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Highly contemplative. - 80%

hells_unicorn, June 21st, 2013

The credentials of Ulver are obvious, being one of the earlier purveyors of a sort of folksy twist on black metal that was fairly early on and well received in many quarters. But like a number of bands out of Norway in the early to mid 90s, they decided to test their audience with a rather sizable stylistic departure. Though arguably not as massive and jarring a shift in direction as the ambient interludes of Burzum and Ildjarn, putting out an all acoustic folk album that is pretty well bereft of the aggression and spite that comes along with black metal is definitely a risk, especialy one that is almost as subdued and minimalist in character as the aforementioned keyboard drenched stylistic depatures. However, what "Kveldssanger" might lack in vile screams and distorted guitars, it makes up for with a different kind of darkness.

From start to finish, this album suits the folk label if one is only obsessed with the most somber and woeful of songwriting, and one that is played within a castle rather than at a campfire in the woods. The arrangement actually gets quite dense, employing a mixture of bow stringed sounds to complement the hypnotic acoustic guitar lines and woodwind melodic slots. One could easily get the impression of a very different take on the sort of chamber music that was common in Renaissance courts just before the Baroque period, as the voices and instruments reverberate in a manner quite similar to a concert hall. But the biggest hint at this character of music is the canonical interplay of the vocal lines, themselves layered quite heavily to the point of sounding like a group of between 8 and 16 individual singers.

While a person not immediately familiar with this approach might get the idea that a folk album would include the sort of joyous, dancing character or epic battle scene imagery that one tends to acquire when hearing the likes of Ensiferum or Nokturnal Mortem, this is far from it. There are no galloping chord lines or dancing melodies to speak of here, but rather the sort of melodic chanting and droning instrumental lines that would more likely be encountered in a monastery of sorts. Some songs move a bit more than others, but this is music that generally comes off as entrancing and, at times, ambient as it rolls out small melodic motives and layer them together in a very slow and gradual manner. It has a bit more of a classical feel to it than the ambient works of Burzum, but it has a similar mystique to it, accomplishing its ends as much by atmosphere as by the notes employed.

To say that an album like is an acquired taste would be an understatement, but it's a taste that many fans of the early 2nd wave probably developed between the various genre-bending moments that went on soon after the scene was established. It exists in its own little world, which is comprised mostly of regretful spirits lamenting the waste of their former lives, going by the character of the music at any case. It's much more of a grower and though it does have a very clear style that it continuously refers back to, it's pretty easy to see how something like this might shoot over most peoples' heads.