Eclipse Review: Ulver - Blood Inside (2005)


LP cover

artist: Ulver
release: Blood Inside
format: CD, LP
year of release: 2005, 2010
label: Jester, The End, Pro­found Lore
dur­a­tion: 45:56

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

I admit it, I was totally wrong about this one. A couple of years ago, when I wrote about Ulver’s 2007 opus Shad­ows of the Sun, I claimed I didn’t like Blood Inside much, based upon some brief impres­sions from back when it came out in 2005. I guess I really didn’t, at the time. But, as the wolves them­selves quoted Wil­liam Blake in 1998: “The man who never alters his opin­ion is like stand­ing water, & breeds rep­tiles of the mind.” So, when after a stel­lar show by the band in Tilburg last Feb­ru­ary I passed the merch stand and I saw a nice LP reis­sue of the album, I couldn’t res­ist giv­ing it another try. Whatever the reas­ons, it did click with me this time, and for me it stands as one of the band’s finest albums from now on.

Com­pared to most of the band’s work since 2000, Blood Inside is per­haps a bit dif­fi­cult to get into. Gone are the sooth­ing sound­scapes and jazzy urban elec­tron­ica that came before, and what we hear is a par­tial return to a pecu­liar hybrid of exper­i­mental rock and elec­tron­ics that is at first quite demand­ing of the styl­istic sort­ing machine inside each of us. This, though, is pre­cisely where the strength of this album is situ­ated: the vis­ion and dar­ing to make uncom­prom­isingly ori­ginal music, a qual­ity reserved for only a select num­ber of great names in music.

Dressed in Black” opens up the album rel­at­ively gently, with a slowly strid­ing rhythm, emphas­ising bells and cym­bals, single tone synth back­ing and the subtly edited vocals of Kris­tof­fer Rygg. Without being intrus­ive, many effects and instru­ments are piled on top of this, slowly bring­ing the song to an intense cli­max. This segues per­fectly into “For the Love of God”, just the first of many high­lights on this album. It com­bines a swag­ger­ing rhythm with solid bass synth back­ing into a song that is incred­ibly innov­at­ive in style, but as catchy as any refined pop song would be. It’s even got a refrain and a gui­tar solo…  The same goes for “Christ­mas”, based on a poem by Fernando Pessoa, which ramps up the tempo and intens­ity a bit more. The end of this side of the LP is formed by “Blinded by Blood”, a calmer track of layered ambi­ances, pres­aging the style that would come to determ­ine much of the sound of Shad­ows of the Sun. It gives Rygg’s voice some more chance to shine, and forms a moment of calm before we embark on the second half.

CD cover

And that one starts with “It Is Not Sound”, a track that was also used for the accom­pa­ny­ing video on the enhanced CD release [You­Tube]. The track takes a num­ber of cues from J.S. Bach, in an ori­ginal way that detracts neither from this track nor from the ori­ginal com­pos­i­tions. Tra­di­tion and innov­a­tion are entwined as they were meant to here. The song moves from a rock­ing first half that con­tains the words to a coda con­sist­ing of a spacey toc­cata rendi­tion in synth and drums. The album delves into even deeper and darker ter­rit­or­ies with “The Truth”, which fea­tures some fast free­style drum parts and a gloomy mood.

We’re two-thirds through the tracks, and a little inter­lude about the lyr­ics might be appro­pri­ate. In con­trast to the rel­at­ively sim­ple con­tem­plat­ive themes on Shad­ows of the Sun and the folk­loric and reli­gious mater­ial of the albums from the nineties, Blood Inside is again a tough nut to crack. Col­our plays a strong role: the vir­gin white and blood red are prom­in­ent, with both hav­ing par­tic­u­lar sig­ni­fic­ance in reli­gion as well. The same goes for truth and sound, not to men­tion the places where god and grace are men­tioned lit­er­ally.

