A brief Neofolk guide, part I: Ulver’s Kveldssanger

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With each step of your naked feet, the cold and humid soil beneath your finger holds you gently. All your senses are fulfilled with the oak smells, the delicate moonbeams glancing through the trees. And when you reach the highest pine, you realize it’s time to sleep, to rest, to close your eyes in peace. In that moment, you will hear that acoustic melody. You will hear that song.

First of all, let’s talk about history, until we finally rest in peace like in the introduction of this article, ok?


Talking about the Neofolk genre is very difficult, because it’s used as an umbrella theme of general traits in a very minimalist style. And from now on, this article will be very speculative regarding the tagging process, because the artistic direction I want to share isn’t really alike to the original bands, apart from some lyrical contents.

The origin of Neofolk is deeply rooted in the post-punk and post-industrial music scenes in England. The conservative socio-political ambient of that era and the industrialized culture led to a lot of musicians to develop their own signature sound and talking about their own issues and perspective in that respective society. If you trace a line between Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and even (Link favorites) The Cure, to note the most known examples, you will realize that the rhythmic approach and the vocal style had this mechanical fume inside and the rusty flavor of the industries.

Death in June (Live)

Death in June (Live)

From this, we move the line to Current 93, Sol Invictus and, obviously, Death in June. Expanding the textures of post-punk rock style made famous by the previous named bands; these three new proposals, shrouded in darkness, controversies and very definite political choices by their principal contributors, were the torch bearers of the consequent Neofolk movement.

The music composed by those three prolific bands is dark, brooding. The synthesizers and the ambient touches give the songs a very doom flavor. It’s not in vain that David Tibet, of Current 93, didn’t talk about Neofolk, but more about “Apocalyptic Folk” (a term that I like more, to diferentiate both soundscapes). In this style, the acoustic elements meets the arrangements of experimental sounds or martial rhythmic. It’s a complete march to the final destiny of humanity. Also, you can complement to this the late 80’s records of the Swans project, to enter that particular mindset.

But, what’s about after the death take your hand and takes you to your own trip?


This is where the other Neofolk style comes in mind and this is where one record serves as the first opening of the door of a new land: Norwegian experimental musicians legends Ulver’s Kveldssanger.

After the almost full black metal record Bergtatt: Et eeventyr i 5 capitler, the first proposal of the band commanded by a young Garm (Krystoffer Rygg was barely 19 years old there), they tried to expand the acoustic sound in the interludes in that album. The result was a 35 minutes masterpiece of pure acoustic and choral sounds.

In some interviews, Garm said that they were very naïve during the writing process. They just wanted to create a “classical” music album. And, in the end, they really encourage a lot of fellow metal bands to embrace the acoustic atmosphere.

Think of this while listening to improve the Ulver effect.

Think of this while listening to improve the Ulver effect.

Kveldssanger is a short record, but the length is perfect for the entire experience. The base of the compositions is constructed around simple riffs and arpeggiated acoustic guitar voicings with finger picking styles. The melodies of the guitars are very delicate, smooth. All of that are made to accentuate the woods textures, because there’s barely any rhythmic instrument.

Also, the music is occasionally intersected by three-voice male chorus, cellos, flutes and violins, which enrich the desired forest and natural vibes of the record. The main baritone voice is an amazing addition when it leads the melodies; and the masterfully done chorus juxtapositions make the music more solemn.

The romantic/renaissance aspect of the album is ever present; the compositions here are rooted in classical and folkloric music of the northern European regions. There’s no hint of the early black metal (aside from some growled whispering in the last song).

Hey! Look! Garm as merolhead. Before he transformed into a experimental musician.

Hey! Look! Garm as merolhead. Before he transformed into a experimental musician. (This is from the Kveldssanger booklet).

From the melancholic piece Kveldssang, the heavenly vocals in Høyfjeldsbilde, to the tension/release moments in Naturmystikk; all the record is crystal clear to enshroud the listener in the fog so he can be lost in the perpetual woods. Other cuts, like Halling, even sounds hopeful in the melody construction. All of this varied introspective sensations and vibes of the album make it what it is, a full circle of a day/life/era in nature, with all the mundane tragedies and the transcendental aspects of life.

