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I recall the first time I heard this band. It was a warm summer's evening in early September of 2011. I was listening to as much ambient black metal that I could get my hands on at that time, and this demo came up on my playlist. I immediately felt drawn to this magnificent piece of music. However until only recently, I haven't given this band the attention it deserved. Midnight Odyssey is a band that can seemingly do no wrong. After putting out the ever so amazing demo "The Forest Mourners" in 2008, Midnight Odyssey returns the very next year with its next demo tape, "Firmament". Evolving ever so slightly in terms of production and atmosphere, Midnight Odyssey has proven that it is among the elite in atmospheric/ambient black metal. This demo showcases what ambient black metal should sound like and the near perfect production for the perfect atmosphere.
As with every release Midnight Odyssey has put out to date, the keyboards are the main attraction of the album. They are brought out to the front in every song and are the most prominent instrument in the mix, such was also the case with "The Forest Mourners". Songs like "A Host for Ghosts" and "Storms of Fire and Ice" are pure ambient keyboard tracks that separate themselves from the metal tracks, but not so much as to cause the album to completely deviate from the musical ideas. The closer of the album "Beyond the Eighth Spere" is also a pure ambient track, but instead of being in the five to six minute range of the other keyboard tracks, it is an eight and a half minute song full of captivating beauty that almost reminds me a bit of the ambient side of "Filosofem" era Burzum. The melodies are freezing cold and when completely immersed in the music, you can literally feel the chill rushing throughout your veins. This has to be one of the most captivating and emotionally driven demos I have ever heard. In all honesty I really can't consider this to just be a demo. It works more like a full-length but because it is classified by the band as a demo, then a demo it is.
While the guitars are pushed back in the mix once again on this release, they are not as drowned and muddy as on the previous demo. They are more in the foreground and the melodies work extremely well with the keyboards. My favorite guitar riff has to be the tremolo intro to "Nocturnal Prey". It is extremely spacy and pretty fuzzy, but audible and clear at the same time, giving a razor sharp edge. Like I previously stated about this band on my review of the first demo, this is not music to headbang to. The guitars are repetitive making it easy for the riffs and melodies to get stuck into your head. For me, this is the most black metal release made my Midnight Odyssey. There have always been elements of black metal in the music up to the brand new masterpiece "Shards of Silver Fade", but here, they are far more prevalent, mainly due to the guitar work. "As Dark and Ominous as Stormclouds" is another example of this, although most of the black metal influence follows the path of depressive black metal, a perfect example being the slow and painful "Salvation Denied".
The production, as aforementioned, is near perfect for this music. The mixing of the demo is a major step up from the last, and the instruments become more clear and are easier to segregate from one another. The drums still sound artificial due to the mixing of the drum machine and while they are more clear and a tad louder, they are still somewhat drowned out in the mix. This is a small flaw but overall doesn't take much away from the music. The vocals remind me a bit of Burzum or maybe Xasthur but there is a bit of variation to be heard. There are your typical hateful black metal screams, but also as with all Midnight Odyssey's releases, epic clean chants. This also adds to the overall atmosphere and experience.
A demo that acts more like a full-length, "Firmament" is a near perfect release from Midnight Odyssey. It is an epic experience with a run time of over one hour. That is plenty of music to enjoy and immerse yourself into. Dis Pater sure knows how to use minimalism to his advantage and create a sound that is very pleasing to the ears.
While it's cover art might make you want to tear your own eyes with a salad fork, 'Firmament' has a lot to offer the fan of simple, laid back, but beautiful atmospheric black metal. It's the debut of Australia's one man Midnight Odyssey, that sole composer being Dis Pater. While it may not come off as impressive initially, Dis Pater's ability to craft bleak sonic nightmares and imbue them with his bleating vocals (in the vein of Weakling or Burzum) is outstanding, and 'Firmament' is an amazing debut album.
"From Forest to Firmanent" is a graceful indoctrination to the album's dark, starry sky as you sit aside an ocean of pain swept memories. Like most of the great atmospheric black metal albums of olde (In the Nightside Eclipse, Det Som Engang Var, Ravendusk in My Heart, etc.) it grasps your black heart and never lets go. Each track is gorgeous, glittering with sadness and pain. The breakdown at 2:40 of this song is magnificent, I could feel the tears welling up. How could a man create such sorrow? Suffer well, my friend. "Nocturnal Prey" creates almost an early 90s shoegazer atmosphere with its wailing stream of guitars, conjuring a starfall, the great dust of the heavens descending upon desolation. "Departing Flesh and Bone" is stunning, with yet another unforgettable moment of carefully crafted melody and shimmering synth. "A Host of Ghosts" is a synth piece, despite its lack of guitars the rival of any other track on this album. "As Dark and Ominous as Stormclouds" is again beautiful, but more bloodthirsty in its longing rhythms. "Salvation Denied" is slow, pondering, painful. "Storms of Fire and Ice" is another epic masterpiece of synth orchestration. And the album concludes with the inverse "From Firmament to Forest", which struggles to compete with all that came before but still comes out on top.
