Ulver’s seductive shadows lead to violent ends, coldly strange happenings on ‘Flowers of Evil’

Photo by Ingrid Aas

There’s a darkness that has enveloped us as humans, and no, I don’t mean the virus that’s raging out of control because we can’t be bothered with mildly inconveniencing ourselves. It started way before that, likely before any of us were even here, as humankind’s grip on our place on this earth slipped away, and we fell further into shame and, in some cases, apathy.

Long-running Norwegian band Ulver have tapped that vein for years and years, dating back to their origins in black metal but truly bubbling to the surface the past few years. “Flowers of Evil” is their latest and 14th, and it’s another dark, violent journey into the seamy underbelly of humanity, where death and darkness loom and our fall into further disgrace remains in progress. It’s also another incredible document from a band that has continued to do the unthinkable—completely bury their original sound and continue to grow in strangeness and appeal, so much so that their origins are almost unrecognizable. Almost. You can hear the seeds in that early work, but the band—vocalist/programmer Kristoffer Rygg, keyboardist/programmer Tore Ylwizaker, multi-instrumentalist Jørn H. Sværen, and gOle Alexander Halstensgaard—continue to open dark portals into electronic rock waves, some of it so catchy and danceable you might forget you’re hearing about a fiery cult death or someone left to suffocate. On top of this album, there’s also a book on Ulver’s history that’s being released, which you can find at the purchase links below.

“One Last Dance” kicks off the record, slowly merging into the scene as Rygg calls, “We have seen the burden god has put on the human race,” as the tempo kicks in. “We are wolves under the moon,” he reminds as the synth pushes back, the beats punch, and guitars warm up and call out into the night. “Russian Doll” is one of tragedy, a song about a girl born in 1989 who gets caught up in a love affair that turns deadly for her. “Two of hearts, one inside the other,” Rygg calls (is she pregnant?), but that isn’t as warm as it sounds as she’s found in the trunk of a car, capping off a darkly alluring song. “Machine Guns and Peacock Feathers” has synth strikes that feel like they come from the dead of night, sending strange chills that disassociate you from your body. Later on, a female voice calls out as the playing works into interesting textures and darkness. “Hour of the Wolf” stirs in thick murkiness as the keys plink, and the singing haunts. Rygg sings about “nights of broken glass,” which delves into themes of the 1968 Ingmar Bergman film that shares the name of the song title, complete with psychological turns and death in the night. It’s stirring and disturbing and could keep you awake.

“Apocalypse 1993” unearths David Koresh and the Brand Davidians amid synth jabs and references to the Book of Ezekiel. “Who is this man they follow?” Rygg wonders as he sees followers “dying for what they believe in,” a story the band lathers in dark synth and chilling melodies that push to the end. “Little Boy” lets steam roll in and melodies stir, as Rygg conjures visions of “Saint John the Baptist, his head on a plate.” Dark waves rush in as strangeness spreads, guitars cry out, and the track melts into fever dreams.  “Nostalgia” is a killer, a callback to the band’s origins in a world in which they don’t dabble any longer. “Norway, 35 years ago,” Rygg calls out, as the driving synth melody gets caught in your head. You can smell the chaos in the air as Rygg realizes the influence he and his contemporaries created, singing, “Those old records spinning over and over and over.” The playing shimmers in a moody haze, as the guitars agitate before a sudden end. “A Thousand Cuts” ends the record, an emotional final statement that starts quietly, as Rygg’s hushed vocals follow along the path he’s creating. “Sex and death by a thousand cuts,” he observes as horrors are all around, including a headless man holding scissors and a woman leaping to her death from a window. “The power of excess,” Rygg notes as tragedy befalls every ounce of this song before it washes into the night.

Ulver’s path through their career is unlike almost anyone else in this world, and here they are,  nearly three decades after their formation and still putting out fascinating records such as “Flowers of Evil.” This album is haunting, seductive, and disarmingly dark, which should not be a surprise to anyone who has grown accustomed to their rapidly changing world. This is another gem in a catalog that is one of the most diverse and mysterious in all of music.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ulverofficial/

To buy the album and/or the book, go here: https://store.houseofmythology.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.houseofmythology.com/

2 thoughts on “Ulver’s seductive shadows lead to violent ends, coldly strange happenings on ‘Flowers of Evil’

  1. Hey man, just wanted to let you know that in ur review of Ulvers Flowers of evil album you have listed wrong band members. Daniel O’Sullivan is not a part of this record. But Ole Alexander Halstensgaard (which u didnt mention) is.

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