Release date: 16 June 2018
Label: Cloister Recordings
Andy Grant (The Vomit Arsonist), Mike McClatchey (Lament Cityscape), Stephen Petrus (Murderous Vision), and Derek Rush (Dream Into Dust).
01. Whittled Down By The World
02. Rough Hands Hew
04. The Banality Of Evil
02. A Rope Of Human Teeth
03. Seratonin Antagonist
04. Everything Is More Beautiful,
Because We’re Doomed
Theologian manages to find their way to the top of the list again with Reconcile. Since I’ve started This Is Darkness, Theologian has been in constant rotation here. Whether it is on the latest Malignant/Kalpamantra compilation, the latest Cadabra Records spoken art record, or his own proper solo release, Theologian manages to keep me entertained. I keep feeling like I am hearing something new, not returning to this artist, yet again, hoping for some variation in formula or style.
There are certainly many elements here of sounds that have been previously explored. But, we reach them from different places, and so they they feel refreshing. As I heard previously mentioned, Reconcile could be seen as the closest comparison to the first Theologian release, The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face. It has vast sections which are dedicated solely to dark ambient. Though, in the case of Reconcile, these can be seen more as extended interludes, between much more active tracks. Or, they are parts of these other tracks, drawn into a slow decay.
Photo by: Gretchen Heinel
The album starts with “Whittled Down By The World”, which is a brooding intro with heavy industrial dark ambient reverberations. There is a deep foreboding darkness, but at the same time, a sliver of light, however dimly flickering. But reaching its close, it quickly descends into a chaotic maelstrom of noise. This is the first indication of more violent elements yet to be introduced. Entering “Rough Hands Hew”, Theologian builds from a gentle ambient intro, first introducing the dominant synth line, and then the industrial percussive undercurrents. As the vocals enter, performed by Theologian here, they are used as more of an instrument, than a tool for communication. Though, we are, thankfully, given lyrics to all tracks which incorporate vocals. [This is something I appreciate and wish would happen more often in genres where lyrics are hard to discern amidst the orchestrated chaos.] Theologian uses a combination of singing/screaming to build what doubles as an added layer of drone, a technique used throughout the second half of the track. We are then, again, cast into a solitary ambient darkness, though the industrial elements of this scene are not far distant. As “Tetanus” builds to its climax there is a constant singing/chanting that sounds to be a combination of male/female vocals (though likely just Theologian in different ranges as there are no female artists in the credits), reminding me of the style of his Some Things Have To Be Endured album, but also, in a way, of acts like Empusae or Arcana.
The second side (of the cassette, that is) is a generally more subdued experience. It opens with some dark ambient elements which develop into some more industrial territory, as percussion and distorted guitar/synth elements intensify. “A Rope Of Human Teeth” incorporates a glitchy beat oriented foundation accented by lighter synth elements. “Seratonin Antagonist” takes us back into some subtle dark ambient territory with heavy industrialized textures, showing both sides of his sound in stark contrast, yet perfect fluidity; often making it hard for the listener to fully register when shifts into new territory are occurring. The album ends on a sort of death-synth-pop note, with another seemingly effortless contrast between the harsh and the beautiful.
Photo by: Gretchen Heinel
Hearing all the different soundscapes Theologian traverses on any given album, it’s no wonder his talents were tapped by the guys at Cadabra Records, to help orchestrate some of their greatest releases to date. Theologian moves between contrasting territories in a way that only a seasoned musician could manage. His willingness to show us equal parts beauty and crudity makes for an experience that doesn’t feel overwhelming in the way that many similar artists do for a portion of listeners. The devastation reaches its heights, abusing the listener along the way, but then returns to a calm, a respite before the next assault. In many ways this could be an analogy for life itself, brief moments of beauty and calm, amidst a sea of pain and hardship.
I briefly met Terence Hannum at the APEX Fest 2015 here in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s involved in a number of different things around the music and art scene here, and so it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths. Most interesting to me was his musical work as the singer/synth/electronics guy in the band Locrian. He recently released his debut as part of the Lynchian sort of darkish synth-pop group The Holy Circle on Annihilvs Power Electronix. He’s also recently begun to release albums and perform solo as the power-electronics project Axebreaker. While all these projects are quite interesting to me, they all dance around the edges of dark ambient, and I’ve yet to properly cover one, though I have listened to and enjoyed all three of these named projects repeatedly.
Hannum’s first novella, Beneath the Remains, released in 2016 and focused on a young boy in Florida, as he dealt with the aftermath of his older brother’s disappearance. It often raised feelings of nostalgia, yet there was a darkness that always lurked beneath the surface, creeping up through various events as the story progressed.
Two years later, Hannum returns with his second novella, All Internal. A story which takes a deep look, literally and through allegory at some of the darker elements of the age of social media, and the underbelly of video-clip internet porn and webcam modeling. But, Hannum doesn’t simply give us a standard tale of someone’s misfortunes. All Internal instead takes the horror/ sci-fi/ weird-fiction route, with a large helping of graphic (sexual and otherwise) detail along the way. In this way, Hannum is able to blend together his passions for fine writing and cultural politics, highlighting his more academic side, with his loves for darker topics, previously explored through his musical projects and artwork.
All Internal takes some pretty interesting twists and turns along the way. Not knowing what to expect next, or understanding the context in which something is happening adds a lot to the overall effect here. So, I won’t be going into the actual storyline in any detail in this review. Instead, I’d prefer to focus on the reasons why, and type of person that may enjoy this sort of story.
Hannum’s writing style on All Internal makes use of quick snippets of information. Scenes/chapters which may only last for 1 – 3 pages on average. I find this to be an incredibly potent writing style in our current culture, where the average person consumes the majority of their news through headlines and talking points, not in depth articles and discussions. A time when presidents make their case for policy in 280 characters or less. But, any possible disdain for this situation aside, these short paragraphs really do make for a meaningful reading experience. When you are able to consume a section of text, and then stop to think about its possible deeper meanings.
