oh no… Now Ulver are going to transform into Dimmu Borgir clones or something”. I had that feeling because every band that joins this damned label turns into something horrible and commercial. When the album got into the local metal store my hand would be itching to buy it, but then I would see the sign of Century Media at the back of the cd and back up. But one day I said: “Oh what the hell 5000 drachmas down the drain probably and bought it.” I put it in the cd-player and guess what …
This album is a spit on the face of all commercialism. Raw and pure black metal. The riffs are very inspired, well executed and just brilliant. The drums are blast beats all the way down. No atmospheres, no excessive melodies. Just pure and raw black metal. Songs dedicated to the wolf in man. The production of this album is very primitive but yet clear enough to hear every instrument, truly a black metal production. The only thing I didn¢t like so much was track was track 6 “The wolf and passion” but that was only of personal taste. I just didn¢t like the riffs on it.
Guess what… There wasn¢t a second Ulver release in Century Media. What a wonderful and fast way to get fired. Hahaha. Way to go Ulver. For the wolf in man.
This is the final black metal release thus far by the ever-changing Ulver. Although there is still a single folk interlude on this album, Ulver step away from their stronger folk roots and decide to make a grim, yet strangely melodic and beautiful, raw black metal album.
Ulver implement the use of blasting, relentless and tinny drumming, a dual intense crunching guitar attack and in-your-face harsh vocals to make ‘Nattens Madrigal’ demand and rightfully receive undivided attention from the listener. The guitar riffs and tremolo picking are very melodic and are basically the only melodic aspect of the music itself. A good example of this is in the intro to ‘Hymne VI - Of Wolf And Passion’. The bass guitar, played by Skoll, is virtually non-existent due to the raw production style.
Numerous rumours have spread regarding the chosen production style for this album; the most prominent one being that Ulver used the money given to them to create the album was instead spent on personal items, so the album was recorded in the forests of Norway using a four-track tape recorder. Due to the production, there is a constant loud buzzing sound throughout the album that may be irritating for inexperienced listeners. After listening to this album in it’s entirety at high volume with headphones, I can safely say that, production-wise, it isn’t too much of a great experience. Some fans would argue that Ulver went took their production to an unbearable extreme, but ‘Nattens Madrigal’ is still certainly bearable if you are accustomed to the style.
The title of the album, which translates to ‘The Madrigal Of Night: Eight Hymns To The Wolf In Man’, highlights the underlying message of this album. More specifically, Ulver tell of how they see “the Werewolf as an Image of the Beast in Man”. ‘Nattens Madrigal’ tells the story about a man who is ‘blessed’ by the Devil and consequently transformed into a wolf. The lycanthrope finds himself with a “Battle in his Soul, to give himself entirely to his lonesome Destinie”.
Ulver’s ‘Trilogie’ concludes with this release, and on a high note (no pun intended). If you’re unfamiliar with black metal and a fan of the electronic-styled Ulver material, then you’re going to get one hell of a shock from ‘Nattens Madrigal’, so I suggest you stay away from this album. But otherwise, this album should be a treat for fans of highly aggressively-played black metal.
From the first riff of “Hymn I: Wolf and Fear” it is safe to say that this album is not another “Kveldssanger” or even another “Bergtatt”. The production is very thin from the start, thin even for “kvlt” black metal. This is not your typical “grim and kvlt” black metal album, though. The best way to describe this album is swirling chaos, but I’ll go into that more, later in the review. This album, in my opinion, is far superior to many sound-a-like bands, or I should rather say, bands trying to sound alike.
I’ve heard somewhere, that this album was recorded deep in the forest. I’m not entirely sure if this is true or not, but that describes the feeling of this album very well. The music presented on “Nattens Madrigal” has an aura, this primal feeling I get when I listen to it, that was not just haphazardly thrown together. The music is so atmospheric. Not atmospheric in the sense you may be thinking: there are no keyboards or crudely arranged choral voicing. This album is atmospheric in that it inspires emotions so deeply buried inside; it brings forth such a bleak, dark image. Everything about this release just adds to this primitive feeling that Ulver is presenting.
