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: dis​cogs​.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)