As for deeper meanings, there is a lot to unpack here. One could innocently read through this 100 +/- pages of text without taking any allegorical meanings or greater contexts into consideration. Which would be fine. But it is quite interesting to dig into the topics and scenarios presented, and wonder exactly how much more Hannum could be conveying. As I read through the story, I took note of various ideas arising, things that seemed to parallel Hannum’s narrative.
One huge and recurring theme, for me, was the question of the soul. Hannum clearly points out the question of mind or body. But, this question is taken to its furthest extents. Do we have free will or are we slaves to our ritualized patterns. Is the mind really telling the body what to do, or is the mind just noticing that the body is doing, without any ability to influence. Another important topic that seemed, to me, unavoidable when reading All Internal, is the question of women’s reproductive rights. Or in an even broader sense, humanity’s ability to fully comprehend and then influence decisions on reproduction in relation to the planet’s overall population and ability to sustain itself.
Hannum’s writing style is certainly modern. The topics I believe he is alluding to are front and center in modern times. But, as I read All Internal, I also felt that Hannum found a lot of influence and inspiration from the weird-fiction authors of the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe this is just because of my constant saturation in this topic, but I seemed to notice some striking allusions, or at least nods, to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and maybe even more of Clark Ashton Smith. Without going into any detail that would speak directly to plot twists, there were several moments, especially in the second half of the story, as Hannum begins to unveil more specifics of the story’s framework. Whether I’m right or wrong to make a connection there, I would certainly say that fans of those authors, and more modern authors like Neil Gaiman and Thomas Ligotti will certainly find things to love. In many respects, Hannum takes these sorts of themes and steps the intensity up, to something more on par with our current societal norms/boundaries.
All Internal is a quick and enjoyable read. One that you could knock out rather quickly, if the story so engrosses you. Or, one which you can casually read in these short 1-3 page sections, over a greater period of time. While I already loved Beneath the Remains, I found All Internal more stylistically in line with some of my favorites, and so I would want to recommend this as well to our readers, many being generally fans of the same sorts of stories and films. I found my playlist of dark ambient awaiting review was the perfect accompaniment to this story, at certain times playing things on one end of the spectrum, but as the story took twists, I was adjusting the music’s themes accordingly. An all around enjoyable experience. I’m definitely hoping Hannum does more future work in this vein!
Frédéric Arbour is probably one of the most important people in the dark ambient scene. Since the early 2000s, his record label, Cyclic Law, has released some of the most important and influential dark ambient albums in the history of the genre. Though, Arbour himself has always seemed to be one of the most quiet voices within the genre. Along with running the label, Cyclic Law, Arbour creates music in various projects including: Havan, Stärker and Instincts. His other project, Visions, has just released a brilliant new collaborative album with Phurpa, entitled Monad. So, now seemed like a great time to catch up with him to find out more about Visions, his collaboration with Phurpa, and the Cyclic Law record label’s past & future. Enjoy!
Interview with: Frédéric Arbour [See end for links to his projects and label.]
Conducted by: Michael Barnett
Michael: First I’d like to talk a bit about your new album Monad, a collaboration with Phurpa. After your last two releases as Visions, you decided to take a break from the project. Was this release with Phurpa aligned with those plans, or did this opportunity come as a surprise, changing your plans?
Frédéric: I guess it was neither a surprise nor planned. I had put Visions on hold for an indefinite period to focus on Stärker and Havan and a few other collaborations I have also been involved in, and this past year I felt I had to rethink my approach and sound and decided to focus on Visions again and go forward with new ideas.
Michael: How long have you known Alexey Tegin? How soon did you decide that you would want to collaborate with him and the Phurpa project?
Frédéric: I have known of Alexey since 2002 from a release under his own name titled Gyer. Also, having been close to Tibetan ritual music for many years prior, his unique take on this tradition immediately resonated with me. We were in contact some years later, and we were able to finally meet in 2014 while I was hosting a Cyclic Law night in Moscow, where Phurpa closed the evening. Alexey was also kind enough to invite us to his home and ritual chamber. We have since kept in contact, and have also released 2 other albums by Phurpa through Cyclic Law.
Michael: Did Visions and Phurpa come together in a studio setting to create Monad, or was this done electronically between Germany and Russia?
Frédéric: It was done through exchanging ideas and audio files electronically. Alexey sent me mantras which had specific intents, that I then processed and merged into what became Monad.
Michael: Were there set guidelines for your individual roles (i.e. Phurpa does all percussion, Visions does all drones), or was it a more fluid process?
Frédéric: It was quite fluid, there’s chants and percussive elements from both Phurpa and myself. I layered the drones and atmospheric elements throughout, and also did the final mixing and mastering.
Michael: How did you decide on Monad as the title for the album, and I assume the theme of the release as well? Should we assume this to be the Monad of Gnosticism?
Frédéric: It would translate to the totality of the whole, and its source, and the channeling of this primordial force.
Michael: Obviously, Phurpa is a very spiritually oriented project, backed by the strict adherence to the beliefs that Alexey Tegin holds. Would you consider Visions to be an equally spiritual project, or do you seek to harness more abstract ideas?
Frédéric: Spiritual, most definitely, with a strong dose of abstraction. At its etymological roots, the word abstract relates to being “withdrawn from worldly interests”. This is where Visions stands.
Michael: How did the similarities/differences in the religious/world views between Visions and Phurpa play into the creation of, and energy behind, this release?
Frédéric: Let’s just say that we both channel and explore the same currents through our musical means; and this is how / why our paths crossed and we’ve come to this collaboration. The result and energy it emanates speaks for itself.
Michael: With Monad released, will Visions continue to be a main priority for the moment or will you allow it to patiently lie in wait for your next inspiration?
