Category Archives: Review

Sightless Pit – Grave of a Dog

Origin: USA
Label: Thrill Jockey

If you bring together Lee Buford of The Body, Kristin Hayter of Lingua Ignota and Dylan Walker of Full of Hell for a project, you’ll get something special. That’s one thing to be certain of and you would know this is if you’re familiar with the relationship between these acts. Kristin Hayter is not someone who takes collaborations lightly and chemistry is essential. The result, Sightless Pit, is an audio exploration of bleak existence and darkness, unlike another on ‘Grave of a Dog’.

The vocal intro to ‘Kingscorpse’ instantly gives you the chills. It’s that weary, forlorn intonation of Hayter that lulls you to a sense of calm. Before you know it, the heavily distorted and gritty vocals overwhelm you over a steady beat. It is pulsating, threatening, dark. An incessant beat that swells and pushes you along into ‘Immersion Dispersal’. You feel as if you’re deep underground at some ‘end of the world’ techno party, where Skinny Puppy worshippers gather.

That vibe is only further enhanced with the ritualistic introduction to ‘The Ocean of Mercy’. It’s remarkable how there’s always tension. Even during the mellow, droney parts of this song with the clean vocals, it’s looming. I have to think of some of the more ambient works by Ulver. The oft angelical singing of Hayter breaks through the haze of noise and crackling effects, providing a new clarity.

Throbbing sounds guide us on ‘Violent Rain’, which takes us back to the minimalism of earlier tracks on the album. It’s a long build-up towards the minimalist piano and a bridge to the much more visceral ‘Drunk on Marrow’. A gloomy, dystopian soundscape, with barking bursts of distortion and pulse that booms in your ears like blood pumping through your veins at full force. In turn, ‘Miles of Chain’ feels more harsh and noisy, with a martial beat that reigns over the roaring sounds and reverberations. It’s a hazy track that turns more sinister and dark as it continues onwards, opening the gate for more darkness to seep in on ‘Whom The Devil Long Sought To Strangle’. Pounding rhythms and minimal, destroyed instrumentations lead us onwards, further down into the pit…

To end up with the sheer magic and tenderness of ‘Love is Dead, All Love is Dead’. It’s despair in its most fragile, hopeless form. A heap of shivering vulnerability, that is left when all is stripped away. It evokes a feeling of guilt, sadness, the sense of inevitableness. We did this, as a world and planet. But that, like anything here, is interpretation, but it’s one based on the power of evocation in this song and the whole album.

Underground Sounds: Divide and Dissolve – Abomination

Label: Independent
Band: Divide and Dissolve
Origin: Australia

It’s convenient sometimes to think that the whole world is alright. We’re wrong though. Divide and Dissolve are highlighting some issues that are still part of our landscape and life. White supremacy is, according to Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill, still a part of the world around us and the wounds of the past have not fully healed. That is what ‘Abomination’ is about.

Takiaya is part Cherokee and Sylvie part Maaori. Their music is designed to decolonize and decentralize and pay homage to the ancestors. With drums, guitar, saxophone, and live effects, they make music that shakes the walls and breaks down common perceptions of the world around us. I’m hooked. From a comfortable background, it’s too easy for me to say that all is well when there’s still so much hurt in the world. Luckily, those voices are heard.

The music is absolutely punishing with erratic patterns and a deep, droning vibe to it on opening track ‘Abomination’. The drums are so you feel them inside your bones before we get into the eerie intro of ‘Assimilation’. Almost painful, almost grotesque, is it still a beautiful howling effect that you here? Before you can really process it, the lumbering bass and drums hit you again. It stomps and curdles onward, through the next track, all the way to ‘Reversal’, which is a spoken word section about the immigrant mind. The light music support only emphasizes the words, makes them stronger and more potent. It’s touching in its alienating form, but also is the only word of explanation the record offers us.

At times the music almost feels ritualistic or even slightly jazzy, like the tune ‘Resistance’. There’s a mystique, a feeling of movie-like suspense to the tune. Repetitive riffs come by, enriched with even further effects and sounds that take you into this trippy realm. The sound is strangely subdued, almost inaudible at times and less structured on ‘Re-Appropriation’ and ‘Reparations’. They feel like strange sound experiments, full of droning bass lines.

‘Indigenous Sovereignty’ is the short, but foreboding closer of the album. Perhaps a sign, a light, showing what is to come in the following years. Guiding the path for change.

