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Ulver: Childhood's End

Much like Anathema, who started out as a pretty extreme doom act and eventually morphed into the atmoshpheric pop/prog band they are today, Ulver have gone through drastic changes since their inception back in the early 1990's. Initially a ferocious black metal juggernaut, the Norwegian horde, fronted by mastermind Kristoffer Rygg, slowly shed their black metal roots and embraced pop, trance, ambient, folk, and industrial sounds, to the point where if you listen to any of their early albums and compare them to what they've produced over the last decade, you could barely tell they were from the same band. Now, here comes Childhood's End, a collection of cover songs drawn from band favorites from the psychedelic '60s.

In many cases, the tracks the band have decided to cover are pretty obscure, which in itself is a good thing, making Childhood's End fairly enjoyable considering that the casual rock fan might not have heard these songs previously. The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, The Pretty Things, Electric Prunes, The Troggs, Left Banke, Common People, Music Emporium....some familiar names, some not so much. Most of the songs are dripping in atmospherics, complete with layers of keyboards, lilting guitar chords, tranquil percussion, and ethereal vocals. Jefferson Airplane's "Today" is quite well done, and "Bracelets of Fingers" by The Pretty Things sees Rygg sounding almost like David Bowie. Much of the keyboard work on the album is very retro sounding, especially the spacey organ, which really hits on that '60s vibe. Unfortunately, too many of the covers here have that similar 'vibe', and unless you are paying close attention, tracks tend to seque into each other without the listener really being treated to any variety whatsoever. It's all nice and well done, but somewhat on the bland side.

Basically, if you've loved the direction Ulver have gone in and their last bunch of albums, this will be a nice little covers collection. Fans of these rare groups should enjoy Rygg's take on these obscure classics, but if you've been confused and disappointed at Ulver's reluctance to return to extreme type fare, Childhood's End won't ease that frustration.

Track Listing
01. Bracelets Of Fingers (originally recorded by THE PRETTY THINGS)
02. Everybody's Been Burned (THE BYRDS)
06. Can You Travel In The Dark Alone? (GANDALF)
07. I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night (ELECTRIC PRUNES)
08. Street Song (THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS)
09. 66-5-4-3-2-1 (THE TROGGS)
10. Dark Is The Bark (LEFT BANKE)
11. Magic Hollow (BEAU BRUMMELS)
12. Soon There'll Be Thunder (COMMON PEOPLE)
13. Velvet Sunsets (MUSIC EMPORIUM)
14. Lament Of The Astral Cowboy (CURT BOETTCHER)
15. I Can See The Light (LES FLEUR DE LYS)
16. Where Is Yesterday (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)

Added: June 30th 2012
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band MySpace Page
Hits: 3451
Language: english

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Ulver: Childhood's End
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-06-30 13:16:36
My Score:

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 and tracks 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 Kim Phuc, also known as 'The Girl in the Picture', a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked towards Ut's camera after a napalm attack on her village invaded by the North Vietnamese troops. 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.

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