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.