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A Lesson in Atmosphere - 95%

TheStormIRide, March 27th, 2006

From the first riff of “Hymn I: Wolf and Fear” it is safe to say that this album is not another “Kveldssanger” or even another “Bergtatt”. The production is very thin from the start, thin even for “kvlt” black metal. This is not your typical “grim and kvlt” black metal album, though. The best way to describe this album is swirling chaos, but I’ll go into that more, later in the review. This album, in my opinion, is far superior to many sound-a-like bands, or I should rather say, bands trying to sound alike.

I’ve heard somewhere, that this album was recorded deep in the forest. I’m not entirely sure if this is true or not, but that describes the feeling of this album very well. The music presented on “Nattens Madrigal” has an aura, this primal feeling I get when I listen to it, that was not just haphazardly thrown together. The music is so atmospheric. Not atmospheric in the sense you may be thinking: there are no keyboards or crudely arranged choral voicing. This album is atmospheric in that it inspires emotions so deeply buried inside; it brings forth such a bleak, dark image. Everything about this release just adds to this primitive feeling that Ulver is presenting.

The guitars are very high pitched, very abrasive; bordering a buzz saw sound. The tremolo picking and chord patterns are incredible. Even within the first minute of Hymn I, the listener is captivated by the swirling, distorted melodies the guitars impose. So much emphasis is on the guitar, and rightly so, as they put the listener in the right frame of mind. Even with the chaotic riffing, there is a sense of the darker side of nature; the inevitable feeling that things will go bump in the night.

The limited acoustic portions are incredible, much along the lines of “Kveldssanger” and the acoustic parts of “Bergtatt”, but are different in many aspects. Where “Kveldssanger” was a work of serene, natural beauty, “Nattens Madrigal” is a work that inspires the much darker elements nature has to offer. The acoustic guitars, when used, seem to enhance the raw, primal sound of the rest of the album. The melodies on the acoustic guitar do import a sense of beauty, but once the distorted, swirling guitars start playing again, it’s much more chilling and primal.

The drums are very fast, when they need to be. There is a lot of emphasis on blast beats, but there are portions where the high-hat seems to weave through the sections, almost piecing everything together. The style is along the lines of Fenriz’s early period Darkthrone work. In other words, the drums aren’t completely original, but they fit so well with the feeling of the album. They add more of a sense of chaos to the swirling guitars. The snare just seems to pull the listener into the whirlpool of music even more. It is a very captivating listen, to say the least.

The vocals are definitely top notch, but when has Garm ever let the metal community down? (Don’t even say anything about “Blood Inside”; that album was excellent, and his vocal performance was top notch). Anyone who has heard Garm’s work with Arcturus, or especially later day Ulver, may be surprised by the vocals here. But those who have heard his work with Borknagar should not very surprised, as you’ve heard how well he can scream. His vocals are along the lines of a typical black metal rasp, that’s right, no clean vocals here. He seems to have this special knack for making black metal screams sound quite listenable. It might be where the vocals are at in the mix (a little lower than the guitars), but the presentation of the vocals is just stellar.

The track list is quite interesting. Why would Ulver name the album “Nattens Madrigal”, sing in the chosen language, and then title the tracks in English? Very odd indeed. I’ve read translations of the lyrics, and I recommend anyone who has heard this album to check them out. It is a very fascinating story about werewolves and such, but I won’t spoil the storyline to anyone who hasn’t read them yet. The lyrics, once the listener knows what the band is trying to get across, add more to the atmosphere of the album.

The cover of the album looks exactly how the music sounds; bleak, primitive, crude, and raw. The full moon rising over the bleak, barren mountainside. The wolf howling at the moon. The tree, a twisted mountain clinging tree. These elements are firmly portrayed in this album. Once more, adding to the atmosphere of this release.

Raw and primal, this album may not be for everyone. Symphonic black metal fans, don’t look to this album for cheesy piano interludes and keyboard wankery. This is no holds barred, raw, primal black metal. By far one of the most atmospheric, non-atmospheric releases I have ever listened to (if that makes sense?). This album is highly recommended to fans of black metal. This album is a landmark, a milestone that no other band has topped. Excellent work Ulver, excellent work. Nothing like anything they’ve released before, or after, but when has Ulver ever done anything that was expected? With Ulver, you have to expect the unexpected.

I can not recommend this album enough. It is excellent. Many bands have tried to copy this sound, but as of now, no one has yet come close. “Nattens Madrigal” is a lesson in what black metal should be. So raw, primal black metal fans, why don’t you own this yet?