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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.