Midnight Coven – Bewitched

I like cats. I don’t think this should surprise anyone, because I’ve mentioned that before. So if you have an album cover that looks a bit odd, but features a black cat and a cool sounding name like Midnight Coven, there’s a fair chance I’ll check it out. And, I have to say, I do not regret listening to ‘Bewitched’.

The project is initially a solo endeavour by Aaron Baker, a 27-year old multi-instrumentalist who has several other projects going. I haven’t been able to find out much more, but there are some musical references given like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. That’s never a bad thing in my book, so let’s get to the music.

‘Sinister’ sounds much like any witchy sounding, doomy psychy band you may be familiar with. Angsty, creepy… Think Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, but a bit on overdrive on vocal effects. It’s cool. And weird. I guess both. I don’t get why the sound is rather wonky though. It wasn’t my headphones, I checked. What it does, is add a little spooky vibe to the song. The same goes for ‘Blood on the Wall’, which at times feels as if it’s merging all parts together into a formless mass of evil creeping up to you. The vocals are something else though, and might even hint at modern psych bands with that nasal tone that keeps sorta poking at you.

But let’s get down to the more doomy, theatric side of the record with ‘Midnight Summoning’. There’s certain bombast to the sound of the streaming guitars. A lot of space is left for those stadium rock-Oasis riffs that blow out with a slight dissonance as you’re familiar with from many pscyh bands. That slightly snotty whingy vibe, but Midnight Coven can do the riffing too in a grand heavy metal style. Just listen to the opening of ‘Corporate Slave’. Tell me that doesn’t sound like ‘Looks that kill’ by Mötley Crüe’. And that’s a great tune, so it works well here too in that specific vibe. At times the sound can be a bit highly processed though, which is very audible on ‘Welcome to the Horror Show’. The drums feel mechanic, the bass is just too perfect, and those soaring sounds in the back make it feel like you’re listening in a very, very tiny room. Does the job, though.

So, Midnight Coven is simply weird. It’s a weird sounding band, and therefore really cool. On closer ‘Conditioned Nation’, I like the flow, but I feel as if I’m listening to a synth track at some points. The lumbering guitars are so thick, like a frosty milkshake. The vocals are very clear on this track, though, which creates a unique vibe. I say, just check ‘m out.

Underground Sounds: Possessor – Gravelands

It should come as no surprise that I’m excited about a new Possessor record. The horror-inspired doomsters from the United Kingdom have been quite prolific in the last few years, and they are one of the rare bands that I’ve interviewed twice already (you can read the interviews here, and here, they’re quite fun). 

The main inspiration for this group is hard to define. Where before I had a strong Sabbath vibe from these gents, now we’re moving more towards a punky, upbeat sound. It must be that first wave-style black metal influence, but also, most definitely, Black Flag. It’s more energetic, pushier, more domineering. I mean, it’s all good stuff and good clean fun.

So the horror samples are still there, and you only need to glance at their artwork to get that vibe. ‘Gravelands’ is less spooky though, it’s more ‘scary-biker-gang-might-be-werewolves’ scary. I suppose that’s a thing. After that hardcore beatdown beat on ‘Jim The Mutilator’ (obscure reference to the Rotting Christ originator?), the buzzsaw bassline on ‘Backwoods’ is pretty rad. 

We turn a darker corner on ‘Savage Rampage’, with a higher pace, which approaches that primitive sound of bands like Midnight. The guitar riffs definitely contribute to that, no warm walls, but gritty, grim bursts hit your darkening mood. All good and set to go for the next bangers, which are ‘Breathe Fire’ and ‘Creature of Havoc’. Here we get back to the good old hard-rocking vibes we love about Possessor. Punchy, heavy sounding tunes, with nice heavy metal hooks and riffs. It feels like music made for a simpler time. It feels odd to get this classic metal vibe in these times, but it also just feels fucking good to hear these riffs that sound like sludgy Iron Maiden efforts.

‘Hiking To Hell’ underlines the coolness of this album again, by returning more to the grimy, repetitive sound and mossy walls of sound from their ‘Dead By Dawn’ album. Groovy stuff. You gotta love Possessor. 

Out there with Earthencloak, Elbrus, Castle Zagyx and Zandvoort & Uilenbal

Now and then, I write some reviews about records that I find enjoyable. I enjoyed these pieces of drone, synth and magic.

