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Ulver | Blood Inside | review | metal | Lollipop


Blood Inside (Jester)
By Daniel Lukes

In a scene full of chancers, freeloaders, and phonies, Kristoffer Rygg (AKA Garm, Daddy G, Trickster G., Garm Wolf, etc.), is a true artist. Never shackled by the restrictive confines of individual scenes or genres, he flits from one to another, flirting with sounds to subvert them, ingesting them to spew them out again re-arranged, always offering his own peculiar angle on whatever it is he's grappling with at the time: Black metal, folk music, prog rock, concept albums, nocturnal ambient, take your pick...

When he parted ways with Arcturus after the release of their space-prog/post-black metal masterpiece The Sham Mirrors in 2003, we worried, perhaps forgetting that he now had free reign to take his main priority, Ulver, in whatever direction he wanted. We need not have fretted: Blood Inside is everything you could possibly want from an Ulver release, and more. Sonically, it's like Rygg – who now dresses as either Pope or surgeon, recently, but more of that later – has taken the most salient elements of latter-day Ulver (the grandiose, lush orchestration of 1998's Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the crackling urban electronics of 2000's Perdition City), and with a hand from King Crimson collaborator Ronan Chris Murphy, has distilled them into a nine-track work which both avoids Ulver's previous excesses and shows off his vision at its clearest, sharpest, and most poignantly effective yet.

Musically, what we have here is an organic mixture of orchestral ambience, trip hop-imbued electronica, metallic guitars, big band jazz exuberance, prog rock sensibility, and the frequent tangent into purely experimental awe, all garnished with Rygg's vocals which range from the soothing to the melodic to the confused to the passionate to the mournful to the deeply disturbing. Standout track "It Is Not Sound," for example, plunges in the twinkle of an eye from an eerie mellow ambient calm to a convulsing apocalypse of parping classical arpeggios, anguished, operatic vocals and machine-gun heavy metal guitars. Rarely does Blood Inside sit still, but like the recent work of ex-Mr. Bungle man Trey Spruance and his Secret Chiefs 3 project, it all seems to interconnect organically within itself, its diversity never feeling forced or disjointed.

The conceptual vision itself is something to behold, with Blood Inside making use of imagery from the medical (blood, hospitals, death) to the mystical (religion, ceremony, Heaven and Hell) in order to construct the prism through which it probes those age-old themes of love, mortality, and fear. At turns intricate, profound, and even old-school soulful, Blood Inside is as ambitious in its vision of cultural and social contemporary modernity as anything Radiohead have done, despite resolutely refusing to ever venture into purely pop territory.

Ultimately, as best showcased on the segue-into-the-beyond which is "Your Call" – a deeply chilling and haunting exploration of the fear and anguish that comes with the loss of a loved one, replete with unanswered ringing telephones – Blood Inside depicts a modern world in the grip of empty dread, existential doubt, and spiritual confusion, and is thus no easy listen. If you're prepared, however, to dig deep within yourself in order to wrestle with some of your most hidden nocturnal anxieties – and enjoy the process to boot – you really need to hear this record. Not only because this is probably the most meaningful and important record Rygg will ever make, but also because it's been far too long since a record this deep and involving came out of anywhere near what rock music's been offering of late.


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