Album ReviewsReviews

Review: Ulver – Shadows of the Sun (2007)

artist: Ulver
release: Shadows of the Sun
format: CD, LP
year of release: 2007
label: Jester
duration: 39:54

detailed info: discogs.com

Wolves Evolve. We’ve known that since 1998, when Ulver released the epic and experimental Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Since then, not one of their releases sounded quite like another. My appreciation of their albums has also been mixed. I loved Themes…, but Metamorphosis didn’t do much for me. I thought Perdition City was a great piece of dark urban music, but Teachings in Silence left me relatively cold. A Quick Fix of Melancholy is one of my favourite 2003 releases, but Blood Inside was never my thing. As it turns out, the system never fails; Shadows of the Sun is bound to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

Once again, these crazy Norwegians have put a twist on their musical direction. Blood Inside had a great deal of noisiness and chaos going on, but this album is streamlined, often meditative and calm, and with an overall sad en pensive atmosphere. The warm ambiances, soft vocals, and subtle theremin of “EOS” make that clear immediately. “All the Love” is more intense, introducing excellent piano melodies, soaring trumpet, and electronic beats. The dominance of sublime piano lines continues on “Like Music” and “Vigil”, easily my two favourite tracks off the album. Some sections here feature more expert shimmering ambient, courtesy of none other than Fennesz on the latter track. And let’s not forget Rygg’s excellent vocals!

These vocals shift to a more intense character in the two following tracks. The title track is quite mixed in its sound, ranging from the warm droning sunset of the intro to the distinct, ‘drum ‘n’ piano’ of the later stages, which have a certain prog feeling, even reminding me of Opeth somewhat. “Let the Children Go” is heavier material, certainly concerning the beat and vocal intensity, as well as the oriental sounding trumpet solo. Then there’s “Solitude”. Before I’d heard the album, this Black Sabbath cover was actually one of the tracks I was most looking forward to. As it turns out, while it is certainly good, the track pales somewhat in comparison to Ulver‘s own compositions. The last two tracks, finally, end the album in the same contemplative and dark way as it began.

There are only two things which bother me (albeit only slightly) about this album. First of all, I think the lyrics are a bit on the lightweight or even predictable side, especially for a group of this experimental caliber. Another thing is the production: it’s rather… slick. On the one hand, this is a good thing. The excellent and detailed tracks are polished to a nice finish, making Shadows of the Sun particularly suitable for discovery by a wide audience. All the same, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more raw edges or surprises.

Minor nitpicking though, for this is a great album, and I haven’t even mentioned the glorious cover photograph! My respect to the anonymous photographer. Shadows of the Sun is an excellent piece of experimental music, recommended to all adventurous listeners.

Reviewed by O.S.

Tracklist:

1. EOS (5:05)
2. All the Love (3:42)
3. Like Music (3:30)
4. Vigil (4:27)
5. Shadows of the Sun (4:36)
6. Let the Children Go (3:50)
7. Solitude (3:53)
8. Funebre (4:26)
9. What Happened? (6:25)