Fifteen years of existence and not a single live show. That’s Ulver for you – a cult Norwegian band that started in 1994 by playing black metal and now evolved into something so avant-garde that I don’t want to defining it with any certain music genre. If you listen through the band’s discography up to date, you will be quite amazed by the metamorphosis their music has undergone. After releasing their seventh full length album in 2007, Shadows of the Sun, 2 years later Ulver finally decided to come out of the shadows and into the spotlight. They played their first live show in May 2009 in Lillehammer, Norway. The shadows dissolved after that and the band went on a European tour.
Helsinki was one of the lucky destinations on the list and welcomed Ulver two nights in a row. The first show in Nosturi on the 26th of February was completely sold out. We went to see the second show next day – the last gig of the tour – and the club was once again quite full. The audience consisted of a rather wide variety of people: from your usual metalheads to cyber-goths to electro-bright-coloured-hair dudes to men in suits. What kind of a band must it be to unite all these people from completely different worlds?
The show in Lillehammer started with a “Forgive us” message on the screen. This message changed throughout the tour. Clearly there was nothing to ask forgiveness for from the Finnish audience, so they decided to tell us something different. “We come as thieves,” said the blinking screen and I wondered what is it that they are trying to steal? And is it more valuable compared to what they were about to give us that night?
Ulver started the set with “Eos” from the Shadows of the Sun album with a video of the sunrise on the background screen. It looked like the sun was rising to the call of Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg’s voice. I got a feeling that if the sunrise had a sound of its own, it would be “Eos.” Next followed “Let the Children Go” and we found ourselves somewhere in the African savannas, watching the lions showing their status in the food chain with the zebras. The videos changed with each song and as the band was staying in the darkness most of the time, it was quite easy to forget that there was anyone else except you, the screen and this unbelievable music. Although at times the videos were too disturbing for my taste (a video of the victims of Nazi concentration camp, for example), those were the times to watch what the band was doing.
One of Ulver’s guest musicians was Pamelia Kurstin, who played the theremin. I had never seen or even heard of such an instrument before and it was quite an experience to watch someone basically play… air. Garm had a laptop, a gong, and a timpani drum made of animal skin to accompany his strong, yet lulling voice. There were about seven people on stage altogether: the band and the guest musicians. They didn’t walk on their hands or breathe fire, they just stood there, playing their instruments, but there was something about it that made it impossible to avert your eyes from the stage.
Contrary to some expectations, Ulver didn’t perform anything from their black metal past. The setlist mostly consisted of the songs from the albums Shadows of the Sun, Perdition City, and Blood Inside, with a few exceptions. The second-to-last song was one my favorites: “Like Music” – the stage was lit with red light and it was purely and simply beautiful. The last one was a 10-minute track, “Not Saved,” and I was glad it was so long because nobody wanted to leave. After that, all of the musicians came to say their last goodbyes and raise their drinks to celebrate the end of the tour leg.
They came as thieves and gave us the most unique moments, just to be gone back into the shadows. But they will step out again in the summer during Flow Festival, so come and watch Ulver make magic with their music.
2. Let the Children Go
3. Little Blue Bird
4. Rock Massif
5. For the Love of God
6. In the Red
9. Silence Teaches You How to Sing
10. Plates 16-17
11. Hallways of Always
12. Porn Piece or the Scars of Cold Kisses
13. Like Music
14. Not Saved
Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: Jana Blomqvist | Ed: Amy Wiseman