The guitars are very high pitched, very abrasive; bordering a buzz saw sound. The tremolo picking and chord patterns are incredible. Even within the first minute of Hymn I, the listener is captivated by the swirling, distorted melodies the guitars impose. So much emphasis is on the guitar, and rightly so, as they put the listener in the right frame of mind. Even with the chaotic riffing, there is a sense of the darker side of nature; the inevitable feeling that things will go bump in the night.
The limited acoustic portions are incredible, much along the lines of “Kveldssanger” and the acoustic parts of “Bergtatt”, but are different in many aspects. Where “Kveldssanger” was a work of serene, natural beauty, “Nattens Madrigal” is a work that inspires the much darker elements nature has to offer. The acoustic guitars, when used, seem to enhance the raw, primal sound of the rest of the album. The melodies on the acoustic guitar do import a sense of beauty, but once the distorted, swirling guitars start playing again, it’s much more chilling and primal.
The drums are very fast, when they need to be. There is a lot of emphasis on blast beats, but there are portions where the high-hat seems to weave through the sections, almost piecing everything together. The style is along the lines of Fenriz’s early period Darkthrone work. In other words, the drums aren’t completely original, but they fit so well with the feeling of the album. They add more of a sense of chaos to the swirling guitars. The snare just seems to pull the listener into the whirlpool of music even more. It is a very captivating listen, to say the least.
The vocals are definitely top notch, but when has Garm ever let the metal community down? (Don’t even say anything about “Blood Inside”; that album was excellent, and his vocal performance was top notch). Anyone who has heard Garm’s work with Arcturus, or especially later day Ulver, may be surprised by the vocals here. But those who have heard his work with Borknagar should not very surprised, as you’ve heard how well he can scream. His vocals are along the lines of a typical black metal rasp, that’s right, no clean vocals here. He seems to have this special knack for making black metal screams sound quite listenable. It might be where the vocals are at in the mix (a little lower than the guitars), but the presentation of the vocals is just stellar.
The track list is quite interesting. Why would Ulver name the album “Nattens Madrigal”, sing in the chosen language, and then title the tracks in English? Very odd indeed. I’ve read translations of the lyrics, and I recommend anyone who has heard this album to check them out. It is a very fascinating story about werewolves and such, but I won’t spoil the storyline to anyone who hasn’t read them yet. The lyrics, once the listener knows what the band is trying to get across, add more to the atmosphere of the album.
The cover of the album looks exactly how the music sounds; bleak, primitive, crude, and raw. The full moon rising over the bleak, barren mountainside. The wolf howling at the moon. The tree, a twisted mountain clinging tree. These elements are firmly portrayed in this album. Once more, adding to the atmosphere of this release.
Raw and primal, this album may not be for everyone. Symphonic black metal fans, don’t look to this album for cheesy piano interludes and keyboard wankery. This is no holds barred, raw, primal black metal. By far one of the most atmospheric, non-atmospheric releases I have ever listened to (if that makes sense?). This album is highly recommended to fans of black metal. This album is a landmark, a milestone that no other band has topped. Excellent work Ulver, excellent work. Nothing like anything they’ve released before, or after, but when has Ulver ever done anything that was expected? With Ulver, you have to expect the unexpected.
I can not recommend this album enough. It is excellent. Many bands have tried to copy this sound, but as of now, no one has yet come close. “Nattens Madrigal” is a lesson in what black metal should be. So raw, primal black metal fans, why don’t you own this yet?
Nattens Madrigal brings forth the most raw and primitive sounds Ulver have ever produced to this very day. This is the final piece of Ulver's Black Metal journey and what a way to end it. As previously stated, what you'll notice most about this album is it's harsh, raw and scratchy production. It offers the perfect backdrop to this wonderful release. In my opinion, this is Ulver's best release ... By far.
Never will you have heard such a contrast. Both beautiful melody and harsh music come together perfectly. Such an explosion of sound. Such powerful aggression. Enter ... The master that is Garm. Behind the blastbeats of the drums, the tremolo picking of the riffs comes raw screams. Quite possibly the harshest Black Metal vocals i've heard for a long time. Ulver bring together the most traditional sounds of Black Metal and the best musicianship for quite some time. Usually it's quite easy to pick faults with music, but not here. It's as close to perfection as it could possibly get.
