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A mountain shadow obscures all else - 79%

gasmask_colostomy, July 21st, 2020

As the saying goes, behind every infamous black metal band, there's a short-lived ambient project. Perhaps Satyricon lays claim to less infamy than the other standard bearers of the Norwegian second wave, but then again Wongraven was a shorter-lived ambient project than most. Personally, I see Fjelltronen to be a very good complement to the earlier period of Satyricon's output, not least because the aesthetic side of Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone approached the same cultural and philosophical endpoint with a few less samples of northern wind and a few more biting riffs. If you're at all averse to brief soundbites of nature and the outdoors, plus whatever frog-like instrument is pinging about in 'Opp Under Fjellet Toner en Sang', you might be better off giving this a miss, yet for anyone else the folky medieval music holds a world of charms.

I know everyone complains about how lopsided this release feels, and that's because 'Det Var en Gang et Menneske' rolls its bulk out first with half of the scant 33 minute runtime and about 3/4 of the ideas. But if I'd made this album, that's where I'd put it too. The epic goes through most of the instruments found on the rest of the album, flutes, brass, piano, woodwinds, percussion, and even acoustic guitar swirling around in controlled bouts of atmosphere building. That opener also sees the bulk of Satyr's vocal work, whispering delicately like he's doing an ASMR video and then regaling us with something like a pagan monk's ancient bellows, both of which fit the music much better than my descriptions suggest. The latter style returns on 'Fra Fjelltronen', and could quite easily form a coda to the opener, rounding out the experience with symmetry.

I once sat on a long-distance aeroplane listening to 'Det Var en Gang et Menneske' on repeat. In that state where you're awake but sensually very numb, the gradual swell of the composition as it adds elements and strips them all back down again is mesmerizing, progressing at such a slow pace that you'd be bored normally, yet attaining a level of detail in the end that outdoes any of the simplistic ambient Burzum material and nestles in next to the best work of Mortiis. The keyboard lines that tower up momentarily seem much more than pure atmospheric inspiration, but actually the details of a groggy, misty world that Satyr very nearly managed to depict on his main band's debut. In a sense, this majestic song has the same symphonic completeness of a classical piece, though never loses the essence of being created by a single lonely outcast with a keyboard and an aching fantasy.

By contrast, the other pieces cannot form the sum of their parts. In isolation, the grandiose piano supplied by Ihsahn gives 'Over Ødemark' its own sense of antique haughtiness, yet it appears as a mere hillock before the vast shadow of its predecessor. Again, I would have placed it in the same position on the release and I concur that 3 minutes was sufficient to show its full worth, it's just not enough to make a real mark. Empirically speaking, 'Det Var en Gang en Menneske' overwhelms the whole of Fjelltronen, ridiculing the other lengthy composition, the repetitive 8 minute 'Tiden er en Stenlagt Grav', which dwells on a melody heavily reminiscent of those Tolkienesque worlds of Mortiis before beginning again as a graver rendition of the same.

Fjelltronen needs one more weighty piece to round it off, but I get the feeling that Satyr was hit by a single masterstroke and a series of rapidly diminishing aftershocks, hence the short life of Wongraven. All the same, we might be looking at the finest ambient medieval song from any black metal artist, and Fjelltronen is worth your time for that reason alone.

Black metal tells itself a bedtime story - 75%

we hope you die, February 23rd, 2019

For some black metallers ambient side projects were a mere hobby. A testing ground for ideas, a place to hone the art of crafting atmosphere through synths, or a place of simple joy away from the carnage of black metal’s politics.

Which brings us screaming round to Wongraven, and Satyr of Satyricon fame. Like many of the ambient side projects of black metal’s household names, this works like an extension of his metal works. If you listen to ‘I en svart kiste’ on ‘The Shadowthrone’ (1995), you will get a sense of what the music of the sole Wongraven LP ‘Fjelltronen’ is all about, only in long-form. It’s epic, it’s dark, the harmonies and chord progressions are well crafted and pleasing. He has even overlaid this with his own clean vocal chants. And full credit to him, Satyr does have a powerful voice, both clean and distorted, and this comes through on the early works of Satyricon and on ‘Fjelltronen’.

This album is sparse, but in a good way, it balances the epic and the dark perfectly, and it transitions from one mood to the next without coming across as jarring. Aside from the dynamic use of chants, the basic building blocks he uses are much the same as Mortiis. Simple synthesizer sounds, strings, wind samples and anything that contributes to a general feeling of dread are utilised. But aside from this the music is not developed much past an extended version of an interlude on a black metal album. For this reason one gets the sense that this music if building to a climax that never arrives.

