Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ulver - Bergtatt (1995)

Bergtatt is the first full-length from the Norwegian Black / Folk Metal band Ulver. Released in February 1995, on the record label Head Not Found, this album has gone on to attain high levels of praise, for one reason or another, despite being very weak and lacking real creativity. Here, we have a group of musicians that probably wanted little more than to ride on the coattails of others, joining a scene that they really did not belong to. That much would be proven, as the years passed.

It cannot be said enough that Bergtatt is an incredibly overrated album. Most likely, one reason for the high praise it receives is because the masses are simple-minded. If a band is doing something that they don't understand, many will assume that it is on a higher intellectual level than they are and, not wanting to seem ignorant, will hail it as brilliant. There is nothing impressive going on, here. Mixing elements that do not belong together is not a sign of musical maturity, rather it just displays that the band was incapable of creating anything meaningful within the established boundaries of the genre. What this L.P. is, is a clear example of what happens when musicians attempt to jump on a bandwagon of something that is popular, without truly understanding it. With this record, Ulver absolutely defecates all over what Black Metal is supposed to be about. The soft guitar riffs and mellow leads, along with the abundance of clean vocals, just screams easy listening. Hailing from Norway and tossing a painting of some trees on the cover is not enough to be counted among the like of Darkthrone or Burzum. There is nothing dark about this music, at all. Even the 'pure' Black Metal moments are generic and meaningless, and those are usually undermined further by the cheesy Folk elements. It seems clear that, even if these guys had tried to make a real Black Metal record, they possessed too little knowledge or passion about it, other than ripping off their peers. Even the most 'true' riffs sound like throwaway melodies from Gorgoroth or Enslaved. The harsh vocals are rather generic as well, sounding like an amalgamation of some of the better-known vocalists in the scene. This makes lower-tier stuff like Kronet Til Konge sound like a classic, by comparison.

The production is rather strange. The Black Metal sections are fairly rough and things kind of run together, at times. The drums, in particular, become quite muddled during the fast parts. The guitar tone is not too bad, and has a pretty cold feeling during those brief times when it goes unmolested by the other nonsense. That said, many of the softer elements possess a clarity that does not mix well with the rest. The leads sound uncharacteristically clear and the same goes for the acoustic passages and the clean vocals. It just does not sound very natural seems to further exemplify the clash of styles. The vocals are too high in the mix, clean and harsh, though the latter may be helpful in adding some small sense of roughness to the sound. 

Bertatt is an album that was made to try to capitalize on the hype in Norway. It is painfully obvious that Ulver had no true passion for Black Metal and got bored with it, very quickly. This may account for the sparseness of such passages. Far more time and attention was given to the Folk side of things, though these guys did little to try to reconcile the two styles with one another. It all comes off as very sloppy and contrived. This may best serve as a gateway album, to appeal to listeners that prefer something soft and easygoing, while giving them small doses of generic Black Metal. Don't buy into the claims that this is the product of genius. Definitely preview before buying, if you are still curious about it. If at all possible, avoid this.