An Autumn For Crippled Children – All fell silent, everything went quiet

I’ve always found An Autumn For Crippled Children an odd formation, ever since they were introduced to me. Their music feels different, yet clicks with the essential vibes of black metal. Some outlets have described them as a pure proponent of blackgaze, which is a term that not everyone is equally excited about it seems. On ‘All fell silent, everything went quiet’, the band pushes further into the regions in which only a few bands dare venture. 

The new album is the eighth full-length release by the Dutch trio in their 10-year run, making them a very productive collective. The warm tones on this release make me think a bit more of Alcest than the scorned Deafheaven. The music flows like a warm bath, particularly the second track ‘Water’s Edge’ tells you everything you need to know about the sound An Autumn For Crippled Children is going for. The mellow vibe, the major key and gentle jamming contrast sharply with the raspy vocals. There’s an element of rawk and roll with that scrappy sound of the guitars as the two collide, but eventually, all flows together like a stream of sonic honey. 

I wouldn’t call the music joyous, but there is an exuberance in the sound of songs like ‘Silver’—a drivenness and burning energy. It struggles for release that never really comes. I find myself longing to the moments of release when the blast beats fall away, and the melody soars freely. The vocals are frequently buried in the sound frequency, allowing it to merge together. Check out, for example, the track ‘None More Pale’, which is what black metal sounds like when all sounds are clean. Or maybe I just imagine that. It has a certain pop-sensibility to it, but still carries the epic, dramatic movements I love so much. 

What may be an issue for those listening, is that its smooth sound may lack the fire that keeps you ‘onboard’ while listening to a record. To me, songs like ‘The Falling Senses’ work well, due to their relentless pace and energy, but others, like the title track, become hazy summer days. Where your vision becomes blurred, the heat plays tricks on your eyes and you slowly drift off. I think that’s the bridge with postrock, in a very complete and fully immersive manner, but it’s something you have to like and I happen to do. Which is why this is a great album in my book.

Band: An Autumn For Crippled Children
Origin: Netherlands
Label: Prosthetic Records

The Passion of Thomas Gabriel Fischer Completed

For anyone who has a special place in their hearts for heavy metal, Thomas Gabriel Fischer needs no introduction. Though many will know him as Tom G. Warrior. The man who fronted the pioneering Hellhammer and Celtic Frost are as much of an icon as the extreme metal scene ever had and this year he is releasing a new record under the banner of Triptykon; the live recording of the ‘Requiem’, performed live during Roadburn 2019, together with the highly esteemed Metropool Orkest.

This once in a lifetime performance was recorded and now will be released. We had the distinct honor to speak with the man himself about this record, the performance, the emotions attached to it, but also his future plans with Triptykon, Triumph of Death (his Hellhammer tribute), and a new project. Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak was also part of our chat.

Tom is an easy person to talk to. Every word is carefully formulated, and he lets no opportunity pass to thank those who’ve helped him realize his musical ambition of performing the ‘Requiem’, a piece that took over 30 years to create and complete. Polite throughout the interview, you’d hardly imagine this man to be the guys who sort of crashed a Venom press conference to proclaim they were going to outdo them (more on that in the book ‘Only Death Is Real’). Enjoy.

Tranquillity, Gratitude, and Contentment

How are you doing, Tom?

Doing alright, I had some issues with my health two months ago and some of it is still lingering, but basically, I’m doing alright. Pretty much recovered.

How are you dealing with the current situation?

Well, there’s not that much to deal with as it is not up to my personal decision. It is as it is and I have to adjust to it. All the concerts that we had scheduled for Triptykon and Triumph of Death have been cancelled. That of course means that also my livelihood has been very much impacted. I have invoices to pay like everyone else. I simply have no income from this, so we’ll see what happens. For musicians, it is a challenging time. We were looking forward immensely to playing live. There’s a lot of concerts this year we were very much personally involved in and looking forward very much to play with both bands. It’s very difficult to know that these will not take place or in a year at the earliest.

We felt very refreshed in both bands, so it’s not easy to see everything get cancelled if you have a good connection with your audience. You go on stage with a lot of honesty and enthusiasm, so then it is very hard to let go of all these shows.

I can imagine that feeling, you’re personally and emotionally invested in this endeavour, so it is difficult. But it seems that there’s some shift now taking place. How is that in Switzerland?

There is some indication that things will open up slightly quicker than we anticipated. But I’m very careful with this because there are only very small events that are permitted and there’s still a lot of social distancing required and various measures in place. So I really don’t know, when we are talking about bigger concerts and festivals, there’s nothing right now that indicates when everything will restart. We are basically in unknown territory still. But it’s, like you say, a glimpse at the horizon that certain clubs and restaurants can open again. That’s something we didn’t expect a month ago.  

Let’s hope for better days. I suppose you can’t really plan anything in this situation?

No, we can’t. The entire year will now be focused on working creatively. Working on new material, recording new material, working on live recordings. We have some live material from Triumph of Death to mix. We have material to write for Triptykon, and so on… But even that is hindered right now because we record everything in Germany and right now the borders between Germany and Switzerland are closed. Half of Triptykon is German, half is Swiss, so we can’t even meet at the rehearsal room right now. We can’t go to the studio in Germany, so everything is sort of up in the air right now.

There’s a lot you can do online though.

Well… we send files back and forth, but I’m not a huge fan of rehearsing or playing concerts over the internet. I’m a bit oldschool in this regard.

There is a release coming up, the live at Roadburn recording of ‘Requiem’with the Metropole Orkest. What can you tell me about this?

Well, that’s a broad question. That’s a project that took over 30 years to finish, I would talk like… a day.

I wish we had time to do that. But I mean the release itself, as It was clear from the start you wanted to record it, correct?

Well, of course, if you do a project of that magnitude with so many special people involved… the conductor, the orchestra, the female singer, of course, you want to try and preserve this forever. It was clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, we needed to record it. It’s a very complex project and a very expensive project, and it is in no way given that this will ever be performed again. In other words, it would have been very neglectful not to record it.

Has it become what you expected it to be?

I think so, yes. It was really complex on every level. Starting with the songwriting, then the arranging for the classical musicians, the preparations, the rehearsals… Even the performance itself. And then there’s the mixing of the uncounted tracks that we recorded, with all the individual musicians, cleaning the tracks from all the background noise. It was all very complex. But having said all of that, we are quite happy with the result. It’s a live album, so you don’t have the perfect studio conditions for a regular album. I think we did what we could, it is as perfect as it can be, while still capturing the live spirit that you really hear. We’re really happy with the result.

I was present during the performance at Roadburn and got to listen to the final record, so I can kind of compare and it is really capturing that experience. What I would like to know, having completed this, what did it mean to you to do this on a personal level?

First of all, it was an incredible honor to be invited to Roadburn to complete ‘Requiem’ and not do it on my own basically. It was an extreme honor Walter gave us this platform and all the people who work with him, but also to work with such an incredible orchestra. Walter suggested working with them, the Metropole Orkest. Jukka Iisakkila, the conductor… Like I said, a complex project, but all these people made it as easy as it can be because all of them were very experienced and professional. So I felt it was a big honor to be granted me to work with these people.

On a more personal record, it was quite a significant event to see this project completed that I started with Martin Eric Ain back in the mid-eighties. It was a beautiful feeling on one hand, and sad on the other, because I really wanted him to be part of it or at least hear it. Of course, since he died in 2017 that was impossible, but I literally was thinking of him while we were performing on stage. I carried him with me when we played in my heart. I’m not just saying this, he was very much part of my emotions and I hope in some way he would approve of this.

