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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars ''Poor little sister, I hope you understand, the babe in the woods will be taken by a wolf''. And the wolf has spoken. ''Legends fail and houses fall'' but the wolf seems to be changing skin with every new release, like a ''Rolling Stone''. ''In the year of the Lord'' 2017 the wolf has decided to go pop, 80's synth and new-wave. Julius Caesar is assassinated, ''Nero lights up the night'' and ''tragedies repeat themselves in perfect circle'' throughout this sinister lyrical narrative.

Haunted, gothic, electronica, gospel (!) and trip-hop dances around the fire with a dose of 90's Tiamat and Dead Can Dance mashed with 80's Depeche Mode the Sisters of Mercy - nothing ''St. Teresa of Avila'' could do about such an assault of experimentation. This time the wolf abandons instrumentals and decides to sing extensively blending their voice in the hypnotic ambience of the album. Despite the dip in excitement in the last two tracks and the overall simplistic nature of the compositions which affects the lasting impression, Ulver will satisfy their ever-hungry-for-experimentation audience and add another stone to their hall-of-fame tower in progressive music.

Most murderous tunes: Rolling Stone, Angelus Novus, Transverberation

3.5 stars

Report this review (#1716086)
Posted Sunday, April 30, 2017 | Review Permalink
5 stars You'd think that by this point in their career, after all the twists and turns they've taken us down, the prospect of Ulver trying out a radically different genre from their former work would be utterly unsurprising - I mean, this is the same band which bounced from kvlt black metal to dark folk across their first two albums, after all.

And yet, somehow The Assassination of Julius Caesar manages to be another whiplash-inducing swerve from Ulver, shifting into the realm of honest-to-goodness synthpop. The secret to it, which makes it perhaps my favourite Ulver release ever, is that this is a style of gothy synthpop which feels distinctly Ulver, particularly in terms of their electronic and ambient works of their post-metal era.

After all, Dressed In Black on Blood Inside verged on the electro-gothic, so this isn't an evolution entirely without precedent, and whilst 80s nostalgia synthwave stuff is in vogue at the time, Ulver are able to artfully defy expectations by making the most 80s-tastic cut on here a tribute to 1969. Moreover, just because they've gone synthpop doesn't mean they've gone simplistic with it; there's complex, ornate passages here which reveal hidden depths to their sound, and I'd urge anyone turned off by the synthpop approach to at least give cuts like Rolling Stone or Coming Home a chance before writing off this album out of hand.

Is this what we wanted or expected from the next Ulver album? Almost certainly not, but by this point we'd be fools to expect Ulver to do what we want or expect - better to simply let them do their thing, and celebrate it when that results in creative masterstrokes like this.

Report this review (#1771661)
Posted Tuesday, August 15, 2017 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The reincarnation of Depeche Mode and New Order? Great collaborations, and Garm's voice has NEVER been better!

1. "Nemoralia" (4:10) How can you not love this one! "Nero lights up the night (eighteenth nineteenth of July)" and its dedication to Diana Spencer! With an awesome pop hook. Sounds like a YAZ song. By far my favorite song on the album. (9.5/10) 2. "Rolling Stone" (9:26) could be a great New Order or OMD song--even down to the background chorus girls. It not only rocks, it throbs. Great "A Day in the Life" crescendo ending! (9/10)

3. "So Falls the World" (5:57) piano base with awesome synth flourishes throughout. This one sounds very much like an Ulver song. (9/10)

4. "Southern Gothic" (3:40) a little too much like an ABC, PROPAGANDA, THE THE, or YAZ song (though it's so nice to hear!) The vocal sounds like DEPECHE MODE's David GAHAN They've certainly mastered the style! (8.5/10)

5. "Angelus Novus" (4:07) synth washes break for Garm's echoed and, later, doubled voice. At the one minute mark the full musical arrangement joins in. Nice long-held vocal notes. Never becomes the engaging, melodic song you hope for. (7.5/10)