Now I (and most listeners) will probably be listening to this album for first time knowing that it is the short lived ambient side project, so we know that the music is generally not building to anything. This allows us to sit back and enjoy the moods and ideas therein. One gets the sense, like Thou Shalt Suffer and Lordwind, that Satyr was using this album as a sounding board for ideas, one that forced him to think of music from a non-guitar based perspective, rather than a fully-fledged work of art in its own right. He then decided to release it in case some fans saw value in it. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, I and many fans do enjoy it. But it means the work sounds somewhat half finished, not intended for wider consumption outside of black metal obsessives and Satyricon fans (yeah, I said it, they’re different groups).

This is a bizarre subgenre. Not so much that its musically bizarre. But it is a form of ambient music that specifically appeals to black metal fans and the odd computer game nerd. I cannot imagine fans of Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno picking up this album with sincerity. It is the black metal we love stripped of the guitars and dramatic vocals. It is black metal telling itself a bed time story. A childish blanket of escapism, wonder, charm, and mysticism without the toxic politics of the outside world. It is because of this sentiment, that I am reluctant to be too critical of this album

It just feels a little incomplete. But if you have come as far as digging into the dungeon synth side projects of Norwegian black metal artists, you won’t mind this minor shortcoming.

Originally published at Hate Meditations

Fjelltronen - 97%

Lars_Stian, June 17th, 2017

I have been a fan of Theodor Kittelsen's artwork from a young age, and when I saw that Wongraven's ''Fjelltronen'' used one of my favourite artworks of his, ''Den Grønne Ridder'', it immediately caught my attention, and I hoped it would be able to capture the same atmosphere that Kittelsen did with his painting, and I must say, rarely have I encountered an album cover more representative of the atmosphere and sound of an album than this. The music really makes you feel as you are there; wandering through the woods, and encountering a castle deep in a forest.

Though Sigurd Wongraven, as well Ihsahn, are both famous for black metal, this album is a more of a folk/ambient/dungeon synth album, as in it primarily consists of keyboards and acoustic guitars and such. The album consists of quite simple, yet very atmospheric and great melodies. The music heavily relies on atmosphere, and it really does feel like a trip through medieval times. To me, this albums feels more like a single giant song, as they all flow very nicely together, and though the mood has some changes throughout the album, the atmosphere and imagery stays consistent, and you really get ''lost'' in the music (for a lack of a better term). The album almost feels like a journey; a travel through forgotten woods until you finally reach the castle in the conclusion ''Fra Fjelltronen''. Though I can't say for certain,but judging by the lyrics and atmosphere, this albums seems to take inspiration from the story of the Soria Moria castle.

Sigurd does a fair amount of vocals, and they're quite good. Whether it's humming, singing or simply whispering, it does a great job of setting the mood and building the atmosphere. His singing is very good; his voice sounds quite powerful, and adds a lot to the music, creating a new layer in the music, so to speak. The lyrics are also quite well; especially the lyrics for ''Fra Fjelltronen'', and for those who understand Norwegian, I'd recommend giving them a read. They're not so extraordinary in the poetic sense, but rather so in the content and imagery of the lyrics, if that makes sense.

The structure is amazing, and as I've already mentioned, there's a great flow, and it almost feels like a journey. No song feels too long and nor too short, repetition works in their favour, and helps build the atmosphere, but luckily, Sigurd knows to restrict the repetition as to not make it boring or stretched out. I find that to often in dungeon synth do bands use repetition way to much to compensate for their lack of melodies, however this is not the case for ''Fjelltronen''. As for the production, there really isn't anything to say. The production doesn't stand out in any way, and I haven't really even thought about the production until just now. You can everything clearly, and I doubt anyone would have any problems with it.

In conclusion, Wongraven's ''Fjelltronen'' is a great album, and I'd even be as bold as to say the best album in the genre, and the only negative thing I could really say is that it isn't longer, and that's it. The album is just amazing from start to end, and I'd recommend it to not only fans of the genre, but to all. My favourite songs are ''Det var en gang et mennesket'' and ''Fra fjelltronen''.

A medieval trip through dungeons of darkness - 100%

BlackMetal213, March 28th, 2016

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.

A Masterpiece of Dungeon Synth - 100%

Compcat, April 28th, 2011

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.

Dark mirror of the past - 80%

autothrall, November 27th, 2009

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.


Pure Northern Medieval Atmosphere Music - 98%

Andrzej, July 6th, 2003

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.