Tom G. Warrior on stage during the Roadburn performance, picture by Paul Verhagen

Has this also for you been part of dealing with his loss?

Well, of course, when Walter and I spoke about this whole thing for the first time he had just lost someone very close to him. I had just lost someone close to me, it was shortly after Martin’s death, so we were both mourning someone very close to us in our own individual lives. I think we both carried this in our minds when we discussed this. It was not just a professional proposal, there was much more to it.

Of the Requiem, two parts were already finished in a sense and ready to be played. The second part, however, is newly created. Can you tell me about its process?

The basic songwriting was done by me because the whole Requiem was an idea of mine. But for this third part, I was very open. I was working with people who are on one hand very experienced and professional, but on the other hand, were personally involved in it. There were no mercenaries and I know many people involved were genuinely part of it, not just hired guns. So I was very open to suggestions, especially when they came from our guitarist V. Santura, who was also the musical director, and Florian Magnus Maier, who was the classical arranger. Both of them are very close friends of mine and they had a lot of songwriting ideas that they contributed, which I was very open to. We had a million meetings in person and on Skype, to arrange this and to improve the piece and a lot of ideas were exchanged. It would have been egotistical in the face of such excellent people, to deny their ideas. I knew that if we combined all those, the piece would be much stronger then if I would enforce an ego. I really don’t have an ego, I was happy to be involved with so many good people so it was no problem to incorporate their contributions.

That’s good, because if it’s such a personal project, you want to be sure that everyone is in it for the right reasons.

Of course, but I never had to fear to miss the personal connection, as I wrote the whole thing. The basic construction and all, because at the end of the day it’s still my piece. This has just made the piece better. If you look at it as a memorial to people that have died in our circle of friends, then the better the piece, the better the memorial. It’s not about ego or being a star, it’s about creating something very, very special. If it’s about art, in my opinion, ego should be very far down the list. First and foremost, there needs to be creativity and the will to do something special.

I also wanted to ask you about the vocals by Safa Heraghi. Her vocals in the second piece just really carry it and hit the right spot. So how did you get in touch with her and considered her for this piece?

I first met her when she was playing a concert with Dark Fortress. She had done guest vocals on one of their songs and appeared later at one of their concerts in Zurich, my home town. I went to see them and her performance that night was absolutely brilliant and moving, so I went backstage and talked to her about one-day doing vocals on a Triptykon album. Traditionally, we have always had female vocals ever since the first Celtic Frost album. She was interested and when the idea for the ‘Requiem’ arose, I called her and asked if she would be interested in doing vocals. But not just backing vocals, but to be the co-lead vocalist in a classical metal collaboration. I’m very happy she said yes and she also contributed many ideas. She was heavily involved in some of the vocal melodies and the lyrics.

You know, we heard the ‘Requiem’ a million times by now, from the early demos till the final touches, but every time I listened to some of her parts towards the new middle part, we were all really moved to the point of tears sometimes. Even though we had heard it multiple times, this was how much her voice and performance moved us.

Sefa Heraghi singing the Requiem, picture by Paul Verhagen

The artwork for this release is the first one without H.R. Giger’s artwork. Giger passed away in 2014, but I understand you still have the artwork for the future.

There is one more album that has been designed with and approved by Giger, when he was still alive. That was always supposed to be the third studio album, and that’s what it is going to be when it comes out. This is the album we’re working on this year. It’s long overdue of course, but when Giger was still alive in late 2013 he approached us after the first Triptykon album and asked if we were interested in continuing our collaboration. Giger and the band, we all agreed on doing a triptych. So I went with him and we selected the artwork and designed it together, and he approved everything. We used one work on the second album, and the third is yet to come.

Because the ‘Requiem’ is a different project and a live album, it has a different feel to it. It is not technically the third of the three studio albums, so it has a different kind of artwork to make it distinct. But the next Triptykon album will have the artwork, which will in fact be the last album where Giger was personally involved in the design and approval of everything.

But you have now also dedicated ‘Requiem’ to him.

Yes, of course, it is dedicated to Martin Eric Ain and H.R. Giger, two of our closest friends and collaborators who have died in recent years since the second Triptykon album. By the nature of the ‘Requiem’, we felt we had to make this dedication. However small it may be, we wanted to dedicated this to people who were instrumental to the band and close to us.

One last one is in the works then?
Carmen Giger, his widow, has offered me to continue using Giger artwork even after the third record. But I’ve told her I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, even though it would be official, as she inherited it, has all the rights and would approve of it. I felt it was important to only do albums that Giger personally saw, oversaw and approved, so I don’t want to go on using his art past his death. After the third album, we will pursue a new direction at any rate.

Everybody knows how much of a fan of his work I am, and I feel infinitely honored for having been granted the possibility to work with him. I was a young teenager, many years ago, when I discovered the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album ‘Brain Salad Surgery’, and Giger’s artwork on that album impressed me to no end. At that time, I would have never thought I would be a musician and work with Giger. By now, I’m 56 and not only have I worked with Giger but I have done so on and on. It’s been four albums. I’m deeply honored and I don’t want to be greedy. I had these four albums with him, but I’m ok with going in a new direction, also as an artist. I’m not a capitalist in that I want more, more and more. I’m happy to say it’s enough, let’s do something else.

I want to ask you about the performance, because afterward you were part of a talk where you spoke with some finality. What you said was: ” I am no longer in tune in this world anymore and I really don’t know why I am still here. Now I finished the Requiem I guess I am free to leave.” I wanted to ask you how this was intended?

It was intended exactly in the way that I said it. When you discover some finality in this, that is exactly true. I’m not overly attached to the world as it is, given human conduct on this planet. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of as a teenager, when I had these daydreams of one day being a musician because music meant that much to me. I would have been happy to play in a local band, but I’ve been granted far, far more. As I said earlier, I’m not greedy, I’m not insatiable. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of so, I’m basically ready to call it a day whenever it’s the time and perhaps one day I’ll be instrumental in setting that time. There’s really not much joy in this world, giving the destruction of animals, the environment, ourselves and each other. Our ignorance, even after thousands of years of what we call civilization, we are still completely out of control, we haven’t learned anything and we destroy everything in our path, be it human, animal or environment in our endless egotistical narcissism. That’s not really a home I’m fond of, as much as it has given me. I’ve done a lot of things, fulfilled all my dreams, so I feel very free right now. When it’s time, I can go without hesitation, there’s nothing bad to that. I loathe the attitude of never having enough, always wanting more. It’s one of the big problems that us human beings carry with us, and I’m not like that at all.

Tom G. Fischer, during the Roadburn panel. Picture by Justina Lukosiute

Appreciate what you have, be satisfied.

Absolutely, and I have no problem with that fact that there’s an end to things. There’s no unlimited supply of everything. I’ve had my life and I’ve tried to live my life meaningfully, to try realize all my dreams. I worked on everything I wanted to achieve. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, so there’s really no regrets. I don’t need to hang on and say “I haven’t lived yet”, you know. I’ve always lived, against all obstacles.

