During the last two years Ulver have shifted from the safety zone of the studio towards a more traditional route, facing the music rather than hiding in the shadows. Everything can happen, and has. The new album, Wars Of The Roses, clearly reflects this.
With a long standing reputation for being unpredictable and unafraid of radical departures, the most subversive aspect this time is perhaps the band's increased accessibility; even touching on the polished sensibilities of pop and rock. The opening track «February MMX» is a striking example. But naturally with Ulver comes ambivalence. Fringe figures appear: horror connoisseur Stephen Thrower of Coil and Cyclobe, experimental guitar-guru Stian Westerhus along with British free improvisation legends Steve Noble and Alex Ward. They all play important parts on the album, their instant instincts perfectly aligned with Ulver's composed compassion. The familiar baroque menagerie of piano, wood and wind sit alongside the machines and the ghosts within.
The album ends with «Stone Angels», a long and winding dreamland narrated by Daniel O'Sullivan (who became a core member of the group in 2009). The text is written by acclaimed American poet and translator Keith Waldrop, an acquaintance of Jørn H. Sværen, the author in the band. It is, quite frankly, beautiful.
Thematically, the same is at stake as always with Ulver: the human condition and a world in fall. But this time the landscape is viewed from a bird's eye perspective, exposing culture and tradition rather than the personal vulnerability expressed on previous albums. In the words of Julian Cope:
«Ulver are cataloguing the death of our culture two decades before anyone else has noticed its inevitable demise.»