Earthencloak – Pipe Smoke & Faery Magick

self-releasedEarthenclock pipe smoke and faery magick

Something exciting is happening in the dungeon synth genre. To be honest, it’s been going on for a while, but the sound is expanding. Certainly, purists argue about things like winter synth and other names, but the root of all these artists to me is similar. Steeped in atmosphere and storytelling in a straight-forward, isolated fashion that takes me back to the books and video games I grew up with. Yes, let’s nerd it out to this one, inspired by the artwork of Rien Poortvliet’s gnomes: Earthencloak. True fucking gnome synth and I love it.

Much like Fief, Earthencloak is not echoing the vast, dusty crypts of the traditional dungeon synth, but emulates joyful, foresty freedom. You feel that pleasure, that lush green land, with the bells and sprinkly keys on ‘The Rabbits, the Bees, the Whistling Trees’. It’s carefree and joyous music, certainly with the regular elements, but free from the doom, gloom and lurking darkness.  Yet, listening to ‘To Picnic Beneath Toadstools’ I feel the same transportation to fantasy land. Yet, it is much like in a videogame with a sandbox world: you are often happy to find that peaceful, tranquil place in between all the darkness, and that’s what Earthencloak offers. The xylophone-like sounds also help to embellish the theme, as you imagine the gnomes creating the music. Get lost for a while, the other stuff will be there when you return.

Elbrus – They Grasp And Fight For Wealth As The Whole World Burns

Self-released

Elbrus
is the highest mountain in Europe, to the great chagrin of the French. Its inclusion in the European continent was an interesting one at least. I’d love to climb that thing one day, that’s for sure. Anyways, Elbrus is also a drone/doom project by Tanya Byrne, known from Bismuth. She started the project in 2011, coding and playing soft instruments and playing through many many pedals. Byrne is also a scientist and that approach ad look at the world permeates her work, which is very environmentally conscious, as you can gather from the title of this release.

‘All Life Suffers’ rises up gradually, slowly. There’s a power behind the trembling notes, a force that can be instantly felt, but it’s also mournful. A dirge for a world in collapse, although that is my interpretation based on what I’m presented with. The howling winds of the drones take you into ‘The End of Man’ and as emotions overwhelm you, you find yourself wondering if that would even be such a bad thing. A torrent of noise, crackling and static, unleashes on ‘The Collapse’. Sparing notes reverberate through the haze, coming from everywhere bouncing back at you as the drones start swelling to an almost painful intensity. ‘The River’ rolls in towards the end with a lot of peculiar sounds. The flowing of water, chirping of birds and ethereal vocals as the sound waxes and wanes.

Castle Zagyx – Cavaliers of the Western Heartlands

self-releasedCastle Zagyx

D&D inspired dungeon synth? Well, yes, I’m interested in that and Castle Zagyx (a play on Gygax?) has done quite well with this record, titled ‘Cavaliers of the Western Heartlands’, an album full of songs dedicated to aspects of the sword coast in the Forgotten Realms. For those who don’t know, the Forgotten Realms are campaign setting created by Ed Greenwood, who also holds the rights to it. It’s the most successful setting, which has spawned a ton of books and background materials. Including are Ed Greenwoods self-gratifying Elminster books, a character based on himself that bangs absolutely any fabled beauty in the realms and survives death endlessly. It’s weird. Anyways, Castle Zagyx describes himself as a musician, grognard and reader and that’s what we have on him. Time to dig into the sounds of this one.

Castle Zagyx plays with drones and folky tunes, a bit in the vein of the above Earthencloak, but more rigid and stern, paying homage to the high fantasy aspect of its inspiration. ‘Rite of Passage’ includes Gregorian chanting, bagpipe sounds and eerie percussions. It’s like walking between the massive pillars of a forgotten temple towards that which is holy. But then the sound dwindles, shimmers and takes on a more mysterious vibe. And this is how we travel the lands, from the gates of Myth Drannor to the Dragonmere lake and onwards, ‘In Search Of Adventure’, full of strings, hope and bravery. It’s a bit cheesy at times, but if you didn’t like that you wouldn’t be reading this. And if you do love it, then ‘Honoring Tempus With My Vorpal Sword’ is the absolute climax of the record, soaring upwards with strings swinging and tensions brewing in a truly Hollywood-way, dazzling you with bright lights and explosions. Oh yeah!