As long as you are here, I do hope you keep creating…

Well, I’m still here, to my own surprise. And as I said, I’m working on a new studio album for Triptykon. I’m also working on resurrecting my side project that I was working on until November last year, but that I left with the drummer, but we are resurrecting it in a new form because the material is fantastic. I’m also working on the live recordings we did with Triumph of Death, which we hope to release some of this year. As long as I’m here, there’s always going to be some new material.

And of course, I love being on stage. The moments on stage are some of the most pleasant moments of my life.

The side project you mention, is that the mysterious Nyrith project?

Yes, it’s still called Nyrith, but we’re no longer part of it. The drummer and me, we left in December, but I do own the recording sessions, because my labe. paid for those recordings. I’m going back to the studio to work on this bit, I’m going to add some new music and we have some new songs to add and so on. The Nyrith album, everything was signed and ready for those sessions. The album was supposed to come out on April the 24th, but because we left… That departure was unavoidable unfortunately, but we feel very strongly about this project so we are resurrecting it in a new form and I’m very sure we will manage in spite of the COVID-19 situation. In spite of being blocked from the studio, we very much count on it being released this year. It’s very strong material.

You mentioned fulfilling dreams you had. Triumph of Death allows you to play the Hellhammer songs live, which were never played on stage in their own time. Is that one of those dreams?

Maybe not a dream, but it is simply fun. I have a band that is basically my career and is a business venture, which is Triptykon. It has big contracts and big pressure, AR-people, Sony, a label and so on, it’s a serious burden on my shoulders. Triptykon is a serious band. But Triumph of Death is simply fun. We’re playing very early, punkish metal that is simply primitive and powerful and there’s no business pressure or expectations or anything like that. We basically go on stage and have a good time with the audience and that is how we all started and how music should be. It’s punkish, proto-extreme metal and enormous fun to connect with the audience and to play this without the need to promote a new album or satisfy a record company. So far, it’s been fantastic and the audience experiences it in the same way and we’ve grown into a circle of friends. It’s just enormous fun. It’s a privilege to do this.

I really hope to experience that in the future.

Well, most concerts have been canceled, but most have also been rescheduled for next year already. Hopefully, we’ll be showering the world with primitive music again soon.                                                  

 Gratitude goes out to Never Mind The Hype for letting me conduct this interview. Thanks also to Paul Verhagen, who created the pictures and Justina Lukosiute for the interview shot. 

 

5 Years of Haeresis Noviomagi

Rarely have I taken the time to pay homage to a label (though I have a share of favorites that I should perhaps create some articles about), but this one is quite special and one I appreciate extremely: Haeresis Noviomagi. I’m saying a label, but it is in fact more of a collective of musicians that loosely expands, encapsulating other bands and projects as it morphs and grows.

Header image from Facebook page Haeresis Noviomagi

Flag bearers of Dutch Black Metal

I have not been following black metal music in the Netherlands so long to know what have been pivotal collectives or points of interest where meetings of minds took place. You see throughout the history of the genre that interesting things happen where like-minded spirits meet. A few years ago now, there was much ado about the ‘new wave of dutch black metal’, particularly focused on the region of Utrecht and bands like Terzij De Horde, Laster, Verwoed and others (I would not understate the importance of a band like Dool). Bands like Grafjammer and Wrang are essential bands that feed the underground spewing forth these bands. But at the same time, the hermetic group of Haeresis Noviomagi may have played an essential part in crafting this new, quintessentially Dutch sound. By now, they’ve solidly merged with the Utrecht scene, bringing forth collaborations such as Nusquama and playing in the aforementioned Dool (O. from the group joined them in 2019).  More significantly, the group was deeply involved in the thematic one-time work for a performance at Roadburn, which was titled Maalstroom. I was there and enjoyed the spectacle immensely (read the interview here).

Hence a look back at some of their noteworthy releases from the Haeresis Noviomagi front, that I feel embody the best that has come out of their stables.

Galg – Monochroom (2014) Galg - Monochroom

You won’t find any references to Galg on the website of Haeresis Noviomagi and only scarce mention of the project in any interviews. The reason for that fact is that Galg proceeds Haeresis Noviomagi. It’s an entity that has existed outside of their realm, but to me has been pivotal in shaping the final form the collective took. Much of the typical sound and visual art of the group can already be seen in this early release. It also happens to be a record I came across and conducted an interview about. Instead of conjuring up new words, I’ll just quote what I wrote at the time:

Monochroom‘ is a 26 minute descent into despair. The opening is like a bell tolling for mass. A bleak buzzing evokes dark clouds and a grim day. Samples from speech add an atmosphere of unholy ritual to the sound while the buzzing sound of the amps continues like an abysmal depth for the listener. A slow chanting arises from that deep bass sound. The sound swells up and suddenly blast beats emerge and intense guitar work lays out a barrage of dark sound while the sound of wind is sweeping through.

Lubbert Das – Deluge (2015)

The watershed record for the collective is the debut EP from Lubbert Das, their most focused black metal outlet in my opinion. It’s dirty, decadent, and violent at times, but also illuminated by the unique approach of the band and ability to implement influences like Hieronymous Bosch in their work. In a way, Lubbert Das is always on par with Turia. These projects feel like two sides of the same coin to me. ‘Stone, God’s Blood’ is the first track on this EP, unleashing after a solid build-up. The track takes a slow pace and offers a lot of room for distant screams and generates a lot of atmosphere. It becomes a seductive feast of entrancing darkness.

The second half is ‘Forlorn Ages’, delivering atmospheric black metal with that ferocity in its foundation. Blast beats and furious screams, in a tapestry of sound. Descending slowly down into a pit of despair. The song flows in all majesty, as the train rattles on and on at a high pace. The movement of the sound slowly mutates over the 14-minute course of the song, but that tremolo guitar with the big echo makes everything sound so cavernous, so immense.

Iskandr – Euprosopon (2018)Eurposopon

Iskandr is a project by O., who also plays in Turia and previously was active in Lubbert Das. After the formative full-length ‘Heilig Land’ and the EP ‘Zon’, the second full length has become a record I return to frequently. The project’s name refers to Alexander the Great, who people called Iskandr in the eastern parts of his realm. The title refers to the impossibility of the perfect man and explores the concept of new ‘heroism. Steeped in the masters of pagan black metal and exploration, this is a record full of majesty and vigor.

Though black metal is the foundation of the sound, ‘Euprosopon’ floats with big arches and esoteric chanting, while the fundaments of the sound surge forward with blast beat drums and rigorous guitar riffs. There’s something specific about the melody lines that rhythmically speaks to you from realms beyond the Occident. Further from the rigid reaches of the west, maybe even from beyond lost in the mists of time the guitars resound. It’s as if the songs are the soundtrack to what is to come, with a mid-paced black metal subtlety and highly sophisticated effects. Iskandr embraces you and shows you magic on ‘Regnum’, unleashes a show of force on ‘Verban’, and takes you to a dreamy state on ‘Heriwalt’. It’s an album that is solid as a rock, but furtive in its mythical state. In other words, it’s great stuff.

Nusquama – Horizon Ontheemt (2019)Nusquama

With the apparition of Nusquama, the Haeresis Noviomagi group joins forces with musicians from Laster, Vuur & Zijde, Fluisteraars, and more. This musical endeavor has a wholly different vibe, yet also feels like a good fit within the overall opus of the group. Sun-touched black metal, with all the harrowing aspects as well as the soothing nature of warm riffs and melodies. The name comes from Latin and Thomas More used it to refer to the necessity and impossibility of a hopeful alternative. Those are the words the band shared, not my own, as they tell it best in my humble opinion. The record was written in a period of over 2 years, and recorded in 2018 in an old coach house. An affable nod to their nostalgic inspirations of poetry and naturalism.

