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

Winter Synth - Introduction and Definition

Winter Synth is music that is inspired by, and reflects the elemental forces of nature. Having fought your way out from the oppressive confines of the dungeon, you are free to wander the open landscape, and meditate upon its wild beauty. From the ice-blasted wildernesses, through the ancient forests, to the epic grandeur of the mist-wreathed mountains.

I have coined the term "Winter Synth" to help classify this area of music, and to differentiate it from other related areas of music with which it often gets confused (see below). I had originally intended to call it "Nature Synth"; unfortunately however, this can be abbreviated to "NS", which is also a common abbreviation for National Socialism, and I wanted to avoid any such confusion. Alternate names that I considered were "Landscape Synth", "Ice Synth" and  "Forest Synth", but I think "Winter Synth" has the best flow, even if it is a little restrictive in theme.


So how to define "Winter Synth"? Well, similarly to "Dungeon Synth", it is distinct from the more general term "Dark Ambient". Let's establish these genres:

"Dark Ambient" is often used as an umbrella term for all of these styles, however in its purest form it focusses on subtle textures and soundscapes, creating a less musical approach by utilising low rumbles, drones, clankings, creakings, whispers etc.

"Dungeon Synth" tends to be less texture-based, with the focus being on retro-sounding synths creating epic medieval/fantasy-inspired music, frequently utilising brash synthesized orchestration. The music usually has an oppressive and closed-in feel, as of a castle or dungeon (hence the name), or of vast armies marching to war. There is often an inherent naive or amateurish quality that adds to the "retro" charm.

"Winter Synth" tends to have a more open expansive feel, with the hypnotic quality of an open landscape. By its nature it is slightly more minimalistic than Dungeon Synth, and as such there is theoretically a greater overlap into the realms of dark ambient and drone. The most common themes are snow, ice, forests and mountains.