Norway - Full Moon 158 - 08/06/09
It's a label showdown!
Metronomicon Audio vs. Jester Records - Round 1
Center of the Universe (C.O.U.): Darklow
(2000 Metronomicon Audio: MEAU.0001.CDR - EP)
Ulver: Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell
(1998 Jester Records TRICK-001 - 2xCD)
Welcome to round 1 in the label showdown series between Metronomicon Audio and Jester Records!
Since we've more or less totally missed out on reviewing the output of these two great labels, we will
through their entire catalogues, matching the releases from each label consecutively against each other.
Humorously counting goals
and giving out yellow
and red cards, soccer style -
but first of all reviewing the music.
Introduction to the labels
We are aware that budgets, and hence quality of production and packaging may differ for these labels - Metronomicon started
out as an "underground" CD-R label while Jester was a typical "independent" label from day one (if the distinction between
"underground" and "independent" is unclear, it is safe to say that Metronomicon was/is more DIY- and community-based. It would
still be wrong to call Jester Records "commercial" though. Today, they both have
catalogues of more than 40 releases from a range of exciting artists, but both labels started out as vehicles for putting out their
founders' music - founder of Metronomicon Audio was Jørgen Skjulstad (alias Dj Sissyfus), who is also the man behind
C.O.U., while Kristoffer Rygg (alias Garm, alias Trickster G.) was the founder of Jester Records, and also the sole
constant member in Ulver's long history. Note: Darklow is actually Metronomicon's second release, the absolute first was Center of The Universe: Previously Unreleased (MEAU.0000.CDR).
Still, we will start with Darklow here. Previously Unreleased is, and will be, pretty unavailable, as Metronomicon states, this was: "a CD-R of fourtrack recordings printed in a limited edition of 23 copies. Has been out of print for a long time and won't be printed again until hell freezes over and pigs will fly."
(Editor's note, December 2009: We have been informed that some of the earlier Jester releases originally was published
with a digipak type packaging, and later reissued with jewel case packaging.)
C.O.U.'s debut Darklow EP. Darklow is presented in the typical Metronomicon fashion - a CD-R packed
in a flexible plastic sleeve with inserts, and a booklet containing art and (most of) the lyrics.
The Ulver release comes in a jewel case wrapped in an outer cardboard removable cover, also including a booklet with lyrics and art.
Darklow opening title track serves up cheesy "Casio" sounds,
up-tempo breakbeats, scratching and probably lots of sampling - also frequently used on the other songs. Next up is "Every Summer One New Dream",
a more conventional guitar-based pop song. Skjulstad is not the greatest of singers, but it's a nice little tune. With "Rooms", traces of a Balkan melodic sense becomes clearer, both through the melody and the sampled violin. Call it
Southeastern Europe, Balkan or Klezmer (I think I will go with "Balkan" from now on) melodic influence - it's a key element of Skjulstad's music.
The distorted singing can't hide an even less impressive vocal performance , and again, the frantic breakbeats ... an almost catchy song,
however - but the walls in the "Rooms" are closing in. "Spiderwebfeel" is the highlight of Darklow, sparsely instrumented with
violin and guitar, this mellow little tune clocks in at just above 2 minutes, a nice little nugget !
The downtempo "Feel Kind Of Frenzy" with its sampled and processed Balkan-influenced female vocals is also a minor highlight.
"Walking On The Rooftops" is another slower tune, a melancholic melody sung over a light carpet of blips & blops, which ends rather abruptly.
I love the frank DIY lo-fi amateurish attitude this release displays, but save a couple of songs, this is
a slightly boring, sometimes tedious and at worst, a claustrophobic listening experience.
Leaving the "closet" center of the universe, we head for the wide-open spaces between heaven and hell.
Ulver started out as a black metal band, but changes in lineup and musical style was to become typical for Ulver. At
the time of this release, the will to experiment became further evident by the arrival of programming wizard Tore Ylvisaker (alias Ylwizaker), who along
with founding member Kristoffer Rygg (alias Garm, alias Trickster G.) was to become the core of future Ulver.
The use of Blake's poetry is in itself not a very original choice - even a fellow Norwegian, Finn Coren, did his
own Blake Project just one year earlier. However, taking on such an ambitious project as making music
to the complete book by Blake is certainly not an easy project.
Blake's poetry is so complex and impenetrable that it is impossible to digest it instantly while listening to the record, and it is not made
easier by the fact that the lyrics are printed almost unformatted, making it harder than strictly necessary for the listener to follow them - it's easy to get lost .
I would suggest reading the poetry first, and rather listen to the music with your eyes closed. Ulver are creating a suitable universe for
the lyrics, varying between the calm and soft to the intense and aggressive - some of the more beautiful parts have female vocals, done by Stine Grytøyr.
(Other guest appearances include Fenriz from Darkthrone, who along with Ihsahn and Samoth
of Emperor join in as reciters.) However, all over there is a brooding sense of sadness, whether it be in the way of dark
ambience, beautiful melodies or industrial metal - all essential elements
that are combined and interchanged during the whole album. The synthetic and acoustic is welded successfully together, forming
an experimental, but sophisticated whole ,
with for instance twin lead and even Gilmourish guitars in the mix .
Other musical references that come to mind are, somewhat surprising, Faith No More - Trickster G.'s singing reminds me of Mike Patton, especially his way of melodic phrasing.
Also early Ministry and Young Gods could be mentioned when thinking of the more industrial metal parts.
(And some heavily distorted vocal parts may sound like gothic Daleks!)
On the whole, Ulver's Blake project may be perceived as somewhat pretentious , but while
I am not totally convinced that the musical settings always match the poetry (this listener would probably have accepted
switching the music and moods around for the various "plates" of poetry), for my part
Ulver are succeeding with greatness with their Blake project .
Varied, but still massive to take in one go, but so is Blake's poetry ... and of course, the choice of making music to Blake's Swedenborgian visions
only added to the increasing aura of mysticism surrounding Ulver at this point.
(And don't miss the "Chorus" track arriving after 20 minutes of silence on the last track on CD 2!)
Match result: Metronomicon Audio 1 () - Jester Records 4 ()
|THE LABEL TABLE|
||Metronomicon Audio (MA)
||Jester Records (JR)
||Ulver: Themes From William Blake's ...
Next head-to-head meeting is another C.O.U. EP from Metronomicon Audio (Sellout) which is up against the self-titled Esperanza CD from Jester Records.
Copyright © 2009 Knut Tore Breivik