Ulver (Norwegian for “wolves”) is a multi-disciplinary musical group founded in Oslo, Norway and currently based in London, England. The band was formed by Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg in 1993, and the current line-up includes Rygg (vocal, programming), Jørn H. Sværen (misc.), Tore Ylwizaker (programming, piano) and Daniel O'Sullivan (guitar, piano, various). Since their first black metal release in 1993, Ulver’s style has ever been changing by combining elements of experimental, electronic and ambient music, avant-garde, rock, trip-hop, and their own innovations.
"Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler" is a folk-themed black metal album. The title Bergtatt literally translates as “mountain-taken”, but is more commonly used to describe someone who is stricken with awe. In Norwegian folk tales the word refers to people who wander off into mountains, lured by trolls or other mythical beings. The narrative of the album’s lyrics follows a woman as she becomes so mountain-taken. The subtitle means “An Adventure in 5 Chapters”. Bergtatt features a melancholic, fully acoustical song Een Stemme Locker (“A Voice Beckons”).
"Kveldssanger", Ulver’s second album, contrasts with Bergtatt as it uses classical guitars, cello and chamber chants, and completely eschews the black-metal elements of Bergtatt, while still having a folk theme. Garm has since remarked that Kveldssanger was an “immature attempt at making a classical album.” He later clarified this by saying that the performance was immature, yet the content is strong when their youth is taken into account.
The third album, "Nattens Madrigal - Aatte Hymne Til Ulven I Manden", was a return to black metal, more ferocious than Bergtatt was, with only one mellow acoustic interlude in the first track. The album is intentionally under-produced, akin to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, with buzzing guitars and rather muffled drums. There are rumours surrounding this album and its recording, the most famous being that the band recorded this album in a forest. Another and less-known rumor is that the band purposely recorded the album on a four-track cassette recorder and used the money that Century Media gave them for other things, for example Armani suits, haircuts, cocaine, beer, and/or a new car.
Themes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, released in 1998, was different from what Ulver, or even any other band, had made before. Tore Ylwizaker, a new composer and sound architect, paired up with Garm's expanding artistic visions and together they stepped over the boundaries of black metal aesthetics, creating a genre-defying work. In this album, the musicians blended electronics, industrial music elements, progressive metal and avant-garde rock, adding ambient passages. Lyrically, the album incorporates the entire text of the William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and features guest vocals. Despite confounding and perhaps alienating many fans of the band's first three albums, the album received widespread acclaim from critics within both the rock/metal and alternative music press. For instance, it was reviewed as 'album of the month' in several high-profile magazines such as Terrorizer, Metal Hammer and Rock Hard. It also ranked very high at many year's best polls that same year.
Ulver's next two releases, the EP Metamorphosis and full-length album Perdition City, were even more experimental than the “Blake Album”, and a lot more pensive. The Metamorphosis disclaimer reads: “We are as unknown to you as we always were”. The band had moved further away from rock and metal and into a more ethereal style, much like that of Coil. The use of programmed sound and atmospheric style is dominant here, unlike the previous albums. Neo-classical composer and film scorer Craig Armstrong may have been an influence on Ulver as his use of electronics and hip hop beats over strings and pianos is somewhat reminiscent of Ulver's later works.
The band followed up these two releases with two minimalist/ambient/glitch works Silence Teaches You How to Sing and Silencing the Singing. These works featured minimal melodies and often had subtle weird and unnatural noises throughout the song structures. Due to their individual rarity, they were later released together as “Teachings in Silence.”
Having proved their proficiency at making atmospheric electronic music, Ulver were hired to make music for cinema films Lyckantropen, Svidd Neger, and Uno.
In 2003, Ulver began making more symphonic music. They released A Quick Fix of Melancholy, which kept the minimalist, sparse stylings of their previous albums, while adding a much more expressive, dramatic, symphonic element, with various string sounds (most likely sampled) and various operatic singing styles.
In July 2004, the band finished recording their next album, Blood Inside, which was released on June 6th, 2005. With Blood Inside, the band stepped away from the more minimal styles they had been experimenting with previously. Bringing back more traditional rock instruments like guitar and acoustic drums (since 1998 the band had used primarily digital drums and/or sampled beats), and combining them with real and synthetic classical instruments, brass horns and sound samples, the band created something they had never done before. Managing to fuse genres ranging from rock, classical, minimalism, electronica and vintage progressive music with Garm's broad vocal range, Ulver created an album that was far beyond anything anyone has heard in the avantgarde scene.
Ulver have recently collaborated with drone band Sunn O))) on a 15-minute track which appears on Sunn O)))'s WHITEbox box set, released in July of 2006. Additionally, Ulver had announced back in 2002 that they had been working on a string remake of Nattens Madrigal, but Garm has stated on the message board of his alternative rock band, Head Control System, that the project "is in a state of total dormancy".
The band's seventh and most recent album, Shadows of the Sun, was released on October 1, 2007. Garm called it “our most personal record to date. Low key, dark, and tragic”.