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WARS OF THE ROSES

Ulver

Post Rock/Math rock


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Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 'War Of The Roses' - Ulver (6/10)

At the dawn of each new year, there's already usually a batch of albums I am looking forward to. 2011 opened up with the great promise of music to come, and the new Ulver album was up there on my list of albums that were making me excited. Stealing my heart with their opus 'Shadows Of The Sun' from a few years ago, I checked out the new album from this band at the earliest discretion once it was made available for listening. Although I will be the first to say that the album is slow to grow on a listener, Ulver has made a great album with 'War Of The Roses,' although at times it may be a little too mellow and drawn out for its own good.

With 'February MMX', Ulver begins their latest work off on a surprisingly upbeat note, an atmospheric rocker that introduces 'War Of The Roses' on a somewhat misleading note. Although the song here is far from my favourite offering on 'Roses', it is without a doubt the most energetic, and gets the listener expecting something a little more active from these guys, only to scurry back down an ambient path with the second track 'Norwegian Gothic' and onwards. Luckily however, the first two tracks here make up the weakest material 'War Of The Roses' has to offer; it only gets better from there.

The first piece of real interest here is 'Providence'; a cunning melange of styles, ranging from the classical cellos to delta blues ad-libbing. Following that is another highlight- and my personal favourite- 'September IV', which feels as if it loosens up on the ambient nature with some more conventional songwriting, this time in a melodic post-rock style. Throughout all of this are the deep, distinctive vocals of Garm, who is certainly a great vocal presence, but doesn't feel as if he has such strong melodies to guide his voice, instead feeling almost as if Garm's voice is simply there for it's looming resonance and little else. That being said, the strength of 'War Of The Roses' is in its grand instrumentation and clever electronic arrangements.

The track that might be of most excitement to people is the fifteen minute 'Stone Angels', backing the rest of the album and eating up a third of the disc time. While some might expect a complex suite from Ulver here, 'Stone Angels' is instead a fairly minimalistic ambient hymn, with the poetic ramblings of a surrealist narrator speaking overtop. It may not sound like much, but the way Ulver does it is really majestic, making it feel like much less in length than the time spent listening. Eerie effects, pleasantly melancholic tones underneath and an ethereal vibe makes 'Stone Angels' a perfect piece of music to chill to. The one thing here that does get in the way are the pieces of narration themselves, which generally add little to the music besides something to raise an eyebrow to. Many will certainly find 'Stone Angels' to be a disappointing snore, but if you take it for what it is, you may be pleasantly surprised.

I must say though, I did not care for 'War Of The Roses' at all when I first listened to it. I found it both too diverse and too boring to get much into, and the vocals felt misplaced, if anything. But there's no denying after a couple of listens onwards that 'Roses' has alot more musically going for it than many ambient albums of its time.Although the album is far from being perfect or Ulver's best, it's certainly an album that grows with each listen; after all, hasn't the music of Ulver always been one to play hard-to-get?

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#423422)
Posted Sunday, March 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars With this, the first follow up to one of my favorite albums of the 21st Century, "Shadows of the Sun," Ulver has put together another album that not only pushes the boundaries of musical structure and presentation, but, I predict, will push many people's comfort buttons. How does one really categorize this music? It is definitely unusual--I'd say unique. RIO? Avant garde? Certainly eclectic. Dark and ominous. Powerful. Unsettling--even disturbing. Yet beautiful! Absolutely, stark and brutally honest in its expression of the human predicament. They're like Kali, Goddess of Destruction--whose work then leads to creation and resurrection in the great circle of cosmic order. The "wars of the Roses" historical reference must serve as a metaphor for the tumultuous, hectic, and often insecure and chaotic times in which we presently live. Has anyone noticed? Ulver is really trying to say something to the human race!

1. "February MMX" is a fairly straightforward driving rock'n'roll song with a rock vocal I'm not used to hearing from Garm. Very alarming and out-of-place in the Ulver catalog--and with the rest of this album.

2. "Norwegian Gothic" (7/10) has quite a bit of avante-garde jazz improvising away behind the pulsing ambient synthesizer and Garm's vocals.

