Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sequestered Keep - The Gift of Men (2015)

After departing from the chamber of shadows, I immediately proceeded to the door on the right.  I checked the handle, found it to be surprisingly unlocked, and proceeded in.  The room contained nothing visible but myself, in every possible form.  I was in a hall of mirrors, with mirrors on the walls, floor, and ceiling, mirrors in every direction I turned, but instead of a hundred mirrors there were thousands, each split and curved into many others, like the eyes of a fly.  The mirrors were arranged also so that they reflected each other directly, so that in each I saw an infinite continuum of further reflections, and with each further reflection there seemed to be a slight change, so that I felt as if I were surrounded by a massive crowd of different individuals, even though I knew myself to be alone in that cramped corridor. 

I saw myself in every conceivable incarnation, wandering through this hall, versions of myself that were brave, cowardly, beautiful, ugly, exciting, boring, fat, thin, male, female, etc.  I wondered if I could even consider these reflections to be versions of me, or if perhaps I was looking at every person who ever has or will enter into this chamber.  I thought that perhaps every person who could ever exist was in a way a reflection of myself.

I saw myself as a young person, and as I continued to pass through the reflections began to age, hair greying and skin wrinkling with every step.  And then as I continued forward I began to see each reflection as a sort of corpse, rotting away as I walked, until I was surrounded by death.

The light rapidly dimmed as the reflected forms became more skeletal.  And then at the end of the hall I saw not a mirror but a window, and through it a great cosmic vista, a vast field of swirling galaxies.  Many of the pinpoints of light on the firmament flew back and forth through this shimmering gateway like fireflies, as if the stars had wings. 

I stared at it until all the stars flew through, surrounding me, as the window became fully black.  The void seemed to grow larger.  My fear and expectation of the blackness grew as well, but I began to resign myself to it, to an unconscious rest rather than hopeless wandering.  It seemed almost comforting.

And then the black cat appeared again, casting no reflection, and all the luminescent dots of the vista scurried away like prey. 

"What are you are doing?"  the cat asked.

"I was trying to find the sun, but I'm beginning to think I never will," I said.

The cat shook his head.  "The sun?  Which sun?"

I shrugged.  "I don't really remember."

"So why are you here then?  Do you think one of those bugs is your sun?  Did you intend to catch it?"

"I didn't know what was in this room.  But the door was unlocked, so I thought I'd explore," I said.

"There are many unlocked doors in this realm, few which lead to light, and many which might lead to imprisonment."  The cat paused for a moment.  "I might know someone who can help you.  I was headed there anyways, you can follow if you wish," the cat said as he turned to leave.  He seemed to always have somewhere to be.

Despite my desire to escape the darkness, I felt drawn to the window, which moments ago contained millions of tiny fluttering suns.  I decided to follow the cat, glad to now have some guidance.  I worried that one day I'd be forced to return to that fated void, and that the starflies would not be there to greet me.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hate Forest - Temple Forest (2007)

Further down the Hall of Lucidity I found an unlocked door.  Opening it I discovered merely an empty room.  The walls, floor, and ceiling were painted flat grey.  There was no lighting, only the purple torchlight from the hall shining through, casting my shadow onto the opposite wall, which danced and shimmered with the sporadic flame.  I stepped into the empty chamber, gazing curiously at my shadow, which seemed to almost take on a life of its own in the strange lighting.  Its movements did not match mine.  I gazed directly at it until the blackness in my peripheral vision closed in.  And then I began to see other shapes emerge.

I began to notice trees, rocks, and shrubs, cluttered chaotically together in a thick forest scene.  I began to see shadows of mountains in the distance.  The shadow of a cave appeared, and into it wandered my own shadow.  And then within that cave I saw the shadow of a bear, which my shadow struck with his spear, vanquishing the monster.  And then my shadow marched back to his village, with the creature's head in hand, presenting it as a token of victory.  The shadows of the other men returned to the cave to harvest the meat. 

There was a celebration.  The meat was not eaten, and instead burned in flames of pure shadow, as an offering to those great Colossi who gave birth to the world.  Their forms towered above the forests since the dawn of time. 

The shadows of the villagers then danced in honor of these gods.  I was awed in an empty room, gazing utterly lost and transfixed by the magical rhythms.  I did not move at all, and yet I saw my shadow clearly swaying, jumping, and spinning amid the dance of all the others.  The shadow of a woman danced alongside mine.  I loved her, yet my shadow ignored her, lost in its own flickering pattern, seemingly from a different light source, perhaps a different torch from back in the hall.  I stepped a few feet to the left.  All the shadows shifted to the left alongside mine, but still danced to the same rhythm.  I moved to the far right side of the room and now some of the shadows disappeared into the darkness.  Those shadows to my left still danced, but now they were stretched strangely from the distance.  But the rhythm stayed the same.  I returned to the center of the room, never having removed my gaze from the scene, and though I did my best to return to my original position, something seemed off.  Everything was a bit more faded. 

