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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.