he lot of Black Metal bands pride themselves on their abilities to play faster and stronger and rawer than any other musical outfits; those technically unable to carve “chops” from their respective instrumentation make up for the lack with passionate bravado—especially the Scandinavians, which ostensibly view taking up the genre as some sort of unspoken birthright. Predictably, metal ensembles that lack technical sophistication become easy favorites—to critical pens and metalhead fists alike. Tom G. Warrior’s pre-Celtic Frost trio Hellhammer is a salient example: Ponderous drumming and repetitively ruinous riffing combined to yield music more tidal swagger than sonic water torture. Hellhammer’s bullying bludgeon carried on with Celtic Frost, empowering a tandem of classic LPs: 1985’s Morbid Tales and 1986’s To Mega Therion. Both records took posture from Newcastle trio Venom and improved upon it to dramatic effect; necrotic trope took to its feet, animated by able hands and all too willing to spread its message of nihilism, pestilence, and militant disavowal of the spiritual conformity embodied by Christianity.
Eventually, these stances puffed into parody; corpse-paint and the contra Christ credo became like so much fake vomit tossed at unsuspecting feet. Even John Zorn’s megalomaniacal ensemble Naked City used Napalm Death’s signature “blastbeat” and Profanatica’s sonic pugilism as paints from a palate. Naked City’s prowess allowed them to get away with it; they made mélange of country, rock, noir soundtrack, and Septic Death simply because they could; their records suffered because of it, sounding more like automatons engaging in staid academic exercise than full fledged blood-pumping band. Similarly, Norway’s Ulver have taken up where Zorn’s compositional zaniness left off; instead of marching forward from the blistering trail carved out by their first three recordings, Ulver has emphatically brandished the “you-won’t-believe-what-they-do-next!” brand, all while swimming in a fathoms deep hypocrisy that should threaten to take the breath from the collective lung that keeps the band’s disingenuous progress respiring.
What makes Ulver’s descent into the otiose so significant is their late ‘90’s triad, Bergtatt, Kveldssanger, and Nattens Madrigal; these records, apparently burgeoning from some serious Darkthrone worship, took the bees-in-a-bucket Black Metal guitar sound to its logical extreme. Drums were machine-gun’d; vocals clawed from their cords, like lice they hopped into heads, and burrowed into itch. Kveldssanger offered respite, lounging like a pagan warrior post-battle; chamber-like arrangements popped like pine needles, rose like smoke. Nattens took Bergtatt’s jagged nail and hammered it into willing ears; eight hymns hewed for wolves and their condition moving in relentless fashion, stopping only for what sounds like chopping wood—a colorful reminder of the potency of the Scandinavian winter. Once the “Trilogie” was pressed in picture discs and bound in a box, Ulver abandoned Black Metal to wax unpoetically on William Blake. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was supposed to herald Ulver’s evolution; instead it sounded like so much sonic masturbation in the face of an unwilling fan base. Ambient electronics, soundtracks for—surprise—werewolf films, and other sorts of post-Eno drivel were proffered—more “proof” of Ulver’s macrocosmic artistry. Which leads one to new full-length, Blood Inside.
The first few listens are a confusing and admittedly unpleasant experience. Numerous online reviews awkwardly trumpet Blood Inside as Ulver reborn in Doom Metal’s oblong box, or as apparent heir to so much shit left uncovered by Goth’s trophy outfit, Skinny Puppy; this is emphatically not the case. With Blood Inside, Ulver manage to create a record that simultaneously embraces the jejune and unmediated qualities of N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys with a hilariously unformed idea of what Before and After Science era Eno was/is all about. What remains is a batch of sickly sweet songs that sounds more like XTC than Zyklon-B. Lyrics that wax like so much adolescent prose are coupled with over-the-top production including bells, synths, and layers upon layers of elegiac heavy vocals to induce ennui rather than awe.
Inside’s first track, “Dressed in Black,” lays interrogative at the listener’s feet after a few minutes of synth wash: “Is the light of the light / Monumental / Or Something?” Ulver vox is realized in the tortured hyper-sexual voice of Garm; when he chants the aforementioned lines one is thinking Butthead way more than Blake. This unfortunate analogue persists throughout the rest of the disc—if only Mike Judge could resurrect the animated duo to satarize Ulver's bogus gravity.
The most intriguing thing about Inside is that some people will honestly love its moody sound and overdubbed poppy vocalize. But when promotional materials—and the band itself—seeks to sell its music as some type of Black Metal subgenre, it sets itself up for quite a fall, especially when one recalls Ulver’s “interview” with Lords of Chaos author, Michael Moynihan.
In one of Chaos’ more tedious moments, Garm and Erik operate in some odd repulsion/attraction dichotomy to Black Metal, alternately telling Moynihan how they “cherish Black Metal,” and yet call those that enjoy Black Metal “stereotypical losers: good-for-nothings that live on social welfare and seek compensation for their inferiority complexes and lack of identity by feeling part of an exclusive gang of outcasts uniting against a society which has turned them down.” The tirade goes on to call “these dependents on social altruism” wholly “pathetic.” Garm insists that “Black Metal is a decisive factor in his interests,” all while the photo of him and the rest of the “pack” show them to have a nagging taste for Bonoesque couture, replete with wraparound mirrored sunglasses and flashy suits. For Ulver to take such a Nietzschean stance to Black Metal, and simultaneously cloak their product in its trappings is disingenuous to say the least. Of course, Ulver know that in equating its new release to Black Metal, the faithful will think they’ve returned to their Nordic roots exemplified by the early “trilogie,” which will inevitably lead to more sales than this crock of shit justifies.