Ulver at Opera House in Oslo: black without the metal

I knew little of Ulver's recent compositions and albums, since I didn't quite dig the few songs I heard from the album that followed the début black metal record. And after that, I just didn't get to hear anything, so I went to the concert with an increased dose of curiosity and interest, especially given the majestic location of the Opera. That raised my expectations to a “special” concert at least. The fun began upon arrival at the place, where you'd see the long haired tattooed metalheads who mainly gave up their black leather clothes or spikes and put up some more “sophisticated” clothes. Don't imagine too fancy stuff now, sometimes it was probably just a black shirt instead of a printed t-shirt, but it was fun to notice the attempts of not being extremely metal for some of them. The doors opened at 8PM, and the security guys at the door were showing everyone the direction to their seats. I can say the ticket check was the most thorough I've ever seen.

So there we were, sitting on the red chairs, up at the end of a balcony, with a perfect view over the entire stage and the whole hall that was slowly getting filled. The organisers even added 3 rows of chairs in front of the regular chairs, hence I assume the concert was quite successful. However, not all the chairs in the upper balconies were full. While the lights were still on I studied the equipment on the stage: a set of drums, a huge piano, a big round drum next to the microphone, a gong, a square made of about 6 keyboards and a sound system, then a desk with a lot of equipment that I assume was used for various effects. Right in front there was a ladder with a human or a doll (people still debate this) on top of it. I found out it was a real man called Ian Johnstone afterwards. He had a big nose. Also, let's not forget the ninja camera guy who was dressed completely in black and had a thief-like black mask on his head.

Lights turn off, and a sweet piano melody begins, while on the background screen we get to see projections with images of the creature on the ladder. Actually it was mainly his face and blood was continuously coming out of its open mouth. Piano and blood for few minutes, the rest of the band occupied their places on stage, sounds of a snoring man flow from the speakers, the body is lifted in the air, two men come to take away the ladder and we’re off to the rest of the concert. A concert where you could easily ignore the artists on stage, because there were a lot of images to look at on the background: lions chasing zebras in the wilderness, Nazi demonstrations and symbols, concentration camps and executions, divers, porn, dancers, sperm cells, birth, funeral ceremony, baptism, an eye, hunting, a man slashing his veins in the bathtub, etc. It was up to everyone's imagination to combine the visual elements with the words in the songs, or simply the mood coming out of each tune, and feel a variety of sensations. I have to agree with a comment heard after the concert: this was black without metal.

Musically, I am split between loving what I heard and wishing some of the noises had never happened. I loved the voice: it was so clear and beautiful, a pleasure to my ears. Not to mention the piano and the drumming, especially when Kristoffer Rygg was tagging along with the big round drum next to him. The pianist was also the main guitarist for most of the show, except for the final when the special guest Christian Fennesz came on stage to deliver the sound of his electronic music on the Like music song, while Mr. Rygg was on his knees adjusting the pedal effects and playing the gong at the end. The annoying parts were some obsessive repeating noises, including a ringing phone or some of the electronic effects in the songs that I personally just didn't like. But nevertheless, the crowd received a nice bonus in the form of two songs from the upcoming album, one of them called England.

For the end of the concert, we got to see a special interpretation of Not saved, during which a naked guy — Ian Johnstone, the same “dummy” from the beginning, came on a lifting platform behind the drums. He was with his back (read ass) at the crowd, “standing” on two legs made of bones, shaking continuously and supporting himself with a long pole in front of him. He stood there shaking and slowly moving for a considerate amount of time, until he started to make a scratch on each of his legs, from the calf all the way up to the thigh, letting blood flow down his legs. After the platform went back down, there were a few more notes played and the concert ended, receiving very loud applauses from the astonished crowd.

I managed to film a few of the songs, since it was easy to just lean the camera against the balcony and let it roll while I watched the performance myself. If you care to watch the vids, here's a playlist.

I can't bet on the accuracy of the setlist, but with a bit of help from the mighty Internet, I can say the following songs have been played:

  • EOS
  • Let the Children Go
  • Little Blue Bird (the intro being Intro for ‘Vowels’ as well)
  • Rock Masiff
  • For the Love of God
  • Operator
  • In the Red
  • England
  • Funebre
  • Hallways of Always
  • Silence Theaches You How To Sing
  • Porn Piece Or The Scars Of Cold Kisses
  • Plates 16 -17
  • Like Music
  • Not Saved (including an original composition by Daniel O'Sullivan)

Certainly a different kind of concert and show, which touches each participant in a different way, and even if I haven't been as impressed as the others by the macabre show and images, I don't regret having had the chance to experience it.

By Andrea Chirulescu