The contrast is clearly audible on opener ‘De Aarde Dorst’. The guitars soar, while the drums and bass weave intricate patterns on the ground. The voice spits venom, particularly audible on ‘Wrevel’ where it is vitriolic in its vehement assault. The melodies don’t balance it out much in this track, though there are soothing passages and ominous chanting to boot. But there’s also a sense of majesty and pride in the music like you can hear in the big movements on ‘Vuurslag’. It’s as if the waves of the music imagine the rising of the sun, which I feel the lyrics refer to.

I can go on because a track like ‘Eufrozyne’ employs the furious blast beats and rising guitar riffs as a herald’s call, where ‘Ontheemd’ offers another thick slab of atmospheric black metal. ‘Met Gif Doordrenkt’ is then the final track and a worthy closer of the album. Intensive drums, soul-crushing riffs and so much feeling in that sound, it’s imposing. Clocking over 7-minutes, it feels like the song takes you on an upwards trajectory, ever higher and warmer.

Turia – Degen van LichtTuria Degen Van Licht

For me, ‘Degen van Licht’ has been a ray of light in 2020. I feel that I can say this unironically (the title translates as ‘rapier of light’) because this is one of the best albums this year for me. I don’t need to point out how shit this year was. Turia has released multiple great records, and I would recommend all of them. Yet, this is something else by the mysterious threesome from the east of the Netherlands. It’s their third release and was preceded by split records with Vilkacis and Fluisteraars. Ok, so I’m a huge fan of this album and the reason is its remarkable clarity and cohesiveness. It feels like one, big slab of music,  meant to quiet the turmoil in your head and focus your energies. it obviously has a dark edge. It is black metal, but also a radian beauty that I admire.

The album has a brief intro, but how good is it to hear those clear notes break the murmuring thunder. Similarly, the main riff on ‘Merode’ is an absolute beauty, calm and soothing, while also speaking of dreams of another world. Waxing and waning over the aggression brought on by the scratchy bass lines and screechy vocals, it’s a contrast again, like in much of their work. ‘Met Sterven Beboet’ is a bit more crunchy in its sound, also packing a bit more of a punch along the way. The guitar that weaves those clean notes, however, is what I find most spectacular and warm.

I keep hoping for another glimpse when listening to this song. More majestic, but sticking with the theme, is the title track. The sound feels fuller, grander, more stiffly in its expression. In a good way, much like the playful sound of ‘Storm’ doesn’t diminish the bleakness that is inherent to this album. After a brief interlude, we get to ‘Ossifrage’. That’s an old name for a vulture that likes to drop bones to break them, so that’s a good black metal title. It’s a richer song, showing the full diversity of the band and craftsmanship behind their songs. It’s all good, isn’t it?

Empyrean Grace -Bestowment of the Seraphic KeyEmpyrean Grace

I guess this is the birthday release for the five-year anniversary Certainly, there was a Lubbert Das/Turia split, a Iskandr EP, and re-releases, but this one took the cake. A one-track wonder of almost 30 minutes of ephemeral black metal of the highest order. This is truly majestic stuff. It’s not clear who is involved in this project and if it will see further releases or any form of continuation (much like other side-projects of the Haeresis Noviomagi family, it is all shrouded in mists). But it is fantastic and I wish I could get my hands on the tape, for the collection you see…

The shimmering guitars in the intro unfold into a black metal sound that has a certain ‘kosmische’ feel to it. Yes, I’m referring to the kraut rock-like dreamy state the first few minutes of the song bring you into, not least due to the ethereal vocals that resound through the wall….nay, flow of music. The song changes, and fierce blast beats and a threatening sound follow a bit later. Yet, the music retains an almost ritualistic atmosphere, though I won’t mention the band that springs to mind when I say that. Kaleidoscopic, is how they describe it, layered, hallucinatory and all those words make perfect sense to me with this album. It’s like fata morgana, a mirage, a dream state, this record brings you into. That’s what makes it so wonderful and moreover, so promising for more.

Black Solstice – Terrathree

Phew, today is a day where I simply need some excellent guitar riffs and, if possible, something with cats, and look what the proverbial cat just dragged in? A lovely new E.P. by Swedens very own Black Solstice, titled ‘Terrathree’. This band from Stockholm features drummer Peter Eklund in its ranks, who also was in Dark Funeral, so that’s all good and well. This is their fourth demo release. 

On the cover of this record, we see a cat. You’ve seen it now, too; it’s quite obvious. It’s even got a third eye. Did you know Lovecraft firmly (H.P., the one who is now less cool because in the ’20s he was a bit of a racist) believed cats are extraordinary beings? I mean, you only have to read his books where they are heavily featured as supernatural creatures. I remember it that way. Thus, it is so. 

Three tracks with an indeed earthy sound to it grace your ears on this cool EP. Thick guitars, hazy like a hot summer day (that’s gone now too, thanks 2020), burst onto the scene on ‘Part of Me’. Clean, almost proclamation-style vocals resound strongly. You know what? This is as straight up as they’ll serve it anywhere. I am reminded of my favorite Scotsmen Hair of the Dog a bit. I mean, this is t-shirt-free rock’n’roll. Ok, it may be a bit easy at times, but I like the solid groove a lot. That continues on ‘Ember’ with those scalding licks, instantly delivered in the intro. Sweet stuff, a bit more emotional, though. What’s that pounding sound of the drums? They sound a bit peculiar, but it actually works with those dull thuds as they hit hard. “Here we are, shooting stars…” sounds a bit cheesy. Sorry, honesty prevails.

‘Strong-minded’ basically means stubborn, so that’s a thing. I kinda feel that stompy, headstrongness coming from the first hits of the skins on this track. The vocals of Magnus Lindmark do not entirely convince me on this track. I mean, he’s strong but not particularly musical on the slightly elevated pitch. I’m not feeling it, you know? I mean, I get that he ‘Didn’t find the cure’, but did you really try? I think that’s the only miss on this track; for the rest, it again is a solid slab of hard-rocking-metallesque fist-pounding material.

And there’s a cat on the cover.

Origin: Sweden

Label: self-released

Emyn Muil – Afar Angathfark

Emyn Muil takes the road to darkness

Emyn Muil has never pretended to be anything but Summoning worshipping atmospheric black metal. Rigid, dungeon synthy patterns, with an occasional blast beat and barked vocals? Yes, it’s all there and even more so on the latest release titled ‘Afar Angathfark’. A term I can not directly link to anything in Tolkiens work, but that shouldn’t stop anyone. The album cover, which is remarkably social realist in vibe which I dig, depicts a mailed fist clasping the dark crown with three jewels. For those familiar with The Silmarillion, this begs no explanation. It’s the iron fist of Morgoth, holding the Silmarils. This is the tale of Fëanor, the greatest of the elves.

Emy Muil is a one-man-band project by Saverio Griove, also known as Nartum. He has previously released two records under this banner, both playing into the classic fantasy imagery and depictions. The new artwork is a refreshing change, I have to say. Epic black metal, named after the valley where Sam and Frodo meet Gollum. This may be something you’ve gleaned from the Sam Jackson movies, which I notoriously dislike. Yet, that is another story.