Frédéric: This release is a prelude to the new album coming early next year, I’m working on new material that is soon approaching completion.
Michael: Let us turn the attention now to your role as founder and main operator of the Cyclic Law record label. In a word, how are things going at Cyclic Law at the moment?
Frédéric: Things are good, there are quite a few titles planned for the rest of the year and well into 2019.
Michael: You’ve recently made a huge move, transporting the whole Cyclic Law operation from Canada to Berlin. Would you care to speak any on the reasons for that move? How are things in Berlin, so far?
Frédéric: I’ve known for many years that I would at some point move to Europe. I’ve been traveling and touring Europe yearly for over 20 years now, and have always felt more at home on this side of the Atlantic. Berlin was a more strategic choice in terms of ease of relocation and for its very active cultural landscape. Things have been quite good for me as a whole here. I’m definitely glad this move came to its conclusion.
Michael: Obviously, during the previously mentioned move, the label’s output was a little slower, though it has considerably increased in the first half of 2018. Will you be planning to keep things moving at this pace for the near future?
Frédéric: Yes, moving took some adjustment, but 2017 and 2018 have been quite active with very interesting releases coming my way, and there’s quite a lot in the works.
Michael: I haven’t read any previous interviews with you, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about the start of Cyclic Law from your perspective. Those first few years, releasing the first handful of albums which ended up having such an impact on the dark ambient genre. What were your feelings starting up the label?
Frédéric: Well things started around 1998, when I purchased my first synth to create what became the Instincts / Bustum The Mystery Visions album, and subsequently what established Cyclic Law as a label in 2002. In those years, I had met Svartsinn, Northaunt and Kammarheit through the mp3.com platform. Things evolved from there, with the release of the Nord Ambient Alliance compilation and then releases by Kammarheit, Sophia, Svartsinn etc…
Michael: Did you have any intentions of still doing this almost two decades later?
Frédéric: Well you can never predict where things will lead you. But, my intentions to push this forward as long as it feels relevant have been there from the start, and I hope I can keep doing this for some time still. Things change, but the music still speaks.
Michael: Do you have any thoughts on the dark ambient genre as a whole, with the emergence of things like Spotify, Youtube, and too a lesser degree Bandcamp, that make it easier for listeners to absorb massive amounts of music, but harder for invested labels to pay the bills.
Frédéric: Well these are 2 things, content vs form. As for content, well the genre has evolved and I’m still surprised by some of the quality and craft some artists deploy. Even after all these years, there are still new ways to interpret and approach this genre. As for form, well yes, there’s a lot of material out there and for someone diving into this genre today the scope is overwhelming. Album sales are fluctuating and the streaming reality is what it is. We just work with the means we have and keep pushing forward.
Michael: Many people have quite rigid views on their favorite genres of music, whatever they may be. Do you see a great new horizon ahead of us, or do you think the golden age of dark ambient may already be in the rear-view?
Frédéric: Most musical styles have had their “golden age” and now it is through convergence of styles and ideas that things evolve. I’m okay with this for the most part. Classics will remain classics, yet there are more classics to be made.
Michael: The reemergence of vinyl has left its mark on dark ambient, as it has on most other genres right now. Cyclic Law got into the vinyl releases early on in this trend. For you as a label head, what are the ups and downs of vinyl?
Frédéric: My initial goal with the first releases was to give the CD format the aspects I had enjoyed of vinyl, the smell and feel of heavy cardboard, inserts, gatefold sleeves etc… this was at a time when vinyl was almost out of the picture. Yet, we were releasing vinyl back in 2003, before this “comeback” of vinyl. Now we can offer both CD and vinyl, and even cassettes. So, it’s interesting to be able to present all these formats. I maybe secretly miss the 8-track cassette days of my youth.
Michael: You played a big part in the startups of Kammarheit, Northaunt and Svartsinn. You found Psychomanteum, the first released project by Robert Kozletsky, now best known for Apocryphos, while he was still in college, only beginning to even realize his own talents. The list could go on. Do you have your eyes set on any artists right now that you think are incredibly talented which haven’t yet gotten the recognition they deserve?
Frédéric: Well yes, there’s always this aspect of running a label, to push the more established acts as well as unearth newcomers that one feels must be heard by a wider audience. Recently, Shedir from Italy has had a big impact on me, as well as a few others yet to be released: Cober Ord from France, Kristian Westergard from Norway, Purba from Russia, O Saala Sakral (ex Hadewych) from The Netherlands and more…
Michael: What can we expect the future to hold for Cyclic Law, business as usual, or any surprises on the way?
Frédéric: Well business isn’t quite usual here. There are definitely some surprises. But, I’ll have to keep the suspense for now.
Michael: Thank you so much for your time, Frederic. It’s been a great pleasure getting to pick your brain!
Frédéric: Thank you Michael, and for all your work. Your platform is a haven in a sea of insignificance.
Martyria recently graced us with their self titled debut on Malignant Records. (Read our review here.) Fans around the genre were quick to give them praise for the depth and sincerity in their version of ritual dark ambient. Comparisons to the Aural Hypnox roster, Shibalba and other well-renowned artists of this ilk are warranted. The Kalpamantra net-label, in association with Malignant Records, is releasing their annual digital Malignant Records compilation. As in the past, The Portrait Of Mortality is a combination of solo tracks and collaborative tracks amongst fellow label mates.
We are proud, here at This Is Darkness, to present to you an exclusive premiere of Martyria‘s solo track, “Epiclesis”, which will be featured on The Portrait Of Mortality compilation, set for release on 28 June 2018.
