Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X

It was an old song, old as the breed itself – one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations […]. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fear and mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages. (Jack London, The Call Of The Wild, 1903)

ULVER – what introducing words could be said about this band that haven’t been said countless times before? The stories have all been told, stories about young Norwegian kids being part of the Second Wave of Black Metal, who kept changing their musical direction with basically every album so you often wouldn’t believe to listen to the same band if you’d compare certain records of their truly rich discography. Well, there it is, every introduction to ULVER ever.


Anyway, no matter what genres bred the musical composition of each record, be it Neo-Folk, Black Metal, Trip Hop, Jazz or classical music: The quality of every single output is always of the highest, always proving an absolute obsession with perfectness. The wide range of fans that come from as many different backgrounds is just another manifestation of ULVER’s artistic vision. A vision that always involves something deeply sorrowful that seems to come from a very dark place, older than time and inscribed in everyone of us.

The latest incarnation of this vision is Messe I.X – VI.X, no less but the tenth studio album of ULVER. The record was implemented with the 21-headed Tromsø Chamber Orchestra in cooperation with Martin Romberg. The first performance took place on September 21st and the recordings of this performance built the foundation for Messe. However this is not a live record – a lot of work was put into the record afterwards in the studio.

Messe beginns in absolute silence. The opening track, As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples With Ghosts of a Bloody Past takes its time. First there are only a few, strange little noises to hear and after a short while a oriental motif comes up, only to fade out shortly afterwards. Now the violins commence their dirge, and the track takes its course. Sparks of electronic music glimmer here and there, oriental and occidental themes flow into each other. Although this song features no vocals its grasping, threatening atmosphere perfectly renders the conflict addressed in the title.

The absence of vocals continues for the whole A side of Messe , thus the effect they have when finally setting in during the fourth track Son Of Man is nothing but breathtaking. Especially when the choir sets in. Moments like these – when your heart intermits for a second and your flesh creeps because of the terrible beauty of the music – make Messe such an intense experience.

The attribution to a certain genre is, of course, impossible and even more unnecessary. The influences ULVER named for Messe range from Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, a Polish composer, to “80’s pop scores”. And in fact this variety of influences can be heard. But whereas other artists show their influences voluntary or involuntary and are unable to transform them into something unique, ULVER draw upon the incredible deep pool of music to give their music depth, complexity and distinctive individuality. The boundaries between so called serious music and pop blur.


Ranged in ULVER’s creative work until now, Messe is most likey comparable to Shadows Of The Sun released in 2007, although the latter is more reduced. But the overall undertone of both records is very much alike: solemn, sad and atrabilious, driven by an all overshadowing, almost threating darkness.

Messe is not just another piece in ULVER’s recorded output. In fact the album demonstrates the exceptional position of the band in today’s music scene. Not only from a merely artistic point of view but also due to fact that ULVER takes care of releasing their music themselves, for the biggest part at least. This method is absolutely exemplary if an artist wants to keep control over his music and also his artistic integrity.

ULVER’s art is inspiring on so any levels and across all their periods of work. And although their musical output might be dark and forbiddingly, it always carries a positive message: No matter what you want to do, if you do it with conviction and with your best possible effort, you can achieve the greatest things. ULVER have proven this with every single record they’ve put out up to date.

Messe I.X – VI.X is avaible from Jester and Neuropa Records. Besides the vinyl version shown here there was also an exclusive deluxe edition available.

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