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Evolution or Experiment? - 95%

CyclicChaos8, July 1st, 2009

Dark ambient / black metal songwriter Christoph Ziegler, sole member of Vinterriket, has been improving his craft for a number of years. Recent albums have been released, some all ambient, some ambient with black metal masterfully interlaced within, but each one honing Ziegler's artistic craft. Some have chastised Ziegler for being stoic, seemingly not content with Ziegler's presumed "if it ain't broke, why fix it" attitude. I, for one, have been consistently astounded by Vinterriket's frequent and magnificent albums, both old and new, and Horizontmelancholie is certainly no exception, and least in terms of quality of output.

For the first time, Vinterriket has chosen to adopt a simultaneous dark ambient and neo-folk sound. Stripped away are any and all signs of Vinterriket's black metal-sprinkled past, replaced with echoing and comforting acoustic guitar picking and chord strumming. Completely gone are harsh and screamed vocals; in their place are warm, rich, spoken and sung lyrics that remind of Agalloch's John Haughm and Amorphis's former vocalist Pasi Koskinen. One thing that does remain, however, are the melancholy, bleeding, cold keyboard tones that define the core of Vinterriket's sound. On this record, even though I'm of the opinion that the Vinterriket machine was never broken, Ziegler has fixed and improved it beyond belief.

Whether you're a fan of much fervor, or new to Vinterriket, this is their magnum opus and deserves a listen. Opener "Schattengerausche" (Shade Noises) and closer "Waldkult" (Forest Cult) are virtually devoid of guitar, instead bookending Horizontmelancholie with chilling ambient compositions. The remaining five songs in between, all epic in scope and lasting up to eight minutes each, take the listener on a journey that is both exhilarating and depressing. All five, including personal favorites "Irrlichterscheinung" (Erring Optical Phenomenon) and "Wogen des Firmamentes" (Waves of the Firmament), weave back and forth between ambient synth interspersed with whispered vocals, to folk singing and chanting layered on top of powerful, heartwrenching keyboard lines.

Whether Horizontmelancholie is the next evolutionary step for Vinterriket, or an experimental album where Vinterriket steps outside their normal genre, is not known. Regardless, Horizontmelancholie is absolutely spellbinding in grandeur, and moreso than on previous offerings, feels like a cold and desolate musical embrace, yet one that feels comforting and safe all the while.