Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Хладогорье / Hladogorie (Cold Mountains)

Родных просторов вольный глас (Rodnyh prostorov vol'nyj glas) (2008)
I download a lot of music; many albums fall by the wayside after the first listen, never to be heard again, whilst others manage to find a foothold in the crevices of my brain, and become favourites to be enjoyed again and again. It is safe to say that this release falls firmly in the latter group, and has become one of my most listened-to releases in this genre.

Хладогорье / Hladogorie (the name means Cold Mountain(s) in English) hail from Russia and this 3-track EP/demo was their only release, though their Myspace page has another track from a "upcoming album" that presumably never happened.

Musically this is another artist that falls somewhere between Dungeon Synth and Winter Synth; whilst it does feature some of the bolder rhythmic elements of DS these are fairly muted, and the whole atmosphere is that of the natural world, with samples of insect noises and birdsong providing background texture to the synth melodies.

There is more than a hint of New Age music to the synth sounds, something that I often pick up in this area of music (in fact I think the term "Dark Age" would be a good catch-all phrase for both Dungeon Synth and Winter Synth, but I digress). This is especially evident on the final track, with an especially New Age-sounding synthesized Pan flute sound.

Providing rhythmic accents to the music are various percussion instruments, ranging from deep but muted timpani to high rasping guiros. These percussive elements never overwhelm the drifting melodies however, and the whole EP has a very relaxed and atmospheric feel.

This great EP/demo can now be streamed or downloaded for free from the Dungeon Lore Bandcamp page, where the bandname and song titles are presented as English translations (something I strongly disagree with - I prefer transliteration):

Friday, 1 February 2013

Воронмрак / Voronmrak (Ravendark)

I discovered Воронмрак or Voronmrak recently, via the Dungeon Synth community page on the Russian site VK. The project appears to be relatively unknown outside of Russia, so I thought I would give it a little exposure here. The name translates as "Ravendark", but I favour transliteration over translation, so I will use Voronmrak from now on (this also avoids any confusion with the Russian BM act Raven Dark).

The discography (listed at the bottom of this post) is fairly daunting at first glance, an extensive collection of demos, EPs, singles and splits ranging from 2005 to 2011. I have been exploring the music over the past week or so, and it is difficult to select any individual releases as being purely "Winter Synth" - there seems to be a fairly even split between Dungeon Synth and Winter Synth, with hints of folk-ambient lurking in the melodies. A couple of tracks venture into electronica/techno territory (one track in particular reminds me of early Aphex Twin), but these are isolated exceptions, the majority of the work being the usual brooding synthscapes we have come to associate with this area of music.

The man behind Voronmrak, a guy called Mrak Mstivoy, also records as Уводна (Uvodna) - a more Dark Ambient-orientated project that is inspired by industrial and military themes as opposed to Voronmrak's nature-worship. I have it from the man himself that new releases from both projects are in the works (edit: Uvodna's new EP "Знаки на снегу" has just been released).

Much of Voronmrak's discography can be obtained from here:

And you can keep up with updates from both projects via their official VK Russian community page:

Do yourself a favour and spend some time exploring Voronmrak's world.

Воронмрак / Voronmrak Discography (transliterations are my own):

Тени лунного света / Teni Lunnogo Sveta (2005)
Навьи Ветры Сибири / Nav'i Vetry Sibiri (2005)
Предрасветные сумерки / Predrassvetnye Sumerki (2005)
Ледяными туманами... / Ledyanymi Tumanami... (2005)
Забытые тропы / Zabytye Tropy (2006)
Танец огня / Tanec Ognya (2006)
Ведогонь / Vedogon' (2006)
Эхо Навьей Стужи - Серебро Зимы / Eho Nav'ey Stuzhi - Serebro Zimy (2006)
Память / Pamyat' (2006)
Зарево битв над курганами славными / Zarevo Bitv Nad Kurganami Slavnyh (2007)
Рати зимних ветров / Rati Zimnih Vetrov (2008)
Темная Вежа / Temnaya Vezha (compilation) (2008)
Хладомрак / Hladomrak (split with Холод / Holod) (2008)
Великая Сиберия / Velikaya Siberiya (split with Яросвет / Yarosvet) (2008)
Духи Зимы / Duhi Zimy (2008)
Возвращение птиц / Vozvrashhenie Ptic (rehearsal) (2009)
Сумерки / Sumerki (2009)
Отзвуки давней зимы / Otzvuki Davney Zimy (2009)
Сполохи / Spolohi (2009)
Шаги Берегини / Shagi Beregini (2009)
Кромешная осень / Kromeshnaya Osen' (2010)
Поворот на весну / Povorot Na Vesnu (2011)