I sighed, wishing that I could step into this shadow landscape and join the dance.  My shadow danced to one silent beat, but it was somehow detached from the shadows which danced around it, as if they didn't exist.  But why shouldn't they?   I could clearly see them.  I wouldn't have spent so long staring at a blank wall.  I couldn't imagine what might be between myself and the doorway to generate such shadows silently, but I dared not look, lest I cast Eurydice back to Hades.

I stared and stared, lost for a great length of time, and yet the celebration never ended, a dance under the Colossi for eternity, or until all faded.  And it was all fading.  The dancing shadows grew more dim with each passing moment, the ones furthest from the edge dissolving into blackness. 

"The door is closing..." said a voice from back in the hall.  I turned around and saw the black cat from before.  He sat and stared at me for a while before licking his paw a few times and then wandering off down the hall.

I saw that the cat was right, the door was almost completely shut, and the thin sliver of light seemed to be growing smaller.

I looked back at the wall, seeing now only my own shadow again.  It flickered from the torchlight, but nothing danced around it.  

I forced myself up and hustled back the way I had come, barely squeezing through the crack and into the hall, as the door then slowly crept closed behind me.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Walpurgisnacht - Die Biomechanische Kriegsmaschine (1997)


I staggered down the Hall of Lucidity for several hours, not even bothering to check whether the many doors along the way were locked.  I was simply attempting to find an end to the path.  I was beginning to think it had no end. 

In the distance I noticed the shape of a person, or perhaps another statue, standing perfectly still in the center.  I approached cautiously, but it made no movement.   And then, right when I was upon it, it was gone.  It did not vanish, and it did not slowly dissipate.  The shade was just gone, as if it had never existed. 

I turned to my left and saw that the door was wide open.  There was only blackness within, a perfect void.  I stared at it for some time, uncertain of how to proceed.  I edged around the sides, walking right up to the doorway, attempting to see further within, but it seemed that right beyond the threshold the light was consumed somehow.  I took a cautious step inside, to try and peek around the corner, when I was suddenly flung into the room, the door slamming behind me. 

I jumped up, momentarily bewildered, and then rushed back to the door, struggling with the handle.  It was locked.  I was now a prisoner.

And then the chamber was illuminated.  The torches burst aflame.  It looked to be some sort of throne room.  The throne was toward the back, followed by a moth-eaten carpet.  There was a large table in the center, and atop it a detailed map of my surrounding kingdom.  It was a miniature sculpted landscape, where the mountains protruded above the table, and the valleys sunk within.  Every tree and shrub was fully detailed as closely as they eye could observe.  The lakes and oceans were actual pools of water, and the rivers somehow flowed.  The geography of the miniature was so detailed that it almost seemed as if the battles were carried out on this very table.  There were brightly-colored pins stuck into the diorama, representing my armies and the enemies.  The borders of my land and the neighboring kingdoms were each painted accordingly with their local colors, my kingdom of course being black, like the banners that hung from the mezzanine of my throne room.

My throne room?

I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead.  Everything seemed so cloudy. 

I proceeded to the door on the other side of the chamber.  Entering the next room, I was rather bothered to find another throne room, almost identical to the last: deep red torches, moth-eaten carpet, throne at the end, black banners hanging from the mezzanine, and the miniature battle-layout on the table in the center.  The only thing that seemed to have changed is that the pins on the landscape had been moved.  The red pins, representing the ghoulish hordes of Nathrek, had taken the valley of Relspawn, and now their forces were descending upon my glorious land, unleashing untold horrors on my people, without any more lines of defense. 

I forced myself away from the table, desperate to retreat.  Again I went through the door behind the throne, again to find myself in the same throne room.  All the architecture and furniture appeared the same as before to the senses, but it had now grown somehow nightmarish in proportion.  Every angle seemed diseased.  It all immediately assaulted one with the stench of rot and decadence.  I gazed at the table from a distance, already anticipating the horror I would find.  They were descending upon my cities, their armies at my doorstep.  It would only be a matter of time...

I proceeded through the next doorway automatically, though some part of me struggled against it.  Now everything in the room barely seemed real, a crude and offensive caricature of reality, and yet still clearly the same chamber.

Sitting in my throne, I covered my eyes against the shadowy forms of my advisers.  They were monsters, like reality itself.  They gibbered ceaselessly, as they had for months, but I'd given up listening.  They told me how the end was near, as if I didn't know.  They said that God would lead us through as they plunged the knife into my gut.

