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CD Feature/ Sempervirens: "Dirge of the Dying Year"; Underjordiska: "Dystert Vilse"

img  Tobias

The crew behind the Stellar Auditorium imprint must have a keen sense of trends. Hailing from Athens, Greece, the label opened up shop last year with a quartet of limited releases all but one dealing with Dark Ambient and Drones. The odd exception was „Dystert Vilse“, a one-hour long oneiric  horrortrip by Swedish Black Metal project Underjordisk, whose anthemic bleakmindedness stuck out from the roster like the rotting hand of a zombie scarecrow from the muds of an infinite swampland. On the face of it, this seemed a bewildering decision, especially considering the increasing degree of specialisation most underground genres are currently prone to. And yet, there has traditionally between a strong sense of sympathy and osmosis between the camps which this double bill discreetly catered to. After closely listening to the music, one would even be inclined to add a further, even more remarkable, perception to this observation: The creative exchange and interdisciplinary commutation has resulted in new directions for both genres, which may turn out to be beneficial to audiences and artists alike.

This shows perfectly on Sempervirens' „Dirge of the Dying Year“, the very first publication on the Stellar Auditorium roster. Without a doubt, we're knee-deep in traditional Dark Ambient waters here, with almost static, cavernous resonances being slowly inflitrated by sharp metallic pinpricks and minor key chord cycles. Eschewing simplistic repetition and carefully balancing background rumble and upfront harmonies, project-founder Margus Mets creates acoustic zones which heave and breathe with minimalistic melodic movement. The inclusion of discreetly processed field recordings provides depth and a notion of recognition, which quickly evaporates into even more uncertainty, as one zooms in to find them lacking in tangible shape and form – with the exception of a welcoming rain shower or tolling church bells on opener „Grey Skies Above Us“ perhaps.

Complacently wandering his self-created virtual realities is, however, not Mets' intention. Bleak moods and amorphous atmospheres are not the substance of his music, but merely means to an end and stylistic tools he deliberately uses to create particular effects. Or, to put it differently, they constitute a sort of ambient continuum from whence angelic themes, short moments of bliss as well as sampled fragments from old tape- and vinyl-recordings well up from and lapse back into. One of the tracks ends with a playful snippet of classical music, another includes a Krautrock-style solo for elecric Guitar, yet another uses reverse loops and shimmering impulse drones to create an image of a supercomputer's LED's flashing in rapidly transforming luminous patterns. At the end, grand finale „I Remember Everything“ even includes broken fragments of vintage analog synthesizer tunes and whispered fragments of speach to arrive at a pacified closing section of pure harmony.

It is a game of continuous juxtaposition very much reminiscent of the techniques used by contemporary Metal bands, who have traded in the quality seal of true-ishness for an open-minded approach of simply choosing what feels right. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Mets, who has apprently recorded a full six albums without ever officially publishing them, also provided production support to uncompromising, confrontational and unique experimental opus „Dystert Vylse“. Just like on predecessor „Landscapes of Depression“, Dawid Dahl has stripped Black Metal of its two most important elements – the apocalyptic cavallery of the breakneck-speed drums and the ceaseless stream of cacaphonous satanic vocal screeches – but left the underlying maelstrom of emperial Guitar walls intact. His take on the genre can not be compared to that of , say, Vinterriket, another famous Black Metal project gone Ambient, which made a gradual and tightly documented transition from one style to the other, but essentially transforms the genre into something different while staying true to its core values.

Fans have, after all, always asserted that the demonstrative aggression on the surface of Black Metal epics merely acted as a perceptive portal, focussing attention like a laserbeam on the fragile beauty secretively tucked away underneath. Dahl has now stripped away this gateway and revealed the romantic layers more openly. His music is still as harsh, hard and horrific as one could possibly imagine, haunted by terrifying scratchings and pounding riffs, but in the absence of regular band structures, the few remaining elements take on new meaning. The onion peeling continues, so to speak: The monotony and utter minimalism of the music is, again, nothing but a surface. As one is drawn by its trance-inducing cycles of madness, the drones start exercising a hypnotic presence and everything slows down to a hardly perceptable resting pulse rate. With each repetition, the original outline of the riffs blur even more, smearing out a glistening streak of harmonics over a bloodred canvas.

On another recent release, Dahl has joined forces with his soulmate Spectral Lore and added further colour to his pallette by including a varied set of instruments. On „Dystert Vilse“, meanwhile, his vision remains puristic and undisturbed by external influences. The sense of floating freely and weightlessly, however, is one which derives directly from the Dark Ambient cosmos, which his compositions seem to tangentially revolve around. On some occasions, his bestial machinery even takes a short break and what remains are loose shardes of galactic debris spiralling down the abyss of an industrial vortex. It is in these instances that the genres intruidingly collide and it will be more than interesting to see how Stellar Auditorium will accompany this ongoing dialogue which has already turned out remarkably fruitful and productive on these two albums.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Sempervirens
Homepage: Underjordiska
Homepage: Stellar Auditorium

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