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Black Metal History

Essential Black Metal Listening: ULVER – Bergtatt

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As part of Black Metal History Month, we will be spotlighting classic albums that we feel are essential for any fan of black metal. This album is a part of that series. Make sure to pick up our limited edition Black Metal History Month t-shirt.

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Though you’d probably never know it from their current career, Ulver was once a contender alongside the great early Norwegian favorites like Immortal or Mayhem. Nowadays, they’ve drifted almost as far from extreme metal as you can possibly get, but they still have a legacy behind them in the history of Norwegian black metal. However, unlike the rest of the scene, they had a twist about them that definitely set them apart both thematically and musically, and that was their integration of Norwegian folk music within the black metal. It’s definitely a little bit different in comparison to what their comrades were up to at the time, and it’s still notable among many black metal enthusiasts.

Ulver’s first full studio album, Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (translated “Taken into the Mountain – A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters”) was the first of what’s known as the “Black Metal Trilogie" (even though their second album wasn’t black metal at all). After the trilogy, Ulver shifted in styles dramatically, and is now known for being more ambient, electronic, and definitely experimental. But I’m always going to remember Ulver for Bergtatt.

Bergtatt starts out the right way; buzzing guitars, echoing drums and…clean vocals? As it turns out, Bergtatt is full of clean vocals. There are also acoustic guitars, droning low choirs, and even flutes all making appearances on the album as well. It emulates the folk music from the older days of Norway. But the actual black metal part of the album is done the way it should be done. The guitar work sounds quite evil, drums have no shortage of double-bass and blasting and vocals do eventually get dirty. The whole atmosphere feels very real, and feels so cold, dark and overall melancholy.

The folk integration works to set the atmosphere even better, really making you feel like you’re in the freezing forests of Norway. The song that best captures this mood is “Soelen gaaer bag Aase need.” It begins with a beautiful guitar and flute trio moving right away to a classic black metal sound, but moves away from the dirty vocals to sing a haunting melody, then back to the metal, and then finishes with a haunting choir. Thematically speaking, Bergtatt separates itself from the others yet again from not being Satanic. Instead, it’s more laced in Norwegian mythos and fantasy, and doesn’t lend itself to the anti-Christianity of their colleagues. There are numerous differences when you compare them to others, but when you just listen to Bergtatt, it all just seems to come together so well to make something truly awesome.

Bergtatt was released around 1995, and the Second Wave of Norwegian Black Metal is usually dated to have ended around 1993. And around the mid-90’s the scene was definitely changing and evolving. Ulver took part in that evolution with Bergtatt, which I think is a notable moment in black metal history. It’s definitely one of my favorite black metal albums, and if you haven’t already listened to it, give it a shot.

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