Ulver: Flowers Of Evil (House of Mythology)

Storied Norwegian experimentalists return with eclectic new set

Released Aug 28th, 2020 via House Of Mythology / By Erick Mertz
Ulver: Flowers Of Evil (House of Mythology) Enigmatic hardly describes Ulver, a Norwegian experimental rock band whose massive, twenty-five year career has encompassed critically acclaimed explorations of black and folk metal on the way to their present synth-based, electrocentric incarnation.

In 2014, Ulver collaborated with American doom metal band Sunn O))) on their three-track album, Terrestrials. The recording was an unexpected fusion that gave an emotional edge to Sunn’s typically gloomy labyrinthine passages. That connection, however, was born more out of shared history between the bands than instrumental cohesion. Contemporary Ulver albums (like 2017’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar, often cited as the band’s triumph) sound more like Depeche Mode and Gary Numan.

Underneath all of the focus on decadent sounds throughout Flowers Of Evil, Ulver’s newest record, something darker and more serious brews. The album opens on One Last Dance a track that sets the tone for a stripped back and dour sound, featuring lyrics that foretell of something on the horizon. Humanity on the brink. This is about more than a literal dance. While the synth dance beats pound with glittering guitar flourishes, lyrically, vocalist Kristoffer Rygg delivers Biblical allusions on Apocalypse 1993, hinting at the second coming of Christ. He explores deep and damning topics, serious issues, as on Machine Guns And Peacock Feathers which dispenses with the catching love in the moment club mantra of yesteryear and replacing it with critiques of gun culture and lines about the deep anxiety that plagues us all. Or most of us. Those of us that are aware enough to see.

That clash of disparate warding impressions seems to be the underlying sentiment on Flowers Of Evil. Ulver delivers visions of a world on the brink of burning (more realism than fantasy in 2020) yet this is also a realm where the heat isn’t so hot we can’t grind against one another until dawn. For my tastes, the apex track on the record is Little Boy, full of churning synths, clashing vocals, clattering drums that coalesce in a disaster with a vocal performance on the chorus encapsulating the album’s title and lyrics about killing fields. The images evoked are powerful and bleak.

A few of the tracks on the disc are underdeveloped. The album’s genuine slow burner, Hour Of The Wolf is drab and colourless. The aforementioned Apocalypse 1993 breaks off abruptly rather than fades, ending before finding a satisfactory climax. The aptly titled Nostalgia is a catchy, dreamy 80’s synth track, but it misses on some of the record’s harsher, more visceral elements.

Ulver’s black metal days are long gone, as are their experimentations with glitch and electronic music. Through the forge of those earlier explorations of genres, an uncommon blend of deeply satisfying dark dance has arrived, marking them a unique band, ripe for exploration. 8/10