Album: Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler
Genre(s): Heavy Metal
Subgenre(s): Black Metal
Length: 34 minutes
Label(s): Head Not Found
01. Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild
02. Capitel II: Soelen Gaaer Bag Aase Need
03. Capitel III: Graablick Blev Hun Vaer
04. Capitel IV: Een Stemme Locker
05. Capitel V: Bergtatt – Ind I Fjeldkamrene
Ulver Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler Review
Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler, meaning “Spellbound – A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters”, is the debut album of Norwegian band Ulver. Bergtatt is an irregular album within the second wave of black metal in that it shows a young band embracing a then still-new and growing subgenre of music while melding it with outside influences, ultimately running contrary to the trends and conventions of the scene. This album would later proved to be a front runner for the fusion genre of blackgaze – an unorthodox hybrid of black metal and the shoegaze subgenre of rock music – which emerged a decade or so later.
Translated into English as “Lost in the Dark Forest” the first song, or chapter as per the format used in the song titles, presents the listener with one of the most accessible black metal songs of the album’s era. The young singer and lyricist Kristoffer Rygg, known by the pseudonym “Garm” at this time, has a light voice that sounds as though he is gently calling out through the distortion like a person’s figure emerging from the mist as they approach you.
With any knowledge of black metal you would expect him to turn into a shrieking harpy as the song mutates into a frenzy of wrathful black metal dominated by overbearing blast beats from drummer Erik Olivier Lancelot. Somehow this never happens and the listener is only snapped out of the hazy, distortion-induced trance by the sudden transition to an acoustic guitar interlude nearly 6 minutes in. As good as the performance is, the transition to this is jarring to the point of upsetting the flow of the song. However, the transition back to black metal is well-executed and the electric guitar lead playing to the conclusion of the song is both tasteful and memorable.
It does not take long to recognise that Bergtatt was created from a black metal foundation and punctuated with outside influences. Most notably this outside influence comes from folk music. It often comes in the form of interludes but there are longer segments in other chapters. Flautist Lill Kathrine Stensrud gives her talents to Chapter 2 to create a pastoral feel when mixed with the acoustic guitar and this song somehow ends with a short and gentle acapella outro. She also performs backing vocals on Chapter 4 which sees Ulver playing a straight hand throughout this piece. Ulver fully realise their folk tendencies here and it makes for a standout moment on Bergtatt but some black metal enthusiasts might find this piece wanting.
The preceding Chapter 3 leans heavily into black metal but bassist Hugh Mingay still remains prominent in the mix. He adds a certain moody atmosphere through the use of a slow and hypnotic hook and Ulver adds a sample of a gunshot, which rings out in the middle of all this, just in case there isn’t already enough chaos blasting out your speakers.
Following another uneasy transition, which could have been compelling if it was developed further, the frantic black metal changes into an up-tempo acoustic segment. Later there is another sample but this time of the footsteps of someone stumbling through a forest for a good minute. Thematically it follows the narrative of the lyrics and has a somewhat cinematic quality to it when mixed it in with the piano piece courtesy of Steinar Sverd Johnsen (Arcturus) but it only takes away from his playing but the sample goes on for far too long.
Chapter 5 is the finale to Bergtatt and it continues the fusion that listeners will be well acquainted with by this point. When the song fades out with some sound effects, it is briefly revived for another acoustic outro. However, given how quiet it gets for a few seconds it almost comes across as a separate song. This further demonstrates that these contrasting genres are not always melded together as skilfully one might wish even if Ulver are proficient with both on their own.
Ulver have never been a band to be pigeonholed, even when looking back on the very beginning of their career, and their willingness to unapologetically experiment and follow their own guiding star allowed them to be true to their own artistic vision and create their own niche in or outside of any music scene.
Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg: Vocals
Havard “Haavard” Jorgensen: Guitar
Torbjorn “Aismal” Pedersen: Guitar
Hugh “Skoll” Stephen James Mingay: Bass
Eric “Aiwarikiar” Olivier Lancelot: Drums
Lill Kathrine Stensrud: Backing Vocals, Flute
Steinar Sverd Johnsen: Piano