Zandvoort & Uilenbal – Folk Triumfator

Nightwind Records
Zandvoort & Uilenbal
This is an intriguing project where electronic music meets medieval instruments. Collaborating under the alias Zandvoort & Uilenbal, we find medieval music expert Jimi Hellinga and electronic musician Danny Wolfers (Legowelt) working on a crossover between those classic instruments and electronic drones and ambient. Think hurry gurdy, Victorian harmonium, thumb harps and a German Mixtur Trautonium. Medieval drone space jazz sounds about like the weirdest stuff you are going to hear, but if you dig transporting music, this is something to really delve into. This is the second album the duo has made under this name, and by all means, they should make some more if it were up to me.

The result is a droning, dreamy collage of sound-stories, like opener ‘Safe Sailing for the Galleon Caladrius’. There’s also some use made of spoken word on ‘But Slowly I Made It My Own’, which helps in creating a narrative, but mostly the duo just allows you to sink into the mellow drones and easy melody lines. Stretched out with some dungeon synthy elements, that still have that organic quality of the instruments used to create them. It feels like a highly crafted album, no easy stuff here. I particularly like the play on ‘A Ski Resort Was Buried In The Avalanche’, which makes me think of Kraftwerk a little due to the disjointed elements that still create a vivid image together.

 

Synth, wave and blackgaze from Iran you should hear about

Seena Arya is a musician from the unlikely location of Iran and specializes in otherworldly synth sounds. His various projects include Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family, Vanelikt, Driftwood, and Beam Keeper. All this is part of the Ardawahisht collective.

He has been kind enough to keep me up to date on his work, which has fascinated me from the start. It’s therefore important to share this and give you a little idea of what awaits you in the crypts. Or in the discotheque… or the forest? As it seems that Seena is working on all fronts to expand the reach of his musical vocabulary to express the harrowing silence and sadness of the world.

You gotta love that.
Header image from Varkâna Facebook page. 

Beam Keeper – Volume 1

Label: self-released
Beam Keeper is pure synthwave, but clearly steeped in the slow trod of dungeon synth where it originates in. If you imagine a dungeon synth project based on ‘The Neverending Story’ or another eighties-vibe movie (I know it’s a book first, I read it), this would be it. Slow, sonorous synths weave through the air, the beats come dully, indicating a slow pace and the vibe is more Blade Runner than happy Goonies. It’s dreamy, captivating and perhaps a bit too strangely droning to completely take you elsewhere and isolate you from your surroundings. For me, it is a perfect record to listen to at any time when I need to close myself into this pristine world that Beam Keeper creates. The throbbing bass lines of ‘Palm Trees Dream’. Please, if you dig synthwave, check this record out. You will not regret it.

Varkâna – Ahrimanic Chambers

Label: self-released
Ahriman is the entity embodied with destructive force in Zoroastrianism, and therefore a great topic for a dark, cavernous dungeon synth record, so that’s exactly how Varkâna follows up ‘Rite’ with ‘Ahrimanic Chambers’. The oppressing, grinding synths have a bit of that Burzum vibe, though that may be the dry tom sound that pops up. Slow drones, and that feeling of disturbing the dust in ancient crypts hardly touched by the sun. But these crypts are different, more ancient and unfamiliar to you and speak of an even older myth. Slowly, with a tinge of the oriental hidden in its notes, it sucks you further in, further down the dark tunnels with strange glyphs and carvings, unto the underworld. Varkâna provides a specific atmosphere, which is particularly captivating thanks to the vastness of the sound. It’s dark, without immediate threat, but always something is lurking, something older…

Sun Addicted Family – Solar Dreams

Label: self-releasedSun Addicted Family
It would be easy to start referring to Deafheaven here, but sonically Sun Addicted Family is far removed from the driven, grandiose sound of the vilified post-black act, yet there’s obviously a thematic connection somehow. This project relies on heavy sonic tapestries and keys to provide a sort of story anchorage throughout. The screamed vocals are intense within the frame of this blackgaze experience. It’s strange to have these sonic flares, chip tuney beats and mash it with that intensity. But that, to me, is exactly what makes Sun Addicted Family so enthralling, it’s otherworldliness, it’s weirdness in a way, blending synth-wave sentiment with black metal intensity and atmospheric black metal emotion. I mean, reading that sentence alone, how would you say that in a way that explains what you’re about to listen to. You should, by the way, do so. Listen to it and immerse yourself in irradiate sunlight, soak in solar dreams and drown in the astral driftways. Blissful forgetting, white light, white heat.

