Ulver – Shadows of the Sun
Those who carp about Ulver's post-black metal output should note that the "Black Metal Trilogie" (Bergtatt, Kveldssanger, Nattens Madrigal) represent but the first three years of Ulver's existence. Since then, the band has spent over a decade growing, experimenting, and striving for more individuality than 99% of black metal bands ever will.
Admittedly, the results have been spotty. Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998) and Perdition City (2000) were multi-genre melanges; the latter recalls Dødheimsgard's scattershot 666 International, which came out around the same time (1999). Lyckantropen Themes (2002) was a bit minimal, but functioned as a film soundtrack. Also a soundtrack and thus instrumental, Svidd Neger (2003) was emotive and lush. Blood Inside (2005) was overwrought.
On Shadows of the Sun (Jester/The End, 2007), Ulver have found their balance. They've stopped trying to be something else (electronica, avant-garde, soundtrack, etc.). For once, the band has settled on an identity, kneading it instead of dabbling. The identity is more adjectives (atmospheric, almost percussionless) than nouns (rock, prog). Ulver have found their sound by escaping genres.
The sound is relaxed, warm, dusky. Bandleader Garm's voice is smooth, dark, like hot cocoa. Strings, trumpet, and theremin stir the drink. Christian Fennesz is credited with "supplemental shimmer." The vibe is mellow, but not optimistic. In an interview with Heathen Harvest, Garm said, "Nature is pretty fucking depressing, we are all here to die. And I guess we do what we do to forget the countdown, and there's a simple kind of beauty in that."
Throughout, the tone is elegiac. "Funebre" grieves for the fallen more poignantly than a hundred Amon Amarth songs: "In memory of a missing person / An angel / A flight of ravens into the sunset." "Vigil" is "For all who used to be / And now are in the dark." A cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude" fits right in: "Sunshine is far away, clouds linger on." Horns and sunsets, indeed.