6. "Transverberation" (4:30) more synth and guitar floursishes and riffs á la ABC and other 80s synth bands that I'm not pegging. Nice but could have used a little more shifting and transgressing. The closest we get is the TEARS FOR FEARS/early SIMPLE MINDS/DEPECHE MODE shift at the 3:00 mark. (8/10)

7. "1969" (3:59) more synths, this one more bouncy in a ABC/PSYCHEDELIC FURS/SPANDAU BALLET-like way. I do like the female background vocals used on this one and "Rolling Stone." For 60s buffs, the lyrics are full of 1969 references. See if you can pick them all up! (8/10)

8. "Coming Home" (7:50) interesting MOBY-like vocals with MASSIVE ATTACK/PAUL OAKENFOLD-like music. Out there, experimental; I'm not sure I like it. The second half with its house/rave-like synth beats and solos becomes more engaging. Okay, I like it. It's cool. (9/10)

A solid four stars; an excellent representative of retrospective progressive rock from the bravely chameleonic and unpredictable wolves from the north.

Report this review (#1779078)
Posted Sunday, September 3, 2017 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars In 2017 ULVER have created an 80's styled Synthpop record in the mold of DEPECHE MODE. I personally don't have any issues with this style of music being a pretty big DEPECHE MODE fan, and being in my late teens, early twenties through the first half of the eighties meant I heard a lot of this style of music. Of course this is ULVER so they mix it up a little but there are some really good songs on here. Lots of synth pads and electronics and the atmosphere is often dark. Some feel there's a vibe from their classic "Perdition City" album. Personally I prefer that live album("ATGCLVLSSCAP") they did recently to this new studio album but that's me.

"Nemoralea" is a favourite of most that have reviewed this. It doesn't make my top three and in fact I think the lead off track should have been something else. Heavy drums to start as vocals and synths join in. Some vocal melodies too on the chorus. Catchy stuff. I like the brief instrumental section 2 1/2 minutes in. Not a bad start.

"Rolling Stone" is a top three for me. Percussion and experimental sounds before a heavier beat and fuller sound takes over. Sax from guest Nik Turner arrives. A full sound after a minute. Vocals just before 2 1/2 minutes followed by the chorus with female vocals. Love the intensity around 8 1/2 minutes. Oh my! Just an insane wall of sound.

"So Falls The world" has this dark atmosphere with sparse piano then vocals and a fuller sound arrive before a minute. The chorus has such a feel good vibe to it. The focus is on the vocals here and this song is one warm and melodic piece. The tempo picks up surprisingly after 4 minutes driven by electronics and drums.

"Southern Gothic" has this experimental intro with odd sounds coming and going. Drums kick in with a full sound. So 80's sounding including the vocals that join in. One of the more commercial sounding tracks on here.

"Angelus Novus" has some beautiful atmosphere to start with spacey synths before the vocals and a more serious sound takes over. This is fairly dark but it does brighten as it plays out.

"Transverberation" has a lightweight intro I'm not into. In fact this is the most commercial sounding tune and there are vocals. It's actually not bad once it gets going.

"1969" is a top three for me. Synths and beats as the vocals join in quoting John chapter one. Female backing vocals help out and there's many references to 1969 including Rosemary's Baby, Helter Skelter, the moon landing, Let It Bleed and more. Great track!

"Coming Home" is my final top three. A spacey intro to say the least before spoken words and powerful sounds start to come and go. Interesting. It starts to pick up after a minute as he begins to sing. He's speaking the lyrics soon enough as it settles back. Electronics take the lead as the vocals step aside before 3 minutes. It picks up again though after 3 1/2 minutes. This is good. Sax joins in too with some innovative sounds. The vocals are back after 7 minutes.

This isn't for everybody clearly but in my opinion this is incredibly well done but it's not without it's flaws. A solid 4 stars regardless.

