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Shadows of the sun
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2008
Ulver are something of an acquired taste, especially as they keep changing their sound faster than new genre names can be coined to account for their highly individualistic musical output. On 'Shadows of The Sun', they're almost unrecognisable as the same bunch of tricksters who delivered the marvellous lo-fi electro soundscape of 'Perdition City' in 2000, who were in turn unrecognisable as the band responsible for black metal works like 'Bergtatt' five years earlier. It seems these guys are just eternally restless, looking to add another dimension to their back catalogue with each release.

And yet, all of these works have some kind of stamp on them that says 'Ulver' (and it isn't just the band font). The new offering is certainly a surprise, in that it's essentially a little under 40 minutes' worth of introspective, almost funereal songs, with scarcely a hint of the bluster that characterised Ulver's previous release 'Blood Inside'. Every single track on 'Shadows of The Sun' - even the brilliant Black Sabbath cover - does its part to immerse the listener in a cathartic mood of melancholy, with just a hint of threat and foreboding lurking around the edges. This is worlds away from anything we've heard them do before. Still ... after a couple of listens, you know it really couldn't be anyone but Ulver behind this cohesive, enveloping work.

Although the songs seem designed to flow together in an almost soundscape-like fashion, other musicians have been brought in to provide more varied hues where necessary. On several tracks, for example, the Oslo Session String Quartet add touches of beauty to the big, droning electronic sounds, delicate piano lines and layered, alte musik backing vocals. Elsewhere you'll hear theremin wailing mournfully in the darkness (as in the strikingly sorrowful opening piece 'Eos'), or trumpet providing a strange rambling jazz flavour in places where you'd think it would be completely incongruous. And in the first-beautiful-then-desolate 'Vigil', the quartet's elegant contributions collide with a wash of wretchedly dicordant noise, partly designed by sound artist Christian Fennesz.

(Fennesz is a leading light of the Touch Music label, and hence this was a meeting of minds that had to happen sooner or later, given Touch's penchant for soundscapists from Ulver's own neck of the Scandinavian woods. I just hope the association is long-lived - an Ulver/Biosphere collaboration would be a truly wonderful thing to hear.)

All of these contributions help to achieve this CD's cleverest trick: namely, its ability to take you on an unbroken journey in a single direction, but treat your ears to a varied palate of sound along the way.

One other thing I have to mention: a stumbling block for a lot of people with prior Ulver releases has been Kristoffer Rygg's vocals. Here he gives his most mature vocal performance yet i.m.o., shearing off many of the edges that some non-fans have found jarring in the past. Rygg delivers many of the new tracks in intimate, semi-whispered tones, and elsewhere manages quite a rich baritone.

This CD is an important addition to Ulver's impressive body of work, a must for fans and a worthwhile listen for anyone who occasionally craves music that can go with them to the 'dark places' of despair, perplexity and loss. 'Shadows of The Sun' does sparkle here and there with a faintly exotic allure, attempting to show that there is a kind of beauty in melancholy. Overall, though, it lies on the grim side of things, as an ideal accompaniment to your most acute moments of doubt and sadness. More people should take advantage of the fact that music like this exists.
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