Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra - Midnight Fullmoon

One enters a mystical forest and wanders dreamily. Thoughts drift in and out, the silent spaces carried by an unnoticeable thread of melody alongside the sound of ambient vintage keyboard effects such as water, wind, birds, and horse-gallops. This is the awakening of the ancient spirit, the long and pleasant meandering into the dreaming woods. One can sense that this place is confined despite its fantastic atmosphere, as if these woods exist in the darkness of an unconscious mind, one who has, for a brief relieving moment, forgotten the pain and suffering of the waking modern world. This is music best complimenting a creative activity, wandering contemplation, or some other imaginative distraction, as the music is too repetitive and dull for the foreground of the mind.

With the raining darkness the music takes on a more sinister edge, as if the dreaming woods have suddenly grown darker, and one senses hungry eyes peering in from the shadows. A heartbeat is heard in background, reminding the listener of his mortality, threatening him for daring to tread so deep into the inner realms. Possibly it is a warning to the dreamer, that if he continues through the dank lonely realm of 'dungeon synth' that he runs the risk of getting permanently lost, his sanity melting under the raining darkness.

Then the triumph comes in, and one feels they are in control of the place. The honor of the explorer, as he has comes to understand the strange fantasy around him... and yet those momentary feelings of triumph always seem to fade off into uncertainty. The wanderer has faced the darkness, and feels that within it they are given supernatural power, like the figure of Dracula, lord of the dark, the decaying, the dead: the lost nobility that remains proud despite being cold and lifeless in the black and musty castles, lit by moonlight.

And then we are given a glimpse of sorcery, strange and dark magic. It has a chaotic sound that makes satisfying use of the old synths, and one can certainly picture colorful spells exploding in the exotic chamber of some half-mad wizard. The musician was clearly experimenting with the magic sounds of 90's keyboards in the same way that a magician would experiment with the strange incantations and recipes found in a discovered grimoire, sometimes fitting the music of the character, sometimes exploding dissonantly and destroying what order is to be found in such a cluttered, relic-strewn abode.

Algol's Black Lights seems to be descending deeper into the psyche of the dreaming hermit, to the point where space and supernatural archetypes take larger form than the pictures of the dungeon fantasy. This is the dream within the dream, an atmosphere too strange to get a strong handle on. It's a weak experiment, not conveying the thick fantasy of the overall vision of the album with as much success as the other songs. Likely it was just a filler, added to reach the magic number of seven that completes the album. It is tolerable and easy to ignore if you listen distantly, but its weakness will be readily apparent to any close listeners. Perhaps it could function as a reasonably well-done interlude, causing the listener to lose his atmospheric bearing and thereby refresh his palette.

With the dying sun, we see the ending of time, the ending of the dream, the exit that all must take. It is a simple goodbye to both life and the fantastic inner worlds that can be created through it.

The majestic flight takes a somewhat more real-world stance, utilizing the image of "burning churches" in its title. Fleeing the churches ablaze, into the land of Oriana, is a statement of escaping the real world, or at least the real world that has been created through modernism. It is a clear decision that the morality and symbols of modern man do not satiate a longing spirit. Sanctuary can no longer be found in the house of God. In fact, it is the world created by those that live under God's roof that has sent us fleeing into the darkness of the inner sanctuary, the dream-fantasy, the only place where real magic still exists. And so the churches are burnt, literally or metaphorically, and we flee into new lands, literally or metaphorically, all that is certain is we cannot stay in the world of common man in the 21st century, in the dehumanizing land of a million granite phalluses honoring Jehovah and his dollar.

Overall, the album is a very good example of standard dungeon synth. It is lo-fi, made up entirely by vintage keyboards, is shrouded in obscurity, has strong themes of fantasy, and is driven entirely by atmosphere. It is not the best dungeon synth by any stretch, and it really doesn't do much that is new, but it has captured the vision perfectly, and contributed to the rather small catalogue of this unknown music in a way that could only be done by someone who truly understands what it is about.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mortiis - Keiser av en Dimension Ukjent

Mortiis' Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent is a journey into a fantasy world that accurately conveys the full extent of a young man's spiritual escape. It is the most successfully realized vision of the early years of Mortiis; afterward he would go on to much shorter and more whimsical musical ideas, and after that something completely different (and much more commercial). I'd go as far as to say that this is Mortiis' most spiritual work.

