Album of the Day: Ulver, Nattens Madrigal – Aatte hymne til ulven i manden
It doesn’t matter whether the story of Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal is true or not; accuracy shouldn’t get in the way of a great story. Supposedly, after a folky black metal record and one straight-up folk one, the band got a hefty advance from Century Media for their third release. The band then proceeded to spend it on drugs, cars, and other things that had nothing to do with Nattens Madrigal. Instead, they recorded it on a four-track in a cabin out in the middle of the forest during a snowstorm. The album is extremely raw and lo-fi, and obviously intentionally so. One could argue that the band were making a statement on the music industry’s attempts to co-opt (and subsequently dilute) the then-burgeoning black metal scene. A better argument would be that the guys in Ulver liked money. Either way, Nattens Madrigal is unpolished and offputting in a completely thought-out, calculating way. It’s also one of the best (and arguably the best) raw black metal albums ever made.
Because Ulver had songwriting chops a notch above most of their contemporaries, Madrigal‘s songs are all written to suit it’s “minimal” production. The reflexive black metal riffs that make up the album’s permafrosted landscape all fade in and out of the tape hiss and general murky fuzz so common to raw black metal. When the band do sneak in an acoustic part (such as on opener “Of Wolf and Fear”) it doesn’t sound shoehorned in. But it also isn’t as integral to Ulver’s MO as it was on their first album. It’s jagged, it’s fierce, it’s ugly. Nattens Madrigal is a true black metal album through-and-through, sans epic amounts of ambient meandering (a la Burzum), goofy-ass keyboards (a la Emperor), or overly-grating vocals (a la Mayhem). By calling black metal on its shit, Ulver wound up making thoroughly no-bullshit black metal. It’s less a snake eating its tail and more a lizard bursting out of the belly of a rattler.
The Ulver we know now started to come into being almost immediately after Nattens Madrigal: their next album still had some frostiness to it, but from there, the band migrated toward the weird amalgamation of dark ambient and experimental music they make today. And it’s because they managed to perfect black metal. The riffs on Madrigal all fit squarely into their context; there’s no pining for better production to make out some of the good stuff. But seeing black metal as an extension of noise music (admittedly a thought process that would be co-opted during the hipsterati’s embracing of the genre), they shaped their approach to match it accordingly, creating a sheet of sound instead of throwing mud on some already-written songs. Ulver chose to leave black metal after that, seeing that it was just as repetitive and tunneling as the music itself. Many bands have left Norway’s tr00est contribution to metal (and possibly society), but most of them didn’t manage to completely nail the style before they left. Consider Nattens Madrigal a dropping of the mic. Black metal hasn’t really recovered since.