From the dark corners of Nordic folklore to the sublime spheres of the epic, tragic Art Pop opus, Ulver’s unique creative trajectory continues to throw off efforts towards categorisation. Staying true to their name, Oslo’s wolves made a name for themselves as lone, majestic pathfinders striving, surviving and thriving on the fringes of artistic trends and conventions. Having grown from a creature born and raised alongside Norway’s infamous Black Metal acts to an animal roaming well beyond the clear-cut boundaries of genre, Ulver embodies a rare, dying breed, misunderstood and all-too-often reduced to a violent beast. With Wolves Evolve: The Ulver Story, Tore Engelsen Espedal and fellow collaborators offer an unprecedented look into a project shrouded in mystique through conversations retracing the band’s entire history.
For a band of reclusive characters such as Ulver, the choice of editor and interviewer must surely have been a selective one. As both a writer and interviewer, Tore Engelsen Espedal’s experience and in-depth knowledge shines through all six discussions that form the books’ six main chapters. The author joins the conversation and steers the discussion to bring you the most exhaustive history of the band as you’re ever going to get. The first chapter dealing with the band’s early history is chock-full of insights on the Norwegian Black Metal scene and will surely quench the morbid thirst of those still looking to know more about Oslo’s most infamous musical exports. Founding member Kristoffer Rygg gives a definitive account of the band’s involvement in the scene and the developments leading up to their eventual dissociation from it with Themes from William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Chapter two discusses the rest of the band’s career up until their tenth album ATGCLVLSSCAP, whereas chapter three features the first of two rare interviews with the reclusive Tore Ylwizaker and completes the band’s history with The Assassination of Julius Caesar and focuses on the band’s creative process, collaborators and workspaces. Readers seeking humorous, bizarre or downright scary anecdotes from the road will get their fair share in chapter four, in which Kristoffer and Tore discuss setting Ulver in motion as a live act after sixteen years as a studio project. The fifth chapter gives centre stage to the band’s most recent recruit, Ole Aleksander Halstensgård, and his experience transitioning from a live musician and collaborator to a full-fledged creative contributor. Lastly, the sixth interview rounds up all four members to discuss the band’s evolution and possible future.
In lifting their cherished silence and secrecy, the band talks very openly about the creative processes and relationships that have shaped the band’s music. Kristoffer, Jørn, Tore and Ole give an honest, unfiltered account of their experiences and do not hesitate to share their personal gripes and moments of weakness along the way. With the main body of text in the form of interview transcriptions, the band’s history unfolds in a natural, dynamic fashion with personal commentaries and occasional tangents. Though faithful to the band’s discussion with Espedal, this occasionally muddles up the books thematic structure and chronology.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, Wolves Evolve recounts a rich, unique career spanning over two and a half decades but offers sparse information regarding the stories and concepts behind the lyrics. Given the band’s reserved nature, one should expect them to want to keep some cards close to their chest. The old wolves name influences and inspirations, but keep the verses largely under wraps and kept open for interpretation. Alternatively, Espedal and the band give the floor to writers Phil Alexander, Nile Bowie and Torolf Kroglund, who offer their own personal perspectives and interpretations on Ulver’s music in the form of essays interspersed between the book’s six chapters.
With its extensive collection of photos, in-depth interviews and featured reviews, Wolves Evolve: The Ulver Story is a gorgeous volume, dense with information and trivia for avid fans to sink their teeth into. For those longing for a look behind-the-scenes look at Norway’s most astonishing musical acts, Ulver’s book is sure to serve as the definitive source for years to come.