Since the very beginning, these wolves (ulver in Norwegian) were always moving, shedding their skin from one record to the other, from the black metal days and the folk inclusions, to trip-hop dystopias, deep electronica, neo-classical leanings and krautrock routes. Ulver have been defying genres, chronically refusing to be pigeonholed. It is a band which followed an acoustic album, Kveldssanger, with a record that can arguably be described as the most sonically extreme of the first wave of Norwegian black metal, in Nattens Madrigal. It is this unpredictability that defines Ulver, and it determines the reality they shape.
Ulver is complicated, a quality that albums as diverse as Bergtatt, Perdition City and Shadow of the Sun reveal. But with The Assassination of Julius Caesar, they produce one of their most straightforward and direct messages yet. With Martin “Youth” Glover, founding member of Killing Joke, on the production chair, they channel the intelligent pop sensitivity of the ’80s in its various forms, from the huge hook chorus approach in “Nemoralia” to the darker and goth leaning “So Falls the World.” It is a record nurtured by the new wave of the ’80s, from the electronic transmissionsin “1969”to the dream pop aura of “Angelus Novus,” elements which see Ulver moving back to the very routes of their outlook, the way in which they perceive music and how these sounds molded their identity.
That is not to say that The Assassination of Julius Caesar does not come with a layer of complexity. Ulver still retreat into their experimental core, resorting in blinding electronics. This creeping IDM persona presents a counterweight to the sincerity of the tracks, at moments like the magnificent “Coming Home,” reaching a point when the tricksters take off their masks and reveal their true jester-like nature, spiralling down a dark, tribalistic electronic part, crafting their aural illusions. It is not an abrupt ride, and Ulver do not swing from the extreme to the sensible, but rather perform this task linearly, opening passages of chaotic electronica or psychedelic rock, aided by the presence of fantastic collaborators, including Hawkwind sax player Niko Turner. The excellent “Rolling Stone” present this intricacy, switching from its retro style to psychedelic renditions, finally reaching a no-wave aesthetic, successfully transforming from a pop opus to an underground, ambient off-kilter scenery.
Where does that versatility come from? How is it possible for Ulver to be so innovative and forward-thinking? So unafraid to switch their methodology, and to do so with that much ease? It boils down to the open-mindedness of the individuals, of Kristoffer Rygg, John H. Svaeren and Tore Ylwizaker, and the surrounding musicians in Ole Alexander Halstensgard, Stian Westerhus, Anders Moller and Daniel O’Sullivan. As easy it is for these artists to construct a completely experimental work, as they have done in their numerous projects including Ulver, it is as simple for them to produce a record that is direct and catchy, moving their music back to the basics without compromising its underlying magic.
Composition is not an act performed in a bottled state, an isolated environment. It is fed from external sources, material that exists beyond a solitary sense, and Ulver have been feeding theirs in vast quantity. Through the years, Ulver found themselves obsessed with Scandinavian folk tales, the human psyche, the words of William Blake, astrological signs, historical events and today they continue down this road. Investigating the connection between events, in the death of princess Diana, and myths, in the tale of of Artemis and the hunter Actaeon, or focusing on the Christian tradition exploring the story of the ecstasy of Saint Theresa in “Transverberation” – a point, as described by art historian Irving Lain, between earth and heaven, between matter and spirit. That description is essential in understanding Ulver and their music. This is where they exist, between dimensions, moving seamlessly through different planes of existence, until their next reincarnation takes place.