Review: Ulver – Drone Activity

It’s a tale that will be familiar to many already, but bears repeating for those who have just come in. Ulver began life in Norway as a black metal band, birthed out of similar (if less controversial) circumstances to genre figureheads and countrymen like Emperor, Darkthrone and Mayhem. But after releasing three albums of highly acclaimed black metal, they took a sonic left turn and embraced a more ambient sound that in the subsequent decades has encompassed electronica, soundtrack work and synthpop, among others – and for this release, drone.

Today, they’re greatly beloved by any number of denim and leather-clad headbangers the world over, even though the last ‘metal’ album they put out was way back in the 1990’s. Though their stylistic shift polarised many at the time, many fans still came along for the ride – and they’ve picked up even more in the years since. Drone Activity is a work that does exactly what it says on the tin. Recorded live and then reassembled into a more cohesive format, the four lengthy pieces that make up the album don’t really resemble songs in any traditional sense; they’re dark ambient drones with sparse instrumentation, though distinctly evocative of different moods in their own way. 

Early Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh’s electronic phase and S U R V I V E are some of the most obvious sonic touchstones. Industrial and musique concrete undertones are also present, giving it a colder and harsher dynamic in comparison to previous outings like their Sunn O))) collaboration, Terrestrials. Nonetheless, it’s still surprisingly accessible – something that has always been one of Ulver’s strengths, even in their early black metal days. It results in a package which is essential listening for existing fans and a good jumping-on point for anyone who’s been thinking about checking them out but wasn’t sure where to start.  

Drone Activity is out now. You can purchase it here

Words: Tom G. Wolf

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