Martyria says about “Epiclesis”:
In Plato’s work entitled The Republic, the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ is presented, where a group of chained people live all their lives in a cave, facing a blank wall. Behind them, there is a fire that they cannot see. As a result, the shadows which are projected on that wall are perceived by them as reality. According to Socrates, the philosopher is like a prisoner who has escaped from the cave and discovers that the shadows are just a part of reality. Similarly to this allegory, a world of shadows is described in our track entitled “Epiclesis”. In this world, the shadows walk on a lightless path invoking the morning star. With each step, they make the shadows become weaker as they approach the fire of Prometheus until they are self-sacrificed in his fire, in order to transform the unknown into knowledge.
Band Name: Martyria
Labels: Malignant Records, Urtod Void, Hammerheart Records
Members: George Zafiriadis, Lena Merkouri
Links: Official Web Site, Bandcamp, Facebook
Mortiis is hailed by many/most as one of the greatest originators of the now greatly expanding dungeon synth genre. His Era 1 releases considered classics, and highly sought out by the dungeon synth community, as well as by fans of the Cold Meat Industry label, in general, which was home to Mortiis Era 1. With a new round of concerts featuring Era 1 material, a re-issue of his book ‘Secrets of My Kingdom’, and re-issues of many Era 1 albums, it seemed like a great time to have a conversation with the man behind Mortiis and pick his mind about the new book, his re-emergence within the Era 1 context, the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival and more!
Michael: The last year or so has been pretty crazy for you, it seems. Since your re-emergence in 2015, there has been a simultaneous flow of new fans to your Era 1 material, which culminated in the recent tour and appearance at the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival. In general, how have you been feeling about all this change?
Mortiis: Good. The only regret I have is that everything should have happened sooner. Especially the release of The Great Deceiver. But a lot of shit got in the way of that, so it wasn´t so much that we were dormant or inactive prior to 2015, we were just dealing with a ton of crap in the background. All that bullshit culminated in us getting rid of some, let´s say, obstacles in the “organization”, that had been wasting a lot of our time, especially in the couple of years leading up to the release of The Great Deceiver. From that moment on, you could almost physically feel the shifting of gears and actual forward movement.
Michael: More specifically, are you pleased to see your old work coming back to prominence so many years later?
Mortiis: To be honest I think it´s cool that people like my music, regardless of when it was made. I just think it´s cool to see people dig my stuff…I didn´t always feel this way…A few years back, I wanted people to feel the way I did, which was, invariably, that my latest music was the best…That´s not realistic, obviously. But I wanted things to be like that. Needless to say, an artist should always feel that the latest work is the best, but it´s not realistic to expect everyone else to agree.
Michael: After this round of 1st era re-issues, the touring, and the re-printing of your long sold out, and greatly sought after “Secrets of My Kingdom” book, what is next for Mortiis? Will the full focus return to Mortiis, the band, as opposed to Mortiis, the dark dungeon music guy?
Mortiis: We´ll have to see about that. I´d like to get another album out of the Era 1 style stuff, but brought into the light on current times. The band will resurface, because so much of my heart and soul has been vested into it, and the music and energy that it inspires in me, so I could never let that go.
As of right now. I am committed to a lot of shows for the rest of the year, and beyond that, I have many plans and ideas, and I´ll just reveal that along the way, when the time is right, haha!
Michael: Your own music aside, what are your feelings on this huge re-emergence of dungeon synth?
Mortiis: It sort of happened in my absence, and I wasn´t really made aware of it until I peronally came to terms with my musical past, which I had a lot of personal issues with up until about 2-3 years ago, when my mind became less foggy and judgemental about it. By that point, it seemed to have been growing to a decent size…It´s interesting that its happening now. Because, I don´t think my reissues had anything to do with this emergence. I think it´s a monster all on its own, so to speak. So it would appear it´s really just a very cool coincidence. I still haven´t been able to check out a lot of it. Although, I have done shows with projects like Old Tower recently, which sounds pretty cool me.
Michael: You’ve marked your stamp of approval on several recent dungeon synth releases, including Machina Coeli’s Gnosis, and at least one other that escapes me at the moment. I’ve also seen your name in the “thank you” sections of many artists’ albums. What do you think your position is within this new dungeon synth community? Are you keeping an eye on new projects, or do you mostly ignore these trends/communities and focus on your own work?
Mortiis: I don´t ignore them, I´m just not as good as I should be on checking them out. It´s all about lack of time really. I´m pretty swamped at the moment, and have been for some time… I see the forums online and I notice a lot of these names. So, I think a good portion of what´s out there, at least I´ve seen their names around, if nothing else. As for my position, I don´t know, I don´t really want to speculate in that. And, it´s not really up to me anyway, to place myself in any sort of hierarchy. If that makes any sense. I think I´m well respected by most people into dungeon synth. Although, I remember one douchebag being very personally offended at me for posting in a forum that was for French DS people only, which I missed. He got all worked up about it. Maybe he hoped for some sort of response. He never got one, so he was probably punching a screen somewhere. Hopefully it broke.
Michael: If you had one piece of advice to give new dungeon synth artists, what would that be?
Mortiis: Don´t post on French DS forums, haha! Nah, the French are OK, except this one dude, haha! To be honest, I´m not a DS expert, I don´t have it “all figured out” or anything. When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.
When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.
Michael: I mentioned earlier the CMI festival. How was that experience for you? Was it surreal to come back together with so many of these people from your formative years?
Mortiis: It was cool to meet guys like Tomas from Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Peter from Deutsch Nepal and Peter from Raison d’etre, as I hadn´t met them for years. Jouni, from In Slaughter Natives, I worked with a few years ago on mastering some of my music, so it hadn’t been that long since we´d last met, but of course it is always nice to meet Jouni. The experience was cool, I mean kind of scary, since it was my first Era 1 show in about 18 years, and I was doing things a bit different than the past anyway, so in a sense this was almost like a debut show. I think a lot of people got into it, but of course CMI attracts a lot of somewhat elitist types, with very specific tastes and with strong opinions on what they like and don´t like, so I think there was a clique of guys like that that probably had no time for me, to put it that way, but I knew that was going to happen. In that sense nothing has changed since the old CMI days when I used to go out and do shows with Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Raison d’etre, In Slaughter Natives, and so on.