(The "Темная Вежа" compilation collects the releases "Рати зимних ветров", "Зарево битв над курганами славными", "Ведогонь", plus some tracks from "Танец огня" and "Забытые тропы" (the period between 2006-2008)).

Уводна / Uvodna discography

Перевал Дятлова (пробная запись) / Pereval Dyatlova (Probnaya Zapis') (2006)
Тени мертвых городов / Teni Mertvih Gorodov (2008)
Звуки Покинутых Мегаполисов / Zvuki Pokinutih Megapolisov (2009)
Энергия Вриль / Energiya Vril' EP (2009)
Навстречу Черному Солнцу / Navstrechu Chernomu Solntsu (2009)
Таинство Вриль / Tainstvo Vril' (2012)
Знаки на снегу / Znaki Na Snegu EP (2013)

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Review: Moloch (Ukr)

"In einer Umarmung von tiefen kalten Wäldern" (2010)
(In the Embrace of the Deep Cold Woods)

"Apathisches Licht von einem rotschwarzen Horizont" (2010)
(Apathetic Light from a Red-Black Horizon)

Prolific Ukrainian BM artist Moloch has many ambient-only releases within his extensive discography, but this pair of short EPs (both released in May 2010) greatly appeal to my diminutive attention span; I find myself these days preferring shorter releases like EPs and mini-albums over long full-length albums. Both EPs feature 3 tracks, totalling 15 and 10 minutes respectively.

The music on offer here is Winter Synth of the highest order; crepuscular meditations on the natural world, windswept and moody synth vignettes that are perfectly complemented by the cover photography. There are occasions (more so on "Apathisches Licht...") where the music treads the grey area between the twin realms of Winter Synth and Dungeon Synth (or "mine" and "Andrew's", as I've come to think of them!) - albeit a fairly gentle, relaxed form of DS. As a whole, however, it definitely falls more on my side of the fence, especially given the thematic nature of the artwork and titles (should this be a factor in defining music? A point for future discussion, perhaps).

Both of these (and the rest of Moloch's discography) can be downloaded from the artist's BandCamp page, at a price of your choosing.

Apologies for these short reviews, but my time (and ability to focus...) is severely limited these days. In order for this blog to thrive, I think I may need to resort to shorter posts like these.

Review: Instinct - "The Cold Return"

"The Cold Return" is a purely ambient 3-track offering from UK BM artist Instinct. I was lucky enough to obtain one of the limited release of cassettes (from the 2nd run, I believe). I've been trying to get round to writing a review of this great demo for weeks, but real life keeps getting in the way, so this review will not be the literary masterpiece I had planned.

When I posted this on my other blog a couple of years ago, I wrote "...unlike most BM-related amateurish synth-noodlings, this is Dark Ambient done properly; sparse, brooding, and ominous, evoking bleak and desolate landscapes..." and I stand by that statement. Technically, this is probably pushing my boundaries of what is and isn't "Winter Synth", as it does have more of a textural Dark Ambient sound than most other releases in this field. However, I'm the boss here, so it stays.

I will leave you with the few phrases I had tapped into my phones notepad, which were going to end up in my "proper" review:

"...cavernous, keening drone like a sombre wind..."
"... portraying the desolate nature of ice..."
"...the otherworldly aspects of the landscape..."

Deep, huh?

Friday, 11 January 2013

Review: Ildjarn - "Landscapes"

From an album that I consider to be the highlight of the genre, I now move to one that is one of the most challenging, and yet in many ways is the archetype of Nature-themed synth music.

