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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