Being a relatively new, yet very enthusiastic fan of Ulver, I can honestly say that I have not anticipated any one of the myriad of great albums to released this year more than I have Ulver’s “Shadows of the Sun.” With such a serious caliber of genius as Ulver has proven to command, (Most apparent in 1998’s “Themes from William Blake’s the Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” and in 2005’s “Blood Inside”) I knew that the musical world was in for another otherworldly masterpiece. Of course, Ulver has once again, surpassed my expectations, though not in the same fashion as I had expected.
Completely forgetting Ulver’s natural tendency to evolve, I was expecting another album filled with charisma, and widespread vision such as “Blood Inside” was. Upon first listen, any one with similar expectations for this album will indeed be initially disappointed. This album is almost a polar opposite to “Blood Inside.” Where there once was powerful and grandiose structure there is now a dark, slow and brooding semi-ambience. Where there was a dark, yet somehow beautifully colorful texture there is now only black and grey. Where there were once layers upon layers of Garm’s soaring vocal harmonies, there are much darker, melancholiac, and slower dirges. Ulver have obviously made another 180 degree change in musical direction, and though it may seem for the worse, it really is not.
Make no mistake, this is a VERY dark and depressing album. It is vital that you understand that by dark, I do not mean the theatrical evil act that metal bands shamelessly delve in, but very real and very serious melancholiac suffering that is very clearly displayed in musical form. There is not one lighthearted moment in “Shadows of the Sun’s” entirety. Of course, Ulver has always been more in tune with the darker spectrums of music; (Even having a couple of black-metal albums under their belts.) but not even this foresight could prepare you for the downright bleak and beaten experience that embodies this release. The album almost entirely lacks percussion, giving it an almost ambient feel. “Shadows of the Sun” is made up mainly of slow, subtle melodies, driven by weeping string sections, and sometimes choral like effects. There is even an appearance of a trumpet on three of the tracks which really adds a nice shimmer to this dark sonic pool. While being undeniably melancholic, this is still a very intelligent album that is still unmistakably Ulver. The piano sections, particularly in `Like Music’ are absolutely beautiful, as are most of the arrangements throughout “Shadows of the Sun.” in their own grey and twisted manner. The only slight fault I can possibly convict this album of is its length, clocking in at barely over 40 minutes. Then again, perhaps the short length is only meant to protect us from becoming overly immersed in this bleak state of existence.
This album has a very distinctive beaten feel about it, as music seems to collapse under the weight of the unjust world. The very heavy emotions that have been so vividly captured in this work of art are sure to bring even the most lighthearted listener down into the depths of momentary depression. Surely to some of you, this sounds like nothing you would voluntarily want to put yourself through, as if you don’t have enough problems in our day to day lives to deal with without Ulver’s very real display of utter sorrow. Personally, I find this album very therapeutic, taking me and my hyperactive imagination to a myriad of cloudy places. Granted this album is definitely not for everyone, though I suspect if you find Ulver’s previous releases as enchanting as I do, then you will not be disappointed. Ulver’s “Shadows of the Sun” is definitely not something that I would listen to on a daily basis, but nevertheless is an impeccable work of beautiful art, that deserves recognition.