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Ulver: Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-1997

How black is my prog!

These days they’re renowned for their ambient, experimental approach, but in their early years, Ulver strayed on to the black side of the Norwegian tracks, as can be heard on this five-CD box set.

Well, actually, it offers up something of a dual perspective on the band, because while some of the music here is raw and slamming, it also brings out their more pastoral, orchestral delights. Trolsk Sortmetall might claim to focus on the band’s encompassing brutal, savage side, but much of the music contained herein actually accentuates the fact that, even in their early period, the band were laying the groundwork for what has happened since. Even on the primitive 1993 demo Vargnatt, which is showcased on the first CD, they hint at deeper musical ambitions in among the hypersonic dark riffs. This comes to some fruition on the 1995 debut album BergtattEt Eeventyr i 5 Capitier, which revels in jazz-rock and folk inflections. And by the time Kveldssanger came out the following year, the band had virtually abandoned black-metal pretexts for a style that had a lot more in common with Jethro Tull or recent Anathema than with Satan’s hordes. Oddly, it was only when they signed to Century Media that Ulver, who until then had been tied to the determinedly extreme metal Head Not Found roster, became a lot more straightforward as a metal band. All of which makes 1997’s Nattens Madrigal the most unappealing of the band’s supposed Black Metal Trilogy. It’s said that the band blew their advance on drugs, cars and clothes, and ended up recording this under-produced work in a forest. That said, the rehearsal versions included here are so much better than the finished item, you have to think the dreadful concrete sound was deliberate. Housed with a massive booklet, this isn’t so much a celebration of Ulver’s sinister metallic roots as an acknowledgement of their constant development.