Ulver are a highly... polarizing band, to say the least. After their first three albums, each in a different style but all influence in some aspect or another by the 90s Norwegian Black Metal scene, they decided to leave their roots behind and start making avant-garde, industrial, electronica, dark ambient, 60s psychedelica, and other such genres. The discrepancy between the band's eras has caused much conflict among Ulver's fanbase. While I enjoy each of their albums, a special place in my library (and heart) is reserved for Nattens Madrigal - Aatte hymne til ulven i manden (or, in English, The Madrigal of Night - Eight Hymns To The Wolf In Man). And yes, that relatively lengthy title describes perfectly the contents of the music.
If you ask any random metalhead about Nattens Madrigal, chances are the first thing to come to mind is the production. The production here is almost indescribably raw and harsh, and I cannot deny that to the unseasoned ear, it will take quite a bit of getting used to. It may very well be a turn-off for some people. But that is not to say that the production quality is completely pointless, as I find it to be an extension of the atmosphere and musical content contained within. Despite the harsh, lo-fi sound, surprisingly, there is one aspect found here that almost no other black metal album ever provides: Beauty. The riffs are harsh, yet quite musical, with sections covering the gamut of human (or otherwise) emotions. Yet another aspect is the lyrical concept. The album is a tale of a man's transformation into a werewolf at the hands of Satan, and the events which transpire that mark his unholy gift as both blessing and curse. Although the lyrics themselves are written entirely in a Norwegian dialect, there are also English translations, which reveal the lyrics for what they truly are; some of the most haunting, almost romantic lyrics in all of black metal. The music reflects the story perfectly, with both unspeakable violence and haunting melody where called for.
In this manner, Nattens Madrigal stands as a testament to dichotomies. Nature's beauty and its relentless harshness. The wolf's majestic yet animalistic behavior. Human love and hate. Death as a part of life, and life as a part of death. No matter what your thoughts are on the music itself, it is without a doubt an experience that will stick with you for quite a while. Its morbid-yet-alluring atmosphere and poetic lyricism propel Nattens Madrigal beyond being simply "a black metal album" and into the realm of music as an art form. I absolutely recommend the album to any metalhead, as well as anyone interested in the concept of music as an art form, fans of Norwegian Gothic poetry, and those unconvinced of black metal's legitimacy as "music".
Hymne I - Of Wolf And Fear
Hymne III - Of Wolf And Hatred
Hymne VI - Of Wolf And Passion
Hymne VIII - Of Wolf And The Night