Sound: Right, from the off, I am going to say: If you want old Ulver back when they were all kvlt and necro, you might want to forget about that idea fairly quickly.
"War Of The Roses" is bar far one of the straaaangest albums I've heard (and I once subjected myself to an hour of Schoenberg), it combines the somewhat moody but soothing sound of "Shadows Of The Sun" and mixes in the experimental use of acoustic instruments as percussive sounds, bizarre additions of synths and a big melding of chromatics. So as far as genres go, WOTR is hard to pinpoint. But the main thing here is, despite the incredibly disturbing sound it has, there are parts to the album that are simply amazing. Case in point, the song "Providence": A slow and soothing first half that definitely continues the sound of "Shadows Of The Sun", but just before the half way point, it goes into a King Crimson'y/70's prog experimental rock sound, using heavily ambient electric guitar, reverbed-to-zog drums, saxophone wailing and a strange melodic hint. But then that also goes into an entirely different piece altogether, which in essence is the sound scape of the otherworldly wilderness. The 70's sound is also heavily noticeable in the song "England" which has a fat, distorted bass rumbling throughout.
The synths are indeed a dominating factor, not in the same sense as a trance/rock band like Enter Shikari or whatever, but more in the atmospheric sense. The density of the electronics is astounding though, and their appropriate use per section of a song enhances a certain mood in that bit of the song. One of the best examples of this is the last 2 minutes of "September IV".
But I feel I should mention the fact that a fairly large group of musicians participated in this album (no less than 15), who all contributed to either vocals, guitar, woodwinds or electronics (with some people doing all 4). The most notable figurehead is Attila Csihar from the notorious band Mayhem, supplying vocals to the song "Providence". // 8
Lyrics: Kristoffer Rygg should be deeply respected for his vocal performances on here. His range is fairly huge, yet he doesn't over do the high notes, so for most of the time he is singing in a low, almost goth-rock style croon, adding a bit of vibrato as well. They settle in nicely with the spacey sections of the album but are absent from the more intense, stranger passages as to not upset the mood.
Lyrically, I can only assume an album called "War Of The Roses" has some relation to the actual war of the roses. But looking at the lyrics, they suggest a more existential or spiritual theme. The spoken words on the 15 minute finisher "Stone Angels" delves into symbolism and the song "Norwegian Gothic" doesn't have much relation to the supposed theme at all (In fact its more like the content of their old material: paganism, etc.). Again, someone may know more about this bit of the album than I do, so do tell. But as far as delivery goes, you can't deny it's good. Rygg and his guests provide their best for the album, keeping within the same mood of the individual tracks and making the music seem even stranger compared to their more natural voices. // 7
Overall Impression: Well you'll be hard pressed to find something similar. "WOTR" is in its own little universe of sound, and if you want to go there, you'll need to leave your brain on the coat rack. This album is incredible, perhaps not very obviously, but it soon becomes the focus of your attention as you analyse the perversion of pop physics and the strange, twisted sounds take you further in.
Songs to look out for: "February MMX", "Providence', "September IV", "England". // 8