The hunt for the jewels of Valinor

The title track sets the tone for the album and is not particularly remarkable yet, but that’s why it’s an intro here, fully instrumental. It’s the rich sound of the ‘Halls of the Fallen’ that fully entices you. The song rolls out like a rich tapestry, full of depth and grandeur. The bombastic drums set an imperial vibe, which fits with the start of the story. The vocals are clothed in synths and mellow progressions, allowing the listener to be carried away. ‘Noldomire’ follows and that is probably the best track on the album. Of course, that’s mere opinion, but it is great atmospheric dosing in warm notes. A voice-over disrupts the flow, which is a great tool for such a narrative album.

It’s on with ‘Heading Eastward’, however, that the real hunt is away. The Noldor travel, chasing the enemy and thief. This is done with bombastic melodies, soaring drums that crack like whips. A great might arises after a mellow start, and here the epic nature of Emyn Muil truly soars. The music turns to something more sinister, subtly snaking its way through the dark with eastern rhythms on the prelude that is ‘Udun’, before we launch into the 9+ minute ‘Where the Light Drowns’. The battle drums, the flutes, it heralds the coming of strife with bombast and power. Everything feels very merged in the music, as the sound is heavily produced. It’s hard to hear what is organic and what is electric in the music of Emyn Muil. That is not a problem, as the music has an atmosphere of filmic suspense. It is the experience that counts, and even the ethereal vocals contribute to that effect. If that doesn’t do it for you, check out the gothic vibes on the ‘Black Shining Crown’ track, which refers to the cover obviously. The track is more aggressive, the vocals more biting and yet the gentle bells just emphasize that force.

Flowing through the tales

The record flows, it never seems to have any real breaks in the meandering songs. Because of that, it feels like one big story that Emyn Muil serves you. Certainly, songs have brief introductions, such as we hear on ‘In Cold Domain’, which has a distinctly Nordic theme to it. Fitting. But when those dulled drums come in and the synths weave a pattern, the song becomes a blanket that moves on and on. ‘Arise in Gondolin’ maybe the odd one out, feeling distinct more like a dungeon synth song due to its… perhaps even quirky introduction, but then it launches into a battle like a hymn. Still worshipping Summoning though, but add to that the bells, and flourishes and at times it feels like it is Christmas morning. Sometimes Emyn Muil puts too much in it and mellows the wound out too much, but its the style of the band. It’s just an observation that I’m keen to make.

If you like your Summoning-like songs epic and full of warmth, check this out. It is really good.

Band origin: Italy
Label: Northern Silence Productions

 

Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

Into the ancient world with Mystras

I thought, at first, that this album was a reference to the Forgotten Realms. I was wrong, but Mystras does like referring to forgotten times and history in its music. The name is derived from a fortified town in Laconia, Greece, which inspired the project. The first offering from this project is ‘Castles Conquered and Reclaimed’.

The project was founded by Ayloss, who has also been active in Divine Element, Spectral Lore, Ontrothon, Sage of the Ancient Glass and more. In this project, he brings together epic black metal and folk/ars nova music. Multiple guest musicians have joined in this project, to create something worthwhile for you to listen to (members of Lüüp, Art of Simplicity, and Spider of Pnyx join Ayloss on this record). The concept is in fact a bit more tricky to explain. Mystras focuses on the downtrodden, the rejected, in a sense. That helps turn the album into a rebellious battle cry, a medieval black metal statement if you will.

Ancient rebellions arise anew

The sound of Mystras is very particular. Imagine lo-fi black metal, but even more thin and caustic sounding, then in turn laced with folk elements. At least, that’s what follows after the opening title track. Particularly English folklore appears to interest Ayloss, who refers to Wat Tyler and The Cutty Wren in the first three songs. Both are very nice tunes though. The instrumental ‘The Cutty Wren’ has all the charm of an English folk song. Gentle and swooning, but full of nostalgia. On ‘The Murder of Wat Tyler’ a little of the violent sound returns in a primitive sounding metal tune of 13 minutes. The lyrics are pretty dense and long, so you need that time to get your story across in harsh vocals. It’s fearsome, but also rich in texture, which is why this is such a great track again.

From ‘Contre Dolour’, which feels more ancient than the previous instrumental. we go into ‘Storm the Walls of Mystras’. Another epic black metal track, with massive waves of riffs hitting you in the face. But just listen to how that guitar roars and spins around and through it. There’s a sound of hope, action, and strife. The theme is in fact rebellion against emperors, fighting against the Byzantines who are doomed to fall. It’s a complex matter in a history book and I feel that Ayloss is crafting an own version here in some ways, which works.

Zealots of Thessaloniki

Another thing I love is basically how the melodies just soar over the rumbling black metal madness son both ‘The Zealots of Thessaloniki’ and ‘Wrath and Glory’. There are the uncouth fury and savagery, but also majestic riffing to create beauty in the darkness. And you would indeed think this would not work together, as it apparently clashes big time, but Mystras makes it work. The first song is about self-rule implemented by the Zealots, who ruled the city. It’s told through a song that is at times gruff with its woven patterns, much like a reed chair I would say, the way all the hard parts chafe and clash. It’s a strange comparison, but it helps illuminate how much space the song offers. It’s not a thick production, but purposefully thin. That’s pretty cool for the result it brings.

Majestic, strong and surprising, a record to write home about. Mystras unleashes an album, right for this time. An album filled with the antidote against the racist and nationalist currents of our time, by looking back at how people make the difference. True medieval black metal with a ray of hope.

Origin: Greece
Label: I, Voidhanger Records

Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald

Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald

Tobias Möckl is also known as Wintherr, and has a love for winter landscapes. That’s, in fact, the main theme for his project Paysage d’Hiver, which has released a ton of demos and splits over the years. In fact, the project is 23 years old and it required a global pandemic for Möckl to finally drop a full-length album with Paysage d’Hiver. In 2020, the album ‘Im Wald’ became a reality.

It’s not the only project of the Swiss musician, he is also active in the fabled Darkspace and runs the label Kunsthall Productionen. Stylistically, Paysage d’Hiver is an ambient black metal project, as the atmosphere of the music is the most important aspect according to the artist. It’s songs all connect to the same story, which tells of a realm of winter, with the same name obviously,

A winter walk in the forest

‘Im Wald’ is the magnum opus, with a running time of 2 hours. Musically, this is the sonic equivalent of a long walk in the forest, under an obvious layer of white, pristine snow… as the darkness of the autumn sets in on ‘Im Winterwald’. The music is blisteringly intense, but the melodies soar above the jagged treetops and create a mesmerizing specter. One can even detect a hint of that Darkspace weirdness, due to the futuristic keyboard lines that interlace the song. It adds wealth to the tapestry of sound.

Icy storms of black metal

All tracks are fairly long actually. ‘Flug’ takes its time, for example, building up through hazy ambient sounds/field recordings that demonstrate the forest is never truly quiet. But that’s how the song unfolds. Now and then, the guitars come to the forefront, but the babbling of a brook is louder than the acoustic twanging of the strings for most of the song. The music serves as a frame for nature, not vice versa, providing a mournful dirge to the wintery forlorn realms. At other times, the sound scours everything else away from your aural perception, particularly on ‘Kälteschauer’ you are subjected to a hailstorm of distorted guitars with the vocals piercing through the noise like a howling wind. At other times, the tracks can be punishing, caustic. ‘Weiter, Immer Weiter’ is that type of song, plowing through the snow, against the wind that blows with an icy gale. It’s intense and punishing, but the journey is rewarding.

