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Ulver | ‘Riverhead’

Is this a ‘proper’ Ulver release or isn’t it?

It’s hard to know any more.

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, but it seems like ‘War Of The Roses’ was the last coherent piece that sounded like an album of actual songs, no matter how worthy ‘Messe’ was.

And ‘ATGCLVLSSCAP’, cool as it is… well, it’s still basically them faffing around at a few gigs, albeit in the rarefied fashion they do so.

We crave new Ulver material proper, and though ‘Riverhead’ looks tantalising on the outside, it would be wrong to say this is it.

As an interstitial piece however, it’s beguiling.

It’s a sound collage; a collection of micro atmospheres; an over-before-you-know-it bit of gloomy wallpaper ambience.

Which is kind of the point, given that it’s the soundtrack to a Canadian crime film of the same name. It seems the director personally requested their services, and this is the result.

Funny, isn’t it, how their masterpiece ‘Perdition City’ wanted to be the “soundtrack to an interior film” all those years ago, and now its their bread and butter for real.

Anyway that’s by the by.

This is a broody and tense collection of atmospheric moments – not much more than that – putting music to that slightly sick and lonely feeling encountered when it’s cold, the bars and clubs are shut, and the last spiteful taxis won’t stop for you. There will be no takeaway.

And then it rains.

So nothing is rushed, because inevitably this will be a long and shivery walk. There are no beats, only moods. Or variations on the one mood of accepting the futile. ‘Road To Town’ embodies that one.

Minimalism would be an exaggeration. The being of any of these tracks seems to be in the mood of them, as a more basic unit of music than even the notes: they’re breathy and transient, liminal and impressionistic rather than songs or anything so coarse as that.

Now, I’m a massive fan of ‘Lykantropen Themes’ and ‘Svidd Neger’, the last occasions on which they did stuff like this. ‘LT’ especially has a brutalist edge to it and had motifs you could actually grasp. It was an enormously satisfying collection of soundpieces that culminated in a bleepy fiasco of anger.

By complete contrast, stuff on this like ‘In A Wooden Coat’ is pure ambience, the dimly muffled sound of murmurs and little else. It could be Asmorod from the ‘Hysope’ era.

There is the essence of a bagpipe, or an accordion, or something in ‘Idle Hands Are The Devils Playings’, and yes, ‘Bored Of Canada’ is an excellent pun.

All in all, it takes much listening to click, or find the essence of. You need to be in the right situation.

You certainly can’t be moving, or expecting.

I must say I found it a bit thin at the start, and not having any great impact. With repeat listens though, the truths of how it realises the sensation of walking against the biting cold through empty streets in the dark are hard to ignore.

Invest the time in it. It’s hardly essential, but it does contain some essential musical truths, and will please darkambient fans satisfactorily.

3.2 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 19/12/16

  1. It’s up to Ulver to decide what they deem a “proper” release I’d have thought. Don’t see how a soundtrack is any less valid than anything else they do.

  2. Just came across this – figured I’d let you know about my film a little further. Riverhead is actually set on the island of Newfoundland, and plays out subtly against a backdrop of secular feuding we’ve got going on here in rural fishing communities – something that stems from your own country’s feuds (something we inherited as a predominantly Irish and English settlement). Figured this may be up your alley seeing this is Metal Ireland.

    Get in touch if you’d like to see it. No screening arranged for Eire yet.

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