Michael: You have been taking Era 1 on tour recently. What are your general thoughts on live performances of dungeon synth / dark dungeon music? Do you think this is an important aspect for any musician, or is it personal taste?
Mortiis: I think it´s all personal. Either you want to go out and play live, or you don´t. I´ve gotten used to it, so I´m always up for doing a show, as long as the promoters aren´t trying to pull quickies and pay peanuts and fuck you over, but I usually catch those fuckers out before the 3rd email, so they´re goners if it doesn´t feel good. We´re done at that point.
Regardless, I think all music deserves a shot at proving itself on stage.
Michael: You’ve re-released “Secrets of my Kingdom”, now entitled: “Secrets of my Kingdom: Return to Dimensions Unknown”. How has the response to this been from fans?
Mortiis: Very good. I think people really appreciate the additional work we put into it. There´s about 100 pages of bonus material consisting of unpublished texts, artwork, interviews, and so on…The response has been nothing but positive, from where I´m standing anyway.
Michael: Are you personally pleased with the final product and working with Cult Never Dies?
Mortiis: Yes, totally. Dayal is a pretty passionate guy about the product he makes, so he really pushes to make it the best it can be.
Michael: This book re-issue, as well as the era 1 album re-issues, contain artwork by David Thierree. Are you personally acquainted with him, or did you two only work together on these releases? Will you be planning to contract him for work again in the future? Also, I wonder if you have a favorite of his re-imaginings?
Mortiis: We´ve known each other for a long time, but we only really reconnected over these reissues I guess about 2 years ago. We´ve been in pretty steady contact ever since. He also worked with me on a bunch of pieces for my live show. There will be at least one more release coming shortly, that includes his artwork, and that one may well be my favourite. Other than that, it´s a hard choice. I think the Født til å Herske artwork looks brilliant, but the Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent artwork has so many hidden signs and symbols and references, it´s kinda hard not to pick that one as a current favourite.
Michael: In your interview within the new book, you mention that most of this body of work comes from your teenage years, and that you don’t fully appreciate it as much as you might like. What were the changes/arguments made that brought you to re-release this book? Do you feel that this newer version has been redeemed of any potential flaws you saw in its original form?
Mortiis: There´s the intro from the original 2001 version, that was written at some point during the year 2000, and at that point I was very disillusioned with my ’90s output. All across the board: music, lyrics, etc… That had more to do with me sinking into a depression that was deeper and darker than I realized at the time. I can see that now, in retrospect. In the interview, in the book, that I did with Dayal across several 2-3 hour phone conversations, I did probably touch upon this a lot, too. Because, it´s the main reason Era 1, to me, was locked away in some deeply hidden mental closet, and I threw away the key, just to use a worn out cliché.
I don´t think the original book was flawed, it has many things about it that I like. But the new edition is better, improved in the sense that it´s physically larger, it has more content, and I personally shed a lot of light on those days, which we thought would be interesting to the hard-core fan, if no one else. All the material was written between 1992 and 1999, though the bulk would have been written between 1992-1996, so I would have been 17-21 years of age when most of that was written.
Michael: Are there marked differences between your fan-base for Era 2/3/0 and those of Era 1? Would you say one group or another has a sort of darker mentality?
Mortiis: Not sure. I mean, if I was to point anything out, I think metal people, for a reason I still can´t properly understand, beyond the fact that they may be connecting with some sort of primal atmospheric element in the era 1 stuff, seem to like Era 1 a lot more than everything else that came after. But it´s not a rule of thumb. I get people that are fans of everything I´ve done, then I get the sort of industrial/electronic/goth person that got into Mortiis post- Era 1. It really varies, but it´s not like I could point at a guy in the room and tell you what Mortiis records he´s going to be into.
Michael: I recently discovered your 25 minute music video ‘Reisene Til Grotter Og Odemarker’. Those dark and smoky corridors and stone towers were the perfect accompaniment to your sound and your image. Would you be open to doing something like this again? Or is this something that you lost respect for over the years?
Mortiis: I didn´t lose respect for it. VENOM did shit in castles, so how can I lose respect for it? Haha! I just completed filming for a new video to be used for some Era 1 stuff down the line. It´s not in a castle, though, but it´s pretty damn dark stuff anyway.
Michael: Can you remember back to a time when these ideas of “Mortiis” first came into your mind? Were you a child, imagining these dark images and soundscapes, or did this come to you later as you began discovering black metal and the darker side of the global community?
Mortiis: The first lyrics I wrote that became the Mortiis mythology, in the summer of 1992, were all supposed to be used for a planned Emperor concept album. That never happened obviously, since I didn´t last very long in the band after that. I had sketched out a dark otherworld in those 10-12 lyrics, and I brought them all with me, because I knew I wanted to base my music around them. That´s how it got started.
Michael: Politics are on everyone’s minds these days. No need to give an affiliation or ideology, but I wonder how you generally feel about this political landscape? Will it all calm down, and life go back to the mundane boring nature of the last 30 years, or are we headed for darker, more uncertain times?
Mortiis: Well it´s steadily been becoming more and more uncertain, and increasingly hostile and violent, and we have world leaders that seem more occupied with feeding fear and stroking their own egos, than actually going to work, so as it stands right now, I don´t think it´s looking that great. I hope things will get better. I have kids, and I don´t want them to grow up in some sort of dystopian, cynical future. But when people think they can run the world like a company, with no real interest in ramifications and the ripple effects of your actions…Who knows where things will end.
Michael: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers, which I have overlooked?