Interesting is that the language choice is switching between German and French on this album only once for the song ‘Le Rêve Lucide’. This track actually feels more traditional black metal, with a pleasant rhythm and clear sound. Crisp riffing, thundering drums the way you like it. To me, it’s one of my favorite tracks. Dark, necro vocals, a constant pushing melody, and rhythm. it’s perfect. But it’s not surprising that an album of black metal of over 120 minutes can be so good. It’s music that needs to bewitch, to entrance you, and transport you to other realms. It’s fantastic to have so much in one go.

Origin: Switzerland
Label: Kunsthall Productionen

From The Vastland: The Haft Khan and Blackhearts

Perhaps you’ve already watched the documentary film ‘Blackhearts’,  which tells us about the global phenomenon that is black metal and the love of musicians around the world for the nation of Norway, where it all began. One of the bands featured in the film is From The Vastland and I got to ask Sina a bunch of questions about his latest album and the film.

From The Vastland is from Iran, a country known for its strict regime and limitations in expression. That is, of course, an oversimplification about a nation with a rich, long history and a situation much more complex than I could ever do justice to in a few introductory lines over here. The movie was filmed a few years ago, and by now Sina lives in Norway and is at liberty to explain a bit about that mysterious place he is from and why it still colors his music so deeply.

Here is From The Vastland

From Iran to Norway: Sina from From The Vastland

How is From The Vastland doing?

Doing good! Earlier this year we released the new album “the haft khan” and the feedback from the community has been great! Well, due to the pandemic situation we had to change/cancel some of our plans but still, everything is going good. And as always I’m also working on some new material for the next release plus slowly working on some other plans for the band. So, all very good.

I’ve always wanted to ask you about the name of your project. Could you tell me more about its origin?

Sure! Well, it took me a while to choose this name, was thinking about it a lot back in the days when I wanted to start the band. there were several different reasons that I chose this name. One of the most important ones was because I wanted the name of the band also represents the concept of the music. So, let’s put it this way that I am from Iran and all the lyrics are about the ancient Persian empire era (one of the biggest empires in history), Persian mythology, and history. So, like the music comes from the vast land of Persia…Well, there were also some other reasons which together made me think this is a perfect name for the band.

You’ve just released your new album ‘The Haft Khan’. I understand it’s a Persian myth, but it also is the name of a high mountain in your country of birth. Can you share the significance of this story and why you chose it for your album theme?

Right. Well, The Haft Khan is a Persian myth but not the name of a mountain. This is a very specific name that has a specific place in Persian mythology. It’s based on one of the stories from the great epic masterpiece poem, the most notable piece of Persian literature, “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings – One of the world’s longest epic poems) which was written by the poet, the world-known “Ferdowsi” between c. 977 and 1010 CE.

“The Haft Khan” story narrates seven difficult challenges of a national hero, the greatest of the Persian heroes, called Rostam on his journey by his legendary horse “Rakhsh” towards the land of Mazandaran, to save and free the king “Kei Kavus” and his army who have been captured and blinded by a spell of the White Demon.
In the story, Rostam passes seven stages and fights against natural difficulties, fierce animals, demons, and at the end, the white demon. finally, by dropping the blood of the white demon’s heart in the eyes of Kei Kavus (the king) and his army, sight returns to their eyes again.
The story of “the haft khan” is full of metaphors and symbols and represents some of the most important characters, legends, and myths in ancient Persian mythology and history. So, I found this epic story a perfect theme for a concept album that I was thinking about for a long time.

What can you tell me about the creative process behind the creation of the album? Did you work together with other artists?

This time again I worked on the album for almost 2 years and I did my best to make the atmosphere of the album exactly as I had it in my mind, which was based on the picture you get from reading the real story in the book. Starting a song was more based on the visuals I had in mind but of course, I was taking care of everything with precision when it comes to the song structure, the arrangement, lyrics, etc. to make it a perfect fit for the style.

You know, as always I wrote all the songs and recorded the demo album first and I sent it to my bandmates to practice and record their lines. That’s how we always record the albums but at the same time, I also ask them to use their own creativity on their lines and let me know if they have any suggestions. So, usually, the final result is not far from the demo I have recorded as we are all on the same page and it’s more like they just have a little bit of their own touch in the album too.

From The Vastland

I was listening to the songs over and over again to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. When it comes to the sound of the album, I would say over the years, it got more mature but at the same time more aggressive and darker, still emotional and with the same style. And I believe it’s also a matter of experience, the way I write the riffs and how to make them sound richer, you know.

What makes it important for you to include these themes from your roots in your music, particularly within the framework of black metal?

You know, from many years ago I’ve been always very interested in mythology and history. I read about myths and ancient stories, not just Persian but also Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mayas, Greek…but then when I was growing the idea of my project, I found this combination perfect to make BM music with this epic, mythical theme. It is actually what some other bands in other countries are doing with their own but not about Persian myths.

You know, ancient Persian history and mythology are full of epic stories of the legends, the gods and demons, and the eternal battle between darkness and light.

So, not only I found this a perfect fit for black metal but also I wanted it to represent something from my homeland, a part of world history that goes back 7000 years or more. Something that even a lot of Iranians have forgotten about it. That’s also why I chose the “Rising from the ashes of the legendary past” slogan for the band.

The album, of course, landed in the middle of the pandemic. How has this impacted its release and you as an artist? Did you have many plans to cancel?

Yeah, definitely it was not the best time to release an album but you know, everything was already planned and I just thought it’s better to keep it instead of changing everything as we were already in the middle of the process. But yeah, of course, we had to change and cancel some of the plans like the concerts we had around the release time (which suppose to be the release concert for the album) here in Oslo and in another festival called Garasjefestival.

I was also preparing some more merch and just about to start making the cassette tape format of the album to release at the same time with the CDs but then everything was canceled or better to say postponed as they are still in the plan but let’s see how it will go…

Sina from From The Vastland

Obviously, I have to ask you about the Blackhearts documentary. How impactful has this been for your career?

Of course, Blackhearts had a big impact on my career in a positive way, you know. Just imagine all the attention my band and music got because of the film, especially during the releasing period of the film. And then afterward when the film was released and they were screening it on the festivals all over the world, in cinemas and different types of events. You know, in the first place it was my music that made the producer discover me and my band but then afterward it was the film helping me to spread the words about my band and music. Especially here in Norway, it was so helpful for me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Being known in the scene and making friends is always great and can make things easier, you know. So, really glad and thankful for that!

I didn’t know until recently about the Blackhearts EP you did, following the film. What can you tell me about this project? Did you try to get guys from Naer Mataton involved too?

You know, back in the days I got this idea since I was one of the main characters in the film; so, thought to record some music specifically for the film with the cooperation of other musicians who are also involved in the film. So, I wrote the music and for the recording, “Vyl” (Drums – Keep of Kalessin/Gorgoroth) and “Nul Blackthorn” (Bass – Luciferian), 2 of the other characters in the film, joined me. And since it was recorded specially for the film so, I called it “Blackhearts” and then it was also used for the ending title of the film.

And I was thinking to ask them too but we were in a really short time, I mean everything happened real quick from the time when I decided to do it until we were already in the studio. So, we couldn’t…

What must have been most impactful was your move to Norway. How do you feel about this now? And have you been back to Iran? How did this impact your family? 

