Ulver

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This article is about the Norwegian group. For the castle of Cornatel, see Priaranza del Bierzo.
Ulver
ULVER KRAKÓW.JPG
Ulver, 22 February 2010, Kraków
Background information
Origin Norway
Genres Black metal(early)
Avant-garde,[1] experimental, electronic, ambient (later)
Years active 1993–present
Labels Kscope, Jester Records, The End Records, Century Media, Head Not Found
Associated acts Arcturus, Borknagar, Guapo, Mothlite, Æthenor, Head Control System, Ved Buens Ende, Sunn O)))
Website www.jester-records.com/ulver
Members Kristoffer Rygg
Tore Ylwizaker
Jørn H. Sværen
Daniel O'Sullivan
Past members Grellmund
A. Reza
Robin
Carl-Michael Eide
Håvard Jørgensen
Erik Olivier Lancelot
Torbjørn Pedersen
Hugh Steven James Mingay

Ulver (Norwegian for “wolves”) are a Norwegian experimental musical collective founded in 1993, by vocalist Kristoffer Rygg. Their early works, such as Bergtatt, were categorised as folklore-influenced black metal but have since evolved a fluid and increasingly eclectic musical style, blending genres such as rock, electronica, symphonic and chamber traditions, noise and experimental music into their oeuvre.[2] 1997 marked their international debut with the release of their third album Nattens madrigal through German label Century Media. However, following discord with the label, Kristoffer Rygg formed his own imprint Jester Records in 1998.[3]

In 1998, multi-instrumentalist Tore Ylwizaker joined the band marking a drastic change in direction for Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - a double album incorporating elements from drum and bass, progressive rock, spoken word, industrial music, and black metal, fused into a somewhat ambient new style. Further exploring trip hop, jazz, ambient music, spoken word and electronica on 2000’s Perdition City, before moving into a more experimental, minimalist, ambient direction, and soundtrack work.

2005 marked another change in the band’s sound, returning to standard instrumentation, combined with orchestral instruments and arrangements. British composer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel O'Sullivan joined the collective in 2009,[4] and the band performed some of their first live concerts in their 15 year lifespan, including the prestigious Norwegian National Opera.

Ulver have sold in excess of half a million records, have well over 11,000,000 plays on Last FM,[5] been twice nominated for the Norwegian Grammy Awards, Spellemannsprisen, in different categories,[6] won Album of the Year at the Oslo Awards for Shadows of the Sun in 2008,[7] won the NATT&DAG award for Best Live Act in 2011,[8]and earned a global reputation for stylistic unpredictability.[2]

Acclaim from the artistic community includes 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." Author and musician Julian Cope has said, "Ulver are cataloguing the death of our culture two decades before anyone else has noticed its inevitable demise."

History[edit]

The Black Metal Trilogy[edit]

Founded in 1993 by vocalist Kristoffer Rygg in Oslo, Norway, together with Grellmund, Robin Malmberg, Carl-Michael Eide, Håvard Jørgensen, and A. Reza, the band issued their first demo cassette, Vargnatt, in November 1993. Their music and style was consistent with the early Norwegian black metal subculture in Norway during the early 1990s.[9][10] However some have noted the avant-garde, jazz, rock and gothic influences that would later shape the bands sound.[11] The archaic Dano-Norwegian lyrics were greatly influenced by Scandinavian folktales and inspired by Baroque poets such as Ludvig Holberg and the hymn-writer Thomas Kingo.[12]

Debut album, Bergtatt, the first part of what has become know as Ulver’s “Black Metal Trilogie,”[13] was issued in November 1994 through Norwegian label Head Not Found. The album was met with critical acclaim, and was notable for blending together black metal, harsh vocals and blurred, buzzing guitars with quiet, folk-like acoustic passages. It was praised for its unique atmosphere and was described as “mysterious, melancholic, eerie, and oddly tranquil.”[14]

Ulver expanded on the quiet, folk-like acoustic elements present for their second album Kveldssanger, issued March 1996 by Head Not Found. Incorporating classical guitars, cello and choral chamber chants overlaid with subtle orchestral landscapes - eschewing the black metal elements - the album was a drastic contrast to Bergtatt, whilst still retaining the atmospheric and folk themes. Vocalist Rygg has since remarked that Kveldssanger was an "immature attempt at making a classical album", later adding that the performance was immature, yet the content is strong when their youth at the time is taken into account.[15] The album was praised for its atmosphere, evoking a feeling of quiet, eerie solitude.[16]

