Essential Black Metal Listening: ULVER Kveldssanger
Yes, I'm that asshole who decides to write about the Ulver neo-folk classic Kveldssanger, a decidedly non-black metal record, for Black Metal History Month. Why? Because I genuinely believe that this album plays a key role in the history of the genre. Recorded by a bunch of Norwegian teenagers, the band themselves have categorized this as an "immature attempt at making a classical album." And in many ways it is. Though the orchestrations are interesting and the compositions wonderful, there is a very real sense of youth about this record. Kveldssanger represents a lot more than that, though: it shows us how far and how rapidly black metal had been able to expand by 1996 and suggests that there was a lot more to this genre than Satanism and church burning.
In regards to the rest of Ulver's Black Metal Trilogy obviously Bergtatt spoke to a very different reality, and of course the difference between Kveldssanger and Nattens Madrigal is like night and day. What made Kveldssanger special, though, was how organic it felt, a sort of natural extension to what had been hinted at on Bergtatt and an appropriate reflection of the influence of bands like Emperor. Of course, Kveldssanger has gone on to be its own thing, extremely influential in its own right, and for many a stepping stone into the world of black metal. This is an album that has received almost universal praise because it reflects an ideology that so many of us connect with but manages to filter it through something that feels much more grandiose; even if it really just was teenagers playing arpeggios and adding chants, they were our teenagers and reflected a scene that we all love.
Kveldssanger has always stood out for two reasons: it is accessible and flowing, but beyond that it is honest. It reflects the pure nature of black metal whilst never reverting to the apocalyptic fury that the band would so readily embrace in later periods. I think that Kveldssanger resonated with so many people because when you listened to it for the first time in high school it felt like you were a part of something greater than yourself. It was a record you could show your parents and say "see! Black metal is art too!" This was a record that showed us that we could transcend common limitations and all work on something greater. Its influence showed exactly that, too… countless bands have referred to this record as essential in forming their sound, and very little of what we view as modern black metal would have been possible without these guys.
Throughout this article I have mentioned the relative immaturity of this album, but in a way I think that almost makes it more poetic. If you listen to Deathcrush you can tell that the people making it were very young, teenagers really, and that's part of what makes it so exciting. It feels cutting edge. The roots of black metal come from youthful anger and Kveldssanger reflects that, albeit in a totally different way. But that was the entire point of this record: to expand a genre and to move past early limitations. It's one of those albums that has come to shape all of us and proves that even early on black metal was destined to grow, divide and conquer.