By on 28 April 2011

‘Wars Of The Roses’

Ulver are anything but predictable. From black metal purists to cathartic soundscapes, their entire career serves as a lesson in both musical evolution and experimentation.  ‘Wars Of The Roses’, the band’s eighth studio album, is their first since they began touring just shy of two years ago. It is also significant as it sees Ulver become a quartet, as multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan of Guapo and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses fame joins on guitar, keys and bass.

It’s possible that album opener, ‘February MMX’ may catch you off guard. The Norwegian experimentalists are synonymous with muddying and merging genres, yet at face value this is an energetic, upbeat art rock track that wouldn’t sound too out of place at Reading festival. Of course, this is much more interesting than mainstream fare, with engaging layers of background electronica and a mystical aural glow. Any concerns that Ulver have succumb to radio-friendly pop sensibilities are soon eradicated as the slower, trippy number ‘Norwegian Gothic’ takes over.

In spite of the eerie clarinet and violin combination, it isn’t until ‘Providence’ that listeners are treated to Ulver at their very best. From the keyboard opening, challenging the very best of contemporary classical pianists to the obscure, jazz-laced prog, this entrancing journey invites you to explore the inner workings of the human psyche, only to transform you back to reality with the soothing silky vocals of Siri Stranger. This centrepiece of the album is one of the longest offerings at eight minutes, only outdone by the experimental mind-melt ‘Stone Angels’ clocking in at a cool fifteen minutes and leaving the listener well and truly blown away. Having said that, at times this closer feels a little too experimental and sporadic in its execution. This trance-like track comprises almost exclusively of a Keith Waldrop poem and innovative ambience.

At its peak, the heightened jazz prog on tracks like ‘Providence’ and ‘September IV’ echo the likes of Ephel Duath and Norway’s Shining, yet ‘Island’ delivers a much mellower tone reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Anathema of recent years. It’s this variation and versatility that reminds listeners just how eclectic Garm and Ulver are.

This is not easy accessible listening, yet Ulver have never claimed to be. ‘Wars Of The Roses’ is the definition of a grower, as with each listen this rich tapestry enlightens, at first with small shimmers of understanding, until eventually the seemingly impenetrable is uncovered. Stay with this for the long haul and understand that Ulver is not to be listened to, but rather experienced.

Michael Wilson

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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