Ulver’s reputation nowadays seems to concern less of the initial black metal movement that their first album trilogy heralded, and more about how they have progressed as a collective from album to album since the beginning of the 21st Century, steadily building a unique sound which, from 2000s Perdition City, has manipulated the world of electronica, ambient and pop into a field of Ulver’s own. On this basis alone, it would be fair to say that Ulver aren’t the band extreme metal purists remember them to be. They may as well not be on this planet anymore.
2017 sees the release of latest effort The Assassination of Julius Caesar, featuring a rather questionable title given that the song names themselves have limited connection to that particular concept. Looking past such an aspect however will reveal the fact that, in essence, this is the greatest “pop” album Ulver could have crafted in this day and age. Notwithstanding the still-burning desire to fuse electronica and ambient compositions inherent in the band’s musical formula, there’s so much here that feels like it should have been written in the 80s. Indeed, the consistent Depeche Mode influences are obvious and it’s almost dangerously close to being a copycat of such an influence, yet Ulver manage to make this work stand out remarkably well. Opener “Nemoralia” is a steady, gentle introduction to the album which features some of the most soothing vocal delivery from Kristoffer Rygg (rarely has a lyric like “the sexual drive” sounded so nice), and most of the other songs follow in the same way. “Rolling Stone” is a more progressive affair, building to a messy albeit warped outro via the feature of angelic female dual vocal leads and a more passionate performance from Rygg. “So Falls the World” returns to the simplistic, upbeat melody inherent in the album opener, but stylistically is closer to early 90s NIN than the aforementioned sensational 80s feel.
This said, it’s hard to get past how disappointing the album’s second half is in comparison. Of course, it follows in the same footseps as “Nemoralia”, but because of “Southern Gothic”‘s seeming unwillingness to take an idea further into the unknown, the lack of creativity here leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t really help that “Angelus Novus” and “Transverberation” are ultimately forgettable affairs, providing four minutes of the exact same pop rhythms we’ve heard much earlier in the same record, and even with that generally charming vocal aesthetic that Rygg undeniably has, such filler material as this is deemed unnecessary. At least there’s a sense of unity in album closer “Coming Home”, where a sudden burst of more intense electronica renders the previous filler songs unimportant.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar is undoubtedly one of Ulver’s finest achievements this side of the 21st Century, but it fails to fulfil this idea of consistent, unique experimentation to the very end. The way in which the second half features a struggle in terms of originality is unfortunately disappointing to those who were expecting a sound as vital as that of Perdition City, and yet it’s hard not to admire Ulver’s persistent activity in the world of electronica. You won’t find an album that is ready to change your general perception of the band here, but you will find one which is ready to move beyond what anybody had expected. Let’s hope with the next record that Ulver can be as consistent as they promise.
Released: April 7th, 2017
- Rolling Stone
- So Falls the World
- Southern Gothic
- Angelus Novus
- Coming Home