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Ulver | ‘The Assassination Of Julius Caesar’


As usual with all the best albums, it took me a yawning u-turn to accept.

There was just something about it at the start – a seeming blandness, some all too hulking references to other bands, vocals that just didn’t seem to sit.

Like almost all Ulver though, persistence has paid wonderful dividends. This is no classic, as could be said for ‘Perdition City’ or ‘Shadows Of The Sun’. But, at its best, it is very, very good.

We should expect no less.

Masterful

From the off it is markedly different. ‘Nemoralia’ establishes an approach that spans several tracks – a sound grown somewhere in the latter era between Depeche Mode’s ‘Exciter’ and ‘Sounds Of The Universe’. Softer than usual, and poppier.

It is an astonishing track for its sonic and lyrical imagery.

Sonically, it hints at a sort of futurist coming-together, a festival of bodies processing, lamplit in neon – something that conflicts with its classical subject matter about Nero burning Rome.

And what’s this in the masterful third verse? Twenty years since the death of Princess Diana, we have a thought in her memory, and a masterfully penned one at that. ‘Stopped dead under the river / in the capital of romance / the most hunted body of the modern age’ echoes her brother’s unforgettable elegy at her funeral.

There are hods of the cap to Coil in here, with all those watery, bleepy drips.

Then we’re in fully hip swaying, hand clapping, finger clicking mode for the great ‘Rolling Stone’.

It’s difficult, this one. There’s a sense of Depeche Mode’s ‘No Good’ in it to begin with, but that’s not the issue. It’s that wonderful as it is, all it is is a chorus. A true ear worm, granted. An unforgettable one.

But as much as I love it, I have to ask: couldn’t they think of any other lyrics? Did it really bear repeating that many times?

And it seems something of a cop out to drag it all up to its explosion at the end, spanning more than a minute, as if in admission that there were no better ideas of where to go with it.

And yet it’s a great old ditty.

And When Rome Falls…

‘So Falls The World’ (which lifts a few thoughts from Current 93 – black ships, Rome falling and all that) seems one of the blander tracks except for its enjoyable but strangely tacked-on dark electro club dancefloor number at the back half.

‘Southern Gothic’, while tonally saucy is a neither here nor there as a song. The same could be said for ‘Angelus Novus’. There’s just something about the vocal delivery in both that seems too non-committal.

Yet Ulver’s genius can’t ever really be contained for that long, and it blooms again in the beautuful ‘Transverberation’ which somehow manages to sound like a piece of high Catholic kitsch as if performed on 90s French pop radio station.

It’s vocals are brilliantly delivered. The textures are beautiful, as are the timing of those bold neon keyboard strokes. The ‘St Theresa of Liseux’ line is something that could only have come from Ulver. It’s Baz Luhrmann camp.

Great too is the woozy ‘1969’. I can’t tell if the lady vocals on it are pitch shifted to sound candy-ish or not, but either way their sicky sweetness is quite intoxicating on that ‘helter skelter’ line. It too borrows from Depeche Mode a bit, aligning slightly too closely with the chord progression in ‘Precious’ from off ‘Playing The Angel’ (sorry to harp on about them, but it really is quite pronounced.)

Time And Place

One thing that’s intriguing about the lyrics across the board is the constant reference to dates, places and events. It gives perhaps a new insight into Mr Rygg’s current or past fascinations in a way that prior albums haven’t quite done so openly.

Oddly, it’s one of those listens that’s so frustrating you end up coming back again and again to check it out – by which time the best songs have lodged themselves firmly in your skull. To be critical, no track really ends well, and several just go nowhere.

The best are so engrossing it doesn’t matter. The least remarkable among them are just that. They’re not bad. They’re just wallpaper-ish.

If I’m complaining too much it’s only because I love them, and because they’re usually the last to take leaves from anyone. It’s a hugely enjoyable album when it sings, but not one that can be let off scott free of its sometimes grating demerits.

Buy, however, and enjoy.

3.8 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 08/06/17



One Comment
  1. While I don’t share some of your criticisms, it’s cool you found much to like about the album. It’s the first album of theirs I’ve paid attention to since Blood Inside which I found excellent.

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