Given Ulver's ever-eclectic musical progression, starting out as a folk-inflicted black metal band and slowly evolving into an experimental unit making forays into electronic and avant-garde territory, some of their fans would probably embrace Childhood's End as a brand new studio release if they didn't know it was an album consisting of covers by 60s psychedelic bands. And we're not talking about bands like The Doors. Ulver covers some of the most obscure acts of the era. Actually, quite a few of these bands have only released a single album: Gandalf's "Can You Travel in the Dark Alone?" and Les Fleur de Lys' "I Can See the Light" are, therefore, revived 'new' tunes for some of us.
Of course, the riff-centred, visceral rock tunes whose first verses are comprised by awfully predictable lyrics like "Love love love love" will have even the die-hard fan scratching their heads, as it is uncharacteristic for even a band like Ulver. Songs like "66-5-4-3-2-1," with its unmistakable garage rock-meets-punk riffs or the catchy, hook-laden melodies of "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" with cringe-worthy backing vocals and hand-clapped rhythmic anchoring do not quite work within Ulver's trajectory. What works, however, is the brilliantly 'Ulverized' sections of even the poppiest compositions: the heavily synth-drenched notes of "The Trap" sees Garm delivering the vocals a lot more slowly than the original version. The music is heightened to another level, rife with nuance and detail. The fuzzy guitar sound underscores a thick synth figure over which a deft drum solo is placed. Jefferson Airplane's "Today" is treated to a different mix. It has a modified guitar sound, and the vocals are slightly faster on this one. Also, they are catchier and more powerful. The final part where Garm begs "Please please, listen to me" is infectious, and it matches, if not surpasses, the original piece, which is also fantastic, by the way.
Overall, though, the album presents a great picture of the psychedelic movement, mixing a strong dose of synthesizers and lighter-than-air percussion into the songs. The band's use of organs is stunning, and the moody, jazz-inflicted elements brought in to widen the scope of the tracks will have any fan happy. Some of the arrangements perfectly exemplify the roots of psychedelia while others belie that they are cover tunes. The version of "Everybody Has Been Burned Before" could well have been a song on Shadows of the Sun. Check out the soaring guitar arpeggio at the end - simply wonderful. "Where is Yesterday?" boasts plenty of reverb in its chaotic mix, creating lots of echo and distortion in the instrumental part, complete with tense silences and coiling melodies pushed forward by lilting, acid-drenched guitars. All throughout, the production is ingenious, as expected.
The artwork of the album is very fitting to the mood and period of these songs. It features Nick Ut's iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of 'The Girl in the Picture', a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked towards Ut's camera after a napalm attack on her village in South Vietnam. Her clothes are torn off and she's badly burned. It is one of the most memorable pictures of the twentieth century, and I'm glad it will live on through Ulver's art, just like the wonderful artwork of Shadows of the Sun.