#TBT: The Rebellious Romanticism of ULVER's Bergtatt
Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. TBT 51 features a stunning addition to the black metal library with a 1994 release recorded by Ulver, who were a group comprised of (at the time) just teenagers. While Ulver have seen quite a few transitions in their career, their first release Bergtatt is an obvious influence on so many groups to have come at the turn of the century. Thanks to this album, black metal found new soil upon which to stretch its darkened, reaching roots with:
Release Date: Late 1994/ Early 1995
Record Label: Head Not Found
Friends, it's the perfect time to talk about Ulver. For starters – it's Fall (the ultimate season for atmospheric, introspective music), and more importantly, Ulver just announced their first EVER US tour date for next March. If you haven't listened to them before but decided to drop by today's TBT to check them out, good on you. We here at Metal Injection are big fans of the ever-evolving group and consider them to be part of the dynasty of essential black metal. Bergtatt isn't an album for beginner metal fans, however. It has personally taken me some time to evolve and appreciate the group and their freshman release. Now, I feel that Bergtatt is a gorgeous piece of work that borrows heavily from the book of black metal and smarty marries cacophony with beauty. But upon first listen, I remember thinking that the music was ugly because it was so unfinished and hollow-sounding. Bergtatt just doesn't have the some aggression and dissonance as typical black metal, and I easily dismissed the overly mid-ranged, mid-tempoed opening track "I Troldskog Faren Vild" – and the rest of the album.
Revisiting this album over a decade later has struck me like a bolt of lightening. This first track is raw, yes – but in that rawness is a beauty I don't think I could've appreciated before. Stripping down black metal even further from it's already basement-esque roots, Bergtatt dares to take a personal and melodic stab at the genre. The result is achingly gorgeous and the addition of clean, simple vocals makes me feel as though I stepped into a chanting coven meeting in the middle of a dense wood. The addition of the guitar solo at the end of the track combined with the switch up in the intensity of the riffs is unexpectedly expressive and exemplifies the 'personal' feeling I mentioned earlier. Instead of black metal expressing a grief, terror, coldness and sorrow, I feel oddly transported and comforted. Considering that this album was recorded in 1994, I am blown away by the vision in that expression.
The full title of the album is Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler. According to Wikipedia the title translates to Spellbound – A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters. According to Google Translate, from Norwegian to English it's Bergtatt – An Eve In 5 Capitals. So, I'm inclined to believe the Wiki article because obviously something got lost in the direct translation of the album title – and the Wiki translation fits the feels of the music. Ulver means 'wolves', which ties directly in to the moody, mist-laden atmosphere of Bergtatt. According to the band's own website, "Their [early] songs were manifestations of rebellious romanticism, combining elements from Old Norse folk music with the primal brutality of black metal." Check out track "Een Stemme Locker":
The Gregorian chant style vocals are one of the main elements that makes Bergtatt so special. Another quip from the band's own website illuminates the focus on Ulver's aesthetic, "I think we quite early discarded all convulsive attempts at being dark and evil in any common sense of these words", states G. 'G' must stand for Garm, AKA founding (and still remaining original) member of Ulver Kristoffer Rygg. "When it comes to darkness, I find it much more fascinating when applied subtly." The whole record is melancholic and sounds as though it was recorded in a large cave. The drums on the second track are so reverb-y that listening to it sounds like discovering a beautiful secret. Here's the second track off of the album "Soelen Gaaer Bag Aase Ned":
The juxtaposition of the hotly thumbed baseline and the steady, unwavering, echoy vocals is so gorgeous and eerie – and it is subtly dark indeed.
Honestly, this album reminds me so much of Agalloch and Alcest in so many ways. What is interesting to note about this album is that I would strongly recommend Bergtatt to anyone looking for moody fall music or to anyone looking to increase their appreciation for black metal. However, I can't understand a single word Ulver is saying. I don't honestly know what they're singing about – I can I only rely on the internet to source meaning and translation. But, I think that the metalverse is full of lyrics we can't understand – even if they are sung in our own language. So often in metal, lyrics are growled, screamed, and 'barfed' out to the point that we forget that we were supposed to search for meaning in the lyrics. That lack of persuasion from lyrical influence makes my next point quite a powerful one: even without lyrics, the music is laden with meaning. That is such a unique factor of the metal community and often overlooked as a point of discourse. The vocals are so often admired for how they are sung, not what they are singing about. And, in that light – Ulver is no exception. For me, not knowing what the songs mean offers a chance to dream about what they could mean – which in a way adds to the dreamy escapism that the album so readily offers.
Ulver has, sonically speaking, changed drastically throughout the years and I for one enjoy quite a few evolutions of the band. It's pretty incredible to listen to their modern music in comparison to records like Bergtatt. Polarizing (to say the least) to both the black metal community and their early fans, Ulver has unapologetically sought a dark and beautiful melody for over 25 years. Challenge what you know about Ulver and black metal by giving the album a try.
Speak the language and know what the lyrics are? Sound off below. Color me curious.
Featured image credit goes to © NN 2003 and used with Ulver's websites permission at www.jester-records.com