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Written by Russell Garwood
Zero Tolerance March 2005

For over a decade, Ulver have been reinventing themselves. Having strayed far from their metal roots, Norway's foremost lycanthropes remain both challenging and original. ZT's Russell Garwood quizzes the ever-cryptic Kristoffer "Trickster" G. Rygg about the band's latest album, Blood Inside.

Norwegian shape-shifters Ulver have made metamorphosis an art form. Few bands are comparable in terms of scope, execution, and transgression. Ever since their beginnings as a 'folkish' black metal group, Kristoffer G. Rygg's jesters have always pushed limits and expanded perceptions. From the fusion of styles present on their epic Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell, through the jazz-tinged electronica of Perdition City to their recent soundtrack works, innovation has been the name of the game. And the result? A meandering journey that — with the imminent release of new album Blood Inside — shows no signs of slowing. "In terms of genre, it is more rock than electronica," Trickster G. explains, when I ask about the band's new direction. "Even a bit psychedelic and/or progressive at times. The mood is kind of sanctified and sad. It has a few frivolous moments as well, but as they say, 'even in laughter the heart is sorrowful' (Proverbs 14:13.)"

"I know there are many people who expect some kind of sequel to Perdition city. That, it's not," he asserts. "It's got a different kind of sensibility. It's also got far too much sound on it to be similar to our film soundtracks, which are quite often based on very simple and transparent kind of themes. There's a song called 'Christmas' which has over a hundred (!) tracks."

Blood Inside has been a long time in the making. "Yeah, now we're just waiting for a video for the track 'It Is Not Sound' to be completed, so that we can put it on the disc and get it off to the plant," says G. of the release schedule. So, when can we expect this release? "Late March/early April in Europe. May/June in the US." The video promises to be quite different to that of 'Limbo Central'. "[It's] an animated piece. Imagine me as His Holiness John Paul II with spastic paralysis. Set design by Gustave Doré, and Kenneth Anger behind the camera, and you'll get a rough idea. The church ain't gonna take it lightly," the jester laughs.

With such a long development period, more than just the name has changed drastically since the album's inception. "For instance, there's this one song, 'For The Love Of God', which has been changed and redone so many times we could've released an entire album with versions of that track. That album could be entitled Different Ways Of Loving God," Rygg suggests and chuckles. "We could probably have continued altering states, stating names, backwards and forwards and backwards again for another year. But enough is enough, or as William Blake would say: too much. The cup runneth over. The blood must be released."

During the mixing of the new album (courtesy of Ronan Chris Murphy), one-time Frank Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally made an appearance. "He was really into the music and improvised on top of some of the tracks," G. relays. "I've never seen anything like it! The man was on fire. Unfortunately most of the material was already so dense from before, it will remain in the archives for now, except for a guitar-solo and some atmospheric playing on another track."

"By the way, Mike's also on the recent Jester Records' release, Book Of The Key, with another amazing guitarist, Anthony Curtis, which we got our hands on thanks to that LA trip. It also features Tony Levin of King Crimson among others, and is a beauty consisting of 100% improvised speed/jazz/world/weird something. Buy it!," cometh the sales pitch.

A recent collaboration with SunnO))) shows that Ulver have not completely severed links with the extreme music world. "We adapt you know, being shape-shifters and all...," Rygg laughs when I ask about the collaboration. "It's on par with the SunnO))) aesthetic, which is kinda cool. Hopefully we can do some more of that psychedelic-doom-low-frequency-ride-the-abyss with those guys again." Moving on to Rygg's numerous other commitments, is it likely that the remake of Nattens Madrigal will, in fact, surface? "Sometime, yes... 'When'... an altogether different question," the wicked clown of jester town chuckles. So we shouldn't hold our breath? "You're gonna die if you do."

In recent interviews it has been mentioned that Ulver intend to use more texts as lyrics (as with 'Vowels' on the Quick Fix Of Melancholy EP, whose lyrics are a poem from Christian Bök's Eunoia). The band have taken a slightly different approach with Blood Inside, however. "The words are our own this time," G. elaborates. "Words on a world without hope," he says. "I think we've succeeded in making the lyrics quite visual actually. But yeah, we'll continue to collaborate with writers in the future, especially if they are of Christian Bök's calibre." When it comes to music, however, "there aren't too many direct influences, as what we listen to, or don't listen to, varies all the time. I've been telling people the new album is something like Mercury Rev meeting Fantômas, which is an unlikely séance of course, and consequently doesn't make much sense. Nonetheless, both those bands represent things I love about music right now. I haven't heard the new Rev yet, but the two last albums are among the most haunting albums I've heard in recent years. Spiritualized's Let It Come Down is in my opinion a modern classic. Coil — always. The death of Johnn Balance in November was a tragedy." Rygg solemnly echoes the feelings of fans worldwide.

"Others I have been listening to lately," he continues," [include] Olivia Tremor Control, and stuff from the excellent Web Of Mimicry label, especially Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The last Boredoms was cool as well."

"When it comes to things we read it gets more difficult. The first text we wrote for this album was some sort of lyrical cut-up of Joseph Guglielmi's Dawn. That one was abandoned, but we go on reading the French post-war generation, André du Bouchet etc., and the Egyptian Edmond Jabès. And Blake of course, he's always with us." And why does Ulver identify with Blake to such a degree? "I guess Johnn [Balance] said it best: 'Why be bleak when you can be Blake?'"

On the subject of Ulver's reception within the electronica community, G. counters, "You know, it's a diverse feedback from a diverse lot. Our fans are not generic. Neither are we. You are all individuals to us."

As my time with the trickster draws to a close, I ask about the band's future. "The future is unheard of. Holy cows are gonna bleed from our spears," comes the fitting and final punch line to an unusual interview.