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Ulver: Blood Inside

After beginning their career as a pulverizing yet symphonic black metal ensemble, Norway's Ulver have slowly evolved into a very unique band. Mixing elements of electronica, folk, jazz, prog rock, and metal, Ulver have spent the last few years honing their new sound, which has really come to fruition on their latest release, Blood Inside. The band produced the album themselves, with a little help from Ronan Chris Murphy (who has worked with King Crimson/Terry Bozzio/Tony Levin/Tool/Ministry), and have crafted a dense and varied platter of sounds that run the gamut of musical styles.

Really, there's so much going on here musically that you have to give this album a fair share of spins before you can even form an opinion on it, nevermind try to explain to someone what they are in store for. Things kick off with ELP styled synths and piano on "Dressed in Black", followed by some dark and gothic spoken word vocalizations, and immediately, all thoughts of metal seem so far, far away. Then, "For the Love of God" seems to be combining jazz and pop characteristics, sort of, with some very intense lyrics. The band is always changing gears here-listen to the song "Christmas" for instance, which features huge orchestral arrangements, symphonic synths, catchy pop vocals, and acrobatic guitar lines from guest Mike Keneally. Atmospheric arrangements collide with whispered vocals, keyboards, and vibes on the creepy "Blinded By Blood", which segues into the manic modern metal -meets jazz sounds of "It Is Not Sound". Might sound like a strange combination, and it is, especially when the wild analog synth solos come crashing into the mix, which add a classical & prog element as well. Speaking of prog, "The Truth" conjures up images of Yes, featuring gymnastic bass lines, jangly guitars, and symphonic synths, yet with vocals that sound a bit like Tears for Fears.

The band goes for some 1930's style big-band swing jazz on "In the Red", complete with some snappy horns, then return to ominous atmospherics on "Your Call" with some yearning violin, sound effects, and keyboards. The closing track is a raucous event called "Operator", with bashing drums, orchestral keys, bizarro vocals, and virtuoso guitar solos from Mike Keneally. Anyone into Devin Townsend will get into this manic tune, and the dark and abstract lyrics on this one and every other piece really adds to the overall uniqueness of the CD.

Blood Inside is one of the most interesting listens anyone will hear this year. Those into avant-garde progressive rock should get a kick out of it. This is certainly something different from an ever changing band. Forget the black metal sounds of the past, Ulver is making a statement here, perhaps starting up a new genre with Blood Inside, although what that genre would be called is anyones guess. Check it out.

Track Listing
01. Dressed in black
02. For the love of God
03. Christmas
04. Blinded by blood
05. It is not sound
06. The truth
07. In the red
08. Your call
09. Operator

Added: October 7th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: More Info
Hits: 5696
Language: english

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Ulver: Blood Inside
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-09-06 00:50:21
My Score:

One of the up-and-coming genres in modern progressive music is the new crossover between symphonic progressive rock, prog-metal, and death- and black-metal. They also borrow from so many other genres your head will spin - on any given crossover CD you could find influences from oriental to classical to pop; there could be bits of Celtic, folk, jazz, fusion, electronica, and even the occasional smattering of AOR. These bodies of work are usually complex and imaginative, rich in masterful musicianship, and they display strong compositions and involved structures. And above all, they are wonderfully unconventional. The very variety offered by breaking the bounds of genre offer the songwriter practically limitless creative opportunities.

This isn't a revolution. It's a gradual evolution, and it's fascinating to note that many of the fine artists who rule this crossover roost had their roots in black- or death-metal and graduated to this new sound over the course of several albums. Some of the masters of the crossover include Opeth (particularly with their newest CD), America's new masterful Subterranean Masquerade, Norway's Green Carnation, and so many others. Because of their roots, most of these crossover artists tend to be pigeon-holed as a subset of the 'metal' genre. Call it what you will - it's as much metal as anything else - you'll probably find more pushing of the envelope and more ground breaking innovation here than in any other genre of modern music.

This is important stuff, folks, and if we proggies and metal-heads want to avoid being stuck in the mire of the 1990s, this is the new growth area.

Ulver falls into this category - in fact their press-kit categorizes their style on Blood Inside as 'experimental rock'. It isn't perfect, but it's imaginative and - as my friend and Sea Of Tranquility colleague Yves would say -viva la difference! When the band was originally launched they were clearly a black-metal outfit, but even then there were hints of folk and symphonic rock. They released a trilogy of concept pieces followed by a series of EPs, they completed film scores, they received two Norwegian Emmy nominations, and now to mark a decade of their existence Ulver's newest release pushes the boundaries again.

Here's an example: Track no. 8, "Your Call", has a strong, insistent, rhythmic motif like Ravel's Bolero played on (sampled?) strings. There's a beautiful regular male and falsetto male chorus, and an infusion of ambient, spacey sound samples lending mood - along with an unanswered phone, a wailing violin line, & someone striding purposefully down a corridor.