Overall, I can resume the vibes I felt of this album with this list: haunting, delicate, brownish, olive green, warm, and sometimes cold, with pines tress aromas.

When the journey ends in Ulvsblakk, you will realize that the entire experience isn’t about condemned and decay. The darkness here is stylized as a love to the nature, the solitude and the melancholy, more than the oppression or pure obscurity conventions of Burzum ambient works or the interludes of second wave of Norwegian Black Metal bands.


As you can see, the release of the doom and brooding themes of the first bands I named made Kveldssanger a more distinct record. It’s unknown to me if Garm & Co. really used Apocalyptic Folk bands as template to start those compositions; in fact, I’m more akin to the theory that they were thinking first in renaissance or baroque era music to start, and it was just a casualty that the Apocalyptic Folk movement was still around. But, still, the stylistic choices in this album were really a start for other bands to begin creating a new folkloric voice to their region.

From now on, I like to think that this Neofolk branch (which I personally call to myself Nature Folk) born with the last notes of this Ulver record. Following this we will find other bands of North European countries that continued this paradigm and expand it to enrich this forest-hiking experience. But, that will continue in the other part of this article.

Meanwhile, enjoy this experience of travelling, feeling and opening your arms to the Mother Nature.

Random note: I finally learnt to spell: “Kveldssanger”! WOOHOO!

Photos: VIA VIA VIA

  • surely this will get the Tapir to come out and play!

  • Link,

    You need to drop the spanglish gimmick. This article was superb! Nice work, friend.

    GL

    • Ehhhh……

      It’s not a gimmick, dude… I’m really self-taught. And, to be honest, I don’t have enough time or head right now to clean the english.

      Thanks!

    • tertius_decimus

      It could be worse. I guess, my article, submitted shitload of time ago, didn’t make it through Grammar Police advisory. My Ruglish is far worse than Link’s Spanglish.

      • Hey, bro! How are you doing?

        • tertius_decimus

          Incredibly good if we don’t talk about money. Wazzup, bro?

          • Jajajajaja, we’re two, then!

          • tertius_decimus

            We’re from the 3rd world.

          • Tertius & Link. 3rd World survivors.

            Do you have new photographs? I loved the work you shared last year!

          • tertius_decimus

            I told you some time ago already that I don’t own any photo equipment anymore and won’t get any anytime soon.

          • Ouch! :'( Hope you can get fast new equipment, bro. You really are a very good photographer.

            Did you checked this Ulver record?

          • tertius_decimus

            I know this album by heart since 200[when?]. I’ve tried even to learn how to play Høyfjeldsbilde on acoustic guitar but I suck at playing, so this trial and error was predictably doomed.

          • <3333 You're the best. Do you still have an acoustic?

          • tertius_decimus

            Sold due to lack of money. It was Fender CD-60.

          • Fuck this money problems 🙁

            I still have my old acoustic, but I’m very bad playing and this finger picking stuff is very difficult to pull off correctly.

          • tertius_decimus

            Practice, HOURS of practice. 🙂

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su67AyD17WQ

          • Hubert

            I can play Hiertets Vee on my acoustic guitar. I think I’m going to try some other songs from Kveldssanger because I love playing on my acoustic.

          • tertius_decimus

            Great stuff to learn from!

          • How can you play with those hooves?!

          • Stanley

            Me too. I’ve almost got this down. I’m 95% there but there are three bars that make my brain hurt. It’s a fantastic piece to learn though.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqAVKUOt9Wk&spfreload=10

      • Lilo’s Penis Tornado (KJU)
    • Lilo’s Penis Tornado (KJU)

      Criticizing Link’s English? Assume the position, you know it’s paddlin’ time!

      http://i.imgur.com/cL3Pwnk.jpg

  • YES! LINK!

  • Sir Tapir the Based

    This tickles me. One of my favourite Ulver albums and one of my favourite genres. Danke Link!

