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CD Feature/ Northaunt: "Horizons"

img  Tobias

Dark Ambient has long been something of the black sheep of experimental music. While relying on a strong and loyal fan base, it has never really been picked up by the media the way its influences have: “Drones” have always considered more elegant, “Field Recordings” more intellectual and the original, Eno-related Ambient more emotional. This is a shame, for there are few genres with a comparable openness for the most diverse influences or a similar no-borders policy: Gustav Hildebrand’s “Primordial Resonance” incorporated Classical melodies, gregorian chant and apocalyptic industrial noises, Karsten Hamre’s “Die My Illusion” or Dooom’s “endtime” broke the rules of time by taking tracks beyond the one hour mark and Northaunt teamed up with female vocalist Nacht on “The Ominious Silence”. It immediately made them stand out from a tightly packed passel of projects drawing their inspiration from nature and the barren isolation of the Norwegian fjords. Ten years have passed since the first demo and with “Horzons” they have released the perfect work to celebrate the occasion: An album, which possesess the power to initiate Dark Ambient’s emancipation.

In fact, this may even change the public’s perception of the entire genre. Of course, band founder Haerleif Langås is still fascinated by the beauty of his home country, the black and grey shades of the night, as well as the possibilities of creating similarly appealing and haunting landscapes through sound. But more than ever, his own, personal horizon now takes on expressively ecclectic shapes and shines in the brightest intensity. Instead of exclusively rumbling in the deep, excavating hiddeous dark secrets from the bottom of the sea, he has turned his gaze upwards and taken his music into the territory of gently pulsating harmonics and almost see-through aural fabrics. This new approach has directly translated into the track titles: “The Autumn Sky” or “With the Stars as Witness” do still contain a residue of the dark romanticism of fellow artists. But the record as a whole has certainly departed from the slightly downbeat concepts of the past – Haerleif may still be a nihilist, but his pieces have taken on a more subtle language. By this, he has arrived at the closest approximation of his initial intentions: Experiencing the reality and nature of one’s own death through nature.

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Actually, for everyone with an open ear (and a purse big enough to allow for the occasional mailorder purchase), this development can not have come entirely unnoticed. For me, the unique vision of Northaunt became apparent thanks to two short pieces: His remix of Svartsinn’s “Emptiness is Form” (from the “Traces of Nothingness” release on Cyclic Law) started off with nothing but a faint whistling and few metallic scrapings, before building up body and evolving into a breathing cavernous drone of neverending wideness. Despite the obvious qualities of “Traces”, this was quite possibly its stand-out track, bringing the journey to a comforting and yet positively undefined end. And then there was “Crocker Land”, a contribution to the nascent “Glascial Movements”-label’s debut sampler “Cryosphere”: Six minutes of finely textured harmonies, gliding by like swathes of cool, white winds. Based partly on “processed piano”, this was the most clearly marked departure from the bass-heavy tonalities of most of his colleagues. But then again, the term “atmospherics” had always been a part of his project’s mission statement. “With a special focus on remoteness, melancholy and introspective moods Northaunt have since 1996 created ambient soundscapes based on drones, field recordings (mainly from nature here in Norway) and sometimes minimalistic melodic elements.” “Horizons”, continues the trajectory taken by these two recent tracks, as well as staying true to the roots.

Maybe the best reason why this works so perfectly is because the album doesn’t force the listener into submission, but rather slowly guides him into unknown territory. “Horizons” is divvied up into three chapters, with the first one - albeit brillianty crafted - still strongly treading traditional paths. “Until Dawn do us Part” opens with flaming dark pads and cast-bronze bowls chafing against each other, before ending out into a sadly dripping piano fantasy. The fourteen minutes of “Night came to us” take place purely in the subliminal levels of the lowest registers, with endless grey clouds of noises and effects clustering in a premonitious harmony. What becomes instantly noticeable is the organic feel, which the track reveals – this is no rushed copy and paste affair, but a deep and freely flowing stream. No surprises until here, though and it is only with the title track, which opens up the second part of the album, that things really start to change: A crackling, picking and poking can be heard and then a tranquil drone inflates like a silk baloon in slow motion, breaking up the sky and flooding the land with the warm yellow light of the moon. “The Autumn Sky” consists of four minutes of tender electrical aerial charges, while “Night alone” allows the hands of the clock to mark time. In the final third of the album, darkness once again seems to take over, with deep pads standing almost solitary in space, carefully ebbing and swelling in volume. Like a bizarre mushroom vision, different harmonic structures are superimposed on each other, grinding and grating vehemently. But the tender finale, “The Wildnerness” disperses the sombre mood, offering a fragile chord pattern instead, repeated with minuscule variations and protractions until the end. A strongly altered version of the last track also appears on a brilliantly filmed video clip on a separate section of the CD – which is not to say that this music is in need of further visualisation.

Press reactions to “Horizons” already indicate that the message has come across. They also demonstrate something else, though, and it deserves even more attention: The Dark Ambient scene which, at least to a certain extent, had a supportive and understanding following in (Black) Metal and Gothic circles, is beginning to stir. Already, news of fresh Dark Ambient radio stations is being celebrated inside the Noise community and more and more friends of adjacent repertoire are discovering the parallels, instead of the differences. If “Horizons” album is a harbinger of further developments in this direction, so much the better. Regardless of this, though, it is a work, which extends the reach of the genre, defines a new space in which to operate and carries the listener through an emotionally charged and vividly visual set of dreamstates. For that alone, it deserves to be recognised as something special.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Northaunt
Homepage: Northaunt at Myspace
Homepage: Cyclic Law Records

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