With this fore­thought, then, we enter the last trin­ity of tracks. “In the Red” is, first of all, a genu­inely swinging track, again form­ing a per­fect syn­thesis between cut­ting edge elec­tron­ica, rock, and samples of music from yes­ter­day. The way in which vin­tage string and brass samples are incor­por­ated into this song is simply per­fect. And then, the lyr­ics again. It seems we turn to the col­ours of this album in some of their most tan­gible senses: the red blood flows from our veins onto the earth, and we are rushed into a hos­pital. As time is run­ning out, we are envel­oped by the hospital’s “great white”, while the trum­pets dance a final merry striptease. Our status is crit­ical, and without sound, we try to call for help. As “Your Call” tells us, though, “no one answers the phone”. This track, in its sub­lime inter­play between sooth­ing calm and threat­en­ing intens­ity, is one of the best tracks Ulver have ever pro­duced, if not the best. The call meta­phor is expressed in the pulsat­ing sounds of the second half of the track that pierce right to your mar­row, and finally made con­crete in the ringing that sounds out the track, our life­line dangling loose in the air. Are we bey­ond help and is this going to be the end, or is someone going to pick up? Yes, it’s the “Oper­ator” over in emer­gency. Drums, bass and wild samples thun­der over us as we are thrown into the last frantic rush before the end. Gui­tar solos and rhythmic erup­tions are all over the place, as the vocals attempt to keep things together a bit, like the sur­geons fight­ing for our life. Do we make it through in the end? Who knows… “please be patient, hold the line”.

These last three tracks in them­selves - the qual­ity of the rest of the album not­with­stand­ing - are per­haps the most import­ant of them all. Not only do they form a vir­tu­oso musical rendi­tion of a des­per­ate fight for sur­vival in the hos­pital, if we take into account the broader themes of the album, we real­ise it might all refer to more lofty issues as well: our search for truth and mean­ing in life. Per­haps “truth is a hos­pital”, and as patients, we are all strug­gling to sur­vive, try­ing to make sense of the sounds and words, the light and dark. It is a massive feat to raise such issues in an album that man­ages to be music­ally innov­at­ive as well.

To com­pare Blood Inside dir­ectly to Ulver’s other albums would be a mis­take. They are all so diver­gent in style, and many stand as clas­sic releases in their own play­ing field, hav­ing sparked a whole spe­cific style like Kveldssanger and the other albums in The Tri­lo­gie, or simply by being very good, like almost all of the oth­ers. Blood Inside, though, might be the best in terms of form­ing a self-contained whole that stands miles apart from prac­tic­ally all other music. In this sense, it reminds me of sem­inal releases by indus­trial pion­eers like Foetus, Coil, Cur­rent 93, and Ein­stürzende Neubauten. Thank­fully, roughly twenty years after the ground­break­ing releases by these bands, we are still occa­sion­ally presen­ted with albums that push the envel­ope like that, though not as often as we’d like. Blood Inside is def­in­itely one of them though, a land­mark in mod­ern music.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Dressed In Black (7:06)
2. For The Love Of God (4:11)
3. Christ­mas (6:15)
4. Blinded By Blood (6:23)

5. It Is Not Sound (4:37)
6. The Truth (4:02)
7. In The Red (3:31)
8. Your Call (6:07)
9. Oper­ator (3:37)

1 Dressed In Black 7:06
2 For The Love Of God 4:11
Gui­tar [Solo] - Bosse
3 Christ­mas 6:15
Gui­tar - Mike Keneally
Written-by [Words] - Fernando Pessoa
4 Blinded By Blood 6:23
Vibra­phone - Andreas Mjøs
5 It Is Not Sound 4:37
Written-by [Coda] - Johann Sebastian Bach
6 The Truth 4:02
7 In The Red 3:31
Vibra­phone - Andreas Mjøs
8 Your Call 6:07
Choir - Maja S. K. Ratkje
Violin - Jeff Gau­th­ier
9 Oper­ator 3:37