Mortiis: Thanks for your interest. Check out www.mortiiswebstore.com for vinyl, CD, shirts and other merchandise. Thanks!
01. Answered in an Echo
02. Rain in Our Room
03. An Illustrious Career
04. Painted Bird
06. In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last
08. All the Ports are Empty
09. Signal to Noise
10. Both of Us, Regardless
So I must admit I’m running a bit behind on this one. I was first introduced to Tapes and Topographies as well as their label Simulacra Records last summer with this release, Signal to Noise. I immediately fell in love with it, but I like to give an album time to sit with me for a bit, especially if the artist is new to me. So, by the time I realized that Signal to Noise was possibly my favorite album of the summer, it was already well into fall. So now summer has returned, and with it Signal to Noise. As the heat crept up, this CD found its way right back into my player on long drives.
As Tear Ceremony and Sonogram, Todd Gautreau has been releasing albums since the early ’90s. But Tapes and Topographies seems to be a much newer project, with five total releases dating back to 2014. Signal to Noise is the third of these, and just prior to writing this I realized his latest, Opiates, will also definitely need to be heard thoroughly and likely covered here. To say Signal to Noise was my absolute favorite album of summer 2017 might be a stretch. But, it certainly has stuck with me in a more personal way than most of what I encountered through the year.
What will become immediately clear to the listener upon diving into Signal to Noise is that it is seeking to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I would argue that it is a heavily melancholic, but nevertheless cherished, nostalgia. The sort of feeling you get walking back into some childhood home, but its now overgrown and rotten, or less intensely, a home that has new occupants with a new color paint and a new mailbox. The memories are still just as beautiful, but the time has passed, the world is a different place now. Each time I revisit Signal to Noise, these feelings present themselves freshly, as if I am experiencing it again for the first time.
Songs like the opener, “Answered in an Echo”, are quite direct in their prodding of our subconscious. The track starts off with a high-mid ranged drone that gently sweeps through field recordings of some park on a summer day. Children are playing only feet away. Parents chat amongst one another more quietly. But there are other elements to “Answered in an Echo” which are more experimental and take it into a more interesting place for someone like myself that is not overly interested in drone heavy releases. I would make a comparison, for dark ambient fans, to the way that Elegi has incorporated a wide variety of instrumentation and techniques to create something that is at once nostalgic, peaceful, and experimental. There are different layers of drones, field recordings, and likely other actual instruments, which I haven’t specifically placed.
While “Answered in an Echo” is direct in its evocation of nostalgic memories, the whole album does not guide you so directly. Some tracks, like “An Illustrious Career” are sort of a glitchy form of classical. Soft and peaceful piano arrangements mingle with more strange noises. The connection here clearly being that we are able to remember these beautiful bits and pieces from our pasts, but not all that we remember is correct, and not all that happened is remembered. There is a lot of noise that accumulates through the years, muddying the signal, diminishing its purity. But, the scientific definition for signal to noise is: Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.
Another favorite to be mentioned is “In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last”. This one adds some beautiful string instrumentation to the already delightful piano arrangements. This track actually includes very little of the more experimental sounds, focusing almost fully one the classical instruments. It makes for a nice little interlude in the album. It could evoke the feelings and/or memories of something like a moment of clarity. When for once life actually presented itself to you, no riddles included.
I can say equally positive things about the cover-art and digipak for this one. The open window, sun shining in upon a dirt floor is the perfect visual representation of this album’s emotion. A feeling of loneliness, a bit old and worn. But, the album doesn’t present itself as all sadness and despair. The memories are not quite yet gone, the moments live on in our minds, and maybe one day moments so beautiful will present themselves once again. Or is life only ever so beautiful in hindsight?
01. Sunny Side
03. Evening by the Lake
04. The Hedge
07. Lost Compass
08. Way Home
In 2013, Cryo Chamber made a running start in the dark ambient world with the releases of new works by Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, Halgrath, and a compilation, Behind the Canvas of Time featuring many of the top artists in the genre. They continued to solidify their presence over the next few years with multiple releases by artists which would become label veterans, like Alphaxone, Ugasanie, Randal Collier-Ford, and Flowers For Bodysnatchers, to name a few. But, now about five years into their existence, Cryo Chamber is really starting to dabble in new territory. Releases like Wordclock – Heralds, the Miles To Midnight collaboration, and now Lesa Listvy – Way Home, all incorporate elements which lean more in the direction of more active musical genres. While staying true to the themes and general atmosphere of the label, the introduction of drums, saxophone and bass guitar, to name a few, opens the label up to a new group of listeners, while introducing their current fan-base to yet more novelty.
Lesa Listvy, or Леса Листвы, is a Moscow-based quartet, as Cryo Chamber puts it. But this is the only information I can discern, thus far, about the musicians behind the music. It would be interesting to know who plays what, but its likely that everyone does a little bit of everything. Along with the four members: Daniil Sheremet, Ryazantsev Dmitriy, Armenak Voskanyan, and Stanislav Smirnov, they implement the use of contributing artists: Max Tsibizov, Boro, and Ilya Orange (also without specific duties indicated). But this isn’t really a hindrance to enjoyment of the release. In fact, for me it’s done a bit of the opposite. I have found a bit of added entertainment in trying to discern what is live instrumentation, modular/digital synth or field recording. Though, in the end, I’ve found that this ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on my feelings about the album.
Way Home is an incredibly entertaining release. The closest comparison I could make to it would be Atrium Carceri, though this still doesn’t really do the trick. It is true that tracks like “The Hedge”, “Obelisk”, and “Swarm” all have significant stylistic similarities to some of Atrium Carceri‘s more percussion-heavy tracks. But, then something like “Evening by the Lake” moves off drastically from the trademark Atrium Carceri sound, that sort of industrial-infused cinematic ambient which almost seems to have a swagger about it at times. (A point I don’t know if I’ve previously mentioned about my particular enjoyment of Atrium Carceri; I would like to go into some more detail on that in the near future.)
