Ulver - 1993-2003: 1st Decade In The Machines [Jester Records - 2003]10 years ago Ulver still was this childlike old-school black-metal band. Playing in haunted forests, running around with swords and paint, hanging out with people who were their mothers nightmare. You know, the usuall kid stuff. Vargnatt was their first wet dream come true, a demo full of Norsk black-metal hymns. Nowadays a collectors item, and a way to pay your bills if you happen to own it and sell it on Ebay.
The kids grew up a little and their first album Bergtatt was released in '94 on Head Not Found records. The music was a continuation of their Vargnatt days and still stands as one of the best black-metal releases of all time. To please their parents, girlfriends and teachers they didn't record another black-metal album but instead they recorded Kveldssanger, a beautiful acoustic folk album. Still as dark as their previous works, but a little easier on the ears. It was the first step into a different direction for the band.
But in '96 Ulver shocked everyone when they took a step back and released a raw black-metal album called Nattens Madrigal. Not everyone was happy with it. Parents were dissapointed, teachers suspended Ulver from high-school and Century Media were displeased because they thought Ulver wrote a gothic black-metal album. On the other hand, Nattens Madrigal is pretty good, but because of the production - if you can even speak of one - it's not easy to get into it.
In '98 Ulver were grown up and released Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on their own label Jester Records. Their black-metal past was almost gone, and instead they wrote a electronica/break beats/trip-hop/rock double concept album from The Marriage of Heaven book. It was a risky thing to do, but Ulver made it work, and it still stands as one of their finest releases. Black-metal fans were furious and demanded a change in bandname. "We demand Ulver to change their name to something less metal", spoken by Norsk_Ev1lcorpse on Usenet, spokesperson of the Norwegian innercircle of black-metal enthusiasts.
In '99 Ulver decided to release a statement in the form of the drum 'n bass/electronica/techno minded Metamorphosis EP. Then a year later they released another full lenght, called Perdition City. Another step was taken in a new direction. Ulver lessened the singing and found out how to succesfully use glitch and static noise in their music. This all continued on the IDM EPs: Silence Teachings You How To Sing and Silencing The Singing. Both were later combined on one CD called Teachings In Silence. Because Perdition City was subtitled as a soundtrack to an imaginary film; Ulver was contacted to do the soundtrack for a movie from Steve Ericsson called Lyckantropen. 2003 is Ulver's tenth birthday and they celebrate it with the release of 1993-2003: 1st Decade In The Machines, one very interesting remix album.
So what is this 1st Decade In The Machines all about you might ask. The album is a 79 minutes long look at Ulver's past. Almost every Ulver release has tracks featured on 1st Decade and 14 different artists remixed it all into a completely new experience. Okay, I especially miss Kveldssanger, and Metamorphosis is also missing, but I think they did cover every other release, even Vargnatt. Which is transformed into an agressive glitchy noisefest with low bass by the legends themself. It's hard to hear any of their raw black-metal past in this track, since it's all mashed up into something completely different, but it is pretty good.
Alexander Rishaug's A Little Wiser Than The Monkey, Much Wiser Than Seven Men is a remix from A Memorable Fancy Plates 21-22 from the Themes... album. I do recognise the main riff from the song, but everything else is distorted, glitched and is really static and noisy. Information's Track Slow Snow is a remix from Silence Teaches You How To Sing. I like this remix, which is kinda laidback IDM, not bad. The Third Eye Foundation put their hands on Lyckantropen Themes. They didn't change a lot, but it does sound different and interesting. Upland's Lost In Moments remix is short and glitchy, really good. We get something different from Bogdan Raczynski, who put The Voice Of The Devil from Themes... in the mixer. It's one of the most interesting tracks on the album. Playfully 8 bit Nintendo sounds in an IDM shell. Martin Hornveth succesfully mixes Speak Dead Speaker from Silencing The Singing with spoken German texts in Der Alte. With the 10 minutes lasting I Love You, But I Prefer Trondheim (parts 1-4) from A. Wiltzie vs Stars Of The Lid we get a preview of the Nattens Madrigal string remake, with several samples from Perdition City. Personally this is my favourite track, since they don't go into the almost too easy IDM, glitch and static noise territory. It's ambient with strings and piano, and at it's best. Fennesz also remixed Perdition City on Only The Poor Have To Travel and it's the only track with some vocal samples, though they are not easy to hear. The album ends with V/Vm and Merzbow doing their thing. As you might know, this is noise. Personally, not my cup of tea, but according to fans, two fine tracks.
Most - if not all- artist featured on 1st Decade are from the IDM, glitch scene. This is not a huge suprise since Ulver has been doing this kind of music for the last few years. Still it would've been nice to hear someone from outside this scene. As collegue Martijn Busink suggested to me, a dub version of Kveldssanger would've been great. And I miss the vocals. I know it's hard to succesfully incorporate vocals in IDM and remixes, though it can be done (check out the Kid606 song Secrets 4 Sale for instance).
Nevertheless 1993-2003: 1st Decade In The Machines is a really good remix album. It's an interesting release for long time Ulver fans, but also for people who are just starting to get into this kind of music. I wouldn't buy this if it's gonna be your first Ulver album. But everyone who is into their electronic period can easily pick this up. So, happy birthday Ulver and a toast to another 10 great years. Hoera!Niels van Rongen