Varkâna – Cosmic Terror

Label: self-released

And here my own slow pace has caught up with me because Varkâna has released a new gem inspired by none other than the great H.P. Lovecraft himself. ‘Cosmic Terror’ is a much similar release, with the creeping, meandering synths taking the listener down aeon-old pathways, basking in the gloom of Eldritch things. Obviously, there’s a connection to the Ahrimanic Chambers record released before, both speak of unspeakable entities that dwell in the dark recesses of our minds. I do feel though, that this album clears up come of the eastern elements in the composition, but this may also just be my perception. More ritualistic even, it expands the realms of Dungeon Synth into more obscure territories, where a haze emerges as the sand and air hit. Nothing is certain, nothing is absolute when elder gods dance in madness in the maelstrom. From the malign and dreamy ‘Space Lord’, to the creeping madness that is ‘Nyarlathotep’. It’s full of foreboding of threat and terror.

From The Bowels of the Dutch Black Metal Scene II

So much darkness in the underground of our welfare state called the Netherlands, that I just have to keep going and share it. This time, the furious harpies of Asagraum, the gloom and doom of Dodenbezweerder, the aerial soundscapes of Nortfalke and the icy hailstorm that is Asgrauw.

Please, enjoy, listen and perhaps purchase some of these tunes.

Asagraum – Dawn of Infinite Fire

Asagraum
Edged Circle Productions

It doesn’t take long to stumble upon the combination of the name Asagraum and ‘all-female black metal’. It is an oddity in black metal for sure, but I can’t say it makes a difference in the sound. Perhaps in the pitch of the vitriolic screams of Obscura, also active in Draugur, Wolvenbloed, Gestalte, and Hekel (both live). She also played in Nargaroth live, which is cool. She runs the ship with A. who used to beat the drums in Sisters of Suffocation. Originally, it was a cross-continental band with T. Kolsvart on drums, and a number of international musicians involved, but now the core is Dutch. Jeez, what an intro, did I mention that they play some sick black metal in the traditional way we love and relish?

Asagraum can sound harsh and unrelenting, as they do on most of their songs. There is, however, a melodic streak in their sound. The excellent production (no necro stuff here) helps to let that musical side open up when you listen to it. Particularly the track ‘Guahaihoque’ does a great job at dragging you in with its sweeping flourishes. It’s really good stuff to take your mind off things, but we return to fire and brimstone with songs like ‘Dochters van de Zwarte Vlam’. An energetic rhythm, ominous, and just that right speed-up moment when we surge into a new vocal bit. Personal favorite though is the final track that also features clean vocals. ‘Waar Ik Ben Komt De Dood’ (where I am, comes death) is a mid-paced burner, moving along a mist of distortion. The chanted words emerge from that same fog, difficult to hear at first in the haze, but on the other hand clear within the production. This is a great black metal record, full of fire and fury. You might want to check it out.

Dodenbezweerder – Vrees De Toorn Van De Wezens Verscholen Achter Majestueuze VleugelsDodenbezweerder

Iron Bonehead Productions

I am in no way surprised to find the name Mories connected to this project. The brain behind Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, Cloak of Altering, Capuut Mortem, and a hundred other bands never sits still. Santino van der Aa plays drums, which he also does in dsbm legends Hypothermia. Dodenbezweerder was launched in 2019 and the full length is listed as released in 2020. You just know it’s going to be good, but somehow this has remained under the radar up to this point for me. Might be because the releases followed each other at a rapid pace. The artwork already shows an artistic inclination to the classic black and white, so I expect a sound like that.

Which is an expectation soon to be fulfilled with atmospheric, lo-fi, distorted darkness. The title track is all hissing, crackling, and has that good old necro sound to it, but Dodenbezweerder never goes into screeching overdrive, but calls up a fog of distortion, that clouds a massive sound of slow, lumbering movement. The tracks are full of anticipation, foreboding of a lurking presence. From the fog, the vocals arise in gurgling, gibbering tones, as a ghoulish reminder that there is something coming at you. Shimmering comes to mind when you listen to ‘Glimmende Zwaarden Door De Mist Van Het Evangelie’, minimal yet, maximal impact. Spartan is a word the band uses in their bio and that makes sense as a duo, yet the wall of sound Dodenbezweerder unleashes is not to be trifled with. You want to hear this.

