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Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.74 | 115 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars A very modern, electronic album,The Assassination of Julius Caesar is nothing like what I'd expected. First of all, I thought it had something to do with, well, the assassination of Julius Caesar. Interesting concept, I thought. Second, although they're classified as Post Rock here, I had understood Ulver to be a progressive-metal outfit. So you can imagine my surprise when The Assassination of Julius Caesar turned out to be an art-pop (or maybe art-rock?) album on which Julius Caesar is at best a minor character.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar has been referred to as synthpop, and I agree. Among the influences here is Gary Numan: the lyrical mood of The Assassination of Julius Caesar is dark and often introverted, but not quite as robotic as Kraftwerk - - and much more somber than Kraftwerk or Devo. In this respect it reminds me of some Human League songs (e.g., "Seconds").

As to the lyrical content, there is a vague theme, even if it's not the assassination of Julius Caesar. Many of the songs reference dark moments in history, sometimes prosaically: "Nero lights up the night / 18th to 19th of July, AD 64;" "There used to be a house at 6114 California Street / 'Helter Skelter.'" In addition to the Great Fire of Rome and the Manson murders (by way of the Church of Satan), reference is made to the Bubonic Plague, the death of Princess Diana and the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. But there are many less literal lyrics which seem to fit the theme, such as "an army charges upon the land to the sound of retreat." This is all fodder for religious allusions, and the lyrics duly name-check a pair of Catholic saints; cite, but do not name an "ancient goddess of the moon;" and refer to both the Roman persecution of Christians and the Second Coming. And perhaps as an amplification of a Greco-Roman lineage of tyranny, Oedipus makes an oblique appearance in the second of two songs to mention Nero. The title of one of the songs, "Angelus Novus," may also hint at the lyrical concept. Angelus Novus is a 1920 graphic-art print about whose subject Walter Benjamin wrote, "where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet." This déjà vu is also represented by repetition: in addition to literal repetition of stanzas, there are other repetitions; two of the eight songs mention the moon, while two other mention the sun, for example.

As well thought-out and economical as the lyrics are, the concept underlying The Assassination of Julius Caesar is more engrossing than the actual product. There are several excellent musical passages, but there are also plenty of mundane melodies and chord progressions.

Nonetheless, I consider The Assassination of Julius Caesar to be a "good" album: imperfect, but better than average. I'd especially recommend it to fans of 1980s synthesizer-based pop or rock music.

patrickq | 3/5 |


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