Ulver: Shadows of the Sun
Jester/The End Records

Norwegian band Ulver (“Wolves”) carries on the prog tradition with Shadows of the Sun. Though such a statement may induce fear in some, there's no need to fear: we're not talking twenty-minute plunges into topographic oceans but rather an evocative forty-minute suite of nine songs. Kristoffer Rygg, Tore Ylwizaker, and Jørn H. Sværen generally rein in the pretension on the group's seventh full-length album, exceptions being the rather heavy-handed title song, the bombastic “Let the Children Go,” and overblown lyric writing that centers on themes of loss and disillusion (“The sun is far away / It goes in circles / Someone dies / Someone lives / In pain”).

Rygg drapes his deep whisper across a stirring bed of strings and theremin in the mournful opener “Eos,” after which sleigh bells, a wordless choir, and Mathias Eick's trumpet animate “All the Love;” his horn also helps transform Black Sabbath's “Solitude” (from 1971's Master of Reality ) into a full-fledged Ulver tune. The album is enriched by the contributions of more guests, including Oslo Session String Quartet member Hans Josef Groh, whose cello groans merge with dark strings and eerie sound effects in “Like Music,” and Fennesz, whose “supplemental shimmer” nicely enhances the elegant piano-and-strings balladry of “Vigil.” The warble of Pamelia Kurstin's theremin reappears in the gloomy nightscape “Funebre” before the string-drenched “What Happened?” brings the album to a ponderous close. Listeners new to the band might be surprised to learn that Ulver, which comes across as a dark and restrained third cousin to Coil on this outing, was a black metal band in a previous incarnation. Shadows of the Sun indicates that Ulver is, at least for now, more an art-rock chamber group than anything else.

January 2008