At the dawn of each new year, there’s already usually a batch of albums I am looking forward to. 2011 opened up with the great promise of music to come, and the new Ulver album was up there on my list of albums that were making me excited. Stealing my heart with their opus ‘Shadows Of The Sun’ from a few years ago, I checked out the new album from this band at the earliest discretion once it was made available for listening. Although I will be the first to say that the album is slow to grow on a listener, Ulver has made a great album with ‘War Of The Roses,’ although at times it may be a little too mellow and drawn out for its own good.
With ‘February MMX’, Ulver begins their latest work off on a surprisingly upbeat note, an atmospheric rocker that introduces ‘War Of The Roses’ on a somewhat misleading note. Although the song here is far from my favourite offering on ‘Roses’, it is without a doubt the most energetic, and gets the listener expecting something a little more active from these guys, only to scurry back down an ambient path with the second track ‘Norwegian Gothic’ and onwards. Luckily however, the first two tracks here make up the weakest material ‘War Of The Roses’ has to offer; it only gets better from there.
The first piece of real interest here is ‘Providence’; a cunning melange of styles, ranging from the classical cellos to delta blues ad-libbing. Following that is another highlight- and my personal favourite- ‘September IV’, which feels as if it loosens up on the ambient nature with some more conventional songwriting, this time in a melodic post-rock style. Throughout all of this are the deep, distinctive vocals of Garm, who is certainly a great vocal presence, but doesn’t feel as if he has such strong melodies to guide his voice, instead feeling almost as if Garm’s voice is simply there for it’s looming resonance and little else. That being said, the strength of ‘War Of The Roses’ is in its grand instrumentation and clever electronic arrangements.
The track that might be of most excitement to people is the fifteen minute ‘Stone Angels’, backing the rest of the album and eating up a third of the disc time. While some might expect a complex suite from Ulver here, ‘Stone Angels’ is instead a fairly minimalistic ambient hymn, with the poetic ramblings of a surrealist narrator speaking overtop. It may not sound like much, but the way Ulver does it is really majestic, making it feel like much less in length than the time spent listening. Eerie effects, pleasantly melancholic tones underneath and an ethereal vibe makes ‘Stone Angels’ a perfect piece of music to chill to. The one thing here that does get in the way are the pieces of narration themselves, which generally add little to the music besides something to raise an eyebrow to. Many will certainly find ‘Stone Angels’ to be a disappointing snore, but if you take it for what it is, you may be pleasantly surprised.
I must say though, I did not care for ‘War Of The Roses’ at all when I first listened to it. I found it both too diverse and too boring to get much into, and the vocals felt misplaced, if anything. But there’s no denying after a couple of listens onwards that ‘Roses’ has alot more musically going for it than many ambient albums of its time.Although the album is far from being perfect or Ulver’s best, it’s certainly an album that grows with each listen; after all, hasn’t the music of Ulver always been one to play hard-to-get?
1. February MMX (4:10)
2. Norwegian Gothic (3:36)
3. Providence (8:10)
4. September IV (4:38)
5. England (4:09)
6. Island (5:46)
7. Stone Angels (14:55)
* Kristoffer Rygg – vocals, programming
* Tore Ylwizaker – keyboards, programming
* Jørn H. Sværen – miscellaneous
* Daniel O’Sullivan – guitar, bass, keyboards, narration