3. "Providence" (8/10) starts as a kind of emotional Baptist church dirge, complete with female gospel singers, before letting loose into a free-form psychedelia jam from the 3:20 to 4:45 marks, whereupon our gospel chanteuse leaves us to go on an eerie walk through the creepiest misty graveyard at midnight on Halloween. Weird song, but really different. Cool!

4. "September IV" (7/10), in its first half, sounds and feels more like a more sedate FOCUS song from the 70s--except for Garm's deep, breathy vocal. Like "Love Remembers," "Sylvia" or something from "Mother Focus" or "Focus Con Proby." On the beautiful, almost syrupy side, before another jam into psychedelia ensues around the 2:40 mark. Cool free-form RIO song! The second half of the song definitely brings this one up another level. These guys obviously have no inhibitions or feel no restrictions to their musical structuring.

5. "England" (9/10) begins by transporting us into a monastery even before the heavy bass notes and ride-cymbol brings us inside the darkness of the massive old stone structures. The dangers outside are rather frightening--making the listener feel as if the heavy pulsing of the music is like the garlic and wolfbane keeping the lurking evil from coming in through the windows. Wow!

6. "Island" (8/10) is a hauntingly beautiful song with a kind of FLOYDian ("Dark Side of the Moon") and XTC feel to it ("Dear God"). Again, it defies structural comparison; they just do whatever and go wherever they want. Unpredictably and yet ably, confidently. Amazing!

7. "Stone Angels" (10/10) appears to be a vehicle for the poetic musings of a spiritually awakened mystic. We are in the church of Kali-Shiva, honored and humbled to be within the beauty and majesty of Creation yet cognizant of the fragility of life, the ever- encroaching presence of Chaos. I am hypnotized, captivated, transfixed. Edgar Alan Poe, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Carl Jung, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Paroah Sanders, Frank Zappa, Larry Coryell, Bill Frizell, Claud Debussey, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno and many others are honored here. Enter if you dare. But be ye warned: Thou shouldst be strong of heart, strong in spirit. NOt for everyone, yet definitely an amazing journey and an excellent addition to any true prog lover's music collection. Stick with it. Get to know it. Let yourself go into the music (headphones) and trust what will happen as exactly that which needs to happen at this moment in your life for your growth and development into the next highest version of your self.

I find it quite remarkable that this album starts off fairly 'mainstream' and moves gradually, insidiously, almost step-by-step (song- by-song), on a dark, disturbing journey into the predicament the human race finds itself in the 21st Century. Gratefully, the album culminates in a kind of monastic, peaceful place in which we are offered the security of a reminder of our inherent spirituality--of the 'illusory' nature of the Earthly events that are playing out around us while on the planet at this time. Another masterful 'concept' album from Ulver pointing to the darkness around us, yet trying to help us to learn to detach from it, to seek the 'monastic security' that resides within our own souls. Heavy. Yet, ultimately, freeing.

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Send comments to BrufordFreak (BETA) | Report this review (#427807)
Posted Tuesday, April 05, 2011 | Review Permalink
EatThatPhonebook
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Ulver was considered one of the best black metal bands when they released their first three albums. But from there their music changed completely, going way on the experimental side, using electronic. 'Wars Of The Roses' is the band's tenth studio album, and it's just as experimental and just as non metal as the other more recent albums. The result didn't disappoint me, like I thought it would.

There is a big difference in style compared to the other Ulver albums of the second era: this seems to be much more rock influenced, with tons of piano, drums, bass; basically it sounds like simple art rock, since of course the keyboards and synths are really highlighted. We also got some Gregorian vocals here and there, that accompany Kristoffer Rygg's deep and profound voice. Generally it's nothing like the previous album, 'Shadows of the Sun'. The production is high class, the mixing is perfect, so no complaints here.

The moods of this album are very chilled (not minimalist and bleak like 2007's release), which make this album so haunting. But it's also very cerebral, complex, and maybe even romantic in some moments. An album that not many will appreciate, as I can see, but these elements mixed together have usually an excellent result, as this is in my opinion. However, there is some small, but noticeable traces of creepiness and gothic atmospheres, thanks to the Gregorian vocals, or thanks to the lush keyboards. This is what maybe the fans would look for in 'Wars Of The Roses', but the truth is that from this point of view they'll be disappointed, as this is a much more 'positive' album than all their other, much darker releases.

