Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Slipcase cover
Studio album by Ulver
Released December 17, 1998 (1998-12-17)
Genre Experimental, avant-garde metal
Length 101:09
Label Jester
Ulver chronology
The Trilogie - Three Journeyes Through the Norwegian Netherworlde
(1997)
Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
(1998)
Metamorphosis
(1999)

Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is the fourth studio album by Norwegian experimental collective Ulver. Produced with Kristoffer Rygg, together with Knut Magne Valle and Tore Ylwizaker, it was issued on December 17, 1998 via Jester Records. It is a musical setting of William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The album blended electronics, industrial music elements, progressive metal and avant-garde rock, adding ambient passages, following Blake's plates as track indexes. Stine Grytøyr, Ihsahn, Samoth and Fenriz all feature as guest vocalists.

The album received widespread acclaim from critics within both the rock/metal and alternative music press - being awarded Album of the Month in several high-profile magazines such as Terrorizer, Metal Hammer, and Rock Hard and ranked very highly in their end of year's best polls. However, the album’s transitional nature perhaps alienated many fans of the band’s first three albums - causing a backlash from the black metal scene.[1]

Controversial director of films Kids and Gummo, Harmony Korine, recently commented, alluding to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "There's a real lineage from a composer like Wagner to a band like Ulver."

Background[edit]

In late 1997, Kristoffer Rygg invited keyboardist, sound conceptualist, and composer Tore Ylwizaker into the collective, and together they created a strategy for The Blake Album.[2] Musically, the album transcended black metal’s aesthetics to create a genre-defying work and employed everything from ambient and classical sounds to industrial, prog metal, and art rock.[2] The title alone being a loud signal that Ulver had changed somewhat.

"For me," says Garm, "the Blake record kind of signifies the second chapter or the new beginning – newer if you will – and not only from an ideological or lyrical perspective, but also musically because by that time I had acquired knowledge on technology and how to work with software and computers so we kind of had the knowledge to do new things with music. In a way it's quite natural that we wanted to explore other things almost from the beginning, which I think the second album, Kveldssanger, is a good example of. So we were never, like, strictly into black metal. It's actually pretty natural. I think a lot of people tend to think of it as very weird or very strange that the focus shifted so radically, but I don't."[3]

The album and the band in general got a great deal of back-lash from the black metal community for abruptly changing musical styles, though the band expressly claimed to not be part of the "so-called black metal scene" in the liner notes of the booklet.[1] While genre purists were taken aback by the violation of their boundaries, a new audience now discovered the band.[4]

The shift in musical direction caused a certain amount of discord between Kristoffer Rygg and German label Century Media, resulting in the band being dropped from the roster and Rygg forming his own imprint, Jester Records.[5]

Rygg, commenting in Unrestrained magazine in 2007, said, "We spent a couple of years designing [this album], so that was by far the most serious and elaborate musical process we undertook at the time. I had started getting into computers and how you could use different softwares to manipulate sounds, and that led to the expansion of the palette, and how we made music. That was an interest which was there from the beginning. I think the whole perception that we just made a 180-degree shift towards something else is not entirely correct. I think we just wanted to leave the black metal thing because we felt it was limiting. Our perspectives on religion and society had started to become more difficult as well. That's why Blake was hugely interesting to us, because it was just so much more of a meticulous vision than the dissentient perspective we were part of at the time. You're always more angry when you're young and you become more moderate as you grow older so that's why Blake was fascinating to us. That was the start of chapter two, if you will, of our history." Continuing, "I was hugely into Coil and I found their music to be immensely fascinating. I checked out all their references-Chaos magick, Alfred Jarry, Austin Spare and Blake and so forth. I was in London in '96 on a trip together with Ihsahn of Emperor and we went to this place, Atlantis Bookshop, a quite legendary bookstore for occult literature and stuff like that. I picked up a beautiful copy of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and it just blew me away. I totally identified with his (William Blake) way of seeing things, even though it is profoundly personal stuff."[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2.5/5 stars link
Sputnikmusic 4/5 stars link

Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell met with critical acclaim at the time of its release, with most reviewers commenting on the drastic change in musical direction, and the ambitious nature of setting William Blake's poem to music.

Writing for AllMusic, Jason Hundy commented, “Every single album they put out is almost a complete 180 from the last, which, although strange, is a very admirable quality to this band, and Marriage is no different. Between the eerie music, awkward vocals, and mysterious religious lyrics, this album has everything for the eccentric fans out in metal-land.”[7]

Oliver Side, writing for avantgarde-metal.com, comments, “[The Blake Album is] clearly a great step outside what they previously had been associated with, namely black metal. The whole double-album is very genre-schizophrenic, as there are also more moody, almost ambient-like acoustic tracks, and all the musical focus is put on each of Blake’s inspirational shifts of emotions, so it basically changes all the time.”[8]

Webzine Metal Reviews, concludes "Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell may be messy and perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good, but yet it prevails because it's so damn brave. A complete musical reboot, and as such it has its flaws. As their peers floundered around them, Ulver took flight, and if they hadn't chosen to abandon metal entirely, they may not have even existed today."[9]

Reviewer John Chedsey commented, “The shift into yet another musical realm should come as no surprise to anyone who has kept tabs on this group of musicians. Ulver's artistic vision extends beyond simply the area where they began.”[1]

Given this diversity, the response from the metal media came highly unexpected: 10/10 points in Rock Hard (D); 7/7 points and Album of the Month in Hammer Magazine (D); Album of the Month in Terrorizer (UK); 15/15 in Deftone (D); 15/15 in Legacy (D); 10/10 in Psycho (IT); and 12/12 in Thrash'em All (POL).[4]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by William Blake

Disc 1
No. Title Length
1. "The Argument, Plate 2"   4:03
2. "Plate 3"   2:48
3. "Plate 3, Following"   1:33
4. "The Voice of the Devil, Plate 4"   2:49
5. "Plates 5-6"   2:31
6. "A Memorable Fancy, Plates 6–7"   4:24
7. "Proverbs of Hell, Plates 7–10"   9:06
8. "Plate 11"   2:01
9. "Intro"   3:26
10. "A Memorable Fancy, Plates 12–13"   5:59
11. "Plate 14"   2:08
12. "A Memorable Fancy, Plate 15"   4:51
13. "Plates 16–17"   3:17
Total length:
48:56
Disc 2
No. Title Length
1. "A Memorable Fancy, Plates 17–20"   11:23
2. "Intro"   2:27
3. "Plates 21–22"   3:11
4. "A Memorable Fancy, Plates 22–24"   4:50
5. "Intro"   3:59
6. "A Song of Liberty, Plates 25–27" (featuring Ihsahn, Samoth and Fenriz) 26:23
Total length:
52:13

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Chedsey, John (December 2000). "Blake". Satan Stole My Teddybear. Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b All Music. "Ulver Biography". Retrieved 2014-05-10. 
  3. ^ "Ulver". Blistering.com. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Ulver". Metal Storm. Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Jester Records". Discogs. Retrieved May 27, 2014. 
  6. ^ Hughes, Rob (September 2007). "TRAGIC SERENADES". Unrestrained Magazine. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  7. ^ Hundey, Jason. "Ulver - Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell". AllMusic. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  8. ^ Side, Oliver (June 30, 1997). "Ulver - Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell". Avantgarde-Metal.com. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Ulver - Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell". MetalReviews.com. Retrieved June 1, 2014.