Ulver - Nattens madrigal: Aatte hymne til ulven i manden (1997)Release ID: 286
Where Ulver truly extended their claws, Nattens madrigal is challenging yet brilliantly executed black metal.
There was a lot to be excited about on hearing that Norway’s Ulver were set to release their third album. Their debut Bergtatt was an incredible mix of black and folk metal that had quickly positioned itself as one my all-time favourite records. While its entirely acoustic follow-up Kveldsangger hadn’t made anywhere near the same connection for me personally, the news that Nattens madrigal would return to black metal filled me with optimism. After only Garm, Håvard and AiwarikiaR performed on Kveldsangger, it was great to see Aismal and Skoll re-join the pack, suggesting there was every chance Ulver were about to repeat the magic of Bergtatt before the year was out. I was first in line to purchase the album, and as would be the case with many fans, I was placed firmly on my ass after pressing play. It was this day that Ulver taught me in no uncertain terms to never put restrictive expectations on where this band will venture next. It’s a lesson I would be required to recall for all future Ulver releases, as the band members jump from one genre to the next, simply refusing to repeat themselves. Once you accept that Ulver care nothing about what you as the listener want to hear and just hop onboard whatever journey they wish to take next as individuals, their work becomes far less shocking and challenging. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet accepted this at all back in 1997, which is why the insanely lo-fi and raw black metal cacophony coming out of my speakers was nothing if not disappointing.
My first reaction to Nattens madrigal - Aatte hymne til ulven i manden, which translates as Madrigal of the Night – Eight Hymns to the Wolf in Man, was that it was taking the piss. The blatantly intentional lo-fi production, complete with excess feedback and an overabundance of treble, seemed to be a joke at the expense of underground black metal. There were rumours floating around early on that the album was recorded in some remote forest in Norway, and further suggestions that the Ulver members used a four-track cassette recorder so that they could spend the significant Century Media budget on Armani suits, cocaine and beer. Once the shock subsided, a couple of intense listens to Nattens madrigal were enough to convince me that this album is certainly no joke, nor was it recorded in a forest. The sound is exactly the way Ulver wanted it to be, and despite the abrasive rawness of the whole thing, the drums, guitars, vocals and even the bass are always audible. When asked about the forest rumour, vocalist Garm’s answer was simply that there is no electricity in a forest. I’ll say it right now that you wouldn’t be able to achieve this finely balanced extremity using a generator and a tape recorder in the middle of a forest. The budget reallocation rumour may have more truth to it however. After all, this is the first and last Ulver release to be found on the Century Media catalogue. You can just imagine the expressions on the faces of the Century Media execs when Nattens madrigal destroyed their eardrums.
Is Nattens madrigal a rip-off of the likes of Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger? Maybe, but Ulver took that obvious influence and gave it their own special touch. There’re a lot of fantastic melodies on this album, which is not really expected for such a nasty black metal production, and the added folk injection in Hymne 1 – Wolf and Fear and short ambient connectors that separate each track give the album some breathing space, along with a strangely distinctive feel. While AiwarikiaR’s drumming is pretty much blasting all the way through and Garm’s perfectly executed vocals don’t venture far from typically venomous black metal fare, Håvard and Torbjørn execute stacks of hypnotic riff variations at extremely high speed. Once you accept the exceedingly trebly and muffled production, which admittedly takes a few listens to embrace, there are some killer black metal tracks on Nattens madrigal, which is why it’s held in such high regard by so many. It’s consistent in quality too, with every track offering up great, majestic riffs, but my favourites would have to be Hymne II - Wolf and the Devil, Hymne VI - Wolf and Passion and Hymne VIII - Wolf and the Night. Just as with the album concept, which follows a man who succumbs to lycanthropy, Nattens madrigal is where these men truly became the wolves that their name suggests. It’s not an album that can be recommended to everyone, as it’s likely to challenge all but the most ardent black metal fans. I say that from experience, as I’ve probably added half a star every couple of years for the last decade, as Nattens madrigal continues to sink its claws in deeper.
An experimental electronic band named Ulver started off as folk-black metal in their debut Bergtatt. Then they took out all of their metal in their folk album Kveldssanger. And where did they put all their leftover black metal? In this album, Nattens madrigal! They also spent all their recording money on drugs and a Corvette just so they could record the album in a forest using a tape recorder. Of course, that's just a rumor, but with this harsh raw production, you might think that was real...
Try to find any acoustic folk in this album. Spoiler: There's almost none. This is raw punishing black metal with vicious guitar and shrieks. Though within the chaos is some great melody, and the lyrics are centered around wolves in the dark night, with each track being deemed a "Wolf Hymne".
The opening track "Fear" explodes into the harsh raw extremeness throughout the first minute. Then the second minute is a nice beautiful acoustic section. You might think they would have more to bring back the Bergtatt sound, but that's not the case here. The chaos returns at the start of the 3rd minute and is like that for the rest of the album, minus some brief ambient intermissions between tracks. The soloing gets totally ripped in "The Devil". With speedy tremolo in "Hatred", another furious composition is made!
"Man" has emotional atmosphere in the raw black metal sound, leading up to a fierce ending. Another notable highlight for me is "The Moon" which has given me an effect where I'm happy about this even though the sound that already summarizes this album is far from what I'm used to.
