Ulver began as a black metal band but quickly earned themselves an international reputation for stylistic unpredictability. Their first three albums – Bergtatt, Kveldssanger and Nattens Madrigal – established them as pioneers of musical experimentation.
Their early works were largely composed in the early 1990s. These records revolutionized the genre by incorporating folk music and classical influences alongside a heavy black metal aesthetic.
Ulver are a Norwegian black metal band that has produced an eclectic repertoire over the years. Each album defies typical genre classifications, making Ulver one of Norway’s most beloved acts and earning them a global cult following.
Their debut record Bergtatt, released in 1995, revolutionized the traditional image of black metal as a dark and vengeful form of extreme metal. At that time, its acoustic folk elements were relatively uncommon within the genre.
Neoclassical elements in the music evoked images of medieval chants and Norway’s folk songs, creating an enchanting and haunting atmosphere. Lead singer Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg’s vocals were another major highlight on the album.
Garm’s voice was often compared to that of a Jethro Tull front man, and the choral and ethereal vocal style on this record remains popular today. The lyrics tell an intriguing tale of trolls who kidnap young maidens and imprison them in their mountain kingdom, complete with vivid detail sure to engage any listener.
Another unique aspect of this album was its accompaniment by an orchestra. Composed by Norwegian composer Martin Romberg and performed by the Tromso Chamber Orchestra, this score had an unforgettable atmosphere.
I highly recommend this record to anyone interested in listening to some great neoclassical and folk music. The instrumentation is beautifully composed, while the story line holds interest.
After Bergtatt, the group continued to experiment with style – though not quite as significantly. Their next album, Kveldssanger, moved towards more folk music influences while Nattens Madrigal concluded their Trilogy with an intense black metal emphasis.
Perdition City marked Ulver’s third attempt at breaking away from the limited musical palette of their first two records in a trilogy. While it didn’t achieve huge success, it marked an important development for the future band.
Kveldssanger made his debut in 1992, releasing Vargnatt demo with the rest of the band. While this early recording showed an early version of Ulver’s musical style, within a year and a half they had evolved enough to release their acclaimed debut album Bergtatt – widely considered one of the finest black metal records ever released.
Ulver’s album marked a significant shift from their traditional heavy metal sound, as they now incorporate acoustic guitars and neofolk influences to take their music in an increasingly classical direction.
However, they still had an edge to their sound, as evidenced by the opening track “Viet er leilig”, featuring tremolo picking, blast beats, screams and more. This song served as a precursor for their more traditional lycanthropic concept which would be further explored on their third and final record Nattens Madrigal which was released in 1997.
Another significant development in Ulver’s sound came with 1998’s Shadows of the Sun, an experimental midtempo electronic song featuring charismatic Garm delivery. This would later lead to Perdition City (2000 album), an entirely electronic record which brought Ulver’s sound up a level which has persisted ever since.
After the release of Perdition City, Ulver continued to create music that was inaccessible, complex, subtle and inspiring. They started experimenting with different genres such as rock and acoustic music. In 2009 they performed live for the first time in over fifteen years at Maihaugsalen in Lillehammer, Norway with guest musicians Pamelia Kurstin on Theremin and Daniel O’Sullivan from AEthenor. Since then they have grown and evolved as a band while increasing their influence over time.
Nattens Madrigal, or “Madrigal of the Night,” is considered Ulver’s finest album. The band is known for their fast-paced style of music and this record perfectly illustrates their lycanthropy through a focus on wolves and how they relate to mankind.
This album transcends the traditional image of black metal, incorporating delicate acoustic folk elements that were uncommon at that time. In fact, it is widely considered one of the first records to combine folk-influenced atmospheric black metal with more traditional black metal components – setting the stage for bands such as Agalloch and Drudkh to take this approach up a notch.
Nattens Madrigal stands out among Ulver’s other albums due to its unusually raw and lo-fi production. Many fans have come up with bizarre origin stories for why the album sounds so muffled and trebly, such as that Ulver stole their label’s money to purchase Armani suits and cocaine before recording it in a Norwegian forest on an 8-track recorder.
Although the record may seem a bit raw for modern ears, the songwriting is top-notch and it’s easy to see why so many people love this album. Whether you prefer Garm’s icy tenor or the delicate choral voices featured in many tracks, the album is an iconic classic and should be included in any black metal fan’s collection.
This concept album follows a man as he succumbs to lycanthropy and blends black metal with folk music in an innovative manner. The diverse elements include screams, acoustic guitar soloing, acoustic arpeggios and blast beats.
The lyrics of this album are extremely scathing and sarcastic, with Garm calling himself a “she-wolf” and asserting that she is bound to the devil. It’s an incredibly dark and powerful album, especially considering it was composed and recorded back in 1995.
Ulver are an iconic band, whose three albums – Bergtatt, Kveldssanger and Nattens Madrigal – will go down in metal history as some of its tr00est and most original creations. All three share a common theme of supernaturalism and lycanthropy; they are also three of Ulver’s most celebrated and influential releases.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar
The Assassination of Julius Caesar is Ulver’s first new record since 2011’s War of the Roses and it proves a triumph for the band. This album spans multiple genres with ambient passages, krautrock textures and anthemic vocals all coming together in seamless harmony.
It’s also an album that continuously evolves, encouraging listeners to think outside the box. While there are subtle nods to Oil & Gold-era Shriekback, Front Line Assembly and Coil, there’s also something else here too.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar contains a lyrical element that recalls some of Ulver’s earlier albums, such as the atmospheric “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” or the avant-garde soundtrack for Jorn H. Svaeren’s Lyckantropen film.
Though The Assassination of Julius Caesar may sound like Ulver’s pop album, it is actually an intensely experimental and exploratory work, drawing inspiration from dark synth-pop, post-punk, trip-hop, vaporwave – without ever feeling forced or contrived. It serves as a testament to how far this group has come and their ability to keep pushing themselves artistically.
Kristoffer Rygg’s stunning vocal performance is one of the highlights of The Assassination of Julius Caesar. He’s always been an incredible singer, but on this record he really shines.
The song begins with a distorted guitar riff that calls back to Ulver’s earlier albums, then switches to piano and synth sounds as backing singers sing along. Eventually, these electronic elements are joined by more acoustic instruments – including Nik Turner’s saxophone from Hawkwind fame.
Acoustic instrumentation and multi-tracked vocal performances are the driving forces behind The Assassination of Julius Caesar’s success. Additionally, its clever lyrical content references various events throughout history.
For instance, “Nemoralia” is a Roman ritual to the goddess Diana that’s followed by “Sici transit gloria mundi,” meaning “thus passes the glory of the world.” Although these lyrics are obscure, their melody makes them much easier to interpret when set against such direct and straightforward music.
The song concludes with an atmospheric instrumental passage that’s both playful and melancholy, before Kristoffer Rygg delivers another stunning vocal. The combination is flawless, creating a sound as soaring and lyrical as ever before – easily their best release since Nattens Madrigal.