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Bergtatt (1995)

Bergtatt is the first full-length from the Norwegian black/folk metal band Ulver. Released in February 1995, on the record label Head Not Found, this album has gone on to attain high levels of praise, for one reason or another, despite being very weak and lacking real creativity. While these guys may have dabbled in black metal, using some of its techniques at times, they never belonged and this was proven as time went on.

It cannot be said enough that Bergtatt is an incredibly overrated album. Most likely, one reason for the high praise it receives is because the masses are simple-minded. If a band is doing something that they don't understand, many will assume that it is on a higher intellectual level than they are and, not wanting to seem ignorant, will hail it as brilliant. There is nothing impressive going on, here. Mixing elements that do not belong together is not a sign of musical maturity, rather it just displays that the band was incapable of creating anything meaningful within the established boundaries of the genre. What this L.P. is, is a clear example of what happens when musicians attempt to jump on a bandwagon of something that is popular, without truly understanding it. What they really wanted to do was to make flowery, limp-wristed trash, but as black metal had become popular in the underground and their fellow countrymen appeared cool to them, they decided to steal some elements of this sound, without showing any real comprehension of what it meant. With this record, Ulver absolutely defecates all over what black metal is supposed to be about. The soft guitar riffs and mellow leads, along with the abundance of clean vocals, just screams easy listening. Hailing from Norway and tossing a painting of some trees on the cover is not enough to be counted among the like of Darkthrone or Burzum. There is nothing dark about this music, at all. Even the 'pure' black metal moments are generic and meaningless, and those are usually undermined further by the cheesy Folk elements. It seems clear that, even if these guys had tried to make a real black metal record, they possessed too little knowledge or passion about it, other than ripping off their peers. Even the most 'true' riffs sound like throwaway melodies from Gorgoroth or Enslaved. The harsh vocals are rather generic as well, sounding like an amalgamation of some of the better-known vocalists in the scene. This makes lower-tier stuff like Kronet Til Konge sound like a classic, by comparison.

The production is rather strange. The black metal sections are fairly rough and things kind of run together, at times. The drums, in particular, become quite muddled during the fast parts. The guitar tone is not too bad, and has a pretty cold feeling during those brief times when it goes unmolested by the other nonsense. That said, many of the softer elements possess a clarity that does not mix well with the rest. The leads sound uncharacteristically clear and the same goes for the acoustic passages and the clean vocals. It just does not sound very natural seems to further exemplify the clash of styles. The vocals are too high in the mix, clean and harsh, though the latter may be helpful in adding some small sense of roughness to the sound.

Bertatt is an album that was made to try to capitalize on the hype in Norway. It is painfully obvious that Ulver had no true passion for black metal and got bored with it, very quickly. This may account for the sparseness of such passages. Far more time and attention was given to the Folk side of things, though these guys did little to try to reconcile the two styles with one another. It all comes off as very sloppy and contrived. This may best serve as a gateway album, to appeal to listeners that prefer something soft and easygoing, while giving them small doses of generic black metal. Don't buy into the claims that this is the product of genius. Definitely preview before buying, if you are still curious about it. If at all possible, avoid this.
(20 Sept. 2012)


After releasing a couple albums that had little or nothing to do with Black Metal, Ulver returned in 1997 (or 1996, according to their official site) with Nattens Madrigal. This album featured a much different approach and sounded like a completely different band, for the most part. While Bergtatt featured a mixture of generic Black Metal with an overuse of folk parts, Kveldssanger abandoned the Metal, altogether. So it was a shock to many when the band changed their sound, once again, this time opting for an extremely raw and minimalist approach.

My first impression upon hearing this album, years ago, was that this was Ulver's belated response to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. Other than an isolated acoustic break in the first track, the entire album consists of blast beats and high-speed tremolo melodies. Musically, this is about as primitive as Ulver ever managed to sound, and they did a fine job of it. One has to wonder if they were serious with this record or just taking the piss out of some of their peers. Either way, the result is not bad, at all. While the style of playing is similar to early Darkthrone, the actual melodies are quite different and most of the songs feature more than just a couple riffs. The atmosphere of the melodies is a far cry from that found on Transilvanian Hunger, as this is not nearly as dark of an album. The average tempo is a little faster as well, as if the record is playing at double speed. Even though these guys are utilizing different techniques for this release, the actual melodies are still quite similar to what they did in the past, giving the album a lighter feel than one would expect. As Nattens Madrigal progresses, the riffs get weaker and weaker.

The production is the real focus, here. Ulver stripped things down as much as possible, without straying into garage territory. The guitar tone is razor-sharp and pierces your ears almost to the point of bleeding. It is not exactly a cold sound, just sharp and painful. The buzzing echoes in your skull for hours after the music ends. The drums are fairly limited, being just high enough in the mix to keep time but not really possessing any sort of character. The vocals are quite strained and intense, adding to the overall effect. The lyrics are in archaic Danish, which also lends a bit of an obscure vibe to Garm's voice. This was all about creating a sound that was raw and ugly, and the band succeeded in this. It is too bad that their songwriting skills did not match the sound, since it demonstrated that they had a weak grasp on what they were doing. Rumour has it that the band recorded this L.P. in the forest, though that seems quite ridiculous and implausible.

Nattens Madrigal is a fairly average album. It is decent for those that wish to hear something with an extremely raw sound, but the actual content is lackluster and only a couple of tracks stand out. This is one of those releases that gets hyped to death, but fails to deliver. It may satisfy the Century Media crowd, but real Black Metallers should pass this up and invest their time in something more worthy.
(6 Nov. 2011)

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