Nortfalke – Atmosfeer

Heidens Hart RecordsNortfalke

Is it dungeon synth? Not entirely, but there is something of that vibe in the Krautrock leaning sound of Nortfalke, which reminds you a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream with its spun-out, soaring electronics. Nortfalke is an alias of Swerc, who is known from bands like Tarnkappe, Gheestenland, Asregen and a dozen other fascinating projects. This one, however, explores the cryptic mysteries of dungeon synth with a classic approach that never fails. It’s the sort of sound that immerses you in mystery and dreams, particularly this thematic album, titled ‘Atmosfeer’ (Atmosphere).

Repetition is one of the key tools for dungeon synth acts. It has a meditative and hypnotic effect on the listener as it all sort of starts to melt together into one flow. We don’t descend into crypts though, but ascend to the clouds and explore the beauty of the heights on ‘Hoogten’. I particularly enjoy the krautrock vibe on ‘IJskristallen’, which translates as ‘ice crystals’. The looped keys resonate like he pristine, crackling of ice that would surround you in the upper atmosphere (that’s pure speculation, but the shimmering sound matches my imagination). And this is the true strength of Nortfalke, it catches the atmospheric elements it describes. The sensations, the perspectives, they’re all there within the sound. And then we fall into the depth on ‘Diepte’. It’s notable that the sound is more organic, natural, thanks to the use of actual synthesizers. The result is quite remarkable.

Asgrauw – IJsval

Death Kult Records/Pest Productions

I’ve commented before on the peculiar artwork of Asgrauw, but I have to admit that it does kind of grow on you. ‘IJsval’ is the fourth full length by the band from Groesbeek (the bad end of Nijmegen I’ve been told). Keeping a steady pace of dropping a record every 2 years, the band is on a roll. Members of Asgrauw are also active in Meslamtea. And that’s great stuff and only offers more promises for their latest release, that seems fitting in these times.

Asgrauw relies heavily on the tremolo guitar sounds, the trickling, cold melodic elements and double vocals. Not entirely uncommon, but in their synth-heavy sound more than welcome to offer depth and complexity to the sound. ‘Leegte’ instantly delivers, creating a lot of space to breathe and just wallow in the sound with melodic breaks. But there’s also violence and cascading, icy riffs that flow with a thundering roar. ‘Stortvloed’ is one of those tracks, that just keeps going. What I like so much about this record, is that the title just permeates every single track. ‘Ijsval’ translates as ‘ice fall’, and that cold hits you every tune again. Sure, a little warmth seeps in with that Iron Maiden-esque bass line in ‘Broeihaard’, but it’s back into the cold again a moment later. Asgrauw is like a bike ride through icy rain in late autumn. Dutch people know what I’m talking about.

More records Stranger Aeons missed out on…

Life is a curious thing, especially when it fills your time with work, hobbies, sports and other activities. And then, there’s this… A global pandemic that makes everything come to a grinding halt.

But it’s cool that it got me writing again because I have so much music I want to share with you. Here you have Vaelastrasz, Smear Ghost, Hiemis and Tarkin Turfer. Dungeon synth, ambient, dark electronics, all there.

Smear Ghost – Earth Is For God, Hell Is For Men

Moonworshipper RecordsSmear Ghost

A Smear Ghost is what occurs when a false image follows the image that you see on your telly. Like a shadow. It’s well creepy if you think about that. And rarely do I get properly creeped out by an intro, but ‘How Will You Be Seen In His Eyes’ does the trick, alright. You could call the sound of this act from Romania, something like electronic black metal and that would make sense. Or call it black ambient it both hits the mark of dark, atmospheric music with a hint of synth to it. I mean, how ‘hunted in the dark’ do you feel when listening to ‘Encroachment’ in the dark?

I find it uncomfortably fitting that I can’t find any information about this act. The sound becomes more ambient-oriented though on ‘Words Are Empty Without Belief’. Yet, you can sense the same tension you get from the ambient Ulver records, which to me are the summit of how dark electronics can get in the ambient area. But even when Smear Ghost picks up the pace, the sound remains fantastic. I mean, this is stuff I really can get into. Everything dark and grimy, but also stuff to move to at times, if you an get your Jack the Ripper groove on that is.

