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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.