True! Moving to Norway changed my life completely and I’m really glad it happened! I mean from many years ago I had the dream of moving to Norway and then finally it did happen. So, still today after all these years it seems unreal to me, the whole story and everything that happened in a really short time and changed my life, in a good way. I mean there was no doubt and still, today if I go back, I would do the same!

I haven’t been back to Iran since when I moved to Norway and probably it’s not a smart thing to do after all the threats I had (both back when I was in Iran and even later the first 2-3 years here in Norway). So, haven’t seen my family for the last 7 years which is not easy as you can imagine. So, I just talk to them on phone and sometimes we do video calls but it’s not the same, you know.

The documentary speaks about freedom/censorship you didn’t experience back in Iran. Yet, I’ve heard conflicting stories about that concerning metal music. There are quite some metal bands in Tehran and Iran according to Metal Encyclopedia and the band Avarayr (who are Armenians, living in Iran) stated they felt quite free to do what they pleased when I interviewed them. Could you respond to that and perhaps explain how we should view this? (because I must be wrong somewhere here).

Right, I understand that is kind of confusing for people outside Iran, and to be honest, it’s even hard to explain but OK, I try to explain it as short as possible…of course that’s true there are some other active metal bands in Iran but most of them are like real underground and since we don’t have any official metal scene, no record label to release the metal albums, no record store, festival or something; so, probably you never hear from them. Even though today it’s a bit easier to discover the bands because of social media but still…and regarding the Metal Encyclopedia, I can tell it’s really not updated and a good source to get the right info (…for Iranian bands). I know some of those bands in person! And the info there is not correct. Even the info regarding “From The Vastland” and my previous band “Sorg Innkallelse” is not right. Some of those bands are just a name, a one-man-band project with no release and at the same time there are bands which you can not find there but you know, that’s because there is no official scene going on.

Metal music in Iran is banned and the authorities consider it blasphemy but there is no official law about that. That’s when things get complicated, for example, if you want to release an album or play a metal gig you need to get a permit from the ministry of culture. First of all, they don’t give you a permit for a metal album and even if you get it, still it doesn’t mean you can do it! There are groups related to the revolutionary guard, religious groups, and different governmental organizations that easily can arrest you. They don’t need any permit or something to do that, they have guns and power! And that’s enough.

The thing is the regime pressure the artists whenever they feel like they should, every now and then. So, you never know when or how! it’s about their priorities. I myself at least know 3 metal musicians who had to run out of the country because of their music. probably you have heard about the Iranian band “Confess” and their story. That’s a good example of how things can go for metal musicians in Iran…

In your music, you tell about the legendary past. Extreme metal and tradition have a connection that is at times difficult. Many artists have at one point or another faced accusations of racism, spreading hate, etc. Often wrongfully (though there is the NSBM thing). I wanted to ask you how you feel about this from your perspective and what role does metal have when it comes to our past and identity?

You know, I think we should not forget that there is (or used to be) a strong family kind of feeling in the metal community, no matter who you are, where you come from, your race, skin color, personal preferences…That kind of freedom without feeling being judged or anything. I know in reality it’s not exactly like that or at least not today but we all share the same passion for the music we love and that’s what makes us connected. And when it comes to extreme metal or even metal in general, I think it’s is all about being true to yourself. it’s more than just music, it’s our identity. It’s the music that makes you think, to not forget and keep your roots, to break all the chains and fake rules that limit you. that’s the role it should play and that’s how it gets connected to your past, to your true self, I believe.

We see you walking a lot in the forests and nature in the documentary. How important are these to you and do you have special places you go for inspiration or that connect you to the past?

Nature is also where I get the inspiration for creating the music (one of the inspiration sources for me, you know). Especially mountain which brings back all my memories from childhood when I was going to the mountain around Tehran every weekend with my dad and that actually remained with me until today. And of course, the beautiful nature here in Norway which usually includes mountain and forest together is where makes me calm and inspires me a lot.

For the first four years of my life here in Norway I was living in a very small village outside Trondheim (up north Norway) and the nature in that area is spectacular. I had some favorite places where I could spend hours and hours just to relax, fresh my mind or listen to music. From the time when I moved to Oslo, nature is not that far but still, you need to get out of the town a bit, So, I usually just go for a walk by sea which makes me really calm and relaxed.

As I understand it, your inspiration was Marduk, Belenos, and Gorgoroth. What are you listening to now and would you recommend to others?

True! Well, there are tons of good bands from all over the world and still today I enjoy discovering new, unknown or less known bands. So, it’s a long list but if I would mention just one that I listen to these days then it would be Selbst!

From The Vastland Band

Are there any Iranian metal bands people should really know about?

Well, there are very good bands, especially death metal bands! but you know, as I said, the problem is that the metal scene in Iran is really underground and there is nothing like anything official going on. So, it’s really hard to keep up with the activities. I still have an eye on the scene and check with my metal musicians friends and their bands in Iran but probably I’m not so updated.

What future plans do you currently have for the band? Implied that the world turns back to normal.

Well, I’m working on some new material for the next album, however, I’m not sure if I’m going to release it next year. It all depends on how the writing process will go. I never plan a release an album before I’m 100% satisfied with the material. And when it comes to live shows, I would wait a bit and see how the situation is but I’m thinking about at least a show here in Oslo later this year but if not then maybe we can plan to stream live…Hard to say now when everything is uncertain. The music scene was hit strongly by the pandemic situation and changed all the plans for almost everyone but hopefully, things will get back to normal, slowly and we will see more and more activities.

If you had to compare From The Vastland to a dish, what would it be and why?

Hehe That’s a weird one! Never thought about it before. Well, let’s say “ghormeh sabzi” because it has a lot of ingredients, mostly herbs and even though not all of them are used only in this Iranian dish (well, some of the herbs are) but the taste of the food is so Iranian (I mean, this is a traditional Iranian dish. So, obviously)…Yeah, maybe I can compare my music to that! I don’t know…hehe

Dungeon Synth Digest: Toadlickers, Hole Dweller, Vervamon & Borg

Get your dungeon synth digest with Toadlickers, Hole Dweller, Vervamon, and Borg. Some good stuff to get into your system. Ok, maybe not all as dungeon synth as it should be, but it fits. And it’s cool so… enjoy.

Header image: Temple of Mokva in Abkhazia, an ancient working temple. According to legend, the king of Leon refused to pay the builder, claiming the surroundings were not visible from the tower. After the builder climbed up to look at the surroundings, and prove the king wrong, the king removed the ladder to let him starve. The temple was looted by the Turks and rebuilt in the 19th century. 

Toadlickers – Hangover Songs

Origin: Goblin-town
Label: Knekelput RecordingsToadlickers

I’m not sure if you could call Toadlickers dungeon synth, but it’s definitely using the format to amplify its comical storytelling. Ok, so let’s imagine a goblin tavern, deep under the surface of the Forgotten Realms or any other fantasy realms. Drunk goblins roll around, frolicking and fighting, gobbling food and tittle-tattling in guttural tones. Then the band called Toadlickers starts playing. The rhythm is a bit martial, repetitive, but also jolly and a bit incoherent. Fighting ceases, and the noisy masses rise to their feed to do the goblin dance. Yes, you can think about the Labyrinth movie with David Bowie as the Goblin King. Opening track ‘Now I want to lick some toads’ is an instant classic, as is my favorite ‘Too Many Mushroom Candies.’ It sort of sounds like the famous ‘Silvester Anfang’ is being played by… well, drunk Goblins. Smash your tankards, hop without a care around and sing along with Toadlickers.

