‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ – according to this album title that draws on papal coronation rites of the Catholic church, the glory of the world passes – however, the musical potential of Norway’s Ulver certainly doesn’t. The band or musical collective started out with folklore-inspired Black Metal in the early 1990s, producing the three iconic albums ‘Bergtatt’ (1994), ‘Kveldssanger’ (1996) and ‘Nattens Madrigal’ (1997). With Kristoffer Rygg being the only remaining founding member of Ulver, the band proved their potential for transcending genre boundaries over the years: Not afraid to delve into Industrial Metal, Ambient, Post Rock and even Trip-Hop, the band constantly released new music, with the atmospheric, somewhat 80s-prone ‘The Assassination of Julius Caesar’ (2017) being the last full-length record. In the same year, Ulver released two new songs as well as the cover of the “childhood favourite” Power of Love originally by Frankie Goes to Hollywood), united under the name of ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ as an EP on their Bandcamp site. In the same breath, they announced that a physical version might follow – and the time for a 12″ has now finally come!
The LP is certainly a treat for vinyl collectors, being available in punk yellow, purple and classic black, as well as sporting a portrait of Pope Innocent X as a title reference on the cover. Apart from this, the physical release comes with 25 minutes of interesting bonus material that is not going to be released online: Four live recordings from the legendary Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania as well as Labirinto della Masone in Italy as well as the Bergen International Festival. But now – let’s give the EP a spin!
Echo Chamber (Room of Tears) boasts with shiny and spacious synths, spectacularly voluminous and transparent sound layers, and of course the beautifully crooning vocals we are used to from the band, strongly evoking the 1980s with the overall sound aesthetics that are, however, like the rest of the EP finished off with the most modern sound production. This song is dreamy and successfully works with a mix of spoken word and singing and leaves us curious for the next one.
Bring Out Your Dead is an energetic and danceable tune, playing with rhythmic synth layering, driving rhythms and mesmerising vocals. Towards the end of the song, we move into meditative and somewhat trancey repetitive parts that are nevertheless tension-inducing before we slowly fade out with sampled spoken word.
The Power of Love is one of those songs that are notoriously dangerous to cover because everyone knows it and because the uniqueness of the original seems impossible to erase from aural memory. Starting off with skeptical listening, we soon realise that Ulver do not intend to re-invent the wheel with their cover but that it is rather a true testament of appreciation for a song they have loved for a long time, with the cover first being attempted around twelve years ago. Ulver manage to give the tune an atmospheric and somewhat darkly romantic spin that leaves the listener happy about a creative yet unobtrusive fresh spin on a pop classic.
Regarding the live tunes, of which Nemoralia is the first, the sound production is incredibly smooth and of such high-quality that it is easy to forget that these songs were recorded live. Nemoralia has a wistful and melancholic air to it, building up a cosmic and dark soundsphere, whereas Southern Gothic softly sets us into somewhat lighter terrain again, convincingly entrancing us with textured percussion and solemn keys, behind which the vocals take a little step back at times. Transverberation ties in nicely with both what precedes and follows the track, delivering enthusiastic rhythms and key melodies that appear both as danceable and as somewhat trance-inducing. At last, Rolling Stone delivers nine minutes of slowly rising and spacey tension, combining both a dark atmosphere with 80s aesthetics transporting us into a Sci-Fi mindset. In this tune, we also get to hear polyphonic singing combining a male and female voice, interacting smoothly and later claiming lots of space in an outro full of creative chaos, overlapping sounds and lavish instrumentals.
All in all, ‘Sic Transit Gloria Mundi’ is definitely an LP release for collectors and Ulver aficionados; the bonus live material is probably most interesting for long-term fans, in addition to the fact that the three novel track are also available online. In any case, anyone only knowing Ulver from their Black Metal days should be up for a surprise with this record – and fans who have followed their journey in the past two decades will sure appreciate a beautiful addition to their record collection.