Following the success of their first two albums, Ulver signed with German label Century Media for their third album Nattens madrigal, issued in March 1997 - marking the band’s international debut. The album showcases a black metal style similar to Bergtatt, abandoning the acoustic and atmospheric elements, with an intentionally underproduced sound. The album has been described as “raw and grim black metal at it's blackest.”[17] A common myth about the album is that band spent the recording budget on Armani suits, cocaine and a Corvette; and recorded the album outdoors in a Norwegian forest on an 8-track recorder.[18] Kristoffer Rygg, however, has stated that this is not true; and possibly a rumour started by Century Media.[19][20] The album has been described as “so fast and ferocious and the vocals so garbled that it's best just to take the sheer sonic force as reflecting the band's concept, rather than trying to piece it all together.”[18]

Metal Injection concluded "Kveldssanger had no electric instruments, Nattens madrigal had no acoustic instruments, but Bergtatt, has both acoustic and electric instruments; it’s like they spliced the elements from Bergtatt into two separate albums. If that’s the case, then Nattens madrigal really showcases the black metal prowess of the band. The album answers exactly why people were so angered by Ulver’s transition away from black metal, and why people are still bitter at their direction today.”[21]

In 1997, Century Media issued The Trilogie – Three Journeyes Through the Norwegian Netherworlde, a limited edition collection, containing Bergtatt, Kveldssanger and Nattens madrigal in LP Picture Disc format, housed in a cardboard box, with a booklet & bonus posters.

The Blake Album[edit]

Rygg invited composer and sound architect Tore Ylwizaker into the collective in order to expand their artistic and musical visions; and together they stepped over the boundaries of black metal aesthetics, creating a genre-defying work in Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, released in December 1998. The album was issued through Rygg’s own imprint, Jester Records, a label born out of discord between Ulver and Century Media.[3] Musically, the album blended electronics, industrial music elements, progressive metal and avant-garde rock, adding ambient passages. Lyrically, the album incorporates the entire text of William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, utilising guest vocalists on several songs. 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.

The Metamorphosis[edit]

Ulver, now only consisting of Rygg and Ylwizaker, issued an EP, Metamorphosis, in September 1999. The music moving to the more heavily electronic approach, bridging the gap to the film-noir ambiance of 2000’s full-length album Perdition City.[22] In the sleeve notes to Metamorphosis, the group declared:

Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish to be stigmatized as such. We acknowledge the relation of part I & III of the Trilogie (Bergtatt & Nattens Madrigal) to this culture, but stress that these endeavours were written as stepping stones rather than conclusions. We are proud of our former instincts, but wish to liken our association with said genre to that of the snake with Eve. An incentive to further frolic only. If this discourages you in any way, please have the courtesy to refrain from voicing superficial remarks regarding our music and/or personae. We are as unknown to you as we always were.[23]

Perdition City, issued in March 2000, was described as moody, atmospheric electronica,[24] cinematic in scope,[25] evoking a soundtrack for an imaginary film. Kerrang! praised the album, ranking it top ten that year, noting "This ain't rock 'n roll. This is evolution on such a grand scale that most bands wouldn't even be able to wrap their tiny little minds around it."[6] Musically, Ulver not only explores new genres, but also shift from extrovert, into more introverted moods, or interior music.[26]

The band followed up Perdition City with two improv/minimalist/ambient/glitch companion EP’s, called Silence Teaches You How to Sing and Silencing the Singing, in September and December 2001, respectfully. The material featured here was loosely recorded during the sessions for the Perdition City album.[27] The style is more experimental/atmospheric and less beat-oriented; rather mood pieces that revolve around the Perdition City theme.[28] Due to the experimental nature of the music, both Silence EP’s were limited to two thousand, and three thousand copies. However, both EP’s were re-released as one disc, issued through American independent label Black Apple Records, under the title Teachings in Silence, in November 2002.[29]

Ulver, now with more confidence in their ambient sensibilities[28] descent into the world of film soundtracks, producing scores for Lyckantropen (issued as Lyckantropen Themes, in November 2002), Svidd neger (issued as Svidd neger, in September 2003) and a joint soundtrack with singer/songwriter Tom McRae for the multiple award-winning Uno. Ulver were praised for their soundtrack work, and their ability to adapt[30] and providing a sense of continuity to each film.[30] The song Silence Teaches You How to Sing was later used in the 2012 supernatural horror film Sinister.

