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atsgdhddfhdhdhdfdd - 77%

caspian, February 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, House of Mythology

Man, these guys are really on a roll. Let's pretend War of the Roses doesn't exist- generally a good idea, in my opinion- and think of the albums done in succession- Shadows, Childhood, Messe and now this; pretty rare that a band can release so many super solid albums in a row. Now, atgclvlsscap (from now on referred to as "new album") perhaps isn't the crowning achievement of the band, but it and Messe would surely be the best since the original trilogy. Finally, and perhaps best of all, there's no doubt in my mind that new album is the funnest thing these guys have ever done.

Yeah, let's talk on the positives first. Perhaps the thing that most appeals to me with this album is that Ulver have finally managed to mix their post-BM artiness (or pretension, both words apply really) with some really entertaining tunes. Glammer Hammer's rather post rock buildup is rather atmospheric and pretty, sure, but at no point is it about restraint, or about holding back or what have you, it's just this gripping little ride right up until the fairly pleasing loud part, little layers floating around everywhere. Just great to listen too, whereas as good as most of Messe was, you tended to use words like "challenging" and "slow burner" a lot when describing the album. Not here. It's a pretty neat little three way thing here, opening up the middle order of the album- you've got Glammer's moody post rock, Moody Stix's "experimental Minecraft soundtrack" (I say this as a compliment) and Cromagnosis's entertaining and fairly muscular stomp. Similar to Childhood's End- the rocky tracks work because there's a lot of interesting parts and the production is raw and fresh and sounds great.

As we move onto the slower tracks of the whole thing, the quality remains pretty high, although I'll grant that you probably need to be somewhat seasoned in ambient/drone/whatnot for it not to challenge the attention span. Nonetheless, like the faster paced first part of the album, it still mixes compelling music with various avant garde aspirations, something which these guys often fail to do (hello, most of Blood Inside!). Desert/Dawn is all cool vintage synths and a steadily enveloping, thickening mix- quite a warm, delicious thing, really, while Gold Beach lives up to its' title in that it doesn't necessarily do that much but is extremely pretty, a more drawn out, almost Stars of the Lid esque composition where things happen slowly, deliberately, and wonderfully. I wish it could've been longer, which isn't something I say about a lot of Ulver's ambient experiments.

There's a lot of really, really good music here, but as with almost every Ulver album, there is enough wrong with this to stop it from being a stone cold classic. For one, I'm not really sold on what is a rather bizarre track listing- experimental rock first up, ambient, then bad vocal led tunes- the sonic signature of it all is coherent enough that you could definitely mix the tunes around and end up with a better balanced album. The main thing though, simply put, is Garm's vocals, which ruin the few songs he's on. Nowhere has a lot of potential- the big, Hammock-ish chorus is really quite lush and pretty- but the aimless crooning on the rest of the song sinks it as effortlessly as a torpedo to a rubber ducky, and Ecclesiastes suuuucks when he gets going. It's a shame because it's a pretty interesting book which deserves far better treatment, but once the cool intro fades behind Garm's vaguely hysterical, histronic, and remarkably shit attempts at being operatic, oh man. Just the worst; a half arsed attempt at sounding deep, "bad celine dion" quality piano, the whole deal. It sucks when an otherwise super fine album has a track/moment where you have to stop whatever you're doing and sprint for the skip button, but here it is.

But look, Kill 'Em All has that bass solo and I still find myself playing the shit out of that album. Based on the last few albums we can definitely conclude that Ulver have found a production style that suits them, found a neat way to incorporate live sonics into an otherwise very studio-ish creation, and discovered that having a full time guitarist is a super great idea. They haven't shaken out all the cobwebs yet, which is why this remains "very good" instead of "great". I still recommend this album highly, though; definitely the funnest thing they've ever done, a good intro to the band and something that most long time fans will get a big kick out of.

