Neoambient gains another stronghold. This genre — constructed of film soundtracks, Dead Can Dance style medievalism, neofolk and dark ambient with some structural ideas from black metal — rose out of the ashes of black metal, with bands like Beherit, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