Ulver, The Trilogie Part I: Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler (1995)
Norway's Ulver are a band that went on to be associated with genres other than metal, but when they started they were a black metal act appearing during the height of the early Norwegian black metal scene. With their debut album Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler they were also an early example of the atmospheric black metal sub-genre. With the album the band produced a genre classic, one that ultimately ended up being their only album in this particular style.
I know that a lot of people still like what Ulver went on to become and that later electronic/ambient albums like Perdition City (2000), Blood Inside (2005) and Shadows of the Sun (2007) are particularly well regarded, but when I approach Bergtatt from the metalhead perspective I come away with only a single thought: what a waste.
Here, Ulver show off their addition of elements to the atmospheric black metal genre that would later become common features, such as the inclusion of dark folk influences. With the opening track Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild they also have a very early example of the unusual phenomenon that is black metal with clean vocals, which continue to appear prominently through the whole release. Writing this review in 2017 as I am it isn't hard to hear where the current blackgaze scene took a lot of its cues from, as well as similarly folk and clean vocal based atmospheric black metal acts such as Myrkur. I find it undeniable that Bergtatt was a groundbreaking black metal release, coming out in 1995 as it did.
Bergtatt is a short album, as many black metal albums were during the nineties (and still can be, actually), clocking it at around thirty-four minutes. It doesn't matter because it's the kind of release that gets the job it was meant to do done and does a lot during that short time. After the first track, Capitel II: Soelen Gaaer Bag Aase Need initially seems to suggest a continuance in the same direction, but then vocalist Garm finally releases his growl to show the album's true colour, but things spend a lot of time alternating between the black metal and folk music, growls and clean singing, making it a rather varied release. I can't be too sure without researching every atmospheric black metal album from 1995 and before, but I'm not sure that there were anything else quite like this at the time, when most atmospheric black metal followed the ambient/dungeon synth path as laid down by acts like Burzum.
An early masterpiece of atmospheric black metal, I'd say that Ulver's Bergtatt is one of those albums that should be in any fan of the genre's collection. I'll reiterate my earlier statement now: what a waste. If Bergtatt is anything to go by, it would have been glorious to have been able to hear where the band could have gone with this style had they kept it up. Ulver would return to black metal for one more album after this, but Nattens Madrigal - Aatte Hymne til Ulven i Manden (1997) would turn out to be a very different kind of black metal Ulver.