Report this review (#1822693)
Posted Monday, November 13, 2017 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "The Assassination of Julius Caesar" is another foray into another genre for Ulver. This time, they experiment with, of all things, pop music. From Black Metal to Drone Music to Post Rock to theatrical soundtracks, minimalism and jazz, Ulver has always sounded like professionals at any type of music they delve into. So, now, what about alternative pop music?

"Nemoralia" is quite straightforward. It does sound like Depeche Mode at its lush-est. It is one of the most radio friendly tracks that Ulver has ever done. Yet there is still no doubt that it is Rygg singing those vocals, with his dark and seductive singing.

"Rolling Stone" continues with the updated alternative sound with a straightforward rhythm, but with some great lyrics and an excitingly interesting chorus with some guests backing him up. The synths and the driving bass drive this forward and are very reminiscent of the better side of Depeche Mode, but it is done in a way that doesn't sound like a cheap copy. Definitely catchy and well developed at over nine minutes. The wolf theme from previous Ulver albums also continues on this track. In the 2nd half of the song, things get a little more experimental as a wall of sound starts to build layer upon layer and things end up getting dissonant and chaotic with instruments fighting to get control of the track, from screaming guitars to screeching sax. They just had to remind you that this is still Ulver.

"So Falls the World" again has a mid tempo and basic rhythm. But it's the words and the vocals that are the focus here, as it was on "War of the Roses". On this track, even though the music is straightforward, the melody itself is the thing that is the most non-traditional. There is a sudden change at around the 4 minute mark when the tempo suddenly quickens and you get some interesting textures while keeping things accessible.

This flows into "Southern Gothic" which is a pretty typical sounding alt-pop track, nothing really stands out on this one, but it is short at least.

"Angelus Novus" slows things down quite a bit, and again uses poetic lyrics like in "So Falls the World". This is a surprisingly beautiful ballad-like song, but with enough of a challenge to the melody to keep things interesting. The same thing happens in the next track "Transverberation", except with a faster beat. The melodies in both are not typical, and that is what keeps things interesting.

"1969" is a synth heavy song, again with that unique melodic feel and poetic lyrics with a mostly basic track underneath. What is amazing is how well it all fits together.

The last track is the almost 8 minute "Coming Home". This one sounds like something that could have felt right at home on a Velvet Underground album, with atmospheric synths and both spoken and sung vocals, sometimes at the same time, puts it somewhere between a Lou Reed and a Leonard Cohen register. This one is also experimental enough to have been on the "Blood Inside" album, which also hinted around at popular music at times. This is my favorite track on the album.

There have been many progressive artists that have been able to effectively balance progressiveness and popular music. Artists include Alan Parsons, Yes, Pink Floyd and others. There have been major failures at this also, including Genesis, ELP and ELO. Ulver can now be counted among the artists that have done this effectively with this album. But, don't forget, this is Ulver, and you never know what you will hear next. The thing that makes Ulver unique in their endeavor is that they didn't really have to dumb down their lyrics and songwriting to do so. There is also that darkness that permeates Ulver's music. But, without a doubt, this is the most accessible album Ulver has ever done. And they do it well. Because of the progressive traits that remain in the melodic lines here, this album easily gets a four star rating. It's not their best, but it is progressive pop at its best. It still proves that Ulver can do virtually anything.

Report this review (#2040755)
Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2018 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
3 stars Not being familiar with the vast discography of this Norwegian collective, and aware of their post-rock designation, I was pleasantly surprised that "The Assassination of Julius Caesar" has much less to do with the musical cataclysms of that genre and much more to do with a prog oriented spin on the New Romantic era of the 1980s. Now that's not as far fetched as one might imagine. Some of the more resourceful bands of that time had recaptured the flag of self indulgence that their punk forefathers had scoffed at less than a decade earlier. Thank goodness for that, and ULVER distills that blend of gaiety and gravity as though they have been practicing it since their inception, which maybe they have.

