Ulver
Perdition City

Ulver in its current phase is undisputedly its most creative, explorative and, furthermore, important. While Ulver’s old legion of fans would rather hear a follow-up to the mesmerizing black metal triumph, Bergtatt, there’s simply no point at this stage to regress to past glories. They are what they are. Perdition City, comparatively, is just as pertinent in Ulver’s body of work, for it opens up new vistas of sound for adventurous listeners to explore, experience and traverse. That is if you – the recipient – are ready to listen to Perdition City as a different Ulver, one that’s far more savvy in sound and vision.

This isn’t a metal album nor is it meant to be heard as such. True, due to Ulver’s previous involvement, the overall atmosphere on Perdition City is to the tune of a darkened slant – that’s a given. But inside Trick 07 Lucifer rests behind a wall of computers, firewire cables, a few Korg keyboards and, God forbid, a turntable or two. Perdition City is a smarter, more technically and sonically proficient Dark One that uses pulses, spliced rhythmic drum patterns and picturesque dynamic to convert the open and susceptible rather than parlay the conventions of Black Sabbath to do the same line of work.

Take, for example, opener “Lost in moments.” For a kick-off track, “Lost in moments” is bold in its statement. It’s not prevalent until Perdition City closes, but “Lost in moments” is the album’s most brilliant track, a calamity of cadence and rigid industrialism. Furthermore, the saxophone Rolf Erik Nystrom careens off into the nether regions of sound, forming something in-between free jazz and smoky lounge music. The piece is gorgeous to behold, and, more so, when listened to on headphones. Then consider “Porn piece or the scars of cold kisses.'” The cut is one track subtitled into two segments, displaying Ulver’s perverse sense of rhythm and vibe that would have DJ Shadow (“Midnight”) stopping his Technics to hear the impressive yet haunting soundscape. It’s a movement of saturnine proportions, but also of incisive craftsmanship, where nuclear-powered drum beats merge beautifully with the urban intensity of decaying scenery; something which Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy VII) crafts equally well.

And then there’s Perdition City’s other powerhouse: “Hallways of always.” This is luciferian trip hop at its darkest, cunning and most memorable. Crisp, profound drum loops psychotically collide with atmospheric piano flourishes and a background of busy electronics scraping, oscillating and short-circuiting to shape a uniform, introspective sound expression. “The future sound of music,” conversely, is a cybernetic angelic cry, stunning in its panoramic simplicity. Piano chording grounds the marionettes of its electronic cousin the keyboard while the surge of drum and bass near the end of the track blankets the careful precision of what’s established previously with a smattering of well-deserved low end. “Dead City Centres” further cements Ulver’s tinkering with different forms of jazz. The track’s twisted Twin Peaks-style relaxed jam recalls some rundown center city club, where the regulars engage in small talk and unearthly pleasures.

Perdition City does have its nadir, however. Like most soundtracks, there’s always some pop song tacked on the end of a perfect score. Such is the case here. “Nowhere/catastrophe” features Christophorus G. Rygg (aka Trickster G.) using his vocal talents to establish a proper song, but in its pursuit to nail a catchy tune, Rygg and his cohorts end up ruining Perdition City with something rather ordinary. Instrumentally, the song is fantastic – especially near the close. There’s just far too much normality in this song to sit comfortably next the album’s otherworldly tracks. Ulver is unquestionably at a high note in its post-metal career with his its newest work. Sure, there are still soundscapes to iron out, beats to manipulate and songs to sample, but, in the end, Perdition City is a mammoth work of electronic genius.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Dick
March 26th, 2000

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