Ulver have long been known for their restless experimentation, flitting from black metal to folk to dark ambient and all things in between (mostly the in between things, actually). With Childhood's End they take a step back and let us all behind the wizard's curtain, revealing a slew of their 1960's psychedelic/acid rock influences.
"Not another fucking covers album!" will most likely be your immediate reaction. It was certainly mine. "Didn't we get over this shit in the 90's?"
The thing that sets this apart from the usual cash grab/placeholder covers album is that it's clearly a labor of love, with widely recognizable titles being almost entirely eschewed in favor of an old school "deep cuts" mentality (excepting the rare, hardcore Nuggets-era enthusiast, "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" will likely be the only song title the average punter will recognize here… although album opener "Bracelets of Fingers" [Pretty Things] will probably ring a bell once you press play, even if you can't place the actual song title).
The vocals are more than adequate for the material if not quite exemplary, their biggest strength being that they provide a uniform anchor across a disparate panoply of musical styles. The playing and production are both pretty faithful to the era they seek to recreate, with perhaps a bit more spacey echo and reverb than was possible with the technology of the time.
In my book, the primary draw of Childhood's End is the immaculate song selection. As previously mentioned, the 16 songs chosen by the band don't make many concessions to market concerns. I was especially thrilled to find "Today" covered, which is not only hands down my favorite Jefferson Airplane tune but it features arguably the most forlorn, high lonesome riff in all of rock & roll.
Other choice cuts include "The Trap" (Bonniwell's Music Machine), "Magic Hollow" (Beau Brummels), "Everybody's Been Burned" (The Byrds), and "Can You Travel in the Dark Alone" (Gandalf). With psychedelia informing so much of doom and stoner rock – ironically, genres that Ulver have yet to fully dip their toes into – the timing couldn't be more fortuitous for a release of this sort, and the heartfelt track selection precludes Childhood's End being mere filler meant to cash in on a nostalgic trend. Frankly if this represents the direction the band want to take with original material in the near future I'm all for it on the strength of what they've got here, but with these itinerant wayfarers who the fuck knows?
Childhood's End is out now on Kscope Music.