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Often, the term 'ambient music' has admittedly had a bit of a pejorative meaning in my mind. More often than not, I've associated the ambient approach and label to be music that fails to capture the listener's attention; the sort of thing that is best left in an elevator or hospital waiting room. Of course, there is no way to critique an entire genre or musical direction with 'good' or 'bad'; there's always going to be gold buried within any mountain. Of course, leave it to the eclectic Norwegian experimental outfit Ulver to create a piece of music that is mellow and soft, but leaves me hanging for almost each blissful moment. This is about as far a cry as one could get from Ulver's origins as a black metal act, and while the band gives a completely different presentation here, I find myself loving the band more than ever with this inventive sound they have fashioned with their 2007 masterpiece 'Shadows Of The Sun'.
Make no mistake with this one; the album is incredibly laid-back, and often quiet to the point of straining one's ears to hear each detail. But, while the music here may not be chock-full of energetic riffs and variety, Ulver's 'Shadows Of The Sun' succeeds simply by how well the sound is arranged, and how surprisingly good the songwriting is considering the ambient label the album has. Expect nothing but a quiet, mellow trip with 'Shadows', but it is also one of the most atmospheric records I have ever come across. Much of the album is driven by peaceful, intricate electronics. These are done very well, and while there is not much sparing the piano and the occasional string section in terms of 'typical' instrumentation one might expect to find in most music, the sounds are done perfectly, and often feel arranged much like a classical composer would envision them.
A notable aspect of the music here is the use of the electronic instrument, the theramin. A fairly obscure instrument with a uniquely distinctive voice to it, it gives a very eerie sound to its parts; particularly the opener 'Eos'. Even before listening to 'Shadows Of The Sun' in its entirety, 'Eos' always stood out to me as being one of those songs I could always put on regardless of mood, and have it sweep me away by its sheer beauty. Dark, deep and brooding vocals from Krystoffer Rygg (listed here as Garm, or Trickster G.) add some extra resonance to the vast soundscapes, taking a lyrical approach that can often be left open to one's personal interpretation.
The album is certainly not meant for every occasion, and not every listener will have the patience to dig into every niche and detail of the music before getting bored. That being said, I have found myself really struck by the post-apocalyptic, brooding, and melancholic ambiance the music gives; it is a personal journey, and a dark vision of the future all in one. It is Ulver's 'Shadows Of The Sun', and it's been one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.
I am not a big fan of the direction Ulver took after "Nattens Madrigal" ("Madrigal of the Night") and I consider that album to be a huge fuck-up due to its lackluster production and songwriting. Also, I have always passionately hated the newer material they've put out, so I don't really know why I checked out some of the songs from this one. Probably to get some more ammo to hate them with. It's not what you would call metal, or music for that matter. It's more like soundscapes or sound composition. Whatever you decide to call it this a beautiful and soothing album.
The songs are mellow and sometimes very depressive. The vocal arrangements on "Let the children go", for example, sounds like a caged being whispering out to anyone who might hear, accompanied by eerie sounds. Per se, I would not call this music since most of the "songs" have no real structure outside being strange and moody. But I really enjoy listening to all the weird sounds and effects. The dial-up modem sound at the end of "All the love" send shivers down my spine, just to mention an example.
The lyrics don't make much sense to me, but they convey a certain emotion as well. The lyrics for the song "Like music" put me in a state of wondering and contemplation. Lines like "Is it beautiful, like Music" don't make much sense when spoken, but in this song they really hold a meaning. I can't say what meaning, but you will find your own meaning in it if you listen. Either it's deep or just nonsense to you.
I would really recommend this album to fans of ambient music, or anyone who wants a decent listening experience. I can't really break it down and comment each song, this is more of an experience and should be enjoyed as a whole. Nevertheless it's nice music to just sit and listen to when riding a bus or walking downtown. It's simply good ambient music that should be used to fill up an empty space of silence. Music to sit and dream yourself away to.
Some tracks are better than others, but all in all this is by far Ulver's best output since their 1994 full-length "Bergtatt" - released over 10 years ago. Maybe that's just an indication of how I perceive their music, but it certainly shows that this is one of their better works so far.
Ulver describes their latest album, “Shadows of the Sun,” as dark, tragic, and low-key just like they are. One word they left out is pointless. This album is pointless, and if Ulver keeps this up, then they are pretty pointless as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love post-black metal Ulver albums like “Themes from William Blake’s the Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and “A Quick Fix of Melancholy.” I just believe that this particular style is rather worthless.