Others have experienced flashbacks to their huge hair favourites while dialed in to this recording, by house phone of course. I'm going to add to the list by tossing a crumb in the direction of MICHAEL CRETU's ENIGMA, particularly on the epic "Rolling Stone", which unfortunately degenerates into the same quagmire that defines the ending of every post rock track ever. The trio of "Southern Gothic", "Angelus Novus" and "Transverberation" best distill the reverbed reverb, booming yet sullen vocals, and drawn out melodies of that time. The latter is perhaps the best SIMPLE MINDS song never recorded by SIMPLE MINDS.

"The Assassination..." doesn't push the boundaries of its retro style in a momentous manner, which might be more blessing than curse. I suppose they do take a stab at it in the final track, and its not quite the bloodbath one might have expected.

Report this review (#2171430)
Posted Friday, April 5, 2019 | Review Permalink
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 déjŕ 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.

Report this review (#2204749)
Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | Review Permalink
A Crimson Mellotron
4 stars 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar' from 2017 is the eleventh studio album by one of Norway's most exciting musical shapeshifters, Ulver, one of the many bands hailing from the northern country that fits quite impressively the progressive tag, as they have tried everything from grotesque black metal with doomy musical collages, to experimental and ambient art rock, to pure-hearted synthpop, full of gay but occasionally grim layers of electronic sounds. This specific album in question marks the band's shift to the aforementioned synthpop allure of band leader Kristoffer Rygg, but in reality, the record combines textures of dance music, electronica, darkwave, and eventually electropop.

The dark tone is perhaps quite well depicted by the slightly obscene cover art, depicting a fragment of the ingenious marble sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 'Ratto di Proserpina' (or 'The Rape of Proserpina'), and the religious and mythological topics will be further touched upon in the songs themselves. As for the sounding of this very interesting record, it has to be said that 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar' is an absolutely brilliant and comprehensive release, one of the most well-written and even better performed art rock/synthpop song collections I have ever heard - from the very beginning the soft and nurturing nuances of the electronic soundscapes shelter the listener and allow him to peacefully embark on a sonic journey through the vast worlds of the various programming and electronic sonic paintings, aided by some great drumming and percussions, some occasional guitars, and a surprising but sincerely welcome saxophone part in one of the songs.

The album is kicked off by the energetic 'Nemoralia', a fantastic album opener and a very well-constructed song, impressing mostly with the catchiness intertwined with the depth of the lyrical content and the beauty of all the sounds working together. Same compliment goes to track two, the nearly 10-minute long 'Rolling Stone', the song that could be thought to be the big winner on this 2017 Ulver release, with the female vocals adding an especially gracious touch to the already-excellent electronic composition. 'So Falls the World' is more soothing, allowing the listener to unwind a bit after the exaltations of the previous track, while 'Southern Gothic' sweeps him away once again, with its heavier approach. It is evident that so far the focus of this record are (while this may not be as explicit at first) the stories that are being told. Track five is 'Angelus Novus', a more ambient piece, reminiscing quite distantly 'So Falls the World'. 'Transverberation' is to me the Depeche Mode moment of Rygg, and more specifically, his Martin Gore impersonation, even vocally, while '1969' is more dramatic and has a slightly romantic touch to the way it unfolds. Finally, there is the 8-minute 'Coming Home': this one is simply peculiar but tremendously enjoyable.

Excellent really, a very enjoyable release from the first glimpses of 'Nemoralia' until the final seconds of 'Coming Home', Ulver have definitely achieved something special with 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar' - this album is full of satiating soundscapes, intricate arrangements, lovely vocals, and dreamy episodes, and is above all, quite far away from the generic, sample synthpop record, whose capabilities have been abused (and compressed) by the more mainstream artists of nowadays - this album, contrariwise, is simultaneously a proposal for the seeking listener and a presentation of what the music could sound like and where the genre could have gone, and how much depth you can fill in some 43 minutes of time.

Report this review (#2695150)
Posted Thursday, February 24, 2022 | Review Permalink

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