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Split review #5 - 69%

UCTYKAH, September 24th, 2009

On part three of what was an ongoing duel between Herr Ziegler and his Norwegian counterpart, the latter came out on top yet again and solidified his unconditional victory as a superior sound jouster and knob tweaker. Perhaps if VINTERRIKET chose to slow down his ambient conveyor-belt manufacturing line, enforced more quality control and took more time to brainstorm, reminisce, nurture and realize his own creations before hatching them out one after another, we might have had a less sizable but more diverse and serious body of work to sink our collective teeth into. Not that VINTERRIKET is terrible, mind you. Improvement and development did take place and direction since the early days, yet the project continues to remain a peasant of average means, getting lost in the clouds instead of reaching for the stars. Just look at the average ratings VINTERRIKET albums receive on this site. Plus, being pitted against a stronger contender only accentuates the shortcomings. The problem (if one were to acknowledge that there is a problem), the way I see it through the prism of this release, is that VINTERRIKET suffers from a certain emotional excess and somewhat stiffened, ossified artistic thought. The bulk of his contribution here are three installments of his "Landschaften Ewiger Einsamkeit" series (parts 7, 8 and 9), and as such can be either viewed as a solid block or overstretched redundancy, which also brings to mind ILDJARN's "Landscapes" venture. My opinion falls somewhere in the middle. That, compared to the quality material NORTHAUNT delivers through and through makes a loser out of VINTERRIKET, but not of this release as a whole.

Track one "Landschaften Ewiger Einsamkeit IX" is decent. Seven minutes of wintry, floating, airy (and sometimes eerie) ambience, which smoothly changes from one timbre to another and carries within itself a slowed-down, delaying melodic embryo. It is nothing complex, lacking interesting layers to uncover, but still effective enough. NORTHAUNT counters with a more diverse piece. "Until Dawn Do Us Apart" opens up with a muted, ascending dark ambient segment adorned with delicate snippets of chiming sounds and lightly crackling static. The sound palette soon transmogrifies into a solid droning undercurrent, airy ambience, which gradually transforms into distant static and a melody, which is at first shaped by a Nordic sounding keyboard and later switches to a bare piano line before eventually fading out a minute or so before the rest of the track does. VINTERRIKET strikes again with "Am Brennenden Nordlichen Firmament" and misses completely or just falls flat, which ever you prefer. Seven minutes of keyboard melodrama - intertwined melodic piano and keyboard playing with occasionally appearing light ambient lining - just made my eyes roll before instantly forgetting about this track. NORTHAUNT, meanwhile, throws out another strong piece with "Shadows Over the Barren Lands". Its minimalistic, isolationist introductory section gives way to the main body consisting of increasingly noisy ambient stratum, well placed spoken (as well as yelled and cried) samples and simplistic, hypnotic piano melody accompanied by what appear to be simulated strings. Strings soon disappear, adding thunderous percussive stomps and spoken word vocals towards the end of the track. Good stuff. VINTERRIKET rebounds with eleven minute long "Landschaften Ewiger Einsamkeit VII". Part VII is actually a bit more complex than part IX. That goes particularly for the track's first half, which offers up extra sound layers - or rather slender and finely cut out melodies - alongside the usual floating synth pads. One of the segments even includes minimal electronic beats that are distant and delicately handled. This makes the best VINTERRIKET piece on the disc. NORTHAUNT's final contribution is twelve minute "Ode". An ode to what? Only the great spirits know. Cavernous dark ambience occupies the overwhelming majority of the track's running time. Its muted, humming, sometimes hollow, rumbling sound seemingly crawls somewhere beneath the surface, making it the most minimalistic piece on the disc. Thin, airy, sometimes nearly invisible like spider web, sounds periodically peak out - a chime here, a high pitched howl there, or a whispering voice at the track's end. It is not easy to listen, not a whole lot of fun and best enjoyed with the headphones, like most of this type of music, and definitely for something like this. VINTERRIKET ends things with another prolonged "Landschaften", and of course it is more of the same and does not really require a detailed description. Any part of this track can basically be found on previous or later installments, although if I heard it first, I would possibly or even probably rank it higher than the opening "Landschaften". It's all about the placement, folks.

Without differentiating between each side's contributions, this album really does work in its own right. You have your continuous "Landschaften" themes being interspersed with diverse pieces from NORTHAUNT, creating a pretty solid ambient block indeed. If you do choose to differentiate, compare and contrast, as some people here have done, then the whole might not be better than its parts, so it's really up to you. If you never paid much attention to VINTERRIKET, I'd venture to guess that you will probably see this entire record in a positive light. NORTHAUNT is good and VINTERRIKET can be quite enjoyable in limited doses, so make your decision accordingly.