Ulver celebrated their ten year anniversary with a remix album, 1993–2003: 1st Decade in the Machines, issued in April 2003, featuring contributions from Third Eye Foundation, Bogdan Raczynski, Fennesz, V/Vm and Merzbow.

In 2002, the trio had announced that they had been working on a string remake of Nattens madrigal, but Garm later stated that the project "is in a state of total dormancy."[31]

Second Decade in The Machines[edit]

Ulver, live in London 2011

In August 2003, Ulver issued an EP, A Quick Fix of Melancholy, essentially a teaser for the forthcoming album, Blood Inside.[32] A delicate marriage of orchestration and electronica[32] the EP features text by Christian Bök and a remix of a song from Kveldssanger.

In 2004, the group collaborated with Sámi vocalist Mari Boine and percussionist Marilyn Mazur to score Mona J. Hoel’s film Salto, salmiakk og kaffe. The film premiered in August 2004, however, the soundtrack remains unreleased.

Ulver issued Blood Inside in June 2005, produced together with King Crimson collaborator Ronan Chris Murphy. The album returns to more classical arrangements and instrumentation,[33] described as “a beautifully crafted album of both substance and style. Certainly, Blood Inside is still not for everyone, but those who choose to indulge in this will find themselves rewarded on every level.”[33] “[Blood Inside] is ambiguous and full of intricate layers and influences working to tell a story that is both haunting and mesmerising. Garm’s beautiful distorted vocals act as outcries of a desperate man hidden, pushed in the background of the story that the instrumentation tells.”[33] Webzine Avantgarde-metal.com concludes: “the sound of the album is maybe their most extravagant, extrovert, dynamic and wild, ranging from swing band to danceable hard electronic pop, with a lot of peaceful moments in between so much energy.”[33]

Ulver & drone band Sunn O))) collaborated on the fifteen-minute track “CUT WOODeD” - a tribute to the deceased film director Ed Wood,[34] which later appeared on Sunn O)))'s WHITEbox box set, issued in July 2006.

Shadows of the Sun was issued in October 2007 in Europe[35] and the United States[36] and would include collaborations with artists Pamelia Kurstin contributing theremin, Mathias Eick on trumpet and Christian Fennesz, adding supplemental shimmer.[36] Garm described it as "our most personal record to date."[37] Described as "low-key, dark and tragic,"[35] the album received critical acclaim,[38][39] and in February 2008 the album won the Oslo Awards for Album of the Year, in 2008.[7] The album was also voted best album of 2007 at the website Sonic Frontiers.[40]

Changes in Personnel[edit]

In 2009, Ulver announced it would become a quartet. Its three extant members — Kristoffer Rygg, Tore Ylwizaker, and multi-instrumentalist Jørn H. Sværen — enlisted British composer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel O'Sullivan (Æthenor, Guapo, Mothlite) into the collective.[4] The band accepted an invitation to appear at the Norwegian Festival of Literature, at Maihaugsalen (part of Maihaugen) in Lillehammer, Norway on May 30, 2009. The collective were accompanied by guest musicians Lars Pedersen (aka When) on drums, Pamelia Kurstin playing Theremin and Ole Aleksander Halstensgård (from Paperboys). The success of this performance lead to them embarking on a string of other live performances in 2009 and 2010, selling out prestigious venues, such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Volksbühne in Berlin and La Cigale in Paris before they returned to their homeland for their performance at The Norwegian Opera House.[41] Ulver were the first band outside the established Norwegian music scene to be invited to play at the Opera House.

