SHADOWS OF THE SUN | INTERVIEWS | REVIEWS | PRESS RELEASE|
SHOW NO MERCY
By Brandon Stosuy
Pitchfork, September 26 2007
Fifteen years after launching as a straight-up black metal act, Ulver have transformed themselves completely. Album seven, Shadows of the Sun, rinses all traces of the Norwegian trio's past – it's an electro-tinged, classically inspired collection of dusky ballads centered on the welcoming baritone of Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg. Each song on Shadows swells and fades into the next, whether it's one of the band's own compositions or their horn and jazz-y bass accented cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude". You'll find "Funebre" at the band's MySpace and the rich organ laps of opener "EOS" here. The boys are dressing like water-walking members of Sunn O))) this time around, but from Fennesz guest spots to Pamela Kurstin and her theremin, it's a different sort of avant-garde.
Pitchfork: You're still occasionally associated with black metal, though your sound's been shifting incrementally, and now significantly, since 1992. Does the association bug you?
Kristoffer Rygg: It bugged me more before, around 2000. At that point where we were very set on drawing sharp lines and distinguishing between things, people, places. I also believed there was such a thing as new beginnings. But history haunts us and there's nothing you can do. I accept that, even though I still find it curious, of course, that two out of 15 releases are regarded, or included to such an extent. But hell, I guess it means you're are pretty lucky when you have fans who love both your first and your last effort spanning fifteen years. That's pretty rare; especially considering the inconsistent nature of our body of work. I also realize that if it hadn't been for our initial "success" as a black metal band, there's a good chance nobody would know we exist. Or care. Sometimes I'm not sure what I'd prefer.
Pitchfork: I'm interested in how you progressed from your early days to your current sound. What sort of aesthetic did you pull from for Shadows of the Sun? Chamber music, but what else? I hear church music – even the Beach Boys. I hear you studied classical composers for it. How did you decide to use electronics/piano, et al? Of course, there are still moments of dissonance and feedback, but you largely break from standard "rock" instruments. There's this general soft white noise sounds filtering throughout – and horns.
Kristoffer Rygg: There's no specific aesthetic other than a sense of the beautiful itself, I suppose. There's a connection to classical composition, that's pretty obvious. Some Wagner transpositions. Some Schumann warped beyond recognition etc. in there. "Funebre" is largely based on one single bar off Wagner and we have that little Chopin signature thrown in there as well. So yeah, even though we use fewer notes, the classical stamp is all over the record. Beach Boys? It's probably the vocal thing, that I am fond of clean-sung, layered, well-produced vocals and harmonies. That's another rarity these days. I wonder, where did all the sunshine pop go?
Pitchfork: Fennesz contributes – can you tell me about your collaborators for the project. How did you get in touch with him?
Kristoffer Rygg: In 2002, or around then, when he remixed a song off Perdition City. A couple of years later there was also this radical filmmaker, Paul Poet, who had a vision that if he got Ulver and Fennesz in the same studio it would culminate in the perfect score for his documentary. This is, by the way, something we both would love to do should the film ever be brought to fruition. And I wanted Christian to leave his signature on this album simply because I love his stuff, and he has a similar story, you know, to ours. He's not at home in his own genre. That "harsh" noise stuff does not appeal to me at all. It lacks the fingerspitzengefühl that turn songs like Christian's "Chateau Rouge" or "A Year in a Minute" into something so fucking special. He makes white noise sound like sunlight dappling in the Mediterranean.
Pitchfork: I may be influenced by the cover, but the whole thing sounds dusky to me... on the verge of night. What's the lyrical concept behind the record? You've mentioned it being your most personal outing. The lyrics are rather downcast, bleak.
Kristoffer Rygg: I agree. It is dusky. Dying sun kind of mood. There's no story line, but the sun is a recurring theme in many of the lyrics. Going down, death, loss, end, coming up, life, love, beginning, circles, nature. It´s a lot about just associating and thinking in images, and the cover just conveyed all of that. The solitary dark animal and the burning black earth.
Pitchfork: How does the cover of "Solitude" fit into the overall palette/mood of the piece?
Kristoffer Rygg: With its "Sunshine is far away..." and "The world is a lonely place..." set up against our rather similar observations, I think the song fits in nicely.
Pitchfork: Ulver's band photos usually involve some sort of costume. How'd you decide on the hoods this time around? The setting of the Sunn O)))? And what is it you like about these more theatrical images?
Kristoffer Rygg: Well, we're pretty serious boys. Black illuminati to the ninth degree, and we wanted to demonstrate that we can walk on water.
Pitchfork: Where do you see Ulver headed next?
Kristoffer Rygg: First, I am going to take some time off the whole music thing, and then we'll see. There's some soundtrack work in negotiation. And I always wanted to make a cover album consisting of obscure psychedelic music from the 1960s – all re-shaped and customized, Ulver style.
Pitchfork: How do you plan to recreate this sound live?
Kristoffer Rygg: I don't.