Ulver – Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Ulver’s Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (House of Mythology) stands as a kind of unofficial conclusion to the vision set out in 2017’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar, comprising a selection of cuts from the final draft, and select live recordings.

The opening track, ‘Echo Chamber (Room of Tears)’ could easily stand alone as a fitting counterpart to the former record. In the model of ‘Nemoralia’ and ‘1969’, it presents a vast and detailed history condensed into a single moment, told through a series of dense, oblique references. The eponymous ‘Room of Tears’ alludes to the private papal quarters in the Vatican where a newly crowned pope is afforded time to contemplate the suffering of the world that is now their responsibility to shoulder. Its weight is present in the sparse yet intense sound, as well as its accompanying artwork. The screaming face of Bacon’s Pope Innocent IX – blurring in abjection – conveys the feeling rightly. He could be any pope; the horror is universal.

While its second track has the feel of a B-side to it – a competent experiment in using Pop aesthetics as a vehicle for loaded theological discourse – the third, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ is a strikingly apt epilogue to the former album. This rendition was conceived at the inception of the band’s lurch from Black Metal to dark left-field Pop, and its final emergence has a feel of eerie triumph about it, though perhaps the most striking thing about its inclusion is that we now feel primed for it. Of the many attempts there have been to draw on the heady religiosity of artists like Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash, theirs is one of the most nuanced, bypassing the kitsch cynicism of Nick Cave but with greater subtlety than Depeche Mode’s early nineties output (while admittedly arriving at basically the same sound).

In some ways, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi almost feels almost like the band leaking their concept notes, giving a taste for the internal logic of the previous album while allowing the purity of the former’s vision to remain unspoilt. Likewise, the latter half serves to highlight their technical accomplishments exhibiting the expansive sound the group have cultivated over the previous ten years.

6.5 / 10