First of all, the vocals on this album are just bad. I am a huge fan of Garm’s work, but on this album, he really isn’t trying at all. Garm’s “singing” here is very effortless. It is a very low (almost bass territory) style of talking. That’s right, the great Garm is barely singing here. Garm just talks in a deep voice throughout the whole thing. I would have loved this album if Garm sang like he did on “A Quick Fix of Melancholy,” but he doesn’t even come close. “Solitude,” the cover of Black Sabbath is probably the best song here! This is because Garm is forced to have some melody in his voice because Ozzy sang it with melody. A very disappointing effort on this album by the usually outstanding vocalist, Kristoffer Rygg.
The music here barely contains any real instruments. Most of the music is synth, with some piano and keyboards. It does sound depressing, but they could have pulled it off much better. The creepy sound of “A Quick Fix of Melancholy” can not be heard here. Here we have a different dark kind of music, which is much worse (IMO). It is very relaxing, but it is not an album to take seriously. I listen to it while studying for a test, or before going to sleep. Nothing here is going to blow anyone away.
All tracks here sound alike. There is not much difference to be able to pick favorites. As mentioned before, the Black Sabbath cover stands out because they were forced to put some effort into it. The rest of the tracks sound like one big blur of synth and Garm talking. There are barely any differences throughout the album, and certainly nothing catchy.
Overall, the newest Ulver album is just taking space. After listening to it, one does not walk away feeling like he or she gained anything from it. No one is going to love this album, but no one is going to hate it either. It exists, that is all there is to it.
It's hard to say that a group like Ulver could "return to form" in any significant sense, since while they may have dwelled at particular points of experimentation for more than one album, they've certainly never looked back.
And Shadows of the Sun doesn't sound exactly like any previous Ulver albums, though it seems to be a digestion of all of the lessons learned in electro-acoustic music between Metamorphosis and A Quick Fix of Melancholy. Where Perdition City was expansive in its textural possibilities, Shadows of the Sun is intimate, (sometimes to the point of being claustrophobic), a living room-close chamber blend of electronics and acoustic instruments. And if you're a hardcore Ulver fan, you'll recognize the chord progression of Eos as that of the melancholy piano theme to Uno, one of Ulver's unreleased film score projects and my least favorite of all of the group's work. Ulver has creatively recycled before, turning Nattleite from Kveldssanger into brooding and tense electronica called Eitttlane. Eos is less of a radical transformation and more of a development, but certainly adds a lot of emotional weight to what was once a static miniature. And I'm not hugely familiar with the Sabbath original, but Solitude is structured around a guitar and bass melodic fragment, with Matthais Eick's occasional jazz trumpet obbligato and tons of electronic treatments keeping the texture unstable throughout the song.
The texture is where this album gets most of its interest, since it is on the repetitive side in terms of pure melody and harmony. Whether through electronic processing, (by Fennesz on the hallucinatory Vigil), or by some wonderful additions to Ulver's standard instrumental lineup, this album keeps itself fresh in terms of all the composition and arranging, without the textural overload that some complained about with Blood Inside.
The aformentioned Eos expands its tentative initial chord progression by placing Pamelia Thurstin's wonderfully rich theremin sound with the Oslo Session string quartet; Garm's vocals are also processed through a vocorder for the second half of the song. The theremin returns in a deeper register in Funebre, a pure tenor wail with such controlled vibrato on such a melancholy, eastern-European sounding melody. All The Love employs some more modern compositional techniques, dropping in a keyboard loop that grows quieter as it speeds up, splitting the listener's attention away from the solemn 4/4 groove, one of the few uses of drums in any form on this album. Ulver goes atonal at the end of Like Music, utilizing the electric guitar effects manipulation of Espen Jorgensen in combination with their own washes of generated sound, and into more tense melodic territory for What Happened?, though that bit of sonic tension is set upright when the strings and synth play the album out on a variation of the opening chord progression.
This album is quite texturally interesting, but certainly not perfect. Garm's vocals stay in the lower octaves, and while there is distinct emotional impact when we do hear him in something close to the traditional falsettos, his vocal range is a distinct part of Ulver's appeal. Finally, it seems that Ulver gets a little nervous flying solo with little or no textural assistance from their collaborators; while the title track and Let the Children Go are crammed full of great musical ideas, they seem to be self-conscious of overusing each element of the piece and shift somewhat jarringly between them. (I enjoy both of these tracks, especially the section of Let the Children Go stripped down just to trumpet, bass, synth chords and drums.)