A sprawling double-album of 22 untitled tracks, giving over 2 hours of music, in many ways, the concept and format of this album remind me in of another ambient classic: Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works 2" -- the two discs, the vast number of anonymous tracks with no titular reference point, all create a similar feel of disorientation. Musical similarities are fleeting, however; there is none of Aphex's playfully disturbing headfuckery here.

That being said, there is not much that is dark here either. Unlike other examples of the genre, there is no "gothic" brooding mysticism. The music here is less romantic and melodic than the rather more instantly accessible music on the Paysage d'Hiver album previously reviewed. The tracks are merely representations of sparse landscapes: static, content just to declare that they exist, no more, no less, rather like the mountains themselves. Structures are cyclic and non-developing, re-enforcing the sparse, static feel of the landscape. Simple chord progressions and melodies wander and repeat themselves. With a few exceptions, the tracks all utilise more or less the same sound, a classic synthesizer sound that isn't trying to pretend to be anything else.

"Landscapes" is perhaps best suited to listening whilst actually in the landscape itself, experiencing the vista first hand, rather than at home trying to conjure an atmosphere through evocative music. That is best left for other, more accessible albums.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Review: Paysage d'Hiver - "Die Festung"

For my first review for this blog, I have chosen what I consider to be the absolute pinnacle of the genre, and probably the best synth album ever released by a Black Metal act; "Die Festung", the third demo/album from Swiss one-man BM act Paysage d'Hiver, and his first purely ambient offering. Not only is it the best, but also (as far as I am aware) unique, as it differs in sound from every other example of the genre that I have heard; almost, in fact lifting it out of the genre altogether. In contrast to the amateurish dronings and noodlings that are inherent to, and indeed define, most other Winter Synth releases (charming though they are), there is a superior quality here that is reminiscent of the great pioneers of "proper" ambient music, such as the Berlin School of Electronics (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra etc). The hypnotic use of rhythmic delays and sequencing is particularly engaging, bringing to my mind echoes of Ashra's classic "New Age of Earth" album. Echoes too, of more modern ambient styles; I can hear occasional similarities to 90s ambient/techno act Global Communication, for example. Vague and clumsy comparisons aside, the music on this album is highly original and individual. The sheer icy quality is breathtaking -- crystalline glass-like sounds tinkle over delicate and moody synth patterns, creating mental images of fragile ice sculptures.

The highlights of the album are, for me, the opening and closing tracks, "Eishalle" and "Prinz Frost" respectively, both of which showcase the hypnotic sequencing I alluded to earlier. Track #2 "König Winter" is in my opinion the weakest track on the album, lacking the subtlety of the other tracks -- in fact it seems rather obtuse and heavy-handed in comparison. But as a whole, this album is probably the most powerful and beautiful tribute to the winter landscape that you will ever find.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

List of Winter Synth releases

Below is a list of what I consider to be "Winter Synth" releases. The links (in blue) are to streaming and/or legitimate download pages. Feel free to suggest further releases in the comments below.