The first album to feature the quartet is Wars of the Roses,[42] issued in April 2011 via Kscope, preceded by a single, "February MMX," in February. The album entered the Norwegian National Album Charts at Number 17. SputnikMusic noted, "Wars of the Roses’ thoughtful conception and execution serves only for a thoughtful listen. After all this time, it still remains a privilege to bear witness to these wolves evolve once again."[43] Murat Batmaz, commenting for Sea of Tranquility webzine, noted, "it amalgamates musical traits from its predecessors while re-shaping them with a more direct approach."[44]

In November 2011, Kscope issued The Norwegian National Opera on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, CD and double LP,[45] a film documenting Ulver’s performance at The Norwegian National Opera on July 31, 2010. Described as “mesmerizing and stunningly beautiful”[46] and “a unique and at times hypnotic live experience; far from a conventional one; more akin to a piece of performance art than a standard concert.”[47]

Ulver’s next project came in the form of a collection of covers of "60s psychedelic chestnuts”,[48] issued on Jester Records, under license to Kscope, in May 2012. The album, a reinterpretation of '60s psychedelia, was intended by Ulver as a reflection on lost innocence.[49] The album received favourable reviews; Ben Ratliffe, writing for NY Times, praised Childhood's End for its treatment of the original music, commenting that "these cover versions reward the ambition of the original songs, draping them with stateliness.” Placing the album in the context of Ulver's discography, Ratliffe noted that Childhood's End is "the most straight-ahead Ulver record ever, but still strange".[50] A music video for "Magic Hollow", directed by Justin Oakey, was released in April 2012.[51]

In 2012, Roadburn Records issued an installment in their Roadburn EP series on 7” vinyl, featuring the songs “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” b/w “Reverberation (Doubt).” Limited to 500 copies, of which 100 copies is gold vinyl - the release commemorated Ulver’s performance at the Roadburn Festival, 013, Tilburg, in the Netherlands, on April 12, 2012.[52] The full performance at the festival was issued as Live At Roadburn in June 2013 via Roadburn Records. It was the first and only time tracks from Childhood's End were performed live.

Announcing a new DIY approach, Ulver released a press statement, The Art Of Dying,[53] an articulated rant about the changes in the record industry.[54] The band collected some covers and curiosities, and made them available to download as Oddities & Rarities #1, including material from tribute albums and the Uno soundtrack.

Messe I.X-VI.X[edit]

Ulver were commissioned in 2012 by the Tromsø Kulturhus (House of Culture) in Norway,[55] in a cooperation with the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra cultural institution to compose and perform a Mass. With additional aid and advice from composer Martin Romberg, and contemporary composers/musicians Ole-Henrik Moe and Kari Rønnekleiv, Messe I.X-VI.X was composed and first performed live by Ulver, alongside the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra on September 21, 2012. The band then took the recordings back to Crystal Canyon, Oslo and spent winter and spring in post-production, honing the material for its studio-equivalent. Issued in August 2013, Ulver’s tenth studio album received universal critical acclaim, described as “a challenging work and an album of rare beauty"[56] and “a phenomenal album, combining intense atmosphere with the sort of cinematic sense of drama akin to some of the most powerful film scores.” [57]

In January 2014, Ulver collaborated with Norway’s National Theatre, providing the soundtrack to Demoner 2014 (translated Demons 2014); based on a text by Geir Gulliksen, in turn freely based on the Dostoyevsky novel Demons, also known as The Possessed,[58] the play premiered on February 8, 2014.

On January 2, 2014, Ulver announced an 11-date European tour, “the February dates will consist of partly new and improv-based material, likely to revolve around motifs already familiar to our familiars. We are looking forward to get out there, and hope for some interesting music to be born those evenings and nights. We also aim to document some of it for those of you who cannot come.”[59]

Ulver released a collaboration album with Sunn O))), entitled Terrestrials, issued in February 2014 via Southern Lord.[60][61][62] Produced by Stephen O'Malley and Kristoffer Rygg, it has been described as "three live improvisation pieces".[63] On December 10, 2013, a sample from the closing track, "Eternal Return," was released for streaming.[63][64] It was also streamed on Pitchfork Advance on the day it was released, until February 10, 2014.[65]

In April 2014 Century Media announce Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-1997, collecting together the albums Bergtatt, Kveldssanger and Nattens madrigal, as well as the band’s original demo cassette, Vargnatt, and other rarities. The set will be released as a 5CD box set with a canvas-bound slipcase and 100+ page booklet, as well as a 4LP box (plus cassette).[66]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Soundtracks[edit]

Demos, Splits, Collaborations and EPs[edit]

Compilations & Box Sets[edit]

Remix & Tribute Albums[edit]

