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Ildjarn’s music, whether it be the ambient variety found on Landscapes or the extremely raw minimal variety found on his black metal releases, tends to polarise opinions. But the stripped down, simple music in its most basic form that is found on Landscapes is likely to test even the most dedicated Ildjarn fan’s patience. If you are not a fan of minimal music in the extreme then you probably have no interest in Ildjarn at all and you may as well stop reading. Ildjarn’s brand of black metal became notorious because of the fact that it was so stripped down and so simple (even by black metal standards) coupled with all the usual hallmarks of black metal, extremely poor production and harsh vocals. A typical album would have upwards of twenty tracks, all around 2-3 minutes long, with little or no variation in tempo or rhythm. Riffs would be built out of two or three chords and one would rarely find more than two in one track. The beauty of this approach was that it showed music in its most pure form. The slightest change in key or dynamics would have the same effect as a glorious cadence played by a full orchestra working their way through the grandest of symphonies. It also came across as a parody of contemporary music itself, reflecting it back in an ugly, contorted way that made the attentive listener feel truly uncomfortable.
When one looks at the music in this light, the switch to making minimal ambient music seems like a logical one. Using simply synthesizers Ildjarn was able to strip yet more layers away from his music, missing out the middle men of drums, vocals and distortion.
So in theory this should have been a natural development for Ildjarn, taking his music into a new realm of possibility. The transition, as evidenced by Landscapes, was to prove anything but smooth however. The result is that Landscapes is more of a growing pains album rather than the shocking new direction. His black metal style has been slowed down to the point where the same musical content (two or three riffs made up of very simple chord transitions) that would normally last two minutes has been stretched out to last between eight or nine minutes. The result is ambient music in the extreme, being incredibly minimal and atmospheric with no discernable structure or direction. Atmosphere, unfortunately, may be the one thing that this album has going for it. Aside from the occasional change in texture the same looping notes are repeated in a slow ponderous manor, using the same set of two or three synth sounds to create it. On listening to this one is led to believe that this is Ildjarn’s first time playing a keyboard and he got so excited about the atmospheres it invoked that he did not feel the need to add much beyond pressing three notes for nine minutes at a time.
It must be stated that this album is indeed atmospheric and extremely relaxing to listen to, but these are both things that can be gleaned from later ambient efforts such as Hardangervidda without the extreme minimalism. There one can find the same tools being used to create tension and build and a hint at structure, here on can find none of those things. If one also takes into account that its similarities to Ildjarn’s black metal albums are very subtle, requiring one to be already very familiar with this body of work, Landscapes should only be attempted by the most committed of Ildjarn fans, and even then there is no guarantee of enjoyment. Bear in mind that if an album only makes sense in the context of other releases by the same artist (double albums excluded) then it will probably be left wanting. The most obvious positive to take away from all this is that lessons were learned from Landscapes. By the time Hardangervidda was released Ildjarn and his collaborator Nidhogg had trimmed the fat away from this music to create something truly beautiful.