Ancient Tundra

   The Desolation of an Arctic Landscape (2007)
   Requiems of a World Lost (2008)
   Equinox - split w/ Old Forgotten Lands (2009)
   These Engulfing Winds Never Die - split w/ Symbiosis (2010)
   Into Freezingness (2013)
Dark Ambient Forest
   Eternal Winter (2011)
Emperor of the Forest
   Montagne Funest (2008)
   Nubie grigie sull'Appennino (2008)
   Nocturnal Wandering through Dark Forests and Ancient Mountains (2008)
   Wandering (2008)
   Upon the Peak (2008)
Forest Silence
   The 3rd Winter (1997)
   Winter Circle (2000)
Forgotten Land
   Samhain - Autumn (2007)
   Imbolc - Winter (2008)
   Beltane - Spring (2008)
Hate Forest
   Temple Forest (2000)
Хладогорье / Hladogorie (Cold Mountain)
   Родных просторов вольный глас (Rodnyh prostorov vol'nyj glas) (2008)
   Dance of the Twilight Stars (2010)
   Dreams Within A Dream EP (2011)
   Upon the Mountain Vastlands (2012)
   Landscapes (1996)
   Hardangavidda (2002)
   The Cold Return (2009)
   Uumenissa (2004)
Llyn Y Cwn
   Llyn Y Cwn (2009)
   Llyn Y Cwn II (2009)
   Der Wanderer (2011)
   Der Einsiedler (2011)
   Eine Dunkle Seele (2012)
Melancholy of Life
   The Silent Demo I (2012)
Moloch (Ukr)
   Meine Alte Melancholie (2007)
   In einer Umarmung von tiefen kalten Wäldern (2010)
   Apathisches Licht von einem rotschwarzen Horizont (2010)
   Nur die Berge erinnern sich der Winde die hier ihren Anfang fanden vor so langer Zeit (2010)
   Meine Ganze Hoffnung Stirbt (2011)
   Abstrakter Wald (2012)
   Abgrund Meines Wesens (2012)
   The Freezing Cold of the Mountains (2012)
Nazgul (UK)
   Morgulduin EP (2012)
Northern Forest
ov Mhurn
   Abstract Paths (2012)
Paysage d'Hiver
   Die Festung (1999)
   Einsamkeit (2007)
   The Ghost EP (2007)
   Desolation (2010)
   Stabat Nvda Aestas (2007)
   Slavine (2008)
   Throat ov the World (2010)
   Throat ov the World Part II (2011)
   Throat ov the World Part III (2012)
   Landschaftsmalerische Klangwelten synthetischer Tonkunst (2002)
   ...und die Nacht kam schweren Schrittes (2002)
   Landschaften Ewiger Einsamkeit (2004)
   Lichtschleier - (2006)
   Zeit-Los:Laut-Los (2008)
Воронмрак / Voronmrak (Ravendark)
   Эхо Навьей Стужи - Серебро Зимы / Eho Nav'ey Stuzhi - Serebro Zimy (2006)
   Память / Pamyat' (2006)
   Хладомрак / Hladomrak (split w/ Холод / Holod) (2008)
   Einsamkeit (2002)
   ... Des Waldes Ruh (2003)
   The Forgotten (2003)
   Frostland (2004)
   Lands of Ice and Snow (2007)
   Song of the Dead Loner EP (2010)
   Tundra (2012)

Notable Exceptions / Things of Interest

A list of releases that aren't totally Winter Synth, but are worthy of mention. The italic initials refer to other genres present (key below).


   Nordland (2000) da, mi
   Rain (2013) ds
Basarabian Hills
   Spirit of the Native Land (2012) bm
   A Breath of the Wide Valley (2012) bm
Hiemal (NZ)
   Demos I-IV (2010-12) bm
Хранитель Берега / Hranitel Berega
   Пантеизм / Pantheism (2009) nc, nf
   Iced Shore (2009) da
   Inquisition Symphony (2009) da
Light of Dawn
   Les Couleurs de l'Âube (2013) nc, ds?
   Plus Qu’un Rêve​.​.​. (2013) nc, ds?
   Serenity (2008) bm
   Night Spirit (2009) bm
   Welcome Winter (2009) bm
   They Awoke to the Scent of Spring (2012) bm
   Antarctica (2007) da
   The Great Wildfire (2012) da
Neve (Fr)
   Centigrade (2010) am, el
Neve (It)
   Il Rituale nella Foresta am, dr
Nebel Torvum
   Echoes of Nature (2003) ds
Old Forgotten Lands
   Equinox - split w/ Ancient Tundra (2009) da, nf
   Kvist Nord Og Ild (2000) ds
Saturn Form Essence
   Sirius (2010) da, dr
   Infra-red Space Meditations (2011) da, dr
   Ataraxis (2010) bm
Stylus (UK)
   Pluen Eira 7" (2000) am, el
This Mortal Night
   This Mortal Night (2012) nc
   Soul of Ice (2013) da, dr, no
Thy North
   demo tracks bm
Twilight of Emptiness
   Winter Melancholy (2013) da
   Antarctica - Glacial Lands (2012) da
Воронмрак / Voronmrak (Ravendark)
   discography (2005-2011) ds
   Winter Ambient Works (2010) da

Initials indicate other genres present.

am - Ambient
bm - Black Metal
da - Dark Ambient
dr - Drone
ds - Dungeon Synth
el - Electronica
mi - Martial Industrial
na - New Age
nc - Neoclassical
nf - Neofolk
no - Noise