Funny thing is, there’s a long-standing dichotomy in fantasy with there being good and evil. But what if these are just perspectives, and evil creatures are just as many beings that want fun, fulfillment, and a lot of liquor?

Hole Dweller – Flies the Coop II

Origin: USA
Label: Dungeons Deep RecordsHole Dweller

This ‘demo’ release by Hole Dweller can be called the last of an era. The act released a new EP recently, and the sound has changed remarkably. Good on Hole Dweller, less good for the fans of these iconic releases. This demo fills the hole between the first and second release (‘Flies the Coop’ and ‘Return To Roost’). Adventuring? No thank you, would Bilbo have said. However, the protagonist of Hole Dwellers’ pastoral dungeon synth saga responded with a resounding yes and has gotten himself into an adventure. The music is filled with joy and passages that speak of the tranquility you will find in the realms of Middle Earth. Some jokes are for insiders, like the title ‘The Hospitality of Elves is Nearly That of Halflings.’ It’s what makes this record such a lovely endeavor to retreat into.

I particularly relish the song ‘With a taste of Miruvor’, which has a slow beat, and repeats it’s energizing sounds. It soothes, but also breathers live back into you as you listen. Hole Dweller likes to create ambient sounds, like a woodpecker hammering away on a tree trunk, the sound of the wind, and a hazy sound to the synths that playfully unfold the songs. As an act, Hole Dweller, much like Toadlickers, offers new pathways for dungeon synth to explore without ever really deviating from its original journey.

Vervamon – The Path Through The Evergreen Forest

Origin: Netherlands
Label: Knekelput Recordings

Vervamon is too old, too cold. Dungeon synth, produced between 1999 and 2010, but finally released into this scene ready to devour ay original material. Vervamon debuted this record during the North-East Dungeon Siege live stream, with this fantastic video (below). So all in all, this is a release that captures some original atmosphere and sounds.

So, that makes Vervamon the sound of the ancients and it is highly distinct from most music you’ll find labeled dungeon synth from that era. It takes great stylistic liberties, even approaching religious music in the tonal arrangements on opener ‘Snagdaa’. I read ‘Snaga’ for a while, thinking this was a Gemmell reference. ‘The Path Through The Evergreen Forest’ is, however, more of a narrative than a record. Tracks like ‘Dwalende Gedachten’ contain a lot of samples and less music. When it comes up, it guides the listener to the next installment. I particularly like ‘Sneeuw en spar (eerbetoon aan de duistere troon)’. Maybe because it is a tribute to Darkthrone. I like Darkthrone a lot. My favorite track, however, remains ‘Woundmannen’. That’s the one from the video, but it’s also the most consistent and powerful.

‘Ancient Shores’ ends the old work on this record, the last two tracks are newly released. They didn’t do much for me, it was too much the sort of dark ambient you can play in the background. It sounds but doesn’t have the same storytelling strength. It makes me think of some of the tracks created by From The Bogs Of Aughishka. That’s good. It’s a fascinating journey, but not for purists… or the weak of will.

Borg – The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)

Origin: Sweden
Label: Self-releasedBorg The Sacred Mound

Borg is a relatively new kid on the blog in the dungeon synth landscape, but ‘The Sacred Mound (by J. Morlak)’ is far from an early release in his works. Sure, the artwork stands out like a sore thumb, referencing early 90s paint/WordArt craftsmanship, but the music is surprisingly handsome. We discussed earlier the jolly tavern sounds of Toadlickers, and Borg in a way is similar. It’s synth-driven folk music, with a highly immerse vibe. Certainly, it sounds Nordic, with bold and clean sounds, but enriched with various percussion sounds, it’s a joy to listen to. Some songs really feel magical, but also from remote worlds we know little about. ‘Palace of the Amfibian Lords’, for example, feels oriental (using the term very broadly to indicate some sonic influences here), where other songs play with nature sound imitations (such as ‘Gently Sway The Forest in the Wind’).

I’ve been curious to find out more about the title, as there’s a name mentioned there, but I haven’t been able to link that to ‘The Sacred Mound’, which does happen to be a 1993 Icelandic family film (I would hope to watch it, but can’t verify it as yet). Letting go of that, it’s a fantasy record that tells tales of the magic that is in nature and transforms the way we think about dungeon synth as a musical form. It can be playful, like the title track, or epic like your Northrend entrance soundtrack in World of Warcraft, in ‘Bows For Strings And Arrows’.

Stygian Bough – Volume 1

Stygian Bough is something exceptional, as it is a collaborative record between Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin. Yes, that Bell Witch, who released the overwhelming wall of sound that is ‘Mirror Reaper,’ over 83 minutes of sonic mass. Aerial Ruin is a dark folk project from Eric Moggridge, in a sense, a long time collaborator. Stygian Bough is the result, and this is about ‘Volume 1’. 

Stygian Bough is loosely based on the book ‘The Golden Bough’, by James George Frazer from 1890. Particularly a story about slaves becoming kings by slaying the king stuck out to Dylan Desmond. In a sense, the slaves exchange one tyranny for another, a deception. Stygian turns it all upside down, introducing the stream that separates life from death in ancient mythology. And there we have it, the theme for a dirge that unfolds storylike: “I ran with this idea and started to think of the ghost of a king who, if he reached land, could be reborn and rule again. The king is also a larger metaphor for humanity who rules over the planet and other species. On this new album, our ghost upon the waves flees not towards the land but death.” (From the Stereogum Interview)

Folking Doom

‘The Bastard Wind’ feels far removed from the soul-crushing heaviness that is Bell Witch. It is more of a dark folk song, akin to the :Of The Wand Of & The Moon: and the works of Aerial Ruin. Well, it’s a long way to go as this winding track leads us down a 20-minute journey full of soaring guitars, wandering fingerpicking, and dark, gloomy atmospheres. ‘Heaven Torn Low I (the passage)’ is equally subdued and mellow. It definitely has the feeling of a dark, autumny folk song, but it is well complemented by its second part, on which we hear the monolithic riffing of Bell Witch, slowly harmonizing with those vocals. It is a beautiful thing, a natural phenomenon almost, where the music becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s as if the waves start crashing in harmony with a lonely song. 

Nautical despair

To me, the sound of Stygian Bough ties into the nautical movement in doom. Long-stretched notes with an eerie, minor sound. No crunching basslines, but a clear, soaring note that pierces the damp air and fog. Crashing waves and clear vocals piercing at the right moments. It is a wonderful way to voice your message. There’s a reverberation to every note as ripples on the water, even the gentle ‘Prelude’, which is the fourth track on the album. As the song trickles in, with mild notes, you are bracing yourself for what is to come. It most certainly will not be mild. It gradually builds to where we need to be.

And so it is, the track ‘The Unbodied Air’ closes this effort with primitive riffing on an epic scale. It is a mournful dirge, slowly lumbering towards the gates. The vocals rise up over the abyssal sludge to create a final declaration. There are some times of peace, simply drifting on the aural elements as a listener, as we ever come closer to the edge and fall over in the end as the record comes to a close.

Stygian Bough is exceptionally strong. It should be listened to a lot. Not being able to bring this to a live audience in the format it deserved is a terrible loss, but one we can hopefully remedy in the future.