Album: The Northern Chronicles
Release date: 14 October 2016
Label: Tipi Token Records
01. Coastal Fairway Northbound
04. Juniper Tree Song
05. The Great Horn of the Mountain
06. Plains of Passage
07. Journey Across the Ruins
“The debut album release The Northern Chronicles is a tribute to the collective consciousness of the northern parts of Norway. The field recordings were captured over a two year period during the construction of the SALT Art & Music project at Sandhornøya as well as during the Skrei season at Torsvågbruket. After seven winter storms in as many days, the idea for The Northern Chronicles was finally born.
A celebration of the magical coastal landscape and those who came before us.”
This debut by Sysselmann should be quite impressive to dark ambient fans. A cursory examination of the album will give the feeling that Sysselmann is a veteran of the genre. At no point, over this roughly 40 minutes of music, does the album sound like that of a novice. Each element is crafted with care and delivered to listeners in a way that is highly moving. For this album, I highly recommend the use of headphones, on a dark and chilly night. It will be the perfect respite from these late summer – early fall days, or if you are in the southern hemisphere, it will be one last plunge into the whiteout before the thaw.
“Coastal Fairway Northbound” throws us right into the icy region with sounds of rushing winds and horns that seem to be from a truck, which is further alluded to by the title. As the song progresses tribal drums enter along with the sounds of sea gulls. The track is very literal from the sense of its title. We are left to imagine this lonely man on the cover of the album, making his way from point A to point B through a frozen and desolate region of the North.
The storm from the previous track turns from a windy evening with flurries into a raging blizzard on “Stormwatch”. The setting still seems to be coastal as well, with the faintest hint of crashing waves in the distance. There is a far off sound that seems like a fog horn, but it is drowned out by the incredibly intense winds blowing through. Soon, another wind instrument is introduced, but this one seems more tribal in nature. “Stormwatch” delivers a frozen soundscape on the level of early Northaunt, though it has a more old world and shamanic sort of feel to it from the tribal instrumentation. The winds account for the majority of the sounds on the track, they overwhelm everything else. Field recordings of creaky doors, closer and more high-pitched winds, as well as the horn sound are the extent of the track, and yet it is highly emotional and entertaining throughout.
“Transmigration” is the first track on The Northern Chronicles to have a foundation set in drone-work instead of field recorded soundscapes. Early on, deep throat-singing joins the drone to give it that tribal and natural element that has already featured so heavily on this album. “Transmigration” also moves the album further into its shamanic spiritual territory. As alluded by the title, it represents a death and rebirth. Given the modern feel of the first track, and the old world feel of its successors, it seems that this is the transfer of the soul from that old world body into a vessel from the modern age, or vice-versa. Throat singing and tribal instruments collide with drones and celestial vocal elements to masterfully represent this transfer for us.
The rest of the album continues to showcase these variations in sounds and eras of time. “Juniper Tree Song” has crushingly dense dronework as its centerpiece, while “The Great Horn of the Mountain” combines the throat singing style of Phurpa with the chant style of Shibalba. “Journey Across the Ruins” places us in front of a campfire, as we seem to witness a true, malevolent darkness take form, just beyond the fire’s glow. This track ends the album on a very dark and brooding note, leaving the listener feeling as cold as the depths of this great Norwegian wilderness.
I’m a sucker for the winter/polar variety of dark ambient. Sysselmann has delivered an album that I couldn’t have expected. He, seems to effortlessly bring together all the things that I love about the Scandinavian dark ambient scene. The drone-work, field recordings, throat singing, and meditative properties all work toward a goal of vicariously delivering listeners from ’round the world into a region, climate and age that we could never experience on our own. I would highly recommend this album to any fan of the polar soundscapes delivered by artists such as Northaunt or Ugasanie. Sysselmann doesn’t reproduce the work of these aforementioned artists, instead he carves out his own niche within this style of music, making for a brilliantly unique experience.
Written by: Michael Barnett