Ulver - ATGCLVLSSCAP - 97%

Avestriel, February 5th, 2016

"Hold the fucking train 2016 I'm still trying to chew through January" was the first thing that went through my mind. Not long after that initial bit of vertigo and embarrassment -like being on a crowded bus when the driver makes a sudden stop- I was learning about Ulver's latest signs of life and activity with a new full-length that, uh, confused me thoroughly as to the circumstances of recording and wether this counts as a full-length or not (hint: if Neil Young's Arc counts as one, and it does, then so does ATGCLVLSSCAP). All this surprise and confusion and slight arousal only helped make the actual listening a better, greater experience. At any rate, it's not hard to tell that this is a rather beautiful collection of vignettes from a handful of live performances that have been reassembled, edited and enhanced in studio in a way that could be described as "frankensteinian had Frankenstein actually been successful and created a cool dude instead of a monster, y'know, in the story". Could be.

My brain, needless to say, was caught with its trousers down, and as it happens when circumstances are as unexpected as they are promising, the experience has left me an ever so slightly different person, except this on a good way this time.

The first thing that caught my attention was how I still wasn't very sure wether this was supposed to be a studio album, a live recording, or some sort of remix CD, à la 1st Decade In The Machines except only one artist contribuing Ulver remixes, that band being Ulver itself. The next thing that bothered me was why I had not heard a peep about this anywhere. Sure, I was a bit... uh, "lost" for a week late January but surely this should have been mentioned earlier somewhere. The final thing that dawned on me was that I was thinking too much and listening to Ulver's new ofertorium too little. I shaked my head and decided the last bit was the important bit.

So I listened to the music and swiftly lost my shit.

After getting the aforementioned shit together, at least enough to form coherent thoughts again, I slowly started to realise a few things. The first two things I noticed were the few songs I recognised from older albums, and how genuinely different the band sounds as an entity, compared to those times. Like looking at a younger picture of yourself during proud moments. Or, if you like, like what would happen if at least some of the attempts at rerecording classic albums and songs (Dimmu, Burzum, Gorgoroth et al, I'm looking at you) actually worked for the better.

The music's muscular, it's just massive flows of energy rushing, rising, speeding and suddenly slowing to a crawl ony to start again, generally keeping things shaky and dangerous like a meth head. The nature of the instrumentation itself goes from laptop-era electronics along analogue keyboards to traditional dudebro band instruments like electric guitars (albeit seemingly surrounded by effect pedals), drums (obviously) and acoustic instruments mostly of the strings or percussive family. Percussion is surprisingly easy to fit into pretty much anything, as long as you know how to be dynamic, suble and know to keep a varied palette, which is certainly the case at some very urgent points of the album.

The further the music drifts from form the more precise it seems, which is the kind of contradiction that we've come to expect from the Ulver guys, just like we can count on their ability to create a seemingly constant, fluent state of shift in volume, tempo and thickness of sound, and make such a bonebreaking effort without losing elegance or balance. On the music's moods and notes, I must say I don't know how intentional it is, but the overall sound denotes a dark psychedelic nature, like a more enigmatic 'O'Rang with a tendency towards either a nightmarishly Victorian London or a dark and dreamy early XXth century Oslo; wherever and whenever dreams, myths and common fears bump into eachother.

Then I kept noticing things.

For example how the mickrophone magick of one Mr. G was almost, *almost* nowhere to be heard. Garms duties as a singer are paraded (with great effect) mainly on two tracks. The first is no less than the sixteenth birthday version of one of their most celebrated songs, "Nowhere/Catastrophe". A slightly slower, groovier and more relaxed version. Both the music and his vocals bear the mark of experience and at the same time stay true to the original. That way, now being able to play with better toys, the old melodies and sounds that you know so well (as long as you've listened to Perdition City as much as I have which I DOUBT) pop up unexpectedly in a simultaneously familar yet renovated fashion. You see, or rather hear (see what I did there) them from a different angle. It's like listening to a CD you know by heart on someone else's soundsystem. Sometimes the left bits only come out partially or the right is completely out, so you hear it in a different light, so to write.

