Ulver (Norwegian for Wolves) have come a long way since they first started all those years back in 1993. Starting off as a Black Metal/Folk outfit, but over the years they have produced albums and music of some many different genres that it is impossible to place them under one title – something that can be a curse and a blessing, but something that has to be admired as they have always been true to the music before anything else. This is the first time I have reviewed one of their solo albums, but I did review their collaboration with Sunn 0)))) called ‘Terrestrials’ (our review is cleverly linked here) and due to my disorganised style, I included a criminally brief review of ‘ATGCLVLSSCAP’ on a mega round up (you can read this and others via this link) which I still feel bad about almost missing last year. At the time, I made the vow to review their next record a hell of a lot sooner, which I am reviewing here. ‘The Assassination of Julius Caesar’ was released in April 2017 and it has been waiting to get reviewed whilst I have been trying to get through submissions and a computer crash (long story). But now, now I get to hear the album that Ulver have been working on since 2016, to absorb their sound and to find out what they have created.
01 – Nemoralia
With a pounding bass and heavy electronica drums, ‘Nemoralia’ starts with a deceptive pace, one which gives way to some of the most luscious synth/Avant Garde pop I have heard since Depeche Mode thought it would be a good idea to use Throbbing Gristle as an inspiration. If a song was made flesh, this one would be a monster that stalks its prey and each it whilst it is still alive. As will all of these songs, there is a Roman influence on the story and it carves a spectacular story. It is such a great opening track, it engages you from the first moment, the first note and holds that engagement until the very last beat.
02 – Rolling Stone
So, how do they follow that one? Just a nine minute plus epic track that covers rock, EDM, Industrial, synth pop and noise in one easy swoop. It is not an easy song by any means, some people with shorter attention spans will check out early on, but they are missing one of the grandest tracks of the album if they do that. The song is about the legend of how Rome was founded by two brothers Romulus and Remus, lost in the woods and cared for by wolves. It is a grand gesture to the world, one that deserves times and effort, it is another glorious track that has been effortlessly produced.
03 – So the World Falls
Oh, they don’t hold back from the drama on this one! ‘So, the World Falls’ is all about the dramatic falling of the world when things come to an end, all wrapped in that gorgeous synth noise that we have come to expect from Ulver. It starts off so dramatic, the words have so much weight and potency behind them that it is heading down such a dark avenue. But towards the end the EDM kicks in and it takes this track down a different path. Now, some people will hate that, but I think it is fantastic. It shows a bravery that a lot of bands would not dare commit to, well played Ulver, well played!
04 – Southern Gothic
When ‘Southern Gothic’ starts, it could be just any other EDM song. By the end of it, I am a mesmerised man who just wants to press play once more. There is so much going on here, all of it very subtle and sounding fantastic. The drumming, the synths that add layer upon layer to the song, the vocals which grab you and take you on a journey – in short, it is a blissful track that leaves you breathless by the end of the song.
05 – Angelus Novus
A song about being alone and unloved on the spinning sphere as it heads on its endless voyage around the sun, ‘Angelus Novus’ is a dramatic peak on this album and that is not something I say without merit. It is a soul-searching number, one that does not leave any table unturned as they look out to the darkness and find that they are all alone. It is a towering number, one that keeps building and will be a lynchpin in their shows going forward.
06 – Transverberation
Sadly, with all albums there is a track which does not quite gel for you and ‘Transverberation’ has that misfortune on this album for me. It is a decent enough number, one that brings an atmospheric reflection to the proceedings, with a masterclass of synth and noise. But for some reason, it does not quite reach those peaks of the first songs on this album. As I said, it is a decent number, it just does not flow so well for me as other tracks on this record.
07 – 1969
We are back with the dramatic gestures and luscious synth-pop on ‘1969’, with a pace that would suit a funeral march and there is such a dark shadow on this number that it would never be accused of bringing sunshine into the world (but it does mention a house on California Street). It is moody, full of titanic posing and completely OTT – I love it, it is what you need sometimes and it has never failed to hit the spot each time it is on. I love that it is larger than life, I love the fucked up noise that bleeds onto the final track of the album. Basically, it is absolutely brilliant!
08 – Coming Home
Ending the album is ‘Coming Home’ which continues the industrial noise of ‘1969’ and expands on this premise. It has a sense of forgiveness and love about it, even if it is hard for the protagonist of the song to forgive after some despicable act. It is a song that goes from heavy industrial to droning synth, to Avant Garde jazz with a saxophone in the background, but it is not a confusing song. If anything, it is the perfect way to end the album, going out with their head held high, facing the world and creating some fantastic music!
Ulver has created another album that will hopefully go down as a classic record in the years to come, it really has the potential to be the best EDM/synth album of 2017 and it will take a monumental piece of art to beat these eight tracks. It is a dark album, a moody album that is designed to engage the senses and soul, not to make you groove on the dancefloor. It is a melodic piece that does not go into strange and unusual territories too often for the casual fan, but still having enough to make the noise freaks melt under its dark charms. If I had to criticise, I would say it had one track too many, but even that track is a good one. But I can see this being amongst the album of the year contenders, watch this space and hail Caesar!
9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost…...
Top track – Coming Home
You can purchase The Assassination of Julius Caesar on Amazon here.
You can purchase The Assassination of Julius Caesar (and any of their previous albums) on the Ulver Bandcamp page here.
You can visit the Ulver website here.