“The Hedge” slowly builds momentum over its first two and a half minutes, before bursting into an energetic industrial percussion-laden second half. There are numerous intriguing sounds to follow throughout this second half, including some quite well inserted piano parts. “Obelisk”, again, holds many stylistic similarities to Atrium Carceri, this one starting active and holding its intensity throughout, though, in general, it is less energetic than “The Hedge”.
This brings me to “Swarm”. My personal favorite track on the release. And one that I was not surprised to see Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, mastered Way Home), mention he keeps coming back to it for repeated listening sessions. This one has a thick atmosphere, as if one is deep in some catacomb or abandoned factory, but on Way Home this sentiment seems to be more representative of some dank heavily-forested swamp lands, as is certainly the case for the album’s cover-art. Taking the track titles and general feel of the album into account, I get a sense of “Swarm” representing the arrival of some non-human antagonist into the story. I almost get a Starcraft Zerg feeling from the music.
Technicalities and possible plot references aside, Way Home is a deeply enjoyable album. It can become incredibly active at times, as mentioned above, but it can also be reserved and beautiful, like on my other favorite, “Evening by the Lake”. This opens Lesa Listvy to a potentially large audience, having something attractive for the die-hard dark ambient fans, as well as those most interested in sonic discovery and adventure. It also makes for quite nice background soundscapes, as it never becomes overly invasive during its most intense moments. I’m pleased to see Cryo Chamber testing new territory; and Lesa Listvy should give listeners enough reason to feel comfortable discovering whatever is to come next.
Name: Nicolas Dupont
Location: Auchel, Pas-de-Calais, France
Languages: French, English, Spanish
Contact: email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Media Profiles: Facebook
Vocalist / stentor for WWMM [no internet link so far, no release yet]
Tracklist: (Original Version @ 45 rpms) (Thunderdrone Version @ 33.3 rpms)
02. A Swarm of Butterflies
03. Demeter and Persephone Run From Hades
04. Winds of Vāyu
05. Me-Olam, Ad-Olam
06. Dance of the Ophites
07. Starlit Mire [Zero Kama cover]
08. To My Sons and Daughters
Adel Souto, originating from Miami and now living in Brooklyn, NY, must be a name familiar to those who knew the Feast Of Hate And Fear zine, of which he was the main editor, and Antibothis occultural anthologies series, to which he has been a noteworthy contributor of the first issue ; his new zine is titled Musica Obscura, and besides, he keeps publishing one-off zines, books, articles on esoteric and occultural subject matters, and compilations of “throwaway poems“, that are said to be “unedited stream-of-conscious scraps, which purposefully have to fit 8.5 x 5.5″ pieces of cardstock ; handwritten, using a marker. Called “throwaways” due to being almost immediately left behind on mass transit, or in heavily trafficked areas. To date, over 1000 have been written (with only about 200 documented), and abandoned around Miami, Philadelphia and New York City“. Those throwaway poems, not unlike Tristan Tzara‘s dadaist writings, are signed using the pseudonym Adel 156. With such extensive activities as a writer, I wasn’t even aware of the musical side of his outputs – until now.
156 is a collective project, that Adel Souto conducts, featuring occasional or regular contributors. Presented as blending Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Z’ev and Crash Worship – with such references, I must admit that expectations were high. Thus, I downloaded (free downloads) the albums 1.5.6(2011) and Steel Rarely Stands Alone(2015) in order to get more familiar with 156 and explore other soundscapes prior to immersing myself in the discovery of Memento Mori. Concrete sounds, almost field recordings, okay, but not the boring type of easily recorded and mannered artsy random material that several modern composers supplied us hundreds of hours with, rather tones of intimistic memories with quite a ritual and atmospheric edge. Minimal found objects manipulations. Flirting with both softness and rawness. Crash Worship and Z’ev, yes, definitely, and Test Dept. too, but more in the vein of their earlier recordings, rather than their later developments. Same with Einstuerzende Neubauten, back to those glorious days of caving under highway bridges, and before the departure of FM Einheit. There is even a cover version of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s “Cycle on the Radio” as last track of Steel Rarely Stands Alone. The qualities of the recordings matter a lot with such sound works, no disturbing white noise hiss in here, and indeed, the environment where those recordings were done is crucial ; the self introduction of 156 mentions that it is “often being described as a drum circle in a rusty junkyard” : exactly. Rhythmic escalations are inducted in parts, whereas other moments are more floating. Further on, the self presentation of 156 also states : “having tribal elements, the music can often be used in shamanistic practices, as it comes from the soul, and is meditation music for metalheads“. Having more punk and minimal electro roots myself, i cannot say what’s up for the metalheads, but it is indeed appealing and meditative, leaving deeply marked reminiscences after listening. And as far as coming from the soul and being used in shamanistic practices, this is where Memento Mori enters the stage.
Recording sessions initiated in 2012, up until 2016. All the music on this release was made using exclusively human bones, or breath passing through human bones, which include skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and kangling (Tibetan thighbone trumpets). Zero Kama or Metgumbnerbone (rather Drëun than Ligeliahorn, by the way) immediately come to mind – which is obviously legit, as there is a cover version of Zero Kama‘s “Starlit Mire” on the B side of the 10″. “Starlit Mire” was maybe the highlight on Zero Kama‘s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. album cassette on Nekrophile Records (released in 1984 on Nekrophile Rekords, then reissued by French label Permis De Construire as a vinyl LP in 1988 and as a CD in 1991, and finally reissued by French label Athanor as both LP and CD in 2014), this album, itself, being a masterpiece and a milestone in contemporary ritual/tribal music. Thus, the challenge is rather hazardous, perilous, risky, to refer to such a revered piece of worship. Others have tried before and eventually failed, there has even been some homage compilation, with good and bad moments. Okay. At the risk of sounding pompous, what may I propose? To my perceptions, Memento Mori by 156 must be the most achieved and prominent companion to The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. to date. Away from paying homage or imitating, it rather feels like a furtherance of it. Not a continuation, furtherance. Keeping in mind that Zero Kama had been conceived and executed in the context of Vienna, Austria, early 80s, whereas these recordings from 156 emanate from New York City in the 2010s.