There are many songs here that stole my heart the minute I heard them, which was when I saw Ulver live, performing the whole album; 'February MMX' is a great opener, a little tense because of the piano, and the great performance by Kristoffer on vocals. 'Norwegian Gothic' is a shorter but still impressive song, the one that most reminds me of 'Shadows Of The Sun'. Even 'England', 'Providence', or 'September IV' are worthy of mentioning. But the song that is really getting some buzz among the Uver fans is the epic fifteen minutes of 'Stone Angels', a spoken word song, accompanied by soft piano and electronics. I personally don't consider this the highlight of the album, nor it's true heart. These songs are very cerebral especially lyrically speaking, concerning existentialism, English culture(literature in particular), religion, always narrated with a somewhat gothic appearance.

An album full of culture, like the title might imply, that like I said is not and will not be loved by many. But 'Wars Of the Roses' is a really enjoyable experience, that is even more rich and ambitious live.

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Send comments to EatThatPhonebook (BETA) | Report this review (#443586)
Posted Friday, May 06, 2011 | Review Permalink
JJLehto
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The best Ulver album in a very long time!

Maybe in 15 years.

Now I say that not being a big fan of electronic music...even the Ulver electronic works I really like, such as "Blood Inside" and "Themes" are not exactly high up on my overall music list. After Ulver's very moving yet boring "Shadows of the Sun" I had no clue what to expect with this album. Hell, can we ever have any clue what to expect with any Ulver album? Well, I finally picked it up and was pleasantly surprised.

I have no clue what to classify this album as. At first I thought maybe post-rock? Perhaps Art Rock is best, or.....dark electroambient? All I do know is this is a challenging and rewarding album. Unlike Ulver's previous album which suffered from a little too much minimalism and being samey, "War o the Roses" is quite textured and progressive. It is subtle of course, but if you take a deep listen you will uncover a world of noises floating around, truly a soundscape. The use of drums on this album is great, it adds a rock feel and gives the album a feeling of movement, instead of just drifting along straight forward. Also adding to the albums movement and power is Daniel O'Sullivan of Guapo on guitar, and a plethora of musicians to fill the environment.

The songs are also varied, starting off with the upbeat and almost poppy "February MMX" and it's a really cool song. Done well and in typical Ulver fashion, it throws a curve ball to catch us off guard. Again, the drums help fuel a powerful climax.

"Norwegian Gothic" is more ambient track that slowly builds. "Providence" is like something out of Godspeed's book. Very good song. "September IV" is actually one of the more accessible songs on the album and my personal favorite. This is countered by the minimalist, synth heavy "England" complete with perfect drumming and atmosphere. "Island" is more experimental, ripe with electronic noises and again is very atmospheric and drifty.

Finally, the big hitter...the 15 minute "Stone Angels" which is the most challenging on the album by far. Largely a spoken word piece, filled with ambient synths filling the background, punctuated by electronic noises, clarinet, bowed guitar, and sparse percussion. It creates a very melodic and beautiful atmosphere that works perfectly with the deep speaking voice, and naturally the whole song is giant crescendo. It builds to a haunting choir with a militaristic sounding drum rhythm, which is the most powerful feeling after sticking with the song. Maybe not the best on the album, but it is the most rewarding.

I've repeated several words here: Atmospheric, building, subtle, powerful and moving. That is the best way to describe this album. On "War of the Roses" Ulver goes back to rock, but mixes it with their electronic work, (don't worry electronics dominate the guitars) and the result is grand. This post/art rock album is not about songs per se, but atmosphere. Every musician involved not showcasing their skill, but each playing their role to create a soundscape. Sonic collages, are more accurate than "songs".

While Shadows in the Sun was a very powerful and moving album it lost me fast, but by adding more instrumentation, especially drums, Garm fuller sounds and the album can really move now. That it does, with grand crescendos, peaks and valleys. Garm's vocals are the final piece, and as always are perfect. Deep, haunting, a little dark, beautiful and always forceful, even when so melodic.

A very atmospheric, ambient, textured and challenging album but the most complete and well composed Ulver has made in a very long time.

