Blood Inside

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Ulver's self-imposed exile to the fringes of black metal's avant-garde persists unabated on 2005's Blood Inside; but the Norwegians' first non-soundtrack release in many a year also brings about some notable changes. Foremost among them being the decision to abandon some of the stark minimalism that characterized those efforts, so that by comparison, the predominantly synthesizer-wrought compositions on hand here sound positively sumptuous. Yet they are still far from noisy or explosive in a heavy metal sense, with only Ulver's reliably hellish (or at the very least cryptic) lyrics holding any last vestiges of the band's black metal origins. As it stands, those provide but a few of the startling juxtapositions strewn about this typically atypical and unpredictable Ulver experience: including everything from moody and haunting ambience ("Dressed in Black" and the title track), to off-kilter, "Varesian" blocks of symphonic sound ("Christmas" and "Operator"), to the occasional slice of urgent, quasi-techno rhythms of "The Truth" and "It Is Not Sound." The latter's sudden denouement into a mock-orchestral synthesizer solo (recalling at once Mozart and early Genesis) proves that really anything is possible, and the additional examples turned in by "In the Red" (featuring piercing, almost cartoonish stabs of James Bond-like, big-band jazz samples) and "For the Love of God" (imagine the Alan Parsons Project from hell!) help corroborate the fact. Finally, there's the beautifully eerie collision of antiquity (more classical arrangements and instrumentation) and modernity (actual cell phone rings) comprising album standout "Your Call." And if you've noticed an abundance of classic progressive rock references in the above descriptions, it's well worth noting that producer Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Yes, etc.) was on hand to affect many of these tracks (as were a bevy of guest musicians culled from the cream of Scandinavia's extreme musical arts). And, as one has come to expect from Ulver, the total end result is unfailing eclectic, remarkably inspiring, and never less than a brave step into the depths of the unknown.

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