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Dark ambient is one of my favorite styles of music and I have this album mainly to thank for that. Sure, Burzum recorded the classic dark ambient/folk album "Hliðskjálf" while imprisoned, but this was the main album that caught my attention. It was produced by none other than Sigurd Wongraven, better known by his alias Satyr. Satyr is the front man of the Norwegian metal band Satyricon, and this was recorded during the early years of Satyricon as a side project. Satyr was involved in quite a few of these side projects, but this one to me will always stand out as his best effort apart from the three first albums from Satyricon. What we have here is a true masterpiece of some of the darkest "dungeon synth" music ever created.
Perhaps the best cut from this album is the intro track. This 16 and a half minute monster dubbed "Det var en gang et menneske", which seems to be translated as "There once was a man" in English, showcases every element we will hear throughout the remaining five songs. This song actually makes up half of the album's entire length. There are some ambient clean vocals and quiet, spoken whispers underlining the dark synth notes that are played. This song makes use of a single ambient note underlining certain sections of the song for an extended period of time. The first change occurs about 3:27 into the song when a medieval folk segment begins to unearth itself. The clean singing is absolutely haunting and this song completely radiates a medieval atmosphere. I believe if Satyricon was to make an ambient album this would be the rightful result.
While this song is the best offering on the album, the others should not be discounted. They are all great. The album goes from extremely dark tracks such as "Over Ødemark" to a somewhat upbeat "Opp under fjellet toner en sang". Interestingly enough, no matter what mood the tracks are emitting, be it sad, dark, eerie, or upbeat, they all contain the same medieval atmosphere and ambiance. There is a bit of variation between the tracks but if this album was made into one 32 and a half minute song, it would still work perfectly. I really can't find anything bad to say about this album, aside from the obvious fact that it is far too short and could have been much bigger than it is. It seems to be unknown if Wongraven is still an active project of Satyr's, but I really would love to see another album or two from him. So long as they'd keep this beautiful medieval tone.
One of the masterpieces of dungeon synth. This is an equal challenger to all of Mortiis' work. The album starts of slowly, building upon itself, forming the scene, entering the landscape. Clean choir vocals sing in a rollicking Viking style with a masculinity, stoicism, and grittiness that can only cause one to picture misty images of those ancient warriors rowing their ships at night, heading to England or mainland Europe to reap destruction.
And then it returns briefly to the quiet peaceful wandering. These songs don't quite call one to battle; they are almost more the hazy recollections of an old warrior, nostalgic and beautiful, with the stars brightly shining overhead. The atmosphere of the music really is like that of an old fireside tale, the kind that are thrilling and powerful enough to drive out the worst colds. A myth like this could only be woven by the most respected of the elder storytellers, the one who wields powers of sorcery that would be both feared and honored. And so this very tale seems to have been imbued with his mystic powers.
Fjelltronen is such an incredible album because not only does it contain, in every inch of it, the fiercely palpable atmosphere of ancient magic, but also it is musically complex and quite finely crafted. It is such a shame that this was the only Wongraven release, though I am much more happy with that state of things than if Satyr were to follow it with inferior material. Unlike much dungeon synth, the emotions vary greatly, often reveling in a hardy melancholy, then to an unknown darkness, then to the main adventurous theme that dominates the music, then to a cheerfully strange wandering, and the album ends with a triumphant conclusion to rival the very best metal in its affirmation of the value of sheer power.
Structurally this album is to be greatly admired, both in comparison to the other dungeon synth works which are very primitive in their structure, but also standing alone its structure should be recognized by all listeners as some of the very highest to be found outside of classical. The first track is the introduction and telling of first chapter of the story. The hero is brought out from a comfortable place and into a realm that is frightening and dangerous. In the second track, Over Ødemark, the hero wanders about that landscape. As if in an epic story he is confronting dangers and obstacles along his way, though he has to primarily rely upon his own strength to overcome them. The next song is similar, but instead of being a new obstacle, it is a sort of pleasant moment in between the howling winds. The hero stopped, perhaps at an isolated inn somewhere, and discovered within a number of cheerful drinking dwarves. Tiden er en Stenlagt Grav continues the telling of the larger saga, backing away from the hero's lonely struggles and gives it higher significance and shows us a bit more about the world he's struggling within. Fra Fjelltronen concludes the music in the most beautiful way imaginable, such that no matter how many times I listen to it, I always find myself shocked and usually covered in goosebumps.
Hearing the song Tiden er en stenlagt grav, one should immediately understand what dungeon synth is about. It's not about keyboards or Tolkien worship, it's about truly taking the listener to another world, one which either has not been experienced since a past we cannot recollect or has never been experienced at all. Perhaps visualization is important to dungeon synth. Hear the music and try to picture the strange landscapes it takes you to. Maybe that's the key to understanding it. It's always been something I took for granted, but no doubt that's not how people are accustomed to listening to music. All I can say is that, for the masterpieces of dungeon synth, the more effort you put into getting it, the more you'll get back in experiencing that world.