Live Albums[edit]

Contributions and guest appearances[edit]

  • FeuersturmCentury Media Records compilation (1997) – "Soelen gaaer bag aase need"
  • Souvenirs from Hell – compilation (1997) – "Synen"
  • Ablaze CompilationAblaze Magazine compilation (1998) – "Hymn VIII"
  • Lords of Chaos: The History of Occult MusicLords of Chaos[disambiguation needed] compilation (2002) – often called "(untitled exclusive track)", but in fact it is a rehearsal of "Hymn VI" from Nattens madrigal
  • Frog Remixed and RevisitedMerzbow remix compilation (2003) – "Denki No Numa (Frog Voice mix)"
  • The Lotus EatersDead Can Dance tribute compilation (2004) – "In the Kingdom of the Blind the One-Eyed Are Kings"
  • Uno – soundtrack (2004) – "Uno", "Avhør", "Brødre", "Brødre Rev.", "Flukt", "Gravferd", "David til ulvene"
  • Salto, salmiakk og kaffe – soundtrack (2004) – unreleased
  • Gods of ThunderKiss tribute compilation (2005) – "Strange Ways"
  • Sunn O)))WHITEbox (2006) – "CUTWOODeD"
  • ShockadelicaPrince tribute compilation (2008) – "Thieves in the Temple" (feat. Siri Stranger)
  • Agony & IronyAlkaline Trio (2008) – strings, programming, vocals on "Lost & Rendered" and "In My Stomach"
  • Pay For It (Single)Mindless Self Indulgence – "Pay For It [RMX]"
  • Genghis TronBoard Up The House Remixes Volume 3 – "I Won't Come Back Alive" (Ulver remix)
  • The Wall Re-Built!Pink FloydMojo (December 2009, issue 193) tribute compilation – "Another Brick in the Wall Pt.1"
  • Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings – compilation (2010) – "Synen"

Live appearances[edit]

At the Norwegian Festival of Literature[edit]

On May 30, 2009 Ulver performed live for the first time in 15 years, at Maihaugsalen (part of Maihaugen) in Lillehammer, Norway. The concert was a part of the Norwegian Festival of Literature. The three band members were accompanied by guest musicians: Lars Pedersen (aka When) on drums, Daniel O’Sullivan (also in Æthenor, Guapo, Mothlite) on guitar and bass, Pamelia Kurstin playing Theremin and Ole Aleksander Halstensgård (from Paperboys).

Subsequent performances[edit]

Subsequently the only live appearances outside Norway were held at the Brutal Assault Festival in the Czech Republic on August 7 and at the Gagarin205 club in Athens,Greece (November 16). More festival appearances in Norway were announced: Øyafestivalen at Middelalderparken, Oslo (August 11), Møllafestivalen in Gjerstad (August 14), Pstereo'09 at Marinen, Trondheim (August 21) and London's Queen Elizabeth Hall (October 9).

Ulver at the Opera[edit]

On July 31, 2010 Ulver performed live at the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet with Christian Fennesz and the performance artist Ian Johnstone.[67]

Wars of the Roses Tour[edit]

From March 22, 2011 to April 21, Ulver played in several European countries to support their 2011 album Wars of the Roses. On this tour they performed said album in its entirety, and also added some abstract/improvised passages. Zweizz acted as support artist.

Members[edit]

Current members[edit]

Former members[edit]

  • Grellmund – guitar on Vargnatt (committed suicide on 31 December 1997[citation needed])
  • A. Reza – guitar on Vargnatt
  • Robin – bass guitar on Vargnatt
  • Carl-Michael Eide (aka Aggressor; Czral; Exhurtum) – drums on Vargnatt, guest drums on Blood Inside
  • Håvard Jørgensen – guitar (Vargnatt through Themes…), session guitars on Metamorphosis, Perdition City and Blood Inside
  • Hugh Steven James Mingay (aka Skoll) – bass guitar (Bergtatt through Themes…)
  • Erik Olivier Lancelot (aka AiwarikiaR) – drums, flute (Bergtatt through Themes…)
  • Torbjørn Pedersen (aka Aismal; Tykje) – guitar (Bergtatt through Nattens Madrigal)
  • Knut Magne Valle – guitar on Themes…

Session and guest musicians[edit]

References[edit]

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