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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.