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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.