Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately – if you came here looking for the stereotypical markers of heavy metal (double kick, down-tuned guitars, blast beats, crushing riffs etc.), you’re in, just, so the wrong place. If that’s what you were expecting, you are going to be either pleasantly surprised or very disappointed by Ulver. This is not that. What you’ll find is indeed one of the heaviest albums of the year, but with a twist.
Messe is an almost entirely instrumental classical album with folk influences all through it. It comes across as a film score, and indeed, it would serve that purpose masterfully. It’s one of the eeriest goddamn things I’ve ever heard. It’s by no means a beat-you-‘round-the-head heaviness. It doesn’t assault you. It chokes you. It feels like you’re all alone in some kind of satanic monastery in a desolate, ice-bound alpine environment. You feel like you’re alone, completely isolated. Surrounded by sinister forces not entirely of this world. In other words, it’s creepy as fuck.
Album highlight and opener (brace yourselves) “As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples With Ghosts of a Bloody Past” is a haunting eleven-minute instrumental journey through Lucifer’s nether regions that ebbs and flows into a highly unsettling track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Russian Circles record. It sets the tone and the standard for the album and no other track manages to equal it.
The rest of the album follows in the same vein, with instrumental classical/folk music slowly rising from the depths like Cthulu and then immersing both itself and you back below its murky waters. It’s a really, really freaky album, and if you’re into the kind of music that swallows you, you’ll love this. “Son of Man” has some creepy vibes, too. Eerie strings, distorted, childlike voices, heart monitors, deep, foreboding voices and more feature in “Son of Man”. The weird piano in closer “Mother of Mercy” is really unsettling, too.
In short, Messe is creepy as all get out. It’s like being in a room so dark that you cannot see at all and then hearing soft footsteps. I loved it, and if you like experimental, progressive records and haunted houses, this is the album for you.