A highly atmospheric album, which conveys emotion through sombre and melancholy acoustic pieces and haunting ambient sections. This is an album which tells a story and in doing so is highly emotive, just like Black Metal should be. The album portrays hateful, violent and aggressive emotions to go with the general concept of the album.
Most notable highlights for me come in the form of Hymn's 5 and 6. Oddly enough, as someone pointed out earlier, both these songs have an adverse affect on the listener. I find that the songs make me feel quite happy and uplifted, i'm not entirely sure whether that's intended or not ... All in all, this is a legendary release from Ulver. A unique album from a unique band. Recommended for all Black Metal fans.
Now, this album has been turned down by many people, some say it’s because of the production, that it’s too raw, the sound of the instruments don’t sound good at all, that the guitar sounds higher than the vocals. The other reason I’ve heard is that just too generic. It’s true, it’s generic as Hell, but you have to listen closely to the songs because there is a lot of melody thanks to the guitars. So you can say that “the guitars do the talking” on this album. I know the drumming sounds almost the same on a lot of songs, but Ulver wanted to make a Raw Black Metal album at the time, pure Black Metal album, and that’s exactly what we got. At least we didn’t get another Darkthrone clone.
At the time this was released there weren’t many albums like this, just listen to the melodies on some of the songs, like “Hymn VI: Wolf & Passion”, the melodies on this song sound very romantic, I know that seemed corny, but it’s true, it’s beautiful! And it’s still a Black Metal song, with all its darkness and brutality. In the first song “Hymn I: Wolf & Fear”, a little after it starts Ulver just stop the noise and go into an acoustic solo, and soon after return with the infernal sound. Little things like show you that this band was taking a step ahead in the right direction very early, so to those who say that Ulver didn’t experiment until “Themes from William Blake’s…” boo to you, cause this here proves that they were experimenting way before that album, even in their demo “Vargnatt”, Ulver used acoustics and melody, the same things a lot of BM bands at the time were ignoring. Each song has a different punch to it, a different melody which carries the song through with brutality, intensity and melody (I know I’ve been saying this word too much) at the same time!
The guitars are full of intensity all the time, the drums are just pure fricking insane, how the hell can that drummer keep up that beat for that amount of time?! Ohh, and how can I forget about the vocals!! Garm does an amazing job at them!! No wonder every Ulver fan (including me) wants him to return to his roots! His screams are full of anger and hate, the right recipes for a BM vocalist. I guess Ulver wanted to go out with a bang before stepping out of the Black Metal genre and off exploring others, well, they did it, and it’s on of the best BM albums of all time, at least in my book. I just hope that someday Garm will return to some kind of metal genre (of course, I would like it to be Black Metal, but hey, what can you do, just prey) because we really do need some originality back in, and it wouldn’t hurt to hear Garm screams again.
This album begins with a harsh, raw, sudden explosion of extremely heavy instruments and screaming. It continues for one minute and then stops for a long, beautiful acoustic interlude. Oh, it must be like Bergtatt and have lots of acoustic sections, right?
Even though that acoustic part is calm and pleasing, it is the only one on the entire album. The other songs do not let up from the deliberately nasty, extremely punishing production, crunchy guitars, and raw screaming. Ulver doesn't just have a huge mess of unorganized songs though - there are really great melodies underneath all the chaos. My personal favorite parts are the beginning and end of "Of Wolf and Passion" and the end of "Of Wolf and Destiny". The riffs are just brilliant and sound perfect with this sort of production. The drumming is constantly ultra-aggressive.
Each song ends or begins with a few seconds of ambience and mysterious sound effects, leading you to believe the next song will be a slow, ambient song to give you ears a rest, but there is no such thing. Most songs begin and end very abruptly like someone just pressed the stop button for you. Some say Garm recorded this in the forest but I have no idea if that's true or not. It would be quite grim of him to do so, and it sounds like it anyways.