I can say the same about "Passion" which is my personal favorite of the album, in which the searing madness is surrounded by the melodic beginning and end. The ending riff of "Destiny" works brilliantly with this lo-fi production and aggressive drumming. "The Night" has the last of this incredible guitar, and I'm both sad and glad that the band would discard their extreme sound in subsequent albums.
Nattens Madrigal is one of the fiercest albums I've heard in black metal while having some melody in those raw sinister tremolos. Garm was also in Arcturus and Borknagar at the time, but this Ulver album shows him unleashing the most of his snarling rage. Probably one of the best examples of the heavier side of black metal for me!
Favorites: "Fear", "The Moon", "Passion", "The Night"
Oh Ulver, how I have gone in and out of their music for a while. I have listened to Bergtatt before in the past, but it's been a while so I can't say my feelings today but I do remember enjoying it. I absolutely adored the "Assassination of Julius Cesar", and Perdition City but they have so many other albums and no two are alike. This is their other black metal album after Bergtatt, and it's really interesting to go back and listen to this now after hearing their evolution in styles. Surprisingly, I see people still praising Ulver after their tonal change but still revere these albums. I'm even surprised at myself that I have not listened to this one before in my music ventures. This is a classic absolutely, however there are so many times, VII stands out in my mind, where it becomes very repetitive and not enjoyable in the least to suffer through. However, we have useful skip buttons to those moments in this album where otherwise I'm actually enjoying myself. I was close to giving 4 stars, because for the most part I really did enjoy but those repetitive moments do stick out when listening and it's been a minute of the same note played over and over.
While I've always had time for the Ulver's infamous 1995 debut album "Bergtatt: Et eeventyr i 5 capitler", I have to admit that it's never struck me as being as mind-blowing as other people seem to find it & I actually don't find myself returning to it all that often. I guess the folkier side of atmospheric/Pagan black metal probably isn't my strong suit but I've never doubted the album's credentials. I did quite enjoy their entirely folk driven sophomore record "Kveldssanger" from the following year though & found myself giving it a fair few spins over the course of the next year, predominantly when I was winding down or when my less metal-inclined friends & family were around. But let's be honest, if Ulver were ever going to really grab me it was going to be via their surprisingly grim & ultra-raw third record "Nattens madrigal: Aatte hymne til ulven i manden" which strangely saw the band regressing to the most primitive of black metal aesthetics.
I often see fans of your more underground & extreme black metal maxing lyrical about this record & yes there's a fair bit to like about it but there's also something that prevents me from letting it fully engulf me. There's very little doubt that it's a tribute to Darkthrone's unholy trinity because it takes exactly the same predominantly tremolo-picked route as "Transilvanian Hunger" & is presented with a very similar lo-fi production to "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" with Garm's fantastic vocals being the spitting image of Nocturno Culto's & the relentless drumming having almost no variety whatsoever. But there's something different about the use of melody here in that it evokes a more positive atmosphere which is a fair bit less imposing than that of Fenriz & co. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that some of the tremolo picked riffs possess a similar feel to a band like Deafheaven in that they're almost uplifting &, while that certainly works for Deafheaven's more polished offerings, it's not something that I'd suggest would usually be my cup of tea within the context of a much rawer black metal album. "Nattens madrigal"s filthy sound is certainly primitive but it's not always particularly dark or cold & that's something that places a cap on my enjoyment level a touch. It's also very heavily weighted towards the extreme ends of the tracklisting with the two best tracks kicking off proceedings, the quality level dropping a bit throughout the entire middle of the record & things taking an upward curve again at the end.
In saying all that, I do regard "Nattens madrigal: Aatte hymne til ulven i manden" as Ulver's most appealing metal record & did come pretty close to awarding a 4/5 rating, only to fall just short due to the inclusion of "Hymne VII - Wolf and Destiny" which doesn't do much for me at all. At it's best this is a very solid example of true Norwegian black metal but it just doesn't reach those heights consistently enough to see me regularly returning to it.
For fans of Darkthrone, Immortal & Gorgoroth.
There's an intensity to Ulver's third full length that is as warming as it is abrasive. Lot's of black metal records use the harsh tremolo of the riffing to push the extremity of their sound but on Nattens Madrigal... there's an edge to that corrosive fury that forms a structured layering to the chaos. In that regard, you can feel each track building, evolving and taking on new form throughout. Far be it from an unexpected trait but the intelligence behind this record is obvious and celebrated really well across all eight tracks.
I can't always put my finger on the true pulse of the album's more abrasive moments but that is not to say that it is lost as such; at it's core this album is pure black metal fury at its very finest. But what appears to be a very fast or uptempo track actually feels more laboured upon closer listen, almost like the true dark heart of the record refuses to be suppressed by its own fiery rage and is constantly striving to thrive and make it's presence felt.
The album has it's share of sonics too. Bold and blazing, not fully forward in the mix yet still so audible and virulent, they contextualise the refinement of the record perfectly. At the same time there is still a definite sense of the album not suffering from any of the obvious poise and capability present. Tracks start clumsily at times and can end suddenly in mid-full flow, the authenticity value of this as a trve black metal album is high. The album is crudely melodic with only a handful of the more ambient/atmospheric passages present on the record.
It's hard to find fault with an album of such unadulterated and unbridled barbarity that at the same time offers such a depth in the sound whilst maintaining a familiar howling coldness. Definite must have black metal right here.