"Wars Of The Roses" is the eighth studio album from Norwegian band Ulver although they've only been a touring band for the last two years. This is the first official release since the band became a four piece with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Daniel O'Sullivan.
You wouldn't know it from the sound of this release but they started out as a black metal outfit. They have evolved a long way since those days but they still retain a dark and heavy feel that permeates the whole album. From the opening of 'February' there is a really progressive feel about the music whilst the production is fairly lavish but thankfully stops short of overproduction. It takes a few listens to hear everything that is going in within the music, there are some really complicated arrangements hidden in there. It can be quite stark and menacing at times with ominous string arrangements ('Norwegian Gothic') and bleak piano ('Providence'). The vocals of Kristoffer Rygg are deep and powerful and although he doesn't explore his vocal range that much they are well phrased and really add to the overall feel.
It is undeniably dark most of the way through but there are the occasional moments where the music explores more traditional territory such as the first half of 'September IV' but Ulver never let you get comfortable! The second half of the song breaks into complex drum patterns and a really impressive instrumental workout. Don't be put off by their early association with black metal, this is a long way removed from it, falling more into the dark gothic genre. There is often a surprise or two lurking within the songs and as the gentle ballad of 'England' prepares to give way to album closer 'Stone Angels' it is suddenly punctuated with samples and electronic noises that seemingly have no right to be there.
'Final track 'Stone Angels' is an epic 14 minutes long that moves from drone like ambience into a voice over narrative from O'Sullivan. There is so much going in this track beyond the droning keyboards that despite it's length it never relaxes. Pounding drums towards the end build the sonic attack further before everything is stripped away but the vocal and almost abruptly, it ends.
"Wars Of The Roses" is an album that really draws you in, it's dark, brooding and atmospheric and it really works as an album, not just a collection of songs. There will be those that don't understand it or can't get into it as it's not immediately accessible or commercial but it really is worth putting in a little effort, the more you play it the more you find in it. It's 'different' but all the better for it.