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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.