Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X



If any band deserves the black metal tag, then it’s Ulver. Though sonically a far cry from what most associate with the genre, it is the spirit of the lawless master that Ulver have long demonstrated in their musical career. But of course, Ulver transcend tags. Never a band to stick to the tried-and-tested, the formulaic, or the predictable, they are a band that live up to their own name. Following their own path and sating their desires to the fullest, wolves they are. And whether or not you approve of any or all of their diverse oeuvre, it cannot be denied that Ulver are concerned with the music as a form of expression, of imagination, and, more importantly, of illumination. And it is this latter aspect that is at the heart of Messe I.X-VI.X (K-Scope).

Commissioned for Tromsø Kulturhus in cooperation with the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra, in the liner notes of this CD, the band’s directive is stated thus: “Make something grand, gothic and Ulver-esque,” they said. “Ok.” And without being unnecessarily complex or attempting to challenge every boundary of music ever in existence for the sake of it, so they have. As the next release from this band in particular, while hardly a surprise that they should take such a step, it is simply stunning. Balancing the orchestral with the electronic in perfect measure, this is an experience that demands attention, and one that rejects as much as it embraces. In this work are melodies that captivate, arrangements that enthral, and soundscapes that engulf as much as there are distant depths, walls of subtle yet unfeeling noise, and unsettling tension hanging in the album’s ethereal shades.

This works as an album both to be put on in the background and left alone and as one to set aside for forty five minutes of pure indulgence. It’s uplifting and introspective, subtle and penetrating, all-encompassing and delicately defiant. The masters are at work. Of course it’s not without its flaws (Ulver’s vocalists have never had the greatest of voices) but they are far outweighed by the ambition and its realisation found at every instant. There’s no other way to put it: Messe I.X-VI.X is beautiful.



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Jason Guest

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