Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ulver - Nattens Madrigal (1997)

After releasing a couple albums that had little or nothing to do with Black Metal, Ulver returned in 1997 (or 1996, according to their official site) with Nattens Madrigal. This album featured a much different approach and sounded like a completely different band, for the most part. While Bergtatt featured a mixture of generic Black Metal with an overuse of folk parts, Kveldssanger abandoned the Metal, altogether. So it was a shock to many when the band changed their sound, once again, this time opting for an extremely raw and minimalist approach.

My first impression upon hearing this album, years ago, was that this was Ulver's belated response to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. Other than an isolated acoustic break in the first track, the entire album consists of blast beats and high-speed tremolo melodies. Musically, this is about as primitive as Ulver ever managed to sound, and they did a fine job of it. One has to wonder if they were serious with this record or just taking the piss out of some of their peers. Either way, the result is not bad, at all. While the style of playing is similar to early Darkthrone, the actual melodies are quite different and most of the songs feature more than just a couple riffs. The atmosphere of the melodies is a far cry from that found on Transilvanian Hunger, as this is not nearly as dark of an album. The average tempo is a little faster as well, as if the record is playing at double speed. Even though these guys are utilizing different techniques for this release, the actual melodies are still quite similar to what they did in the past, giving the album a lighter feel than one would expect. As Nattens Madrigal progresses, the riffs get weaker and weaker.

The production is the real focus, here. Ulver stripped things down as much as possible, without straying into garage territory. The guitar tone is razor-sharp and pierces your ears almost to the point of bleeding. It is not exactly a cold sound, just sharp and painful. The buzzing echoes in your skull for hours after the music ends. The drums are fairly limited, being just high enough in the mix to keep time but not really possessing any sort of character. The vocals are quite strained and intense, adding to the overall effect. The lyrics are in archaic Danish, which also lends a bit of an obscure vibe to Garm's voice. This was all about creating a sound that was raw and ugly, and the band succeeded in this. It is too bad that their songwriting skills did not match the sound, since it demonstrated that they had a weak grasp on what they were doing. Rumour has it that the band recorded this L.P. in the forest, though that seems quite ridiculous and implausible.

Nattens Madrigal is a fairly average album. It is decent for those that wish to hear something with an extremely raw sound, but the actual content is lackluster and only a couple of tracks stand out. This is one of those releases that gets hyped to death, but fails to deliver. It may satisfy the Century Media crowd, but real Black Metallers should pass this up and invest their time in something more worthy.