Fra Fjelltronen brings us back to the beginning of the story, but now with greater context. Suddenly we feel as if the hero of the tales has returned, and of course not only brought back something for the betterment of the tribe, but also has new knowledge of his own that makes him both wise and powerful. And the clean singing voice wraps it up perfectly, seeming to summon forth all the ancestors and all the lost battles and great victories that had been endured to bring the people to the point where they are at the telling of the story. But then it ends, with the chilling voice of some sort of a ghost in the wind. And a bell crashes, tearing us out of our trance and throwing us coldly back into the real world. This ending is done almost like a banishing ritual, thereby leaving the beauty of the music to be found only in that precious half-hour spent with the album, not allowing any of it to escape into the "real" world.
This album is much easier to listen to and can certainly connect more deeply with more people than Mortiis (who connects with many, but not on the level that he should). Most who listen to this album honestly will find that it has an almost supernatural ability to place them in a trance, and if they are not utterly moved by that ending, then I think they have no hope of ever understanding what this music is about.
Similar to how Storm was a collaboration between Fenriz of Darkthrone and Satyr of Satyricon (with Kari Rueslåtten adding her vocals), Wongraven was the collaboration of Satyr and Ihsahn (Emperor), with additional percussion from Hans K. K. Sřrensen. However, the difference here is that Wongraven is not a metal band in the slightest, but an epic, medeival ambient folk project featuring an expressive array of vocals and synths, seasoned in acoustic guitars, bass, timpani, mouth harp and other instruments. This is the sole full-length release from Wongraven, but it does possess some staying power, especially if you enjoy this brand of dark, period ambience.
Half of Fjelltronen consists of a single, 16 minute track called "Det Var En Gang Et Menneske", which meanders endlessly from the rolling, sparse percussion and whispered vocals of its opening moments through a long stretch of keyboard that sluggishly dominates the faint, sparkling acoustics. The drums crash in and out as if to accent moments of authority, and the final few moments of the track become quite haunted...with the repetitious acoustic and darker, somber keyboard tones, and Satyr's vocals growing into an eerie crescent. Once you are through this behemoth and into the clear, you are met with "Over Ødemark", a doomed piano dirge with Ihsahn's fingers all over it, and Satyr joining in for the final half. "Opp Under Fjellet Toner En Sang" is under two minutes of grace carried through synthesized woodwinds and an ambient backdrop, before the other substantial track on the album, "Tiden Er En Stenlagt Grav" kicks in for a slowly building, instrumental. The bass here is hypnotic as it flows below the subtle synths in a folk lick. The track fades out and returns with some more of the project's, haunting atmosphere, though there is a swagger to the piece which should rouse the historic traveler within all of us. Another instrumental, "Fra Fjelltronen" offers closure, with over 3 minutes of bells, haunted castle environments and dying medieval thunder.
As with many such offerings, the appeal will be limited to those who do not mind a largely instrumental slice of atmosphere that can haunt your dreams and suck your thoughts into a dark mirror of the past...half real, half idealized into a grim, impossible portrait. Though there are words, and vocals, they truly merge in with the landscape of the instruments, soaring forth only to bait you with stark, glorious contrasts. I would definitely recommend this album to any fan of Summoning, Vinterriket, or early Mortiis. In fact, add some black metal to this and you would have the first few releases of Summoning, so I'm guessing it was a possible influence to their Tolkien-inspired path. Fjelltronen is not an absolute classic, and I thought Storm was a more successful side-project, but it shows a great deal of depth to the imagination of Satyr, and might make for a good companion piece to the first two Satyricon albums.
If you liked the Sayticon songs Min hyllest til vinterland and I en svart kiste, this album is for you. Fjelltronen is a great atmospheric release consisting of synth, grand piano, accoustic guitars, and various percussives like timpani. Wongraven (Satyr) plays the guitars, bass, and some synth while adding powerful choirs that complement the music perfectly. Ihsahn of Emperor plays main synthesizers and grand piano.
Fjelltronen is divided into five parts, the first a 16 minute medieval masterpiece "Det var en gang et menneske" After an opening with synth, timpani, and both whispered and loudly chanted vocals, Satyr plays the acoustic to great effect. My favorite melody occurs at roughly 14:30 when synth, accoustic guitar and loud vocals combine to produce a sound capable of transporting you to the glorious mountain landscapes of Norway.
Part two was composed by Ihsahn and is mostly grand piano and some vocals.
Part three barely exceeds one minute, but utilizes the folkish tune of the mouth harp.
Part four is the most medieval sounding, with great percussion played by Hans K.K Sørensen. Shortly after five minutes, my favorite melody from part one returns for a little while. Part four blends in perfectly into five, and Fjelltronen ends with the chilling soung of the "final bell of no hope."
Overall, this CD is great to put on when doing something else or trying to sleep, but to fully appreciate it, it should be given your full attention and concentration. Ideally, it should be played at full volume.