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Burzum, Ildjarn and Beherit are the big three of black metal to convert to ambient music in a serious way in the mid 1990s. The success of these experiments has been somewhat hit and miss. Burzum’s first attempt was ambitious, hammy and ultimately failed. The follow up however, was much more refined and perfectly translated the music and message of Burzum into the ambient style. Ildjarn’s ‘Landscapes’ sank into music so minimal you may as well listen to silence, again however, his collaboration with Nidhogg offered a much more engaging listen, boasting some of the most sublime moments that any black metal artist has given us yet. Beherit’s two efforts are the most obviously distinct from Ildjarn and Burzum’s, adopting drum machines and elements normally associated with electronica.
The first of these two efforts is ‘H418ov21.C’ is the less loved; maybe rightly so, but I strongly recommend it. It opens with an interpretation, redo, parody(?) of ‘The Gate of Nanna’ on previous release ‘Drawing Down the Moon’. Hopefully this was intended as something of joke, but even with that in mind this is a tedious way to open an album and will deter many listeners from the off. However, the determined listener is rewarded for their patients as the rest of the album has some surprises. There are hints of the style found here on earlier Beherit efforts, but here we have the guitars completely stripped away giving the more music room to breathe.
It is this reviewer’s view that the artist was aiming for a tapestry of sounds that blend seamlessly together rather than individual songs. Whilst one track may boast nothing but a metronome, placed in context it is an unsettling transition from one soundscape to another. Maybe it was decided that this approach did not work however, because the follow up album opted for more distinct songs that complement each other rather than a transition of atmospheres.
The listener is taken on a journey through the tediously minimal to the vastly ambient with well judged transitions and everything in its proper place. This assessment of the album as a whole is not instantly obvious however, and it does take a good few listens before what the artist was probably aiming for becomes apparent. Much like drifting through space, there are moments of great beauty and great tedium, but the contrasts are what is of value. The odd vocal effect used on the aforementioned re-run of ‘The Gate of Nanna’ make another appearance later on in the album, but this time their use is more tasteful and unexpected, fitting much more comfortably with the whole mood of the album.
On the whole this is not as accomplished as follow up ‘Electric Doom Synthesis’ but that does not make this album a failure, far from it. If you approach this with true black metal ears tuned then you will be sorely disappointed. Even if you approach with an open mind it does take a few listens to get your head around the piece as a whole, because aside from the opening number, nothing immediately makes itself apparent to your ears. Nothing stands out and slaps you round the face, which again in itself may put impatient people off. But listened to as a whole you get a sense of drifting through atmospheres and moods of varying intensity and minimalism with each separate element doing its job in the context it was placed. This is one mark of a good black metal album even if this is more like an electronica act playing in the style of Beherit. This still comes highly recommended.
The follow-up to “Drawing Down the Moon” had a lot of expectations to live up to and it failed miserably. According to Holocausto himself, this album was only meant to be a teaser before the second proper Beherit full-length. However, after the release of “Drawing Down the Moon” Holocausto moved to Helsinki and was unable to get himself a new line-up and therefore the black metal side of Beherit was laid to rest. Around the same time Holocausto’s interest in electronic music grew and as a result “H418ov21.C” became the band’s official second full-length.
I decided to review this album just to see whether all time between its release and today has changed my opinion on it. Upon hearing it back in 1994 I was horrified and guess what? I still am. Time has not softened my attitude concerning “H418ov21.C” – it’s still a crappy album as a whole. The major part of the album consists of amateurish and undeveloped electro/ambient music which almost totally fails to deliver. The lack of variation and simplicity of most of the tracks drives me nuts, it sounds like there was hardly any compositional effort put into “H418ov21.C”. In fact, Holocausto even steals from himself on some tracks.
“The Gate of Inanna”, in all its simplicity, is actually one of the most elaborate tracks here, despite the fact that it’s musically boring as hell: the same ultra simple keyboard “riff” (which is just an adaptation of one of the main riffs of “The Gate of Nanna” from “Drawing Down the Moon”) and drum machine rhythm is repeated throughout the whole track! That’s right. No breaks, no fills, no B-part or C-part of the song, no variation whatsoever. This track features vocals which actually sound pretty sinister but are electronically processed. “Fish” begins with something that sounds like the looped sound of a church bell. Then suddenly a techno beat starts and it continues uninterrupted until the end of the track. Yes, I know it sounds unbelievable but that really is “Fish” in its entirety! Totally boring. Most of “21st Century” is nothing more than someone toying around with pitch-shifter effects, worthless and forgettable even as an ambient track. “Paradise (Part II)” is another track in the vein of “The Gate of Inanna” but thankfully with more variation. Musically this track is based on “Summerlands” from “Drawing Down the Moon” but the lyrics contain the line “Paradise of thy demonic host”, another nod to the past. You see, “Paradise of Thy Demonic Host” is an old Beherit track.
So let’s look at the purely ambient tracks, out of which “Tribal Death”, “Emotional Ecstasy” and “E-scape” are the most interesting ones. “Tribal Death” begins with some strange invocations from Holocausto and eerie whispers in the background. The majority of the track consists of electronic tribal music, which makes me think of some ancient tribe performing a ritual dance around the fire in their village. “Emotional Ecstasy” and “E-scape” are the best ambient tracks on the album. Most of “Emotional Ecstasy” is just simple yet nice airy keyboard soundscapes but there’s also a very dark part during which Holocausto’s narrating vocals are mixed with the sounds of a storm and church bells. This part sounds totally great and had they taken most of the music in this direction on this album it would’ve been much better. “E-scape” consists of a constant humming keyboard layer, upon which Holocausto whispers mysteriously. Maybe the name of the track refers to the use of ecstasy, or is intended to reflect feelings while under the influence of it. A very trance inducing experience indeed, that unfortunately is much too short. This track should’ve been at least 10 minutes long in order to captivate the listener properly.
“H418ov21.C” truly has the character of an in-between album, an album that could have been a lot better if more work would’ve been spent on the material. As of now, it many times feels like Holocausto took the easy way out and relied too much on repetition, which makes much of the material boring. Then again, much of ambient music is indeed repetitive and that’s also why I don’t like this genre very much. Had I been in charge of things, I would have released this as a MCD containing only “Tribal Death”, “Emotional Ecstasy”, “Paradise (Part II)” and “E-scape”.