The legendary John Peel used to remark that his favourite band, The Fall, sounded “always different but always the same”.
The same cannot be said of Ulver, whose two-decade mission to confound and mesmerise their audience has seen them embark on all manner of bizarre detours, taking in everything from trip hop noir and freeform improvisations to 60s psychedelic pop and grandiose, goth-tinged rock along the way. If there is something that connects everything the Norwegians have done, then it’s more a feeling or an idea than anything that can be defined. In musical terms: a notional identity hewn from cosmic disquiet and the simultaneous smallness and enormity of human existence. With that in mind, maybe ATGCLVLSSCAP is more of the same after all.
It certainly helps that Ulver’s last two major releases were a wild and wonderful collaboration with Sunn O))) and a hallucinatory dalliance with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra: this next step along a profoundly experimental road was pieced together from 12 distinct live performances, wherein Ulver indulged themselves in the limitless joys of ‘free rock’. The pieces that have emerged have one foot firmly planted in the same soil as that Sunn O))) team-up, but there is momentum here, an atmospheric pull.
The album’s title comes from the initials of the 12 astrological star signs, and while it may be possible to interpret rambling but gripping groove-outs like England’s Hidden and Moody Stix as some perverse defence of twinkly-eyed hokum, the presence of some kind of hazy magick lurking in the sonic background is undeniable and hugely convincing.
Taken in its entirety, ATGCLVLSSCAP demands total surrender and engagement with Ulver’s fluid muse, but its finest moments – the labyrinthine, space rock stomp of Cromagnosis and the self-explanatory D-Day Drone – are fine, singular examples of how poignancy and potency can be wrung from an amorphous source. There’s a dash of King Crimson amid the sustained dissonance and a faint whiff of Fields Of The Nephilim in every reverb-drenched pulse, but in every other respect Ulver continue to transform themselves at will and the results are thrillingly unpredictable but predictably thrilling.