  • Tyree
  • Hubert

    <3 this album. Great fucking article Link. Dankuwel.

    • hartelijk bedankt, my friend!

      I new you would come here <3

  • Friggin’ classic. Great work, Link.

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    That album is perfect.

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    You can’t fuck with Tenhi.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqT1onXH-tA

    • DUDE YES

    • The Beargod

      And it’s Finnish. Yay.

      • I’m still confused between Kauan (Rus) and Tenhi (Fin).

        #ToiletConfession

        But, I dig both. The Kauan record is one of my fav european folk stuff:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgZZyA3n3uA

        • The Beargod

          Kauan sings in Finnish, like KYPCK (a finnish band) sing in russian. Kauan is more post-rock-like tho.

          • I think I will follow from now on the Kauan/Tenhi Beargod guide 😛

    • That record is perfect.

  • Hubert

    I always thought that the first three Ulver albums, Bergtatt, Kveldssanger and Nattens Madrigal, form a coherent trilogy, even though they are all completely different from one another.

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      Same here. The artwork all have similar color as well.

    • Those three are great albums, Hubert. Ulver is a terrific band.

      I haven’t checked the lyrics and translations. But it’s probably a overall theme about nature, isn’t it?

      Have you checked the lyrics, Hubert?

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    here is some neo folk music–from the perspective of the u.n.—defining a “special” time in history
    (both at once–full vol)—
    https://youtu.be/NcEPJC3JeoA

    –https://youtu.be/tMzf7zpPuVI

    • Lilo’s Penis Tornado (KJU)
      • more beer

        You would think he would be prepping for Jade Helm. Since all of the conspiracy nut`s seem to think that`s going to be the start of martial law.

        • Pump Up The Vulva (KJU)

          Whatever Jade Helm is.

          • more beer

            It`s a military training operation that is taking place in September. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado are going to be used as hostile areas. The conspiracy nut`s are taking it to mean it`s going to be a declaration of martial law. Basically it`s war games. Something that is done often in different places. If the federal government was going to declare martial law I really doubt they would give as any warning. But I figured his conspiracy self would be all over that.

          • Pump Up The Vulva (KJU)

            Sounds more like defending the border if anything.

          • more beer

            Even though it should be that, it isn`t. The powers that be don`t want secure borders.

          • StudmanGetYourPull666_69

            They’re busy keeping us and our cheese safe from those damn Newfoundlanders.

          • more beer

            Yep because they are the real threat.

  • Sir Tapir the Based
    • Tapir this is great! First time listening!

      • Sir Tapir the Based

        That album was released last year. It was one of my favourites. Tervahäät>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

        • They’re from Finland, isn’t it?

          From which region they are?

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            It’s quite likely that they’re from Helsinki, because one of the guys from the band has a solo band, Pyhä Kuolema, that’s from Helsinki.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PunoQe6d5is

          • This is very interesting too.

            I really dig this kind of sounds. But, I’m still new to the genre. I hope that I have more health and time to continue delving into this. Thanks for the recommendations, I will write it in my #LinkNotebook to search for them, because I’m now interested in hearing the full albums.

            I really like Finnish language in this kind of music.

  • xengineofdeathx

    This is a great write up! The first three Ulver albums all have a special place in my heart as much as I like their more ambient electronic stuff too.

    • Thank you so much, bro!

      Shadows of the Sun is a great record, but I haven’t delved into their electro stuff, just not my regular vibes.

      Did you liked their last album?

      • xengineofdeathx

        Yes! But it was a slow burn. A lot of their stuff has had to grow on me. Have you heard their movie soundtracks? They are more like that album. The quick fix of melancholy EP had a very cool re imagining of Nattleite, also.

        • I need to check that, thank you for reminding me!

          • Zeke

            A Quick Fix of Melancholy is fantastic. I also love Silence the Singing. Very very dark drone stuff.

  • CT-12

    I love old Ulver (I should probably listen to their newer, not black stuff, just never got around to it), this album is awesome. Perfect for fall or winter time. Great writeup Link!