I love Ulver’s place in the history of black metal. Only three albums and just a couple of years can really be dedicated to black metal. Although they are still making music today, there’s definitely not an ounce of black metal in their music anymore. They purposely distanced their sound from black metal and delved into the realm of the experimental and the avant-garde. Yet, in that short time in the world of black metal, they made tons of fans and followers, and their albums are on the tops of many people’s lists.
When Ulver played black metal, one of their defining characteristics was using a Norwegian folk approach in theme, concept and music. The first album in what’s known as the “Black Metal Trilogie” also included acoustic folk instruments to add to the whole picture, (we covered Bergtatt during last years Black Metal History Month.) It was definitely less focused on being evil and more about atmosphere and telling a story. It’s definitely high on my list of favorite black metal albums.
Even though the beginning of Ulver’s career is known as the Black Metal Trilogie, only two of those three albums are really black metal. Their second release, Kveldssanger, was a completely acoustic and folk album, with little to no connection to black metal. The album is pretty cool, but fans were expecting the black metal of Bergtatt and didn’t get it. But in just another year from Kveldssanger, the final installment of the Black Metal Trilogie was released. If fans were disappointed that there was no black metal on Kveldssanger, then they definitely got what they wanted in Nattens madrigal.
"Hymne I: Of Wolf and Fear"
Nattens madrigal returns Ulver completely to black metal. The biggest outstanding feature is the extreme rawness and low fidelity of the sound. Several rumors surround the reason to why this is. The most famous rumor was that the band went out to a forest in Norway with an 8-track recorder to record the album, but that was actually denied by frontman Garm. Nevertheless, lo-fi quality and black metal can go hand in hand frequently, so it’s not anything too shocking.
It’s still holds to the band’s fondness for Norwegian folklore and fantasy. The full title of the album is Nattens madrigal – Aatte hymne til ulven i manden, which translates to Madrigal of the Night – Eight Hymns to the Wolf in Man. And the story is about a man who, under the influence of Satan, gives in to the beast within to become a werewolf. Each of the tracks is listed as Hymne I-VIII, with subtitles documenting the journey from “Of Wolf and Fear” all the way to “Of Wolf and the Night.” Although the music is very raw and not quite as memorable as Bergtatt, there’s something about it that still draws you into the atmosphere of fantasy and dark forests. “Hymne VI: Of Wolf and Passion” is one track that stands out to me with a memorable melody and vivid pictures of the story.
"Hymne VI: Of Wolf and Passion”
I guess it’s very appropriate for Ulver to close their black metal chapter with arguably their most black album. Unlike the last two albums, there aren’t any acoustic instruments (except a small section in Hymne I: Of Wolf and Fear,) or other instrumentation other than guitars and drums. I love the progression of the Black Metal Trilogie and how it all relates with each other. Kveldssanger had no electric instruments, Nattens madrigal had no acoustic instruments, but Bergtatt, has both acoustic and electric instruments; it’s like they spliced the elements from Bergtatt into two separate albums.
If that’s the case, then Nattens madrigal really showcases the black metal prowess of the band. The album answers exactly why people were so angered by Ulver’s transition away from black metal, and why people are still bitter at their direction today. Nattens madrigal displayed a promising future for fans of their black metal, especially after they returned to that sound after the Kveldssanger. But even though they’ve moved on and are likely not going to return to that sound, we’ll always have the trilogy and Nattens madrigal. They’ve secured their importance in the history of black metal and will always be one of my favorite black metal bands.
"Hymne VIII: Of Wolf and the Night"