I awoke in cold sweat, shuddering in the Hall of Lucidity, curled up on the floor.  The door was closed, and I knew it to be locked.  I didn't even need to check.  I stood up, still shaken, and continued down the hall, as the experience immediately slipped from memory, as all unwritten dreams do. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Iamí - Cavernas do Inconsciente (2015)

I wandered down the hall of purple torches for nearly an hour, and yet it still seemed to stretch on without end.  The torches barely lit the stone walls around me, and I could not see the ceiling which was a great height above, far beyond illumination.  Every footstep echoed long into the silence, leading me to believe that the ceiling stretched as high as the hallway was long, which as far as I could tell was endless.  There were countless doors to my right and left, all identical.  I tried opening most of them that I passed, but all were locked.  As I continued to walk, suddenly I was startled by a small dark shape darting across the floor.  I rubbed my eyes, wondering if I were hallucinating in my delirious state; I was was very thirsty from the many years entombed..  I approached the spot where I had seen the shape vanish, which was by a door on the right wall.  I discovered that the door was slightly ajar!  I reached out and pulled it open.  As I did so it released a deep echoing creak, of ages unmoved, and as it opened I smelled something immediately familiar though long-forgotten, the scent of life, of plants, trees and water.

I walked through the door into this next dark chamber.  There were scattered torches about, and I could make out the edges of the room in the distance.  There were trees everywhere, somewhat like a jungle and somewhat like a garden.  The path leading from the door meandered through the trees much like a forest trail, and though there was dirt, grass, and leaves all around, the path itself was still masoned stone.  Who had cultivated this place?  Would they perhaps still be here?  Then I heard a distinctive sound to my left, a meow.  There was a black cat perched on the edge of the path several feet ahead, and it stared at me absently.  I realized that this must've been the black shape I had seen in the hall.  I was going to say a word of greeting, when it suddenly turned away into the forest. 

I continued along the path until I eventually reached a small clearing, where I found a fountain holding a pristine pool of water, which was somehow fed from a small creek that drifted through.  I immediately stuck my face into the fountain and drank deeply.  As I lifted my head I saw my reflection.  I was ancient.  Though my memories had long since disintegrated, I imagined myself as a young man.  What I saw before me, however, was a thoroughly wizened old creature.  My skin was wrinkled, my head was bald, my beard was long, and my eyes had sunken so far within that only the darkness of the sockets remained visible in the low light.  I saw only a stranger looking back, and so I felt nothing apart from the initial surprise.  I understood it to be myself, but contentedly understood it to also be merely an aspect of my eternal self, a shape taken in temporal novelty.

I asked of my reflection, "Where am I?" obviously expecting no response.

To my surprise it replied, its voice croaking like the grinding of stones, "This is a forest, one of many in the Hall of Lucidity."

"How are plants able to grow here without sunlight?" I asked.

"Many things are able to grow without sunlight, like mushrooms for instance," my reflection said.

"Mushrooms?"  I sighed.  "I'm not a mushroom.  I need to find the sun."

"Why do you need to find the sun?" it asked.

"Because I'm cold."

"You may find it, you may not, but even if you do I doubt whether it will bring you warmth.  In any case, you should follow my shadow.  Take comfort in the Hall of Lucidity.  It might be cold, but it is sacred."  And then my reflection vanished, and I only stared into an empty pool of water, as if I were a vampire.

I stood up, satisfied to have quenched my thirst, but still felt cold, and still longed for the sun.  There was life in that chamber.  And so I scoured it, searching everywhere for another exit, waiting for the night to pass.  But I knew it never would.  The life here thrived in spite of the darkness, and in fact seemed to thrive on it.  I realized that I would need to step back out and continue my search.  If light was not necessary for life, why should it necessarily exist at all?  The thought worried me.  But I could not deny that the place had left me with hope.  I had not expected to encounter nature so soon again, unless this whole vast tomb were some sort of natural construction.

I turned away from the beautiful fountain, and that chamber of life, and made my way back into the endless hall of purple light.  As I neared the exit, I turned and looked back and saw a dark shape moving.  It stopped and two bright yellow orbs stood still in the blackness, gazing at me with alien intelligence.  I took a final deep breath of that unexpected fresh air, and then reluctantly left, back into the gloom of the musty hall.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Soulside Eclipse - Forgotten Conquest (2010)

Many centuries ago I was buried alive.  I awoke in the cramped darkness of a coffin.  I tried to scream and kick and scratch at my cage, but I was totally paralyzed, silent and motionless.  I waited in that void for a great length of time, and though I tried to count the minutes and years, it all slipped away into meaningless eternity.  In that time all memory disintegrated, and my dreams grew more dim with each passing moment until nothing was left but existence.  And then the lid was raised.  I continued to lie in place for a time, forgetting how to bring my body into motion, but then I forced my head above the rim of the rotting wooden casket, to find my paralysis lifted.

