[House Of Mythology, 2016]
Intro: Kostas Barbas
03 / 03 / 2016
If the release of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is the first major breakthrough in the history of Ulver, then it is the introduction of Daniel O’Sullivan and the first live performances that informally constitute the third period of the Norwegians. The four studio releases that followed, testified the innate tendency of Kristoffer Rygg for experimentation and musical redefinitions. Nevertheless, the final result didn’t manage to reach the quality levels that he had set in the past. Wars of the Roses was definitely quite nice but nothing more. Messe I.X-VI.X (accompanied by Tromsø Chamber Orchestra) was interesting as an experiment and thrilled several friends of the band, but personally I got quite tired.Flirting with dark ambient and drone continued in the cooperation with Sunn O))) under the name Terrestrials, in which the amazing Eternal Return is included, but quite a few yawns were caused by the other two pieces. The conclusion that the best of the four releases is “Childhood’s End“, an album of covers of psychedelic pieces of the late 60s, is certainly puzzling. The live performances of the band on the other hand did not disappoint anyone, as can be attested by watching The Norwegian National Opera DVD.
This year’s ATGCLVLSSCAP is an attempt to adapt the live performances of Ulver to a studio album. Its longest part consists of recordings from 14 improvisational shows in February 2014 plus some additional studio recordings. The collection of the material and the final mix was done by Daniel O’Sullivan, who tried to give a studio-like character to the final result. The transfer of the spontaneous live improvisation into an album, limited by the producer’s editing demands in order to serve the songwriting, is the main advantage of ATGCLVLSSCAP.
Nevertheless, every novelty and fresh idea in music should be combined with an interesting musical result. Ulver, using all 80 minutes of the duration of a CD, are certainly convincing, creating a journey through the history of progressive and experimental music, but without lacking personality and relevance to contemporary music reality. They do not hesitate to move from ambient to space rock, including intermediate visits to drone and krautrock, risking the album’s consistency, but coming out winners but for some rare exceptions.
These exceptions lay towards the end of the album and particularly in the two pieces where Rygg uses his sensuous voice; the tracks are interesting as individual song units (especially the remake of ‘Nowhere / Catastrophe’) but seem somewhat inconsistent. By that time, however, the listener has been rewarded to the fullest with newly emerging compositions and total makeovers of older pieces. Glammer Hammer brings out qualities that might have been included in the pieces of Messe IX-VI.X, while the remix of Doom Sticks (as Moody Stix) masterfully puts the post-rock past of the band in the psychedelic scenery of the album, being its highlight. Cromagnosis could have been part of any collection of modern space-rock, while the dip into krautrock is not confined only to Can and Neu! (the comeback to the music scene of whom is due to Radiohead), since Om Hanumate Namah is sprinkled with stardust of Amon Düül II and Desert / Dawn directly refers to Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Finally, D-Day Drone is one of the darkest parts of the album, based on the experience of working with Sunn O))).
All eight musicians involved (four main and four session members) deserve congratulations, but, as would be expected, most credit goes to the “leader” and “second-in-command”. Rygg’s vision and the way that O’Sullivan dealt with that, resulted in their best cooperation so far. They managed to take advantage of the experience gained on stage (who could have seen that coming?), conveying it wholly but in a controlled manner to the grooves of ATGCLVLSSCAP, presenting the best Ulver album since the era of Shadows of the Sun (not to mention since the era of Perdition City).
8.5 / 10
ATGCLVLSSCAP (the initials of all star signs) travels from drone to electronic music to ambient aesthetics. Despite its experimental mood, the album flows pleasantly with sounds that develop slowly and always give the impression of life in the background. Although long in duration, with a little patience, the sound result is quite exciting.
9 / 10