Messe I.X-VI.X is the tenth studio album by the Norwegian experimental collective Ulver and the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra with additional aid from composer Martin Romberg. Written and produced by Ulver, released on October 8, 2013, via Jester Records and Kscope. The album has been described as a „peace mass for Lebanon“.
On September 17, 2013, a trailer was released, and on October 4, 2013 the track „Shri Schneider“, was released for streaming via Pitchfork Media.
The music was commissioned in 2012 by the Tromsø Kulturhus (House of Culture) in Norway, in a cooperation with the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra cultural institution. It was composed and first performed live by Ulver, alongside the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra on September 21, 2012. The band then took the recordings back to Crystal Canyon, Oslo and spent winter and spring in post-production, honing the material for its studio-equivalent.
Six compositions altogether written and produced, recorded and mixed by Ulver, this time consisting of Ole Alexander Halstensgård, Kristoffer Rygg, Jørn H. Sværen and Tore Ylwizaker, with additional aid and advice from composer Martin Romberg who also arranged the music for the 21 members of Tromsø Chamber Orchestra. The album also features contemporary composers/musicians Ole-Henrik Moe and Kari Rønnekleiv.
The band named some of their influences for Messe I.X–VI.X:
Gorecki’s No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It haunted us for years and probably always will. The Gustavs Mahler and Holst. Sound collages from When or Nurse with Wound. 70’s kraut and synth. Ash Ra and Autobahn. 80’s pop scores. John Carpenter and Tin Drum. Terry Riley, again and again and again. Saint John of the Cross.
Opening song „As Syrians Pour In, Lebanon Grapples with Ghosts of a Bloody Past“ was named after a news piece by Reuters concerning the flood of Syrian refugees into Lebanon following the ongoing Syrian Civil War. However, vocalist Kristoffer Rygg has stated: „This appropriation is not any more, or less, political other than an indication of concern. We live in troubled times. The song itself has a distinct Middle Eastern feel to it and coupled with sounds of vultures and war that title seemed both appropriate as well as contemporary. But we have no ideology for sale. Only our sadness.“
Following its original performance at Tromsø Kulturhus in Tromsø, Norway, with Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, on September 21, 2012, Ulver have performed Messe I.X–VI.X in its entirety a further two times: On May 20, 2013 at Wave Gotik Treffen, Leipzig, Germany with the Stüba Philharmonie, Volkspalast and on November 16, 2013 at Teatro Regio, Parma, Italy with the MG_INC Orchestra.
Upon its release, Messe I.X–VI.X received positive reviews from music critics. Alex Franquelli, writing for The Quietus described the album as „a challenging work and an album of rare beauty.“ Jamie Twort, writing for SputnikMusic rated the album 4.5/5, describing Messe I.X–VI.X as „a phenomenal album, combining intense atmosphere with the sort of cinematic sense of drama akin to some of the most powerful film scores.“ Gregory Burkart, writing for Fear.net described Messe I.X–VI.X as „one of the band’s most surreal and haunting projects to date, combining their unorthodox soundscapes (which often incorporate elements of electronic music, metal, rock and folk instrumentation, blended through inventive production techniques) with a full symphony orchestra.“ Falk Wehmeier, writing for Metal.de wrote „Ulver have found a perfect expression of their perception of a world void of home or footing… Within the scope of the chosen style, Ulver couldn’t have clothed their message better in sound.“ Marianna Kofinaki, writing for BURST Magazine noted, „Saying that this masterpiece is one of the best albums of the year would be a huge understatement,“ concluding Messe I.X–VI.X to be „a timeless and priceless masterpiece, creating a trailblazing musical pathos its own!“ Benjamin Bland, writing for Echoes and Dust said Messe I.X–VI.X was a „Stirringly brilliant example of the continuing power of imaginatively deployed classical instrumentation in the twenty-first century.“ This is Book’s Music said „Messe I.X-VI.X could be considered a classical album… regardless of what one considers this, it’s an engrossing listen.“ Robert Dłucik, writing for Polish online magazine Rock Area have Messe I.X–VI.X a 10/10 rating. Extreme Metal fanzine No Clean Singing described Messe I.X–VI.X as „Simultaneously daring and difficult, challenging yet compelling, filled with a warmth of emotion yet governed by a calculating intellect.” Tor Martin Bøe, writing for Verdens Gang gave the album a 6/6 rating. Martin Anfinsen, writing for Norwegian media magazine Adresseavisen rated the album 6/6. Chris Noir, writing for music blog Time Does Not Rest said „…your heart intermits for a second and your flesh creeps because of the terrible beauty of the music.“ Austen R. Walsh, writing for arts magazine The Arts Fuse described Messe I.X–VI.X as „a brilliant blend of classical, dark ambient, and hard rock music.“ Dutch media magazine hifi.nl rated the album 9/10. Daniel Schnettler, writing for online Spanish webzine Noise rated the album 10/10.