Ulver – Nattens Madrigal – Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden CD

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Official Brazilian CD edition by Century Media via Winter Productions.

Nattens Madrigal, for me, was an album that tested my limits on my first listen, as I imagine it was for many. It is, and was, infamous for the harshness of its mix. To date, this is literally the only album I have heard that was actually physically painful to hear. However, for those who have never been able to adapt to the original 1997 mix – utterly devoid of bass and sounding mostly like a swarm of hornets – there is hope. The 2016 vinyl reissue has been remixed, and now it no longer shreds the eardrums. At long last, Nattens Madrigal has been reduced to a level of rawness that is approachable for mere mortals.

I’m not certain if I would say that the remix harms or helps this album. It certainly makes it more approachable, but for those who have acquired the particular taste the original recording requires, it may be a slight turnoff. The main difference between the two is the presence of bass tones in the remaster, as opposed to their near-complete absence from the original. Immediately upon spinning up the opening track, the bass is not just present, but prominent in this mix. The presence of the bass makes this a more enjoyable listen in a cursory sense, but it also reveals how perfunctory the bass work on this album was in the first place. The much better news is that the guitar tone is no longer literally grating to the ear. I’ll leave my discussion of the remix at that.

As for the tracks themselves, there are no real surprises here. As it has always been, this is a masterwork of raw black metal, essentially the template from which all other efforts in the genre have crafted. Despite having always, even today, sounded like it was recorded with a potato, this is an album with undeniable songwriting talent behind it. Although this is a comparison that would likely make the members of Ulver’s collective skin crawl, this music is essentially black metal’s answer to KISS. The instrumentation here is as standard as imaginable, but the songwriting talent is leagues beyond their contemporaries. The guitars rarely do anything other than grim tremolo picking, the bass rarely does anything other than timidly follow the guitars, the drums rarely do anything other than blast beats in time with the guitars, and the vocals are never anything other than a snarl. The catch, though, is finding beauty in harsh, literally painful noise – the composition more than makes up for the instrumentation.

The opening hymn of this madrigal is as mystifying to me today as it was on my first listen. Inexplicably, the only acoustic passage reminiscent of Kveldssanger and Bergtatt is featured only one minute into this distorted disaster, setting up an expectation that more interludes of the same type are to come. Of course, there are no such other interludes. There are brief periods of minimalist ambient sounds and guitar picking, feedback, etc. that are featured in between tracks, but no other reprieves from the earsplitting assault of near-constant tremolo and blast beats. Whether one is interested in the types of soundscapes that can be created from such techniques is the essential question of this album. If the answer is no, there is nothing to be found here aside from near-literal battery of the senses. If yes, there is quite a lot to be discovered.

For me, the highlights here are hymns V and VI. The end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth are, to me, the seminal example of how to find beauty in ugliness. Nattens Madrigal consists mainly of harsh noise, but miraculously manages to be so much more than the sum of its parts. The infamous sound quality is what it is, and this album wouldn’t be what it is with any other style of production. Thus, I say, embrace the rawness and the cold. Nattens Madrigal is a classic.

$13.52

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