My casket was set in an alcove along the wall, below and above several others.  There was no light source, but somehow I could still somewhat see, and so I could make out most of the room.  It appeared to be a crypt.  It was mostly empty, only caskets embedded in the walls and a grotesque statue of a skeleton standing nearby.  I lifted myself out of the alcove with some difficulty, my muscles atrophied by the countless years unused.  I fell to the cold floor.  I shook as I struggled to pull myself upright.  I shivered.  The room was frigid, and my clothes had decayed into tattered rags which only barely clung to my emaciated form.

I was overwhelmed with the sudden stimuli after so long an absence.  I felt as if I had been reborn, and yet tried to remember... remember whether I had ever had memories.  Did I have a name?  Did I have a life?  I could remember the sun, or something like it, because now all that I felt was the cold and dark, and if I had never felt the sun then how could I know the difference?  So my next thought was that I should seek an exit, to find the light and warmth.

I wandered to the end of the room where there was an open doorway leading into the next chamber, a long stone hall, also lined with coffins.  I proceeded forward, and then through several similar corridors, until I found myself back where I had started, next to my empty casket. 

"Why are you wandering?" whispered a voice from behind.

I spun around and saw only the skeleton statue.

"What?" I asked.

Without any movement the statue spoke again, "Why are you disturbing the stillness of this sacred place?"

"I'm trying to find my way out.  I'm still alive."

"Nothing lives down here except for the worms," the skeleton said.  "You are confused and restless.  Return to sleep."

"But I am alive!  Look!" I shouted, jumping up and down, waving my arms.  "I need to be in the sun.  I will freeze and starve in this place."

"If you are a worm you will shrivel up in the sun." 

"I'm not a worm.  I'm a human being.  Let me out," I said.

The skeleton remained silent. 

"Let me out," I repeated through gritted teeth.

"You are a restless worm.  You are condemned to squirm and feast on the dead," the skeleton said.  Then suddenly it lurched into movement, dust erupting from its many surfaces.  It turned to the stone wall behind, and with its index finger the skeleton traced an outline along the wall, trailed by an ominous purple glow, until it formed the shape of a doorway.  And then the entrance opened, revealing a hall that stretched as far forward as the eye could see, lit by numerous torches along the walls, which burned in a mysterious purple hue. 

"Thank you," I said.

"Do not thank me," the skeleton replied.  "You are cursed." 

I stared at the statue for a moment, but it said nothing more.  I was eager to leave that dark prison, and so I passed through into weird light.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mitternacht - The Raise of the Secret Cities

The Raise of the Secret Cities tells the story of a great vision experienced by the "Wanderer," who glimpses an otherworldly landscape beneath the earth, and a vast, fantastical city which is cursed to repeat a violent cycle of birth and destruction.  It's a sort of symbolic meditation on civilization and history.  It's very apocalyptic, a headspace which I personally love to indulge in.  At times it reminds me of "Móti Ragnarǫkum," the Burzum track from Dauði Baldrs.  It has that same sense of soaring hellfire, however Mitternacht does not seem to share the optimistic, cleansing perspective on the situation, and instead sees the cycle as more of a prison mankind is condemned to.  The Wanderer is forced to come to terms with the fall of mankind out of nature, and even more frightening, must recognize the horror that awaits, calling forth from the end of time.

This album is pretty experimental, especially for when it was released (2004).  It feels like Burzum sometimes, and of course follows closely in the footsteps of Mortiis, however it still distinguishes itself quite a bit.  Firstly, and most noticeably, is the narration done by the artist, in English though with a pretty heavy accent.  Despite the English not being perfect, the content of the writing is top notch, highly detailed and visual, yet abstract enough that the listener does the major work of constructing the story in his mind.  The narration is the first I've heard in this style for dungeon synth, even though it would seem like an obvious idea.  I can't imagine an approach to lyrics better suited for the genre.  Some might find the vocals challenging at first, but they're easy to get used to after a few listens, and really do add a lot of texture, imagery, and originality to this experience.  The other noticeable distinction one will hear on this album compared to most dungeon synth is the presence of blast beats.  Again, it sounds weird and new at first, but I think it's really effective at creating an intense and engaging structural peak, even without the electric guitars and screaming.

Another distinction about this album, especially compared to dungeon synth albums released at the time and earlier, is the structural complexity.  There seems to be a definite intent to weave a story not just with the narration but with the music itself. The musical structure, like the narration, is set up in a way it wanders from one mood to the next abruptly, and often between several extremes of intensity, and yet it still always seems to touch back on the main thread of the Wanderer's vision.  So the effect is that it's easy to get lost in the trance of the drifting stream, but when one opens their eyes they still see the weird subterranean sun reflecting the burning city.

This album attempts a very original concept, and it does so at a high level of effort and skill, though still keeping the low-polish charm one would expect with dungeon synth.  The mood is mystical and exciting, the composition relatively ornate and yet still striking, and the lyrics detailed and abstract.  I think Mitternacht deserves a lot more recognition because he's really done something special here.