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Ulver (With Tromsø Chamber Orchestra): Messe I.X–VI.X

Album Review

Norwegian legends create psalms of beauty and pain.

Dark, alien, mysterious. And that’s just the album’s covermount. Those arch-experimentalists Ulver return with an offering as solemn and monstrously beautiful as 2007’s Shadows Of The Sun. Messe fuses echoes of the Catholic Mass – fragments of prayer, hints of sacrifice and the cross – with Gorecki-like orchestrations, krautrock and electronica.

This is music that takes the vile shadow of history and – with unexpected sensitivity – both moves and chastens. Standout tracks include the understated pathos of ambient-inflected As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples With Ghosts Of A Bloody Past. Here sounds of violence interweave with plangent strings. 

Equally Noche Oscura Del Alma achieves a tone of alienation and transcendence in its contrast between its disconcerting music and the spoken, blackened words of St John of the Cross. It’s as if Ulver were channelling their black metal origins via Philip Glass. 

However, lyrics such as those of Mother of Mercy (‘Oh mother, mother of mercy, cradle of all’) brings together the musical and intellectual themes here. 

With Messe, Ulver bring us a post-rock response to Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde, and it is astonishing.

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