The theme is decay. This is clearly noticeable in the presentation of the VHS music video for the song Reisene til grotter og ødemarker, where we see prolonged images in a black-and-white landscape that change at a slow (epic?) pace in a manner matching the music, almost like a minimalist version of Koyaanisqatsi. The ideas are long and repetitive, utilizing a cheap synthesizer and the occasional amateurish choir voice by Mortiis himself. The timpani drums pound in slowly accompanied by a proud corpulent brass ensemble (by far the most noticeably cheesy instrument). The "cheese" is immensely important to the purpose of the music, the primitive quality of the sound creating an atmosphere of dank castles, removing it from all mainstream music, giving it the same "necro" feeling that would make black metal powerful, though in an entirely different quality.

In Reisene til grotter og ødemarker the music is structured in two voices: one is a distant observance of the landscape, and the other is a close-up view, to the point that we see all the ugliness. This latter style is particularly interesting, sounding like the musical mind of a maniacally disturbed tyrant. We can almost imagine the eyes of such a creature, spinning about in its skull with the madness that comes from limitless power. This is the sound of decay and the sound of dungeons, an entirely unique atmosphere that you will find in no other music, and yet it is profound when it comes to its conclusions, rising out from the dungeon and up to the top of its tower, where it views the horizon of its vast and glorious kingdom.

Beneath the bleak and decadent exterior, there is a beauty. This is where Mortiis is the most profound and complex. The rot on the surface hides a romantic longing for something far beyond the experience of the everyday and describable, very much like black metal, but without the angsty pimple-ridden testosterone. We can sense that this fantasy world of Mortiis has been given much thought, and is far more vast than these notes could ever convey. We sense that this is a place in which a disillusioned man has retreated into a fantasy that has gone several steps beyond escapism and into the realm of genuine spirituality. Could someone live their life as a monk, but instead of reading and thinking upon the bible in their meditations, could they fill their mind and soul with some very personal fantasy? This is the very edge of escapism that Mortiis presents to us, but few will recognize it as such. This is taking fantasy to a level of seriousness that your run-of-the-mill LARPing nerd would scoff at. This is fantasy as religion.

I believe that with this and the previous two Mortiis albums, he was trying to create a new lifestyle in the same way that black metal became a lifestyle. It might seem, on the surface, that he was unsuccessful, gaining only a couple vague statements of praise from people who were entertained by, but hopelessly misunderstood his artwork. Yet his ideas have not gone unappreciated by at least this one humble reviewer, who was permanently changed by such works, despite its reputation (or lack thereof).

The second song, Keiser av en dimensjon ukjent continues the journey into this secretive fantasy world. The English translation is "Emperor of a Dimension Unknown," and it certainly suggests the feeling of a god, using the intellectual tools granted to us humble apes in the age of modernity, to escape the painful world we live in by creating a new one. Outsiders across the globe create their own lands in D&D games, in writing, in thought, but does anyone recognize how profound this is? We are monkeys, yet we can imagine alternate dimensions. Mortiis revels in that idea, and provides a soundtrack for his listeners to meditate upon their same power, to view the fruits of their imagination (assuming the medieval fantasy is relevant to their creativity, which for most nerdy white males it will be).

The music is about another world. If one does not have the power of imagination to summon forth in their minds the image of an alternate dream-dimension then they can never hope to understand this music. This music is about atmosphere, and those who listen for atmosphere alone are a rare breed, requiring a certain level of imaginative force that would probably hinder them in day-to-day life: a spiritual sense of the fantastic that would send them fleeing from the real world into one more beautiful (even if it is significantly darker).

Dungeon synth is not for the common man. This is not something you hear once and simply understand; this is a whole universe of unique thought. Mortiis did not make this to earn fame or money, he made this solely for himself. But for those who can share such a vision, it is a masterpiece of indescribable profundity.

Dungeon Synth

Dungeon synth is the sound of the ancient crypt. The breath of the tomb, that can only be properly conveyed in music that is primitive, necro, lo-fi, forgotten, obscure, and ignored by all of mainstream society. When you listen to dungeon synth you are making a conscious choice to spend your time in a graveyard, to stare, by candle-light, into an obscure tome that holds subtle secrets about places that all sane men avoid.

I shall do my best to make you, gentle readers, aware of this genre. This genre that only attracts the most tortured of outsiders, those who long for the forgotten magic of the dead, to remain forever in the shadows of decaying tombs.