'Firmament' is as raw as any other cult black metal record, but it's a gorgeous type of raw. The name of this band could not be any more perfect at describing the style of composition. This album is hopeless and barren yet at the same time...full of longing, adventure....the very faint fire of life. It represents the very best of what a single individual can accomplish with an imagination and a basic knowledge of genre, and exactly which chords to pick out. Australia has produced two of the year's best black metal albums: Nazxul's 'Iconoclast', and this. The accolades I could rain upon this release seem to only grow with time, with each repeated listen the sorrow only grows. I could die to this album knowing what I know and what I don't, maintaining the endless equilibrium of human futility in a staggering, unforgiving universe.
Canonical Works: A Midnight Odyssey: Part II.
The more one listens to a genre, or sub-genre, the more we become accustomed to the inner and outer workings of it. We begin to understand its methods and why it practises what it preaches. There are, of course, always going to be sporadic surprises along the way on our adventures into the depths of the unknown, but we can safely assume, by way of generalising, what will or won’t happen during a musical experience. However, there are very few sub-genres, like ambient black metal, which evade the generalisations that are impolitely imposed upon them to no avail. The ambient sub-genre likes to shrug off any suggestions about its methods and is largely unmoved by the public perception on it. This callous sub-genre likes to spring traps on unsuspecting folk and toil with their emotions by deceiving them in terms of the portrayal it decides to take upon its opinionated self. This moody sub-genre is one which continues to surprise me, a self-proclaimed black metal veteran and is a difficult spectrum of the main genre to move around in. This sub-genre has the ability to act like a twister.
It starts off as a mild storm, but quickly transforms into a raging one, picking up the listener and throwing them around like a rag doll, without giving a second thought to the emotions of the plagued soul who is within its strong grasp, like a fragile animal caught between the jaws of death. Ambient black metal is the predator and we are the prey. It feasts upon our emotions, sucking them up into its vacuum and twisting them in a distorted and grotesque manner to suit its own portrayal. This area of black metal is a heightened version of the numerous others. Though it does what they all do, it tends to do it in a way that is exaggerated. I find it hard to become accustomed to its ways because it is, essentially, a shape shifter, squeezing itself into many different shapes and sizes, various forms and content that cannot be second guessed, even by the most analytical people. As I’ve become more in tune with black metal, on the whole, I have become more segregated away from sub-genres like ambient black metal because they continue to defy the perceptions and perform various illusions that make them hard to trace the roots of. Much the same can be said about this ambient black metal band, Midnight Odyssey, a one man Australian band performing a hybrid service between two similar sub-genres; ambient and atmospheric.
Try as I might, I seem to be unable to distinguish between the possible influences of this majestic venture into the darkness of the night skies. The ambient side seems to refer to the largely keyboard based symphonies that occur in and around the base of the material, which is strongly related to the iconic second wave bands like Burzum, most notably. However, though this might seem clichéd, Midnight Odyssey also seem to take influence from a rather newly established force within the depressive field - ColdWorld, a German band considered to be one of, if not the best depressive band in the history of the sub-genres short lifespan. Though ColdWorld could be considered to be influenced also by Burzum, I cannot shake off the feeling that Midnight Odyssey are directly inspired by the German one man outfit. Similarities seem to be both loosely established and based on a concrete belief that resonates not only in myself, but in others. I have read the opinions of others and, though it does not influence my own, we seem to share the belief that Midnight Odyssey sound similar to ColdWorld - which is no disparaging remake. Similarities range from akin textures, to the intermingling black metal epics with the ambient sideshows.
Songs like ‘A Host For Ghosts’ indicate to the listener that Dis Pater, the bands only member, is a man with a vision who creates his lush abstract ambient pieces based upon some of the most haunting and moving feelings known to man. The keyboards, in this instance, become the central figure to the beauty that ensues as he takes this journey on to a more astral, or cosmic level that was previously unheard of during the black metal madness that corrupted the airways beforehand. The idea behind these all instrumental songs seems to be a way of showcasing the pain that is felt throughout the songs in the lyrics, or so I assume. Although a number of ambient black metal bands intermingle fully ambient songs with those with vocals, a vast amount seem unable to distinguish how much one section needs to be imposed, and how much another needs to be relaxed. Far too often, ambient bands tend to overwhelm the listener with dire, slow moving ambient songs that evoke no real emotion from the audience and by doing this, they neglect the black metal side of the spectrum. Thankfully, Dis Pater has recognised my own specific needs by allowing more black metal elements to seep through to the listener, as opposed to overwhelming me with lacklustre ambient sections that give the band a directionless and passionless feel.
Dis Pater recognises the fundamental errors these bands make and takes it upon himself to avoid doing them himself. Thankfully, once again, he has gotten the mixture between ambient and fully fledged black metal correct with this accurate portrayal of the eerie nights, particularly portrayed well by the sparsely used clean chanted vocals, over the lush forestry that dominates parts of the globe where man exists no more. This stirring effort moves from ambient to black metal with grace and a professionalism that is lost on most unsigned bands. We, the listener, are always running the risk when dealing with unsigned acts because numerous bands are bedroom bands, or just lack the talent for being picked up by a record label. Of course, as Midnight Odyssey prove, there are a number of unsigned bands who deserve record label recognition and a global release of their records. Dis Pater’s professionalism in terms of his song writing, portrayal and subtle ambient references is deserving of plaudits and a place in the canon, which neglects outsiders like a small town community in the middle of nowhere does in cheesy horror movies. Another underground gem with a perfected production that ignites the majesty in the soundscapes and highlights all elements of this widely successful interpretation of the beast that roams the night plains.