Back in 1996 hearing an album with nothing but dark and mystical acoustic songs found earlier only as intros and isolated passages among other metal releases was, to my still naïve ears, something astonishingly refreshing. I knew nothing of neo-folk back then, not even the term, and to find that Ulver, who literally changed my whole perception of black metal at the time with Bergtatt, recorded this album was an added layer of excitement. It could have been a failure but that so many inspired musicians played a role in it, that it was so unique, and that so many great ideas were presented established it as a classic that still stands the test of time. Of course, we all know that Ulver completely changed from this point forward and abandoned all associations with folk and the metal scene a few years later but that in a way only highlighted the independence and strength of these early experiments. Sometimes it’s best to keep something rare, rare - like a useless rehash of a better product, which in the corporate-controlled environment we in the West live in is our daily bread and butter. 26 years later, few would have ever expected a Kveldssanger Part II, which the label (and for all I know, Håvard himself) have been pushing Haavard’s solo album as, certainly not me, and in fact when I first heard this I could not help but feel equal parts nostalgia-related excitement and a biting cynicism. Håvard Jørgensen was the guitarist from that classic album and has mostly abandoned this style of music in the decades since he left Ulver. He has recorded some electronic or rock music as I understand and only in recent years appears to have woken from his creative slumber with renewed output from the mind-numbingly weak and watered down “black metal” band Dold Vorde Ens Navn, and now his self-titled release. What I immediately found telling glancing at the booklet is that the thirteen tracks of this self-titled “sequel” to Kveldssanger were recorded back in 2018. For whatever reason, Haavard sat on them for a full four years before deciding they are worth sharing with the world, or perhaps Profitcy just felt it was good timing to release them in 2022? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care, but I think the fact that he had no incentive to publish these tracks for so long shows. It is hard for me to contain myself here... you will have to excuse me... as I felt such love for Kveldssanger as a teenager and in my twenties and beyond... but this album has no relationship to the classic except for one or two tracks that vaguely, distantly, tenuously, remind me of the album, including the boring recycling of Kveldssang II, so I will judge this on its own merits. How do I put it plainly? Among 13 tracks there are a few inspired moments on this geriatric album... one of these is the five minute Snøhetta which has a pleasant melody complimented by good flute work of Kristine Marie Aasvang. Eastwood (a tribute to Clint?) has a creative, almost dancing melody with charming violin/viola counterpoint and background effects and voices (including Krystoffer Rygg from Ulver). This leads to Mot Soleglad which is in my opinion the best track on the entire album, featuring Rygg again on vocals, since it is the most somber and dark piece. If anything, this song connects me more to Ulver than anything else, though it is still not very good. Myrull, the track that follows, has a playful melody that elicits some degree of remembrance. That’s all, really. The rest of these tracks are muzak with a few jarring forays into flamenco (Emmanuelle) and an absolutely boring opener, Printemps, which sounds like it could be the musical score to a very sad television melodrama or soap opera. The decision to throw all of this together seems to me a failure of editorial control on music that he has collected willy-nilly over a number of years (2014-2018 per the liner notes). Make no mistake about it, Haavard has left behind black metal and its aesthetics and atmospheres on his solo outing, he has also went far beyond the periphery of his Kveldssanger album, deciding to go for a solo effort assisted with musicians far outside Norway (including Evan and Raphael of Musk Ox, who I never really liked, which this music incidentally sounds very close to in spirit) with just a threadbare interest in consistency of mood and continuity with the past. For that I (surprise?) congratulate Håvard Jørgensen, as no musician of any merit wants to repeat exactly what he has done before, but besides the bad publicity of promoting this as a sequel to something of which it isn’t, 26 years have made his compositions sound tired and old (and not in a positive way). Haavard is uninspired, immediately forgettable muzak with a few exceptions that would have made an impressive MCD or EP. This does not deserve more than a few listens, but his reawakening did make me yearn again for superior bands on this label, Vàli (who I pride myself in introducing to Stefan Belda) and Tenhi and instill a little bit of a glimmer that, if Haavard can come back to life, perhaps these two can as well. We will see, and hear, but we won’t wait.
Read more of my reviews in issue 10 of Convivial Hermit, order here.