Also, keep in mind that in such specific areas of musical expression, ritualization of the process and intents are even more important than the results themselves. This day and age is fully indoctrinated, perverted by rationalism and hygienism. Although most would pretend the opposite, death still is somehow a taboo. Involving human bones in whichever creative process is still perceived as an heresy. Even illegal in some countries. Remember that you will die : whichever the way, trying to be consequent or not, human condition and the hedonism inherent to it is rendering oneself submissive or dominant, dull or enlightened, destructive or protective, whatsoever, in the end we all die, and that is the most essential remembrance to anyone’s lifetime probably. What kind of inner state is likely to be attained, or obtained, once one’s reaching the ultimate step in life? The temptation to quote Brian Eno is now high : “Just relax, you’re always at the beginning of something“. Woops. And when the Memento Mori 10″ has reached its end, just relax. You just have to play it again. At 33rpm instead of 45rpm. Such is the way of dancing with the Ophians under the auspices of Naas. Enjoyers of the Bandcamp downloads won’t be left out, as “Thunderdrone Versions” of the tracks are featured, those being, the 33rpm versions of the original 45rpm recordings – with intact ceremonial qualities.
The physical vinyl edition comes bone-colored and we are grateful. Mastered by James Plotkin for both the vinyl and the digital release. That James Plotkin of O.L.D., Scorn, Namanax, and Khanate fame, who collaborated with K.K.Null, Sunn O))), Earth and several others? Yes, that James Plotkin. Only a few copies of the Memento Mori 10″ are left, $20 postpaid within USA and $30 elsewhere. A much recommended ritual release that should find its way next to some cult classics of a non-forgotten past.
01. Day One
02. First Contact
04. Abyss (feat. Lukas Tvrdon)
06. World Without Man
Eximia is an album by sound design engineer Dominik Ragančík of Slovakia. While this is his first release as Eximia, Ragančík has done sound work on Mass Effect and Call of Duty trailers, as well as Lamborghini and Mercedes commercials. In 2015 he won in the category of “Best Sound” award at FAMU festival for his sound design in the movie Leshy [Lesapán – 2017]. So, we are looking at a musician that has a bit more thorough an understanding of sound design than many that enter the dark ambient genre. His talents in this sphere become glaringly evident within seconds of beginning Visitors.
Visitors is an album that follows the reasonably worn sci-fi theme of aliens contacting/attacking Earth. While this is far from a new theme, Eximia manages to conjure one of the most vivid and awe-inducing reactions from me, every time I listen to Visitors. The main point of attraction, for me, is the atmosphere itself. As the album progresses, various other sound sources come into play, but those moments when nothing is actually happening, the soundscapes shine as much or more than any other example I could show someone. It’s this atmosphere that makes the album so incredibly alluring.
As the album begins with “Day One”, listeners will get a sense of what I mean about this atmosphere. Well into the second minute of the track, basically nothing has happened yet, but I’m nonetheless enthralled. Gentle winds blow in the distance. We start to feel that deep rumbling bass creep up on us, before we hear these alien beings for the first time. Whether it is the creatures themselves, their spaceships, or some other technology making these unearthly sounds, the effect is the same, especially with a good set of headphones, one can close their eyes and fall into this world/scenario, can look around this landscape as the visitors begin to make their entrance into our atmosphere. One can imagine black clouds parting, as we hear a blisteringly potent crack of thunder, lightning crisscrosses the sky, tearing the atmosphere itself open, the visitors have arrived.
“First Contact” is, again, cinematic dark ambient bliss. The winds continue howling, the visitors continue making their futuristic noises, then we hear an air-raid siren, presumably warning residents of the area that the shit has official hit the fan. The thunderstorm becomes more intense as the creatures continue to make their arrival known. I’d like to mention here, that I immediately noticed a stylistic connection between the sound design of this album and that of the movie Arrival (2016). This is high praise, as I found the sound in that film to be one of the most compelling representations in film of alien technology at work. Near the 5:30 minute mark, in “First Contact” something happens. There is a sound as if something has teleported or shifted, as if the laws of nature themselves were being broken. I can’t help but think what comes next is the sounds of these visitors laughing. It should be noted that there are no more “Earth-based sounds” present in the track after this occurrence.
“Prepare” begins with more strange noises, which presumably are emanating from the visitors themselves, not necessarily their technology this time. Shortly into this track we can hear human footsteps, among other earthly sounds, though they are consistently mixed with those of the aliens. Following the track titles is incredibly helpful to supplement the soundscapes themselves. There is most certainly a story being told here, and I’m not one to go flailing around grasping for explanations, so I’ll say that the main plot, as the album progresses forward seems be an attempt by the humans to stop this force, and their immediate failure, and ultimately the collapse and extinction of the human race.
For those that love cinematic dark ambient, this album is a must-have. Cryo Chamber is the label fans most often turn to when searching for a fully immersing cinematic experience, and I can say Visitors by Eximia may well be at the very top of this list. While there may not be as many minute details as with projects like Sabled Sun or Atrium Carceri, the ability to visualize these sounds is certainly on par. Eximia is part of a phenomenon that hasn’t happened as much as I would expect, where movie sound design artists will find their way into the dark ambient genre, and the dark ambient genre will find its way into movie sound design. I would like to see a good bit more of both happening, personally. Visitors is a glaring example of why this recipe for success is so attractive. I will be patiently waiting for their next release!