I was a fan of the direction Blood Inside suggested - it was crowded and somewhat paranoid, but it was a genius throw of the net for Ulver. Shadows of the Sun turns inward from that ocean of musical collage and seems to be decidedly more European. But I'm glad to have an album to play on loop during rainy days, as I felt both Perdition City and the Silence EPs were. Shadows is an Ulver album to negotiate with, not to butt heads with. The negotation is passive, but thoroughly interesting.
Well this is not just music in itself. This release is much more an artistic presentation of a conception, or an idea. So the music in this content is something built upon a landscape or just a transitorial atmosphere. A pice of time inserted somewhere else.
The majority of the songs here are in a slow tempo, they never speed up like in some releases of this experimental/avant-garde/or-something-else Ulver era. Like I said before, this is not just music, they want to make the listener to get inside an ambient atmosphere of a musical conception. So they use a lot of keyboards and samples to do it.
Analyzing the instrumentation is very perceptive that this album is not oriented by the guitar work. The rhythm in itself is never conducted by the guitars, it always follow the keyboard or just the melodies sung by Garm. The percussion is a mix of real drums and programmed ones. It sounds real effective and help to alternate between the mood in each song. The vocals one more time are brilliant executed by the Master Garm, he does not sing in an operatic way like before, somtimes he just whisper the words or make a medium picth clean vocal, what, in fact, is very nice, one of the highlits of this album.
As said, this album does not follow the sacred formula of rhythm, so the riffs do not sound very catchy, you may listen to the songs twice or more and you will not remeber "the most important" or more catchy part of them. Except if you a hardcore fan of Black Sabbath, just because the covered song was not a big hit even among their fans.
To resume it up, this is a nice release, to listen in a calm day, to contemplate something (a beautiful landscape would be a good example), nothing much more creative or outstanding.
Ulver's strange, twisting career has become so damn strange and twisted that the unexpected has become expected and vice versa. After the super layered, cacophonous prog-rock of Blood Inside, it was expected that Ulver would do something mellow and low-key. Of course, because that was expected, it was therefore logical that Ulver would do something even more chaotic then Blood Inside. So, Ulver did the unexpected thing and did a mellow album. Or something.
..But anyway, yes, this is another change in Ulver's career. Perhaps they've been listening to a lot of Sigur Ros's () , as this album seems to be a homage to it, but with a few trumpets added. Regardless, this album is pretty good, although like most post-nattens Ulver there's a lack of coherency and focus in some areas, and the album suffers as a result.
However, when these guys manage to, well, write a song, it's really sweet stuff. Eos is very reminiscent of Sigur Ros, a super slow organ line shimmering in the background, with some strings slowly coming in while Garm's deep man-vocals float around in the mix. Solitude has some pretty cheesy lyrics but it's a great cover, sounding like a really depressing lounge music song. The piano noodlings on Like Music are also really good, with Garm again shining in this song. Those hoping for operatic vocals in this album are going to be extremely disappointed- Garm sings in baritone for basically the entire time. Still, these vocals fit the low key and personal nature of the songs, and they sound excellent with all of the slow burning strings and piano figures.
Unfortunately, despite all the good vocals and slow motion prettiness, there's problems in this album. Ulver simply don't seem content to write a song and leave it at that, instead we get a heap of somewhat pointless instrumentation, irritating changes in mood, and some songs just don't really sound complete. All for Love has a terrific start, with a choir of Garms singing all angelically, and the faster bit sounds good first up, but then they drop in a heap of ill-fitting piano that just completely spoils the mood. Vigil goes from a lovely, soft piano driven tune into a psychedelic drone thing. Now, I love my psychedelic drone, and it sounds good on it's own, but it's abrupt and really spoils the mood. The title track never really settles into anything concrete, wandering around aimlessly for 4 and a half minutes and then ending. Another problem is that every song is really slow, and there's not a lot here to keep the listener all that interested- there's not really any upbeat moments at all. That's fine for things like drone doom, but it's hard to take 9 songs of soft spoken balladry in a row. Good for night listening and relaxing, but that's about it.
Don't get me wrong though, this is a pretty solid album. When Ulver execute their songs properly it sounds amazing, and even when they misstep it's not that offensive. Basically, they took a good idea and for the most part executed it well. Some great songs and some frustrating songs. You should buy it- just keep the skip button handy.