Even though these are Garm's only two proper performances as a singer on this album, they weigh as much as his unsettling silence in terms of gravitas (and dexterity!) . Here's hoping he had a bigger role as a player of instruments (of any kind) on the live recordings, since it'd be a delight to see him more involved with the actual playing during live shows. You can only take a timbal and a gong so far. That's a truth.

The other track, Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap), is just as interesting for rather different reasons, as it is a brand new track. Or rathr 90% of it is, since it borrows a piano theme from the track Tomorrow Never Knows during the first half, which, sidenote, offers a simple but effective technique hitherto unheard of from Ulver, which is a spoken-word piece -in Norwegian, no less! Still, the song is an entity by itself. The lyircs consist of a rather famous bit of Ecclesiastes, a book I'm starting to suspect is the most famous of the Bible aside from the Gospel and the book of Revelation, about there being a time for everything in life. It's really nice, though I can think of at least one example of that passsage being used as lyrics before. Nitpicky, I know. It's a more tranquile piece, in the style of something that would come out of mixing their cover of Black Sabbath's Solitude with Blinded By Blood, off of Blood Inside. Bongos and all (which they didn't use on the cover version, strangely enough).

(I'm not entirely sure what Mr. G is doing the rest of the time, since the credits refers only to the role of "Programmingin", but the truth is, his distancing his voice from the limelight for a bit allows for tons of momentum to be gained by the strictly instrumental aspects of Ulver, something that is often enough not achieved in studio recordings. At any rate his minimal performance on the rest of the recording as a singer can be found in the form of mantric, distant, echoy and airy words sung seemingly in a fit of religious monotony)

And so the music unfolds and folds into and unto itself and a brief Solaris (now THAT'S a movie that would be well worthy of an OST by Ulver) bids us fond adieu from this frondose periplus and other big words.

It makes sense that, since their attitude as a live act shaped its sound to resemble their last few albums more closely than anything else, this strange and charming half-live, half-studio (or something) record would focus on the strengths of their live performances. As such there is more attention to keeping a sense of continuity between despairingly different sounding bits without losing the element of surprise. There are spaces within spaces, and all of them are full of sound, as one so often says. The result is a more confident, daring version of the kind of rich and flexible sound you can hear on their wonderful Norwegian National Opera DVD. They know what they can do now, they know what they're able (and unable) to pull off, and use their entire arsenal on the stage. Just killer stuff.

Since Ulver's music of the past ten years has relied heavily in ambiance and the cunning use of silence, it came as a surprise how well they dealt with not having much of it on this recording, giving their more abstract and silent moments a turn for the livid and busy. This aspect of their lattest era (let's call it the post-live Ulver) has been now showcased in what might be their best work of the past five years, maybe even twice that long. Maybe.

As a band, Ulver came back changed from the experience of having to do without the benefit of a studio, of having to fend for themselves live and prove what they can do from the other side of the curtain. This is a document that captures what this rejuvenated Ulver can do when truly let loose. Unexpectedly, as is to be expected, the wolves bare their still-sharp teeth for the world to see. And we tremble.

Another great album the wolves of Norway - 90%

Heilmax1995, January 27th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, 2 12" vinyls, House of Mythology (Limited edition, Gatefold vinyl)

Plenty of bands change their style over the course of their career, but few have done so to the degree of Norway’s Ulver. Gaining their early recognition within the second wave of black metal from their home-country, Kristoffer Rygg and friends bade their contemporaries farewell as they explored everything from trip-hop to film score music. Listening to various albums in Ulver’s discography is like listening to completely different bands, which would be fairly accurate considering Rygg is the only original member of the band’s lineup. The current incarnation of Ulver continued their collective musical explorations in 2014 by playing 11 shows comprised of new material in addition to improvised pieces centered around some of their previous songs and themes. 2 years after this small tour, the band revisited the multi-track recordings of the music they made with the help of Daniel O’Sullivan in the studio to edit and polish hours of material into an 80 minute long opus. ATGCLVLSSCAP is often as challenging to listen to as its name is to say, and it contains some of the most riveting music I’ve heard from Ulver.

