Album review: Ulver - Vargnatt (demo, 1993)
Folk/ Black Metal
Norway's Ulver is a chameleon. A band that certainly never made the same album twice and has taken in all manner of sounds in their long career, from their early raw folk/ black metal to glitch, ambient and trip hop until their most recent album this year consisting of covers of 60s psychedelic rock like The Byrds and The Electric Prunes. Obviously there are the purist fans who prefer the early Black Metal days, specifically the reknowned "Nattens Madrigal" album (the supposed "rawest album ever", thought really not at all, and its rawness is very contrived and artificial despite how great an album it is) and dismiss the later material for simply not being old Ulver. I admit I too prefer the early albums though I enjoy a selection of their later works ("Silencing the Singing" comes to mind). This review takes a look at their earliest recording, the "Vargnatt" demo.
This is a wierd piece of music. It doesn't really resemble the debut album "Bergtatt" despite preceding it directly, although you can see how they would go on to create that album after listening to this. There is more of a crusty feel to some of this that reminds me of early Darkthrone ("A Blaze...") along with some very unusual and avant-garde aspects. The riffing is just plain wierd, dreamy and wonderful. There are folky acoustic passages, and VERY goth sounding clean electric guitars accompanying the fuzzy black metal parts. The bass is pronounced and never dull. Drums are handled by none other than Carl Michael Elde of Ved Buens Ende, which perhaps explains this album sounding more than a little like VBE in places, he performs some very interesting beats on this recording. Garm's vocals here are very strange, a raspy shout paired up with falsetto singing that sounds suspiciously like Morrissey in places. These vocals may be the thing that make or break this demo for you, I happen to quite like them.
Also, being that this is a demo the production quality may turn you off a lot too. I don't have a problem with it myself, the guitars are a little bit "fizzy" on the distorted parts but aside from that the clean guitars sound lush and the rest of the instruments are well balanced. I think this is very well recorded for a demo from this period, a recent reissue by the killer Greek label Kyrck Productions (who have also reissued the other essential wierd Norwegian BM demos by Ved Buens Ende and In The Woods...) has cleaned it up more removed the heavy tape noise which can also turn many potential listeners away. This is a wierd, wonderful and unique recording.