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A Wonderful Debut Album. - 98%

woeoftyrants, May 6th, 2007

In my opinion, Bergtatt is without question a diamond in the rough not just for black metal, but for metal in general. I say metal in general because several musical templates are explored here: from the storming, passionate melodies through tracks 2 and 3, to the morose, gentle wanderings of the opening track, and everything in between. We will never see another album quite like Bergtatt, though its influence is still strong today. In a sense, it represents the more atmospheric and unseen side of the early Norwegian scene, making it very much an overlooked classic.

For such a young band, Ulver were just as genius at making memorable, emotive compositions as they are now. Some moments are ripe with soft acoustic guitars, flutes, and angelic chanting while others utilize passages of fierce metal. The type of metal on display here, however, is quite different; despite the blast beats, shrill guitars, and shrieked vocals, Ulver still maintain a genuine passion and atmosphere that is just as poignant as the softer sections. Most of the guitar lines stay melodic without sounding weak, and this gives the album its surreal, nocturnal, autmnal vibe. The drumwork is tasteful and entertaining, but never overdoes itself; the blast beat sections are executed much cleaner than I expected, but plenty of room is left for dynamics and cruising mid-tempo beats. Garm's ever-famous chant shift ranges, from deep and Gregorian-like to a near falsetto that is nothing short of ethereal. His ability to layer and harmonize his clean vocals isn't something done often or successfully, but Garm pulls it off in spades. Though his screams may seem very typical black metal at first, they actually have a bit more bite to them upon subsequent listens; it is clear and throaty rather than garbled and nasally, which only gives the heavier sections more attack power. As a unit, the band pass the ultimate test of constructing songs; the riffs are atmospheric metal genius; clean, proficient shifts are made in mood and music, and none of the structures really seem rushed or forced. Though some may say the abrupt changes from folk to metal are jarring, it only helps the thematic concept of the album.

As always important for any album even closely related to black metal, atmosphere and aesthetic are big issues. No worries here. Bergtatt deserves to be listened to as a whole, and takes the listener through various climaxes and emotional highs and lows. Considering the song craft at work here, everything connects without being strictly bound together. The melodic elements in the music bring to life the archaic, mysterious feel of everything, and the meandering, narrative song structures truly present a cinematic backdrop; whether it be the winded acoustic folk sections, layered clean vocals, undeniably Norwegian guitar leads, or occasional sound effect. The third track is the best example of this, where the middle section consists solely of arpeggios on piano with noises of a woman running through the forest in distress, before collapsing back into a section of pounding drums and speed-picked guitars.

The production of the album may seem a bit hampered and weak at first; the guitars stay somewhat in the background, the drums have a very earthy and old sound, and the bass just follows suit of everything else. With the correct situation and listening circumstances, though, one will find that everything is mixed correctly to the music's needs. Garm's vocals have a fair amount of echo for a mountainous, desolate feel; the drums come out in fury when they need to, just as the guitars do; and the acoustics are crystal-clear.

If Kveldssanger was too soft and Nattens Madrigal too harsh, Bergtatt should give you the fix. Those looking for atmospheric metal, look no further.