As listeners must have come to expect by now, Ulver did a great job of producing and mixing ATGCLVLSSCAP. No matter how dense or frantic the music gets, everything can be heard and appreciated to its fullest potential. This not only adds to the dynamic range of the album, but prevents songs from becoming tired. Each minute detail of the song can be easily heard, giving listeners maximum gratification. The inclusion of Daniel O’Sullivan in the production process essentially gives the raw creativity of the live sessions Ulver played a more structured and directional quality than might be expected from pure improvisation.

Those who are familiar with the music Ulver has made in more recent years will indeed hear familiar motifs, themes, and stylistic choices on ATGCLVLSSCAP. A more obvious example of playing around with a theme can be heard in “Glammer Hammer,” which is a reimagining of the orchestral “Glamour Box (Ostinati)” off of Messe I.X-VI.X in an improv rock style. Dubbed “free rock” by the band, this musical approach gives each song a distinctly spontaneous feeling, in that it puts just as much emphasis on freedom as rocking out. “England’s Hidden” and the aptly named “D-Day Drone” embrace the ambient leanings of Ulver, whereas the aforementioned “Glammer Hammer” and the following “Moody Sticks” have a hard-hitting percussiveness to them that I don’t recall hearing in any of Ulver’s back catalogue. These styles are complemented by the electronic explorations of “Desert / Dawn.” Many songs on ATGCLVLSSCAP are decidedly heavy, something I didn’t expect to hear from a band that has so adamantly distanced themselves from metal. I never thought I’d be able to say that there are some distorted riffs on a new Ulver album, but I couldn’t be happier about it. One could also draw a lot of connections to the highly improvisational music of Swans. “Cromagnosis” and “Om Hanumate Namah” are great examples of Ulver elaborating on a repetitive but entrancing rock groove with subtle layerings and meticulously executed crescendos. As has been the case with Ulver’s recent output, ATGCLVLSSCAP has few vocal performances. Although the first and concluding tracks feature processed and sample heavy voices, only the 10th and 11th tracks feature defined lyrics and vocal lines. Kristoffer Rygg’s voice is as rapturous as ever. His melodic choices are as astounding as his technically and emotionally nuanced style of singing. Ulver’s volumes of material in this record are executed to the utmost. I wish I could say the same about how they were compiled.

Although O’Sullivan did a great job of polishing individual tracks on ATGCLVLSSCAP, I can’t say that he did a particularly impressive job of arranging them into a cohesive unit. The first half of the album flows well, with an ambient intro giving way to more band oriented songs, but things start to feel odd at the end of “Om Hanumate Namah.” This isn’t a conclusion that leads the listener out of the song. It feels nonchalant and jarring. The next three tracks re-embrace ambience and electronica, leading into the two showcases of Rygg’s voice. Just like the first section, These tracks flow from somber drone music to passionate art-rock with ease. However, the choppy editing comes back with a vengeance when what feels like the natural ending of the album is complemented by “Solaris,” an admittedly compelling electronica song that propels and builds up to… another awkward ending… and then the albums over… Why couldn’t it have ended with the delicate pads at the end of “Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)?” That’s my main gripe with this record. The transitions between the two halves of the album take from the overall continuity of ATGCLVLSSCAP, making it more of a collection of songs than a conceptual experience.

Ulver continue to earn their prestige in the experimental music community with ATGCLVLSSCAP. Fans of the band will certainly be pleased by many tracks on this album, and I would certainly recommend it as a wonderful celebration of Ulver’s musical skill. Although its overall structure has its flaws, the songs on ATGCLVLSSCAP are too good for me to hold that against them.