You'd better enjoy the sounds of percussion and bass pedals because this whole record is underscored by very deep electronic bass tones and often overwhelming percussion. In fact the drumming on "Dressed In Black" builds a cacophony of cymbals that drowns the rest of the instruments. Some of the production choices are questionable - the vocals are far back in the mix, while the bass and percussion seem to be tripping over one another in competition for a limited amount of space. This contributes to an ambience that is consistent throughout the CD, causing a noticeable lack of variety from one piece to the next.

Another common sound - particularly on "Christmas" is an odd combination of an almost Beach-Boys-like falsetto male chorus held well back in the mix, with gloomy instrumentation underscored by deep bass tones, frantic percussion and lots of space-age synthesized electronic effects. In fact the album's overriding sound is deep, ambient electronic sounds - sometimes booming, sometimes spacey, always present and building the sombre mood common to black-metal. Track 5 "It Is Not Sound" bears testimony to Ulver's skill as composers with its Alan Parsons style vocals and its remarkably classical arrangement.

Blood Inside is a short 46 minute piece with nine tracks running from three minutes to about seven. There are no epics here, yet some tracks flow together almost forming a a single arrangement, with one track flowing into the next and with a certain consistency across them.

This is very progressive, fairly complex in parts, experimental and unconventional. It's Heavier than most prog-fans might want, and lighter than the metal that Ulver is known for. Still the piece as a whole is an interesting study, and clearly a 'crossover' in its matching of rock, film-score, electronica, classical and space music.

And there's barely a note of metal, though people will file it under that category!

Ulver: Blood Inside
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-08-01 15:20:05
My Score:

Ulver's music took a dramatic turn after they released Themes from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Blake album sure opened lots of new doors for them and allowed them to experiment with deeper and non-metal musical ideas, most of which were electronica, jazz, and minimalistic soundscapes, utilizing a plethora of tones with different colours and dynamics, inventive production and recording techniques, operatic as well as spoken and whispered vocals from Garm, and so on. They also engaged themselves in writing movie soundtracks for which they became quite famous in Norway (becoming the composers of noted Norwegian movie Uno which was surpassed only by Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter). Besides the soundtracks and EPs, Blood Inside is their first studio album since 2000's amazing Perdition City.

Blood Inside, as all other Ulver releases, varies from its predecessors in pretty much every respect. First of all, the music is less electronic (though electronic elements still play a vital role in their songcraft) and considerably heavier than most of their recent work. An impressive array of guest musicians including guitar virtuoso Mike Keneally grace the album adding their invaluable touches to enrich the already dense musicality of Ulver. Aside from the intact Ulver style of music, there are innumerable instruments interwoven with each other, be it real or programmed drums, 30's jazz style piano and percussion, saxophone, violin and classical music excerpts. Vocal-wise, Blood Inside features Garm on every song, where we hear him going from a really low register to scary operatic vocals exhibiting his perfect range as a singer. Judging by the lyrics and the information in the booklet, this is also quite possibly Garm's most personal album to date, as he dedicates the album to his children and family. The lyrical work on the album mirrors Garm's feelings, ideas and conflicts of his inner world. The fact that they are open to any interpretation on the listener's part makes them all the more accessible (for those familiar with Ulver's music).

Add to this the services of legendary producer/sound engineer Ronan Chris Murphy whose collaboration with artists like King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Tool, and Steve Morse has earned him a well-deserved reputation. Though it was Garm and his friends who produced most of the album, Murphy has also assisted them in the studio with impressive results. The album contains thick threads of tonal colour and depth, revealing themselves in layers with each listen.

Impossible to pick favourites, there is much diversity to be found on Blood Inside. "Dressed in Black" begins with grey synth lines placed over a dense rhythm that has a nice cadence to it. A wicked electric piano emerges out of nowhere and segues the song into "For the Love of God" which puts Garm's godly vocal range in display and evokes powerful images of war. There's a militaristic vibe going on in this track which is hard to pinpoint - but I can hear it. Big orchestral arrangements and a slick percussion give way to a nifty guitar solo that was something most Ulver fans hadn't heard in a while. Mike Keneally plays the guitars on "Christmas", a song that blends a myriad of nuances and puts them into the compositional framework. The Hammond organ in the intro of "Blinded by Blood" creates a peaceful harmony which suddenly dissolves into dissonant sounds in the background while retaining its laid-back vibe. This sounds like a track from Devin Townsend's Terria masterpiece with Garm providing indelible vocals. As a matter of fact, I hear a good many other bands (also as unique as Ulver) on this disc, not musically but moreso in the way all these incompatible elements are woven into each song. The coda for "It Is Not Sound" is taken from J. Sebastian Bach, whilst the kinetic drumming mixed with weird electronic soundscapes wouldn't seem out of place on the last Arcturus disc. Less obvious similarities would be the sad violin piece on "Your Call" in the way it contrasts the flow of the music. This is evocative of the stuff on Garden Wall's Forget the Colours. The most chaotic cut is the jazz piece at the end of "In the Red" where a hectic saxophone takes the lead amidst tons of loops and programmed drums. Granted you may not hear these bands when listening to this disc, because everyone pretty much knows that Ulver is one of a kind. As I've tried to suggest in this review, Blood Inside is a very demanding record, but a very good one at that.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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