Ulver is one of those rare bands that loves to change their style completely from album to album. Which is to say, I tend to dislike about 90% of their discography. However, before they got all arty, they put out one of the best black metal trilogies of all time with their first three full length albums, and, in an effort to get my MMMM posts caught up to the rest of my monthly features, I’m going to feature all three of these albums this weekend. And yes, their second album actually is a black metal album–it’s an album full of black metal intros.
Today’s album, Ulver’s 1995 debut full-length, Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (Taken into the Mountain – A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters), is one of the few black metal albums that I might admit is as brilliant as Burzum’s Hvis Lysett Tar Oss. Well, almost as brilliant anyway.
Though their 1993 demo was quite good, it was nothing compared to the fully realized slab of polished epic black metal Ulver released with today’s album. A concept album about a little girl getting lost in the forest and captured in troll mountain (or something like that), Bergtatt is where everything came together for Ulver. The first song, “Chapter I : Lost in a Forest of Trolls,” immediately establishes that Ulver isn’t fucking around any more:
Just listen to that production! I know I talk a big game about how Tr00ly KVLT black metal should have as “necro” of a production as possible, but Ulver makes a strong case with Bergtatt for just letting the music speak for itself instead of hiding behind a wall of noise. You can even hear the bass!
Not only that, but there isn’t a black metal shriek to be found anywhere on that first song. I’ve always thought that black metal vocals, while appropriate when used correctly, are often out of place, especially in more epic/pleasant sounding songs (I’m looking at you Summoning). Ulver’s Bergtatt is the proof that you can make excellent black metal without singing like Donald Duck.
Of course, this is still 1995, so it’s not like the black metal vocals are completely absent on this album. But they are primarily used in the faster parts while the clean singing is reserved for the folkier sounding sections. This clip from “Chapter II : The Sun goes down Behind the Hills” is a good example of this:
Bergtatt is actually a really excellent mix of fast raging black metal, folky epic sections and acoustic interludes. The acoustic sections feature a lot of really nice classical guitar work. Check out this clip from “Chapter V : Into the Chambers of the Mountain,” where the excellent acoustic interlude transitions to even more awesome and epic riffing on an album that is already full of such riffing:
I mean, fuck, Ulver even gets away with a solo or two. Here’s one from “Lost in a Forest of Trolls”:
On a black metal album! What’s next? Dogs and cats, sleeping together? Mass hysteria?:
Everything about this album should make me hate it. It has a stellar production, clean male vocals, competent songwriting, excellent musicianship, and the subtle stench of professionalism. But somehow, Ulver shoves every one of my prejudices about what black metal should sound like right back in my face, because, frankly, Bergtatt is epic as shit and easily fulfills the “masterpiece” descriptor of this monthly feature.
As usual, don’ take my word for it, let Ulver prove it with this clip from, once again, “Lost in a Forest of Trolls”:
Sure, it’s just that old black metal standby of “ending a song on a long fade-out with a completely different riff,” but it’s still a damn good one.
I’ll see everyone tomorrow when I talk about Ulver’s 1996 follow-up to Bergtatt where they disprove the old black metal adage “never go full acoustic!”