Fans that have got into Ulver through their electronic/ambient music should be aware that the first 3 Ulver albums were a black metal trilogy. The first, "Bergtatt" has just as many acoustic and quieter sections than heavy sections. The second, "Kveldssanger" was entirely calm, atmospheric folk songs. "Nattens Madrigal" is the third and is 98% extreme harsh black metal. Most people that discovered Ulver through their newer works probably won't like this, and that is no surprise. Personally, I love every Ulver album, as radically different as they all are. I did discover them first through "Themes" and collected the albums in randomly. It really depends on how much of an open mind you have. On the other end of the spectrum, fans of Norwegian black metal will either love or hate this album, maybe hate it because of the lack of variety in the songs, but it really depends on the person, obviously. No matter what the case, give this album time to grow on you. Don't make the mistake of laughing at it on one listen and never taking it out again.
I haven't heard about this in a while, but apparently Ulver was arranging a string remake of this album. I'm not entirely sure if it's actually going to come out. I think they have recorded part of it already, but Garm became uninterested and started working on the next full-length. Hopefully what was recorded will at least be released, or they eventually will record the rest of it. A string remake of one of the harshest black metal albums in existence would be one of the most original, interesting, and outrageous things ever done. I could just imagine soft strings playing all these great melodies and it would be just as good.
Check out other projects with Garm: Arcturus and Borknagar if you haven't already. This is a little similar to the first Borknagar album, if you've already heard it. It's definitely one of my favorite black metal releases ever.
Few bands have the gift that Ulver possess. Throughout their career Ulverhave shown a unique ability to play whatever type of music it takes to convey any emotions are moving their spirits at the time, whether it calls for a metal opus, a moody ambient collection, some somber acoustic pieces, or a haunting symphonic score. On Ulver’s third full-length, “Natten’s Madrigal: The Madrigal of the Night”, the group was touched by the predatory nature of man. The concept goes something like this; it is only natural for humans to immerse themselves in their violent and predatory instincts. For many centuries we did just that, as hunters and gatherers. However the many barricades that the secular world has built within our mind separate us from these strengths that we once lived within. Survival of the fittest has been tragically altered for the human race. It once went that those who had the ability to hunt were those who survived, now those who can earn the most money are the "fittest". With the rare exception of those who still capture their own food or those who have found some other way to express their violent nature; we humans have been separated from our predatory instincts. It is a denial of a way that is essential to our bond with nature. Here, Ulver manages to capture the dark hunting spirit within their souls, and put it to music.
“Natten’s Madrigal” uses the metaphor of a man who immerses himself in his predatory, or what our culture would call “evil” spirits, and transforms into a ware wolf. Keep in mind that the wolf is a strong, smart, fast and sly predator: all elements of a good hunter, all elements that live somewhere in human beings. According to legend, Ulver went into some nearby woods with their instruments and amps and recorded these eight hymns to the dark powers within humans. Whether they actually went into the woods or not, I do not know, but it sure sounds like it. Musically “Natten’s Madrigal” is just as raw, harsh and violent as its concept. The sound is painfully thin as each riff tears through the listener, literally painful to listen to at times. The sound is so raw it makes Darkthrone albums seem overproduced. The vocals are cold, grim shrieks, which further hark to the animal nature within. The drumming is for the most part flat, pounding and straightforward. However, the music just as paradoxical as the album’s concept. The concept behind this album, although ugly on the surface, is ultimately a beautiful thing. When an individual gets back in touch with their animal nature they are empowered. The music is no different. Behind the razor sharp riffs and grim vocals are undeniably stunning melodies. Throughout the album the listener is engulfed in dark riffs that cross a good range of human emotions. “Hymn VI: Wolf and Passion” opens and closes with one of the most joyous metal riffs I have ever heard. It is the true joy of finding and then delving into ones violent instincts. “Hymn VII: Wolf and Destiny” is filled with melancholy and sorrow as a long and moody progression is repeated over and over for the final two and a half minutes. The most dynamic track would have to be “Hymn I: Wolf and Fear” which starts out with an extremely aggressive riff before slowing down for the albums lone acoustic passage. Then the band kicks back in with a glorious riff of victory, and finally closing with a dark depressing progression. Most of the other songs have an overriding feeling of darkness, power and strength. But don’t make the mistake of thinking all these hymns sound the same, as there are a good variety of riffs and melodies. To add extra atmosphere Ulver placed dark and haunting ambient pieces between each hymn, evoking images of a foggy wilderness late at night.
