The general populace have a common misconception of metal; loud, aggressive and noisy. Within the metal genre is a plethora of genre's, each one vastly different from the other and often containing some real gems of experimental music. Ulver are just such band, and have often flown in face of their 'black metal' tag. They are the epitome of experimental, and refuse to be restricted by a genre's boundaries.
Ulver are on of those bands who are capable of constantly reinventing themselves without losing their musical identity. They are also capable of making music which communicates with its listeners on a far higher, philosophical level. This is particularly the case with 'War of the Roses', which is a lovingly crafted and touching concept album and is their most impressive musical invention to date.
This is the first record with Manchester born Daniel O'Sullivan, who has worked with the likes of Sunn O))), Miasma and Aethenor to name but a few. His creative input is obvious, with piano heavy melodies and the simple ambient atmospheres better equated with Sunn O))). The theme of this album is hard to pin down, but it seems to be about heritage particularly the intertwining relationship between English and Norwegian .
Opener 'February MMX' is almost poppy in its nature, with prog rock undertones which would surprise many of Ulver's 'black metal' fans. This shift in focus is clearly the result of the new partnership between O'Sullivan and vocalist Kristoffer Rygg.
'Norwegian Gothic' however is a direct contrast, and is ambient and stunningly beautiful. Kristoffer Rygg's deep melancholic vocals means the album takes on an altogether more dreary tone.
'Providence' is the album's crowning glory, with glorious piano melodies and haunting female vocals. This inclusion of female vocals in undoubtedly going to divide fans, but those who dismiss it are missing something. If you know Ulver, you'll know that the reason fans love them is their tendency to surprise us.
Moving through the sombre ballad-like 'September IV', to the grandiose and empowering 'England' and through to the unique 'Island'. The closing track, 'Stone Angels...' is utterly indescribable. Devoid of lyrics, the song is narrated by Daniel speaking words of writer Keith Waldrop. This song has so many layers, that it does take a few listens before you really appreciate it.
This is an album of utter complexity, yet juxtaposed by its blatant simplicity. It shows that when a band is not constricted by a genre, there is utterly no stopping them.