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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."