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Ulver - Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.84 | 125 ratings

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Trickster F.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars William Blake would be proud!

(if he was into experimental Progressive Industrial Music, that is!)

Themes From William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, from this moment referred to as simply The Blake Album in this review, is a vital change within Ulver's sound - one that would permanently expose the 'personality' of the group, and show their restless, endlessly seeking minds that would never be capable of releasing a similar album in their career. Before The Blake Album saw the light, nobody had been able to predict this peculiar and extremely ambitious direction in the group's music. The what I like to call "Heathen Trilogy" - the first three full-length Ulver albums - did not quite represent the broad influences and targets that the group would continue attaining throughout their career.

The most obvious and noticeable thing about The Blake Album (but do not expect it to be any simple) is that the signs of the group's Black Metal tendencies of the past are missing completely, meaning both the feeling of the Norwegian underground and the common traits of the genre are absent. It seems a common sense really, but do not expect an excellent rocking out record when approaching this unconventional piece of work. Abandoning Black Metal and Neo-Classical Folk, wherein the group had immense success prior to this release, they stopped making any particular kind of music and seemingly got lost in the abundance of styles that exist in music and finally began their long, impressive row of uncategorisable album that has not stopped yet. It really is exciting to a progressive music fan to experience all the changes within the group's sound, but what is the unfortunate truth is that this album caused a backlash from many of the group's trendy, mislead audience, who wanted everything in a separate box, conventional, obvious and accessible. Not willing to admit that they are no longer into because Ulver, if even owing to their wondering ideas and pride alone, can not allow themselves to release a dozen of nattenmadrigals to please the wielders of 'the only correct taste and vision of music', as corny as that sounds. This scene found their reason to reject the group's subsequent offerings in the argument of such shallow traits that are applied to music too often, as 'pretentious' and 'trendy lack of originality'. While I do not, in any way, think the former describes any music in a negative way, the latter is as remote from the reality as one can imagine. I have noticed for a long time that certain snobs point out how Ulver presumably cashed on on releasing derivative material from various genres, always stealing from someone and never adding anything new to the table. That is absolutely ridiculous, as the group offers us a great variety of original, imaginative records, exploring grounds unknown to their predecessors and yet remaining true to their own unique way of writing and performing music, that after repeated listens reveals just how similar albums from two opposite ends of music, as Nattens Nadrigal and Perdition City, just for example, are. The Blake Album is not an exception, as the resemblance to such artists as Laibach, Godflesh and others referred to as sources of blatant plagiarism, is light at best.

It is quite the opposite actually, as the group's fourth studio album is one of the finest examples of originality, as well as ambition and substance together, in modern music that I can think of at the moment. Including the entire lyrics to the fascinating work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, which, not surprisingly, makes it by far the Ulver album with the most lyrics, and incorporating elements from industrial, ambient, rock, trip hop, neo-classical and traditional heavy metal, among others, the collective managed to create an incredibly solid and satisfactory release in The Blake Album. Clocking at more than 1 hour and 40 minutes with the music divided on two discs, it is the longest work the musicians offer us. I must say that I had not been able to get into the album until I decided to read the book and having found it deep and thought-provoking, despite contradicting my personal beliefs, I thought I would give it another go, basically predicting to see them spoil an excellent piece of work. Garm's early work with Arcturus, particularly the lyrics to Aspera Hiems Symfonia, may have suggested some that his approach to things outside of music is very sloppy and superficial, however, the way the ideas of Blake were dealt with breathes sheer excellence, leaving no signs of doubt on whether he was inspired by this work of art so much. His pronunciation and accent, while not completely impeccable, is an aspect that is noticeable in so few cases, that, believe me, you will forget Ulver do not speak English naturally. While I do not particularly agree with some means of expressions used for parts here and there, the most important words are emphasized, clearly showing a great understanding of the work and ability to achieve all the ambitions. Moreover, I really can not see a way to introduce the listener to Blake's work via these genres of music anymore creative than done here.

More importantly, without enjoying the music one can not hope to respect this creation for anything rather than a brave attempt at an interpretation of a genius, and the collective does not disappoint in this area either, as The Blake Album has the traits that are very commonly used to describe some of out favourite music - intelligent, creative, emotional and intense - those adjectives are all exceptionally appropriate when describing this unique sound. The interaction between natural music (sung vocals, guitars, real drums, etc.) and artificial music (distortion, effects, all kinds of electronics and ambiances) make an extraordinary, remarkable mix, where both emotion and atmosphere play a big role. The approaches taken for this long and varied record are many and really impossible to point out in a review. To those who do not normally expose themselves to electronic music, the first, more dynamic and natural side of the disc will appear more accessible, although further listens will reveal the mesmerizing moods of the second disc, which relies more on minimalistic tendencies and vibes. Stine Grytшyr, a female singer, guests on the album, her vocals being an essential part of the first half of the album (she does not participate on the second one at all). I find her voice in both neo-classical and experimental electronic parts to be very suitable for the music and also beautiful. Female vocals is not a standard for Ulver's music, however, it is used very well here. The last track is especially tasty. Although it is supposedly more than 26 minutes long (well, it is), there are 20 minutes of silence, separating about five or so minutes of music in the beginning from a very short (and honestly speaking, quite useless musically) ending. What makes the track interesting are those five minutes. First of all, there are three guests on this track, them being the members of former Ulver scene brothers Emperor and Darkthrone. All of them, if my memory serves me correctly, are known for both passion towards electronic music and a radical, extreme philosophy (which is relatively close to what Blake argues here), so it is nor surprising that they are present here. What is ironic is the happy- sounding black metal riff (!) in the middle, that suggests a final demise from the genre. Indeed, The Blake Album is the last album with elements of rock'n'roll in whatever shape, and only the 2006's comeback Blood Inside would show somewhat a return to the rockish feeling.

On the other hand, this album will be difficult to digest for the people with a general repulsive reaction towards ambience, as there is a much of it on this creation, used in order to fulfil the aim of captivating an appropriate mood. However, even if you find those atmospheric ambient parts to be useless, chances are you will still find the other ways of expression as pleasant as I do! Tremendously overlooked when pinpointing a pinnacle of rock mixed with electronics done progressively, Themes From William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell must be listened by all Progressive Fans both for education and enjoyment.

A Must-Have!

Trickster F. | 5/5 |


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