Four Stars

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Send comments to JJLehto (BETA) | Report this review (#468719)
Posted Friday, June 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
Any Colour You Like
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Now, before I launch into this review, I shall announce a careful caveat to whatever I pen next. Ulver's latest release took me by surprise, so much so that I was initially cast into almost giving it a five star rating. However, having lived with it for a few months, my opinion of it has softened. Indeed, it would be a travesty to give this album anything less, for all but one salient reason.

The Wars of The Roses is a fusion album. Not in the jazz fusion sense, but in the way that nobody should be capable of truly capturing it's essence. Sure, it's a mix of electronic, ambient, rock, glitch, neo-classical, and gothic... but nonetheless, all these tags are as good as useless from track to track, so forget I even tried. This means that the music has that essential fluidity and ephemeral nature which is more a kin to an astral journey than a basic stop-start affair. The upbeat yet also dark compositions can take a while to appreciate, Garm can be both uplifting (usually through soaring vocals) and crushing through lyrical density and historical imagery. The clever amalgam of both Norwegian and British histories and culture evokes classical imagery and nostalgic impulses, yet this is one album which manages to keep sticking the knife in. Furthermore, the lengthy ambient movements are as serene and as unforgiving as the lyrical content. Indeed, Wars of the Roses has some of the more polished lyricism and imagery I've had the pleasure to hear in quite some time.

Despite all of the positives, there is one major criticism I have: and it's called 'Stone Angels'. No, I'm not going to do the whole 'oh, I saw a fifteen minute track and expected something better than a dramatic monologue', no, it's more to do with the lucidity and flow of the album. Leading up to the closer, the album creates a certain tension, which is essentially unresolved during the closer. Don't get me wrong, the closer by itself is a polished work, and O'Sullivan's recital of the poem is suiting, however I just don't feel the connection between it and the rest of the album. It appears to sit in an unnatural place, as if it were leading into something, rather than finishing the suite. You could argue that the narrative ends naturally, but that seems to take some of the fun away. After all, there's always another way through the forest than first meets the eye.

While this does dent my love for the album, make no mistakes; Wars of the Roses is a very polished record, that should provide the listener with enough material to keep showing depth upon repeated listens. Isn't it funny how little things can impact upon your perceptions; or perhaps I'm just being harsh and nit picky. Either way, Ulver's latest sure is a cerebral listen.

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Send comments to Any Colour You Like (BETA) | Report this review (#491001)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is marvellous. The best release of Ulver since Perdition City.

'Wars of the Roses' is not an easy album. It is very dark and it flirts with heavy subjects (the meaning of life, death, religion) that may put off some listeners. But if one is willing to invest into the album, 'Wars of the Roses' can be immensely rewarding. And inspiring.

In my mind, the album is split into two parts: a 'musical' part, which includes the first 6 songs, and a 'poetic' part, with the 15 minutes reading of Keith Waldrop's poem 'Stone Angels'. Both parts are meditations around the same theme: what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? How can we make sense of all this? And what lies beyond?

Musically, the first 6 songs on the album show Ulver at their best: a clever and skilful blend of electronic, post-rock and avant-garde music, with a distinctively melancholic tone. The opening track "February MMX" (great up-tempo song) sets the tone for the rest of the album, with the lyrics: "the old man sings / in the face of fear / the circular mantra / why are we here". Remarkably, the following songs reduce the tempo quite considerably. The tone becomes darker, as we are invited to reflect on the meaning of cultural traditions ('Norwegian Gothic' and 'England'), death ('September IV') and religion ('Providence' and 'Island'). Perhaps these are all ways in which we, human beings, try and make sense of the dreadful question 'why are we here'? In 'Stone Angels' these themes emerge once again, through the words of Keith Waldrop's poem, splendidly read by Daniel O'Sullivan over layers of drones and otherworldly sounds. A great, hypnotic and almost cathartic experience. Surprisingly, for a spoken-words track of 15 minutes, I do not seem to grow tired of this, and I can sit and listen to it again and again and always find it rewarding.

This is an amazing album, albeit difficult and admittedly not for everyone's taste. But, for the most adventurous listeners out there, my advice is to try and invest time on this album. You will not regret it, and you will fall in love with 'Wars of the Roses'.

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Send comments to lukretio (BETA) | Report this review (#572001)
Posted Sunday, November 20, 2011 | Review Permalink

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