There aren’t many bands in the history of music that have played with extremities like Norwegian stalwarts, Ulver.
In many ways, they are a conviction band. They may tell you the spirits guide the music to where it wants to go – perhaps that’s part of the Ulver mythology.
In summary, any band who jumps from the bludgeoning birth of black metal to catchy synth pop that you could sing to in the streets (see Machine Guns and Peacock Feathers)—not to mention a swathe of various other styles thrown in over their twenty-seven year existence—isn’t to be frowned upon. In fact, it’s mystifying.
Sonically, while not that far removed from its predecessor, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, Ulver sound totally in the groove with the Michael Rendall (The Orb), Martin “Youth” Glover produced Flowers of Evil.
When listening to Ulver one should never be surprised and it’s no different with Flowers of Evil. Ulver have been the forefathers of genre-hopping over the last three decades and to coincide with the release of Flowers of Evil, one can read all about it in the beautifully crafted Wolves Evolve: The Ulver Story.
For new souls who dare to enter the Ulver broad-church? The truth is that there is no right or wrong entry point into their wide-spanning body of work. Just pick an album and live with the conviction. That’s what Ulver have been doing for decades. It’s what makes them truly what they are.
Carrying on from The Assassination of Julius Caesar, the towering themes move from the great fire of Rome in 64AD to new challenges on Flowers of Evil. The wolf pack hunting new prey in something likened to a part grotesque period drama mixed with words dripping off the pages of a Jack London novel.
We could go on about the mythological backdrops Ulver have cast over their listeners like hypnotic dark spells. We could also excavate deep into the pits where the origins of Ulver‘s “true” sound may be. However, and without trying to retreat here, where Flowers of Evil is concerned, just sit back, indulge, and let it wash over you.
Like all myths, they are open to interpretation. For the listener to expand their thoughts. That’s the dehumanising aspect of art and Ulver have been purveyors of it for years.
On Flowers of Evil, Ulver‘s dark obsessions with the past enmeshes with the present, adding yet another string to the band’s bow.
There’s no better demonstration of this than the album’s opening piece, One Last Dance, as Kristoffer Rygg spins a yarn on oppression and the demonisation of the working class.
In a “world full of evil” Rygg‘s icy shards are not limited passages such as, “We have seen the burden God has laid upon the human race” to “what other can we do but work, eat, sleep, and do the best we can?”
Then there’s the chilling chorus:
“We are wolves/Under the moon/This is our song/We have loved/And we have lost/We’re ready to go/Oh, one last dance/In this burning church.”
A song that will be etched in the history of not only Ulver, but the times we currently live in.
With sweeping grooves and equally catchy synths, Russian Doll is the closest thing to a pop banger Ulver will ever present to this world. Hardly the boldest claim given Ulver‘s ever-shifting sound template, but it’s yet another example of the band amalgamating different worlds.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Machine Guns and Peacock Feathers continues the ’80s traipse with a melody that wouldn’t have looked out of place on (as crazy as it sounds) Top of the fucking Pops.
Hour of the Wolf is Ulver‘s call from the wild moment, with the song enveloped in rich piano, foggy synths and creeping drones only to be quickly dragged back into the new world of doom-laden pop with numbers, Apocalypse 1993 and Nostalgia.
The end-time ballad that is A Thousand Cuts is a withering closer. A clash between finding love and death. Ulver give us a ray of hope and happiness, but—as they so often do—snatch it away from us within the blink of an eye.
The aggressive textures of their music may have been blunted over the years, but make no mistake ‒ Ulver‘s themes still remain as menacing as ever. Masters of music created under a black sun.
Flowers of Evil gets you harking back to Depeche Mode ‒ one of the overrated bands in rock history, in this writer’s opinion. Aesthetically, the fact that Ulver have completely aped them with Flowers of Evil is as much ridiculous as it is unsurprising. Once again, Ulver have re-written their own history.