'Bergtatt' - Ulver (9/10)
To me, Ulver are one of the all-time most intriguing bands. It would be difficult for me to name another band who is so versatile, and manages to produce masterpieces that vary wildly. Released when frontman Krystoffer Rygg was still in his teens, 'Bergtatt' is considered to be a classic opus of the then-relatively young style of black metal. Ulver have since gone down a path of avant-garde ambient music that now has little to do with metal or even rock, but 'Bergtatt' is enough to plant the band as an essential of black metal. Years before Agalloch or Drudkh made their mark, Ulver laid down the foundation for this arboreal sound in atmospheric black metal. Taking the ambiance of Burzum and taking it two steps further, 'Bergtatt' is as relevant today as it was in 1994.
Many modern metalheads may draw comparisons to Agalloch when listening to 'Bergtatt.' It should be appreciated, however, that Ulver crafted this sound first. The black metal mold had been forged over the decade prior,and Ulver furnishes it with lavish arboreal folk instrumentation, melodic riffs, and even clean vocals; something that was often looked down upon in black metal. 'Bergtatt' was indeed ahead of its time, although nothing on the album feels contrived or forced to sound 'progressive' in the commonly used sense of the word. Split into five chapters, 'Bergtatt' is not afraid to incorporate acoustic guitars as a primary element in the sound. Many bands dabbled with mellower dimensions, but they often were used merely to break up the intense black metal, as opposed to, you know, complimenting the musical experience directly. Of course, no masterpiece would be complete without masterful composition, and this is something that sees no shortage in 'Bergtatt'. Ulver hit a sweet spot that balances harshness and warmth, black metal and folk, melodic sensibilities and melancholic aggression. To mention that Ulver were in their teens when 'Bergatt' was produced only makes the feat more admirable.
Potentially the only time when I could be convinced that 'Bergtatt' is not perfect is with the more puritanical black metal elements here. Like the rest of the album, they are performed with passionate intensity and a sense of purpose, but in the midst of some of the most beautiful acoustic guitars ever heard in metal, and a wonderfully arboreal sense of melody in the cleaner moments, the times when Ulver goes full-force with the blastbeats and dark energy feels underwhelming by comparison.That's not nearly enough to keep me from calling 'Bergtatt' a masterpiece, however. It is essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in black metal; it is rivaled only by Mayhem's 'De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas' as the most glorious classic of black metal.