Ulver are at the point in their career where, with the release of every successive album, their reputation precedes them more and more. After all, they have far eclipsed the boundaries initially set by the raw black metal-inspired musings of “Nattens Madrigal”, by dabbling with a multitude of experimental sub-genres involved with ambiance, drone rock and orchestral compositions amongst others. Having worked recently with drone/doom-mongers Sunn 0))) and a full-blow orchestra for the last slew of releases, it comes as no surprise that latest effort “ATGCLVLSSCAP” revels in the most harmonic and ethereal sounds Ulver could manage at this moment in time.
Ulver’s 2016 effort is by no means flawless, and the gargantuan 80-minute title track is frankly enough to keep even the most impatient of music fans at bay. However, it’s fortunate that “ATGCLVLSSCAP” happens to be mostly interesting and unique, even if at times the listener’s attention span can be challenged. The harmonies are generally what sets various songs on this album apart from the rest-particularly the church-bell mantra of opener “England’s Hidden” and the spacey musings of ‘Cromagnosis’, two songs which are complemented by a contrastedly heavier ‘Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen)’ and its calmer neighbour ‘Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)’. The melodies inherent in each of these songs are built upon strongly to incorporate an eventually harrowing yet memorable experience for the listener, but only if you let the sound surround you with its own unique twists and turns.
This previous statement demonstrates just about the album’s only flaw-which, dependent on whether or not you are easily invited by Ulver’s softer musical palette, will prove large or small. The problem is here is that a few songs more than overstay their welcome, and unsurprisingly are a direct cause of the album’s lengthiest tracks, bar ‘Ecclesiastes’. ‘Cromagnosis’ doesn’t actually get going until halfway through with a sudden burst of rhythmic spacey energy, and it takes five seemingly slow minutes for the band to explode with emotional musicianship, whereas ‘D-Day Drone’ doesn’t add anything of interest to what, by that point, you will likely have already heard and sustained in your mind. That said, the length is accompanied by subtle musical overtures, but which seem to be behind the prominent ambiance as opposed to the other way round. The mid-section of ‘Desert/Dawn’ feels lost because of this, and it almost feels like the song could have been split into two parts for a more coherent understanding by the listener, and ‘Moody Stix’, for all its heart-thumping percussion and sinister guitar work, simply loses itself in the midst of the atmospheric soundscape in the background.
All this said, “ATGCLVLSSCAP” certainly demonstrates Ulver at the top of their game, but more importantly, that they are still in a field of their own, untouched by any other musical ensemble. The musicianship and songwriting cannot be shrugged aside anymore, because Ulver are here performing with heart and soul as well as mind and spirit. The energy and unique twists to the usual melting pot of ambiance, drone and experimental rock/metal certainly offers plenty for all music lovers to sink their teeth into, but it has to be said that mentally preparing yourself before the 80-minute journey is an absolute must. Albums like this (and several others from Ulver’s back catalogue, it has to be said) need to be listened to without distractions and outside interferences, for the full effect to be inflicted and eventually, embraced.
- England’s Hidden
- Glammer Hammer
- Moody Stix
- The Spirits that Lend Strength are Invisible
- Om Hanumate Namah
- D-Day Drone
- Gold Beach
- Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen)
- Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)