BLOOD INSIDE | INTERVIEWS | REVIEWS | PRESS RELEASE|
Written by Ciarán Tracey
Terrorizer Magazine May 2005
Ulver's new record, 'Blood Inside', isn't what you think. Indeed, trying to be smart and expecting the unexpected won't get you far either. As a band so effortlessly and consistently ahead of the pack, you just have to trust their instincts. Inevitably they will be the right ones: and so it is then that after four unobtrusive releases of subtly dark minimalism since 2000's 'Perdition City', the sheer volume of their latest full tome comes as a something of a startling and surprising turn. In fact, so inclusive, eclectic and downright colossal sounding is this new platter that it is the only of their albums since to match the sheer bravura of their magnum opus, 'Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell'.
"That's a correct assumption," affirms Kris, now having finally dropped his myriad alter egos. "It's kind of counteracting the 'less is more' trip we've been on lately. Our last proper album 'Perdition City' was so keen on being cinematic that it almost read as an application form to the film industry. While we did get into the film industry, our illusions of how fun and easy it would be to score motion pictures were downed pretty fast as soon as we got more acquainted with those people and their working methods. Now, having been a somewhat voiceless and underlying stratum in other people's visions for a while, we just felt like we had to put up a big fat wall of sound this time around. In that respect we're very much like little kids," he smirks.
So how does Kris feel about his new primal scream in the first throes of its release?
"In terms of my limited ability to be happy about anything, at this point, it's simply having let out something that is not like most music out there ... at least not anything that I'm familiar with."
Which, given his sourcing of leftfield acts for Jester Records and an ever widening pool of influences acting on Ulver's sound, is a lot to be familiar with. But having just released yet another album full of music that sits comfortably within the high echelons of the creative vanguard, what isn't he happy about?
"I can't really be specific about it," he ponders. "I always have that feeling you know, that something is wrong. I usually tend to get into some sort of post-production angst and depression when we've been working on something for a long time and it's off our hands, out in the open and impossible to call back upon. It's hard ... well, of course it's impossible for me to be objective about it. There are just too many unresolved feelings. Besides, objectivity isn't a word that sits well in Ulver's vocabulary. We're pretty negative guys," he laughs. "Skeptics of the highest order. We know that less failure is failure none the less."
With Ulver's recent digressions being such low key, pensive and introspective works, 'Blood Inside' stands immediately apart with its garrulous and at times even mischievously bombastic feel.
"Yeah, I guess silence does teach you how to sing. I mean, I love lots of pathos. I already know it's too much, that we've most likely gone too far, but I keep insisting on it—the big stuff. It's not all free from satire though. In a sense what we do is actually kinda slapstick."
Slapstick. The word seems to have become synonymous with Kris' musical undertakings in recent years, and most notably so through the medium of Arcturus' eccentric and playful bagatelles. But while it is true that this album more than any of their others to date finds Ulver in unashamedly eclectic mood, not once is the quirkiness present for its own sake. Though knowingly ironic and perhaps even cheeky, each of these tracks is laced with a tangible anger. The soft but ominous opener 'Dressed In Black' sets the required tone, albeit in a surprisingly muted fashion.
"It's a careful opening," agrees Kris when considering if it is almost too tentative an entrance to such a dense album. "But the lyric is not very humble at all. The lyric is kind of why we chose that as the opener. It reads something like: hey, here we go again with our megalomaniac visions, we know that we are the gravest of sinners, and we know we will be judged for it, but we just don't give a fuck. On a more mundane note we also at some point ran out of options as to how the track indexing should be, as we'd already had the transitions built-in."
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
With the album's adoption of a religious aesthetic and lyrical bent, supported by a video which shows our Trickster in full papal vestments, it seems that the band have lost none of the desire to confront that characterised them when at their most harshly metallic. Kris is quick to point out that the synchronicity between this imagery and recent events in Rome was mere coincidence, but it remains true that the timing couldn't be more pertinent. "What's it all about?" comes his repeated demand in 'It Is Not Sound', but it seems that even though the religious interrogation forms a central role in 'Blood Inside', as ever, there is more to Ulver than that which appears on the surface.
"That line that you're talking about is referencing something else within the lyric—the thirty three years and all that—those are fairly cryptic lines that we felt confident no one outside of the band would understand. Well, that is unless you're heavy into Bible studies. Heck, even we don't get that one. What is it all about?"
Understanding, let alone trying to second-guess Ulver, has never been straightforward. But with Kris' by now familiar vocals occupying a strange no man's land in this production—not always clear, seemingly in another space to the music—communication could be made just that little bit more difficult. Just as well then that he's gone back to the opposite end of the music spectrum to let off a little steam.
"You know, we don't make a very sound form of sound, and it can get quite bad in our brains sometimes. So these days I'm laying down vocals on a pretty downright rockin' album with a band called Sindrome, from Portugal. It's melodic, commercial and catchy, and most importantly, the girls are gonna like it" he laughs. "I've also launched a project bearing the tentative name Heroes and Villains—courtesy of Brian Wilson—which is borderline ridiculous stuff, and it might just turn into a CD some day. Anyway, I'd say some recuperation is in order after closing the 'Blood Inside' chapter."
