“Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-1997” (Bewitching Black Metal, if my somewhat poor Norwegian is correct) is a 5 disc retrospective of the early work of Norway’s Ulver, chronicling their so-called ‘black metal trilogie’. The band’s first 3 albums – “Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler’, “Kveldssanger” and “Nattens Madrigal – Aatte Hymne til Ulven 1 Manden” are included, as well as the “Vargnatt” demo and a 4 track rehearsal recorded in 1995. There’s also a 16 page booklet and a further 104 page book containing photos and liner notes.
If that’s not quite exciting enough for you, then the LP version contains 4 vinyl albums, a poster and a cassette version of the rehearsal recordings. There are various vinyl colour options too, although the clear version sold out in minutes during pre-sale.
Fans of Ulver will already be familiar with this influential, early material. It’s certainly a contrast to the band’s current direction and sound, but there’s no denying they were a force to be reckoned with even at such an early age. The commitment, ferocity and complexity of the music was a sure sign of the experimentation and development that was to follow and which continues to define the band. Followers of modern day Ulver might not recognise the music contained in “Trolsk Sortmetall..” while fans of the early black metal may feel they have less in common with the band’s current output. In fact, Ulver have always produced music of the highest quality and this box set showcases how they began their musical journey.
Released in 1994, “Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler” (Spellbound – A Fairytale in 5 Chapters) is an album that utilises black metal underpinned by elements of folk. Vocals are a combination of dirty and clean with lots of reverb, giving the whole thing a haunting, otherworldly feel. There are blast beats, there is heavy guitar and bass, there are spiteful snarled vocals, as well as flutes and acoustic guitars. In many ways it points to what was to follow, when Ulver chose to explore two distinct sides of their musical personality.
“Kveldssanger” (Twilight Songs) was a major departure for a black metal band and was subsequently to become a highly influential recording. The final part of “Bergtatt’s” final song points to what “Kveldssanger” was likely to be. It is a completely acoustic album that uses elements of folk, choral and classical music. There is real beauty in this album as Ulver explore a capella vocals, cello and flute music. It could have pointed the direction in which the band was to travel.
Instead, however, “Nattens Madrigal – Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden” (Madrigal Of The Night – Eight Hymns To The Wolf In Man) brought the band full black metal circle. Released in 1997, it is a brutal album, intentionally under produced and with a ferocity that is in total contrast to the album that preceded it. Even at such an early stage in their career, Ulver were not about to allow themselves to be pigeonholed. Just as “Kveldssanger” was tranquil, beautiful and restrained, so “Nattens Madrigal” is superfast, heavy and uncompromising: there’s no doubting these black metal credentials. What is remarkable is the breadth of musical ambition on display, particularly from a band so young. Some bands can (rightly) be accused of making a career out of one album, repeating the same old formula again and again. Ulver, on the other hand, were already trying different musical forms on their first 3 albums: a remarkable and risky strategy which clearly paid off.
Add to all of the above the “Vargnatt” demo which contained more musical experimentation using many of the instruments and styles already discussed; and a fast and furious rehearsal disc with a surprisingly warm tone (compared to “Nattens Madrigal” certainly) and you have a comprehensive retrospective of the band. Presumably fans will have the 3 albums already, but there are plenty of extras here to keep them happy, while those who have never tried the music of Ulver before – or are more familiar with the contemporary sound of modern day Ulver – will find a treasury of black and folk metal ideas, created at a time when the genre was really finding its voice and direction, by a young band hungry for exploration, experimentation and a sense of continual development.