In the end Ulver created something very special with this album. It is by no means an easy album to get into, and at times the extreme rawness can become a bit too much. However in the end the Ulver achieves their ultimate goal. They create a grim and cold realm where all that is violent within man lives, and then explore as many different layers of it as they can. Even if not the most aesthetically pleasing work of art, Ulver must be credited for having a lofty goal and achieving it.
Third album, third amazing style change. After the all acoustic, contemplatve and enchanting "Kveldssanger", Ulver finish their now well known and rightfully celebrated folkish trilogy with one of the grimmest, rawest, most ferocious and uncompromising Black Metal albums to date. Comprised of "eight hymns to the Wolf in man", "Nattens Madrigal" is yet another concept album focused on the theme of lycanthropy, or better, a kind of spiritual evolution which ultimately leads the man in giving up to the untamed passions which haunt his dark, hidden side. With this ferine concept being so central in this opus, it was natural for the band to privilege a primitive and brutal musical approach, as AiwarikiaR's liner notes state.
Indeed, a short acoustic guitar break somewhere through the first song, or "hymn", is the only echo of Ulver's previous musical efforts to be found here. The rest is the musical translation of a cold, foerce wind sweeping the desolate wastes of a full moon night, haunted by the spectre of the Werewolf himself. In other words, Black Metal in its rawest and fastest form, claws and fangs shredding any unaware ears nearby.
While many say that this extremely rough form of (under-)production is what defines the perfect atmosphere of this genre of music, others claim that Ulver have dragged it too far here. Actually, only listeners trained to this kind of sound may be able to survive the impact with this wall of sound and ultimately discern elements such as riffs, rhythms and structures.
Which are, as one has the right to expect from Ulver, extremely interesting to say the least.
With acoustic guitars almost completely banned, Haacard and Aismal unleash a dual guitar attack of rare intensity, as if willing to experiment all and every possible combination of twin guitar riffing; their patterns rarely rely on basic power chords and mostly blaze along the high paced trail in intricate tremolo explorations which ultimately define the mood, or better the set of different moods of each single hymn.
For one thing must be said: despite the relentless aggression, "Nattens Madrigal" is not the same song repeated over and over, nor is it the same story, the same landscape. Again, it all goes back to the harsh production and the ability to discern the depth of the subject beneath the rough surface.
The guitars, however, would definitely not suffice to create the majesty of "Nattens Madrigal" without the masterful contribution of Skoll: once again his rolling bass (which is somehow audible despite the very trebly sound) provides the ever shape-shifting foundation of the songs, more often adding yet another element rather than just defining the basics of it all, yet never misleading the music to pointlessly chaotic solutions.
And of course the thunderous, merciless beats. After the excellent drumming performance on "Bergtatt", AiwarikiaR gest his chance to shine once again as the beastly force which pushes the storm onwards into darker territories without rest nor uncertainty, his subtle rhythm and accent shifts determining most of the variety to be found here. Chaotic blasting and measured chenges - a paradox which is actually hard to explain and is best listened to for numerous reasons.
Garm is the most "sacrificed" talent here, as the nature of the music inevitable forces him to stick to his fierce screams from the beginning to the end, for the first and last time in his whole lengthy discography. A very effective performance anyway, not too dissimilarfrom his contribution to Borknagar's self titled debut. He would be leaving screams and metal in general in not a long time from here anyway.
The packaging of the album is also worth mentioning, as it features one of the most spectacular cover images to be seen (courtesy of Tanya Stene, which had also provided the cover painting for Bergtatt), and English translations for the excellent lyrics and notes by Jørn Henrik Sværen, which is involved in Ulver nowadays.
As a conclusion, I can say that this is one of the best examples of what can be achieved through the rawest form of sonic art. If you are used to this kind of music and are willing to tribute a little effort to fully understand the wiode range of the concept, you should definitely have a taste of the Madrigal of Night.