With that chapter gestating for roughly three years, the band's sonic skills have not gone unnoticed in the wider media community in the interim. "In reality the album has probably taken us one year of consistent work, but there has been a lot of other business on the side. We did two Norwegian feature films last year. One of them was a very big, heavy project, and a lot of time went into that one. It must've been seen by 500,000 Norwegians by now."
So do the handy talents possessed of these Norwegian eccentrics help bring a little extra money in the door?
"That isn't even our supplementary income, it's our main income!" notes Kris wanly. "There's so little glam in these tricksy albums we release I can't help but laugh at a few of the dumber minions at the Jester internet board when they get going with their little whining games about how we are exploiting them by raising the price tag up a bit, or even more laughable, that their feelings should somehow be taken into consideration since, by actually paying a slant for our pieces, they are the sole supporters of our excessive lifestyle with its glorious mansions, fancy cars and filthy habits. They really have no idea."
THE FUTURE SOUND OF MUSIC
One of the most defining influences upon Ulver's development in the last five years has been that of legendary UK electronic alchemists Coil. Though the creative debt is as natural as that owed by bands the world over to their own revered and seminal acts, some elements of the more enlightened underground press more immersed in the haunts of dark electro have written Ulver off as mere imitators. This is something of a thorny issue with Kris, who has obviously had to counter such accusations before. Especially when asked if some Coil samples have ever been reworked into Ulver's music.
"That's just not true," confirms Kris emphatically. "I remember how some people wrote a long piece about how we had sampled or restructured some Coil strings, but that's just bullshit. If that is the case it would have to be because we accidentally plugged into the same alien transmissions or something. I honestly don't know which tracks or which strings they're referring to. And I'm quite thoroughly acquainted with Coil's back catalogue."
Could it perhaps be a snippet from Coil's essential first 'Musick To Play In The Dark' album, Red Birds will Fly out of the East and Destroy Paris in a Night, which sounds quite akin to Ulver's own 'Vowels'?
"I don't even like that track!" comes the bemused reply. "If I remember correctly that track is a synthesizer arpeggio effect that goes on for about 15 minutes. That represents a part of Coil that, from a musical perspective, to me, is just a little too easy. I've been just as fascinated with Coil's minds, and how they work, as I have with the sounds they make. It always was a lot more to me than mere music. On strictly musical grounds, I'd say that about half of it is absolutely wonderful, whereas the other half of it isn't much at all. But that's a matter of personal taste. I do think that there are some uncanny parallels between the two of us sometimes, but we certainly have preferences of our own as well."
One staple activity within Ulver's newfound artistic milieu is that of the remix. An idea never common in rock and metal, the enterprise is however undertaken with gusto by more or less every electronically based underground band, and often to far lengths. It's true that rockers can be a bit backward in these arcane matters, so Kris helpfully explains why it is that to us hairys, most remixes don't sound even related to the original song.
"To me the good remix is the mix that becomes a something else entirely; that doesn't try to be a second mix to an existing track. I want it to take elements of the original and take it somewhere the original artist couldn't, or wouldn't. That's my idea anyway. I understand that some of these remixes are blasphemy to people who really revere the original material. But hell, it's just a way to do something a bit ... social, I guess you could call it. A musical handshake. Think of it as the original artist letting you know who or what is interesting to him or her and who they like to hang out with or associate with, exchanging samples or gizmos. Sometimes, but not often mind you, we're bigger geeks than our audience."
Ulver are now firmly established in their chosen style, having long since left extreme metal far behind. Instead of fretting over whether or not they would be accepted however, it seems Ulver were just keen to get on with the mutation, genres be damned.
"I think that that whole obsession with genre is a bit besides the point. Our main objective has never been to sidestep or swap audiences. That's just too anthropological. Ulver is not a social project. I've never had any ambitions to get all homie with the new-jazz people or whatever. It really hasn't been something that I've thought much about."
One other individual who gives little time to such limiting considerations is famed producer Ronan Chris Murphy, who has worked with such eminent doyens of prog rock as King Crimson and Yes. How did this veteran muso fare in the entirely digital environment of Ulver's new aural world?
"He tuned in to our vision very well" warms Kris, "and he's been a fan for a long time. He sent me a mail five or six years ago offering us assistance should we ever want to work with someone external. So when we started to think it might be cool to bring in another set of ears we didn't have to look very far. Having him help us was an opportunity for us to get away for a couple of weeks, put our feet up on the table and have someone else handle the technical stuff for a change. At first we were a bit scared but Ronan handled everything as the old pro he truly is, and we bonded right away. We might even work on some projects together in the future, who knows."
This will not surprise anyone even remotely familiar with Ulver's trajectory in recent years. Just as with the much maligned prog rock, more sometimes can be more. In almost valedictory form, the back of 'Blood Inside' sports a kitsch crest of arms, resplendent with words 'Viva Megalomania'. And in a musical climate where lo-fi is this generation's watchword, Kris is unapologetic.
"The perfect motto" he grins. "Our very own 'Don't Panic'".