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Ulver - Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-1997 CD (album) cover



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5 stars Ulver's early black metal and folk work gets yet another repackaging here. However, it proves to be utterly necessary, since of the many times this material has been repackaged, most of it has never sounded this good. It's rather unfortunate that the remaster of Bergtatt succumbs to the general tendency of modern remasters to make the album louder than it was originally, but the box set makes up for this with the remaster of Nattens madrigal, which has never sounded better. Nattens will always be a lo-fi album, but this time around it actually has a reasonable level of dynamics rather than being an solid wall of noise, and you can even hear the bass on this version.

If you haven't heard the material on this box set yet, it's among the most essential recordings of the Norwegian second wave of black metal. Vargnatt is a fairly typical black metal demo (the instrumental acoustic interlude provided a hint of the band's adventurous spirit, but otherwise it could be considered fairly typical of the genre if you accept its penchant for odd melodies and strange arrangements), but on Bergtatt they emerged as if fully formed from the head of Athena. With the possible exceptions of Enslaved and later Emperor, the album is as progressive as second-wave black metal gets, with liberal amounts of folk interludes and clean singing and even the occasional delve into the avant-garde. The average song length is about seven minutes on this album, which gives you an idea what you're in for. The fact that the band members were mere teenagers when they recorded this is almost impossible to believe, and many listeners still consider it to be Ulver's finest work (although as they have a large and varied discography with many strong releases, this opinion is nowhere near universally shared).

Famously, the band did a complete left-turn with their second album, Kveldssanger, which is an entirely acoustic neofolk album with almost exclusively clean singing. The band later criticised their own performances as "immature", but I don't hear it. The album is simply a beautiful collection of elegantly performed folk tunes that is likely to appeal to nearly any listener, regardless of their opinion of metal music; it is a superb and influential recording that remains a landmark of its genre. The album in its presentation here is given the rare bonus track "Synen" from the same era (which was previously only available on the hard-to-find multi-artist collections Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings and Souvenirs from Hell), which is performed in a similar style to the rest of the album and makes a wonderful addition to this collection.

Nattens madrigal is the final full-length album in this set (which also includes rehearsal versions of four of this album's tracks), and is pretty clearly the band's attempt to outdo their Norwegian contemporaries at their own game. Various writers have noted that for their second and third album it's as if they siphoned the two elements of Bergtatt off into individual albums; Kveldssanger contains the acoustic folk passages while Nattens madrigal represents the furious black metal. It sounds like an unrelenting wall of noise on first listen even with the remaster, but repeated listening will reveal a surprising amount of melodicism under the surface. Some of these songs, with different arrangements, could almost qualify as pop songs, and indeed at one point the band planned an orchestral re-recording of the album (although it apparently has been abandoned). The ambient interludes on this one are also a highlight, and do quite a lot to help evoke the mood of terror the band were obviously going for. The prog influence on this one is subtle, but it shows up occasionally.

After this point, Ulver would abandon black metal entirely, becoming musical chameleons on the level of the late David Bowie. Their next album would be industrial and progressive metal, then they would experiment with various forms of electronic music before recording dark ambient, post-rock, psychedelic rock, and many other styles. Still, the material on this box set should not be overlooked, and this is probably the best way to acquire it, especially if you can track down a copy of the vinyl box set. Strongly recommended, and fully deserving of a full five-star rating.

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Posted Thursday, January 21, 2016 | Review Permalink

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