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Whether one refers to this release as the demo by the Norwegian band Nattefall or by Mundanus Imperium is actually of little importance, because the music is basically the same. Should someone stumble over either of the releases, then the first thing that would come to mind is that those three tracks feel somewhat dated and old. Nevertheless they fit into the broader spectrum of music that had surfaced at this particular time in Scandinavia and especially in Norway. To see Mundanus Imperium signed by Nuclear Blast a short time later, was actually of no surprise.
Three tracks appear on this CD and they offer an interesting approach of symphonic black metal. Naturally and this has to do with the country of origin, a lot of names tend to pop up at this point, but a lot of these do not really fit with what can be found on this release. The reasons for this has to do with the amount of facets and the absence of focus on Ode to the Nightsky. While guitars tend to play an important role sometimes, they nearly vanish at others and the same can be said of the vocals as well of the keyboards. There is no clear-cut approach that the band follows from the first second onward and who would be surprised by this? In the end it is the first release of a young band that had been spread under the banner of a new musical project. Furthermore, considering how the music changed with the debut full-length album, this level of experimenting is also not much of a surprise.
While the opener is quite catchy, has a touch of aggressiveness to it as well as a nice to and fro between keyboards and guitars, the second track is much more taken back and comes with a distinct keyboard texture in the background, while the last one is rather melancholic thanks to the sound of keyboards (akin to a piano) as well as style of the melody. A set of various approaches and concepts, whose sound and style differs slightly from each other makes up the bottom line. While this may be off-putting to some extent, the quality of the song-writing as well as the “warmth” of the production, which has its downsides due to balancing issues though, are able to take the listener along and through this demo. It is black metal whose conception provides some sort of comfort and warmth, even though the harshness has its impact as well.
This release combines the good and the bad facets of the black metal of what could be found in Norway at this particular time in history. Be it the sound of the keyboards, be it the sound or be it the somewhat segmented song-writing, either have found their way on this recording. It cannot be discussed away, but the music has a distinct charm and fascination. Take “Winds of the Frozen Stars” for instance. The comforting melody, the steadiness in the progression of the motives and how all is balanced out. Yes, there is a lot of cliché in it, but it is of a sort that leaves you with a smile on your face. Surprisingly calm in its execution, these three tracks meander along the edges of the (black) metal scene, but are still able to spark a lot more fascination that some of the recent outputs of today's bands.
There was a great Era of Norwegian Atmospheric and Symphonic Black Metal from 1994 to 1997. At least, in my opinion, those were the blooming years. Classic releases from bands like Emperor, Covenant, Arcturus and Gehenna, and many others, were released upon the hungry black metal crowds.
Among the smaller jewels of this style was Mundanus Imperium. A couple of years before they released their quite interesting full length album which sounded like a mixture between their original style, progressive metal and classic hard rock, there was this EP. A 16 minute trip into Nordic melancholy and longing.
All the elements that a fan of this style would want to hear are present. First of all, a thick blanket of keyboards that seem to serve as the main source of composition. Adequate and moderately paced drums. Tremolo picked guitars performing minor chords and harmonies, with a single lead melody here and there. And greatly mixed biting vocals that add a lot of subzero to the whole. But where is the bass? Well...it's black metal you know.
M.I. on this EP could be compared to Covenant's "In Times Before the Light", although the main focus here is an atmosphere of longing to be in other places, whereas Covenant adds a certain depth of foreboding darkness to their music. This EP shows that neo-classical themes and (black) metal are a powerful combination, and such themes are foremostly present in the third and closing song, performed by heavy strings and piano. Occasionally, a single melody line stands out above the blanket of keys, very effectively performed in the shape of some woodwind instrument. It is this that makes the second song the highlight of all three.
Music literally speaks to me with its moods and tempers, and this EP is no exception. It's one of those wonderful musical pieces that create visions without seeing them clearly, in this case like cosmic light sources peeking through the slowly swirling Northern Lights over the cascading mountain ranges of my mind. A certain loneliness and desire that lives within us all. It makes me sigh loudly every time the last tones of this EP fade away. Partly because it's just way too damned short.