HIEMIS – ThuleHiemis

Gradual Hate Records

This project by Juan Carlos Toledo from Silent Love Of Death has a long story to tell with this record, which addresses the myth of Atlantis and Thule. Not always considered to be the same, but highly connected anyways. It’s a fascinating material in itself, but it made me curious about the music which even on the first track already shows a tendency to the megalomanic with an overwhelming of hazy noise. It’s all grandeur, but it works and that is the strength of this record. But it gets better all the time, in fact, I love the eerie tinkling sounds on ‘Wrath of the Gods’ that breaks with the tumultuous storm that keeps emerging.

But from there on the sound opens up, becomes more ethereal and wavery to my ears. Particularly ‘The Offering’ stands out in its evocative moods. ‘The Ten Kingdoms’ is another mythical reference, of which I have not found a particularly clear basis, but it appears to refer to ancestral realms. It’s an exemplary track in the work of HIEMIS, on mythologizing the past that is shrouded in shadows due to the lack of written sources. A grand basis for material that makes you think of forgotten places.

Tarkin Turfer – Old Finnbar Furrowbrow

Tarkin Turfer
Ancient Meadow Records

The pool of dungeon synth records to delve into is an ever-increasing well with a lot of interesting works and more and more mediocrity. That’s why I’m excited to find something like Tarkin Turfer, which moves away from the gritty, dusky, dusty sound with a more energetic and full type of music. It’s really the old PC RPG versus the SNES JRPG’s, but here in sound. More natural, full sounds, more feeling and depth. I love the classic sound though, but the expansion is where the novelty thrives. What’s even better about Tarkin Turfer is that this album follows a Dungeons & Dragons narrative.

What you immediately notice is the layers in the sound. Sure, they’re easy to distinguish and hardly complex, but there is more texture, more elements to the construction. Wood, stone, fabrics, glass, it feels more tangible as we follow Old Finnbar Furrowbrow on his trips. At times, like on the title track, it can even feel a bit synthwave-like. Which is cool, the styles are not so distinct, but it’s the melodies that follow that really kick it to a new level. Certainly, the basics are still there. As the narrative builds, we go to a darker, more gloomy place and the repetitive rhythms are always there on ‘The Staff of the Underworld’. But it’s always about going towards events, instead of the husky melancholy you are used to. Particularly fond of ‘Shadow Visions’ which is a quite different track again, I love sinking into this record and forgetting about the world for a bit.

Vaelastrasz – The Birth of Naxxramasvaelastrasz

Self-released

A release dedicated to vanilla World of Warcraft? Yes, that is of interest to me and particularly this one as I’ve actually never run it in my day. Naxxramas is one of the most daunting places in the original World of Warcraft and woven into the game lore with a lot of grief and sadness surrounding it. I mean, you can tell me fantasy is camp, but the level of emotion woven into the stories is often exceptional. Blizzard has been very, very good at this. Vaelastrasz has created a wide catalogue of recordings on the very topic of World of Warcraft. Where the game has gone slightly downhill in my opinion, this music just gets better.

The music unfolds in six pieces, that are slow, densely atmospheric and rich in their sound. No meagre synths with some gritty lo-fi sound, but a full immersion from the first piece onwards. The parts flow together smoothly, effortlessly. It helps the experience and immersion, as you drone along with the repetitive rhythms and circular melodies. What Vaelastrasz succeeds in, is evoking a much grander feeling with the music. Listen to the transition between part I and II (around 6-8 mins in) for that swelling sound. Part II is my favourite anyways, but Part III is even more loose and frivolous. I’m not certain if there are vocals or a semblance, but it works as a seductive lament, enticing the listener further into the adventure. In the final sections, we build towards a final moment, a crescendo if you will, where the story wraps up. It Is that I read about the six parts, but they work so well together. I would not change a thing about this fantastic piece.

Pamirt – Mausoleum

Pamirt translates to ‘to die gently’ from Latvian and is an artistic project by Kristiāna Kārkliņa. It emerged from experimentation in Berlin in 2017, creating a different sort of expression than her black metal band Eschatos. The result is a stunning display of darkness, and it’s regal beauty in sound. Pamirt has now emerged as a trio, with Kārkliņa being supported by Edgars Percevs (Eschatos) and Edgars Gultnieks (Protean, Eschatos).

What you get in recording, is quite exceptional, but there is a place that can be ascribed to the music of Pamirt. To me, that is somewhere in between Diamanda Galas, Dead Can Dance and Lingua Ignota. For the sheer recklessness of combining classical sophistication and composition with meaty bass lines and darkness expressed in the vocal style. Listening to the album, it is evident that at the heart of each song is just the piano and voice, the other instruments serve to enhance, thicken, macerate and fortify the sound into what it is: Pamirt.

Mausoleum

The record starts off mildly, with the song ‘That Day’, which relies mostly on the basics, but when the sound does swell it is tumultuous, overwhelming. It’s there where the vocals pierce the haze of distorted guitars and mesmerizing keys. ‘Mausoleum’ as well, sticks to the more common sounds, with a doomy sound and sense of foreboding every step of the way, but towards the end, these notable sounds emerge in the noise. The voice whoops and soars, as Kārkliņa rides and tames the waves of sound.

The lyrics tell us stories, which are partly inspired by Pushkin’s ‘A Feast In Time of Plague’ and by own experience. The result, at times, is grotesque, confrontational and heavy. ‘This Dinner’ is a noteworthy track in that sense, with vocals that put us on the path of Diamanda Galas if I may be so bold to make that comparison. Banging sheet metals, diabolical laughter, unnerving…but bewitching at the same time in all its splendor. We slowly wander into ‘Early March’, an intermezzo instrumental track.

Whatever you may feel of this music, that radiates discomfort, the voice is ever-present. It’s multi-faceted, of many colors. It’s absolutely stunning in execution, wildly dancing through the songs. Though the piano is almost battered with the crushing sound on ‘Danube’, the singing is calm, measured and again has all the right ups and lows. “I flee the bright white fields, I once used to call home…”, Kārklina laments a few moments later, and the pace picks up into a marching rhythm.

‘Crazy’ is the only cover on the album, a classic by Patsy Cline. The song was recorded almost 70 years ago. Pamirt turns it into a dirge, with a trudging pace, that slowly swells. As the singing soars, the music reaches a grudging crescendo. On ‘Bloodletting’ you might notice more bass, which is the double bass from Stanislav Yudin (of H2O, not the hardcore band), a composer who has, in fact, won awards for his folk music. It adds more depth to the song, which already has some of the most gutwrenching vibes of the whole piece. The vocals provoke, gibber and taunt, but towards the end, there is merely repetition and surrender:

“…With the needles, we swallow.  You hold me on my death bed, baby. You hold me on my death bed baby… You hold me on my death bed baby….”

Mausoleum is a mighty piece of work. A record that stands on its own, it doesn’t need any of my references above to convey its meaning. It’s all there, in raw honesty and daring artistry. It’s an album bravely created by a bold soul, and this you feel every minute it lasts.

Underground Sounds: rāhha – Descension Ceremony

Label: Independent
Band: rāhha
Origin: Germany

I can’t tell you much about rāhha as of yet. Not that I don’t want to, but the German duo seems to come out of nowhere with this their destructive second EP ‘Descension Ceremony’. Their Facebook page made me none the wiser either so I’m just going to tell you how they sound instead.

So think Germany, think Nachtmysticum, think Mgła, think… well, listen. It combines the atmospheric, the raw and the haunting into one epic journey.

Fire and fury erupt when the EP kicks off with ‘Diocese of Endless Strife’. The sound is cavernous but full and immersive. The vocals are in your face, raw and passionate. They are in power, in control of the depths you’ve plummeted into as the thudding drum starts to hammer away. There is not even any noticeable shift when we move on to ‘Korpsgeist’. If you catch the wave, the sonic exaltation of their song, your in for a rapturous ride as the speed and rising cadence has a sweeping power. I just want to punch my fucking fist in the air and scream until I have the same rattling howl.

‘Empty Chalice of Life’ is another firebrand on the holy houses. Black metal in righteous opposition with all the anger and not a sense of compromise as we launch into the final tune. We delve into ‘A Waxen Image Ritual’, where the raspy voice barks and howls. An immersion into the purest darkness with rapid blast beats, tremolo guitars and and a remarkable portion of catchiness to it. Can’t wait for more from this duo!