Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: House of Mythology
"I hope you like our new direction". Wishful words from David St Hubbins just seconds before his band Spinal Tap launched into the poorly received Jazz Odyssey, a live improvisational piece at odds with the band's previous output as a trouser-stuffing rock colossus. Changing styles is nothing new for bands, and interviews throughout the history of popular music are crammed with bands discussing the evolution of their sound or their need to change tack.
Ulver goes pop? - And to no surprise for those familiar with these "wolves from Norway," it sounds nothing like you would expect. You can never know what to expect from Ulver. The band, or "experimental collective," are so intent on never stagnating that genre changes and record label-hopping are regular activities between album cycles. Is this an unwise strategy for maintaining and growing a consistent, loyal fanbase? The answer is probably yes, but this is of no concern to Ulver.
"I want to tell you something/About the grace of faded things...." This line from the song "Southern Gothic," delivered by Ulver's Kristoffer Rygg near the end of The Assassination of Julius Caesar, eventually becomes a manifesto for the single-minded aesthetic pursued on the group's first self-described "pop album." There is no irony in that statement. Ulver have quite literally changed with every recording; they're impossible to pigeonhole. Here they circle back to the decade before their own musical emergence, delivering a deliciously dark, utterly seductive set drenched in moody '80s synth pop.
Kristoffer Rygg, Ulver's sustaining force since the band's 1993 formation, reemerges with the group every few years, shrouded in a different guise: the armor of black metal, the formal decadence of classical-ambient, the cloak of drone. On The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the band's 13th LP, they make the most daring identity shift yet, assuming the full veneer and flash of pop, while never abandoning their Byronic character studies. However the band appears, they've always subsumed themselves with the experiment at hand.
From Burzum to Borknagar, a disproportionately high number of ex-black metal bands have proved adept at absorbing and perfecting musical styles that are well removed from their brutal, noise-based roots. But while most of these acts' metamorphoses largely follow a linear progression from point A to point B via a transitory point C, Ulver have distinguished themselves by moving from point A to point Z via, not only the Latin alphabet, but the entire Greek, Cyrillic and Aramaic ones too. With Kristoffer Rygg (or Garm, as he is more often known) as their sole constant member, Ulver have, in turn, spent time as an orchestral folk group, a jazz-techno act, a minimalistic film scoring project, a freeform prog-rock collective, a sixties garage rock cover band and an ambient drone ensemble.