(This is Andy Synn’s review of the performance by Norway’s Ulver at the Islington Assembly Hall in London on November 15, 2017.)
Despite the fact that Ulver are definitely not a Metal band by any measure (in fact they’ve not been a Metal band for so long that even stating that they’re “not a Metal band” seems utterly redundant at this point), I’m always happy to cover them here at NCS, whether on record, or in the live setting.
When people ask me “why” I keep covering them, particularly in the light of their most recent, shamelessly electro-pop turn, I always answer them in two ways:
Firstly, it’s entirely possible to make “Pop” friendly music which has both depth and substance. Yes, the majority of today’s big sellers may, in general, be the most vapid, soulless examples of “popular” music, but there’s still a rich legacy of acts and artists who have made a very successful career out of twisting and subverting the expectations of their audience in a variety of surprisingly clever ways.
Secondly… well, it’s Ulver, isn’t it? And if any band has earned my trust over the years, it’s them.
Which is why I recently found myself in Islington Assembly Hall watching the band perform material from their latest album, The Assassination of Julius Caesar.
Following a lengthy wait in the cool November evening air, followed by a quick trip to the merch table to snag myself a new hoodie, I soon found myself engrossed in conversation with an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen (or, to my great shame, even spoken to) in years, with the strangely textured guitar/vocal combo of Stian Westerhus as the soundtrack to our long overdue meet-up.
As a result I’ll admit I may not have given Mr Westerhus the attention he deserved, but hopefully you’ll be able forgive me for that, as Jack and I had a lot of catching up to do!
The sudden dimming of the lights however put an end to our witty repartee, as Ulver took the stage and burst into a rousing rendition of “Nemoralia”, the opening track from their latest multifaceted musical opus.
Over the course of the next hour or so the band treated the audience to a masterclass in pulsing electro-pop rhythms, silky smooth vocal melodies, and glittering, retro-futurist synthscapes, often extending or altering tracks from their recorded versions in unexpected ways, in the process blurring the lines between pre-programmed precision and improvisational innovation.
But then that’s always been Ulver’s best trick hasn’t it? This seamless sleight of hand between the organic and the digital, the real and the ephemeral, to the point where it becomes hard to separate the two and easier to simply let yourself get lost in the music.
Concluding their set with back-to-back run-throughs of “Echo Chamber” and “Bring Out Your Dead” from their recently released EP, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, the band then returned to the stage for a rendition of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood classic “The Power of Love” (which you can also find on the aforementioned EP) to bring the evening to a close.
In the end, this evening wasn’t just a celebration of Ulver’s latest album, but a reminder that they’re never going back to what they were… heck, they’re never going to be the sort of band who go backwards at all.
They’re a band always pushing forwards, always changing, always willing to follow their musical muse wherever it may take them. And even when this leads them into more mainstream, pop-friendly waters, they remain as intriguing and distinctive as ever.
Ulver on Bandcamp:
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