The Norwegian masters of avantgarde music, the legendary and highly innovative Ulver, performed a 90-minute set at the renowned Grieghallen in Bergen, Norway last night and the entire affair was nothing short of mesmerizing and downright transcendent. The delightful and cool thing about these weirdos is that you never know what you are going to get, which is to say that none of their albums are alike or similar as such. Sure, they all carry some the Ulver trademarks and that deep-seated and unsettling melancholy that defies word or description, but ultimately each record differs from its predecessor. In other words, these guys have never released the exact same album twice. They are always pushing the boundaries and exploring new frontiers, and their eclectic blend of everything from dark ambient and drone to prog-influenced rock and raw black metal (just to list a few of the genres that they have explored and touched on throughout their nearly thirty year long career) is wildly imaginative and original. Ulver are no ordinary band by any stretch of the imagination. This decade has seen them perform in front of rapturous crowds who have longed to witness the band live on stage, and Ulver have well and truly grown into a force to be reckoned with in terms of evoking exquisitely crafted music filled with beauty and longing in a convincing manner in a live setting.
Last night’s magnificent concert was more or less a showcase for the recent full-length album, the 80’s electro pop/rock/synth-infused The Assassination of Julius Caesar, which suited yours truly just fine. The entire album was aired and each tune sounded genuinely haunting and hypnotic. The acoustics were perfect (such is the beauty of the venue, Grieghallen in Bergen, Norway) and all those captivating and compelling nuances of the tracks really came to the fore. There is plenty of tone, depth, and substance to the aforementioned album and all of that shone through perfectly throughout the entire show. In many ways, it felt as if time only seemed to pass and that everything kind of stood still while we were sucked into the postmodern soundscapes conjured up by the hugely talented ensemble, but then on the other hand it felt as if those 90 glorious minutes went by in a flash. Given that The Assassination of Julius Caesar is fabulous in its entirety, it seems somewhat daft to single out any favorite songs because all of them sounded splendid last night, but you simply cannot argue with memorable cuts such as the riveting ‘Nemoralia’ and ‘1969′, or the melancholy ‘So Falls the World’, for that matter. The dense ‘Angelus Novus’ was elegant while the catchy ‘Southern Gothic’ was utterly amazing. A personal highlight was undoubtedly the wonderfully long and extended version of ‘Coming Home’, which went on for about 15 minutes and it was pure bliss.
The visuals and lights were dazzling and the stage setup looked great. Everything went hand in hand and it all flowed together seamlessly. The only thing that was slightly anticlimactic or simply lacked pomp and drama was the encore, more specifically the cover rendition of ‘The Power of Love’. It is a good tune with a great verse and an even greater chorus to it, but something a little more cacophonous, epic, or all-out intense would have served as an even more impressive and emotionally charged ending to an otherwise flawless gig.
If you get the chance to watch these morose gentlemen live on stage anywhere near, do yourself a favor and go regardless of what style of music appeals to you – Ulver are way above and beyond such boring things as musical genres, rules, norms, and conventions. Sublime in every sense of the word, Ulver are not to be missed.