Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (2017)
Ulver’s very mild flirtations with electronic music in the past should have apparently been seen as a forewarning of what was to come. With that, however comes the band’s unpredictable nature; you simply never know what you are going to get next. An album of accessible, yet dark, electronic, pop-structured tracks was never going to be anyone’s guess, but here we are with the Norweigan’s lucky album number 13 I suppose. The Assassination of Julius Caesar was branded a pop album by media immediately upon it’s release. This is not a pop album. Yes, as already said, its accessible, it has huge hooks but its the intricacy of sounds used, the attention to detail both instrumentally and lyrically, that elevate this album far beyond the realms of mortal pop. There’s a depth and longevity to The Assassination of Julius Caesar that will leave your mind both intrigued and puzzled. You simply won’t hear these songs on mainstream radio. Ever. This album is too good for that.
The Ides Of March – the notorious date on the Roman calendar that was known for religious ceremonies, is now synonymous with the death of Gaius Julius Caesar. Stabbed 23 times in an act of utter cowardice led by several Roman senators, did Caesar need to die? What sort of person was Caesar? Was he a politician of the people or was he using his political stance to gain more and more power? Nevertheless, his demise was in line with history’s timeline where Rome moved from being a Republic with elected officials to being an Empire ruled by a sole emperor. Was this what the senators were fearing? Was Caesar’s assassination indeed pointless? One of these emperors was the insane tyrant Nero.
Opening track “Nemoralia” is almost deserved of its own thesis. With references to said Roman Emperor Nero’s burning of Christians in 64AD for their use as human torches sung amidst a stunningly eloquent chorus, its that dichotomy of light and dark that hits you. The darkness of subject matter masked in a sweet, sugary velvet cloak. In the same song, Princess Diana’s tragic night in Paris is also referenced, carried afloat that aforementioned sweet melody. Tracks like “Southern Gothic” and “Angelus Novus” croon with almost infinite style and grace. There’s a spellbinding beauty that entrances the listener – to say this music is powerful would be a vulgar understatement. “Transverberation”, with its airy synths and spacious sound design, focuses on religious aesthetics, referencing the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and also St Teresa of Avila, who was the Catholic Church’s most revered mystic and spiritual nun, she advocated austere and contemplative religious life in isolation. Nine minute “Rolling Stone” finishes with a two and half minute experimental electronic jam preceded by a electronic pulse with a blissful female vocal melody line. Its almost to say, ‘yes, we can write catchy songs but check this out too, we’ll blow your mind and your speakers’.
The album’s somber and melancholic atmosphere leads to an almost poetic experience. Rygg’s vocals, the lush electronic instrumentation and orchestral strings make this album a bold step for Ulver – yet entirely progressive. Although there may be hints of Perdition City, Ulver’s thorough embrace of electronic music completely
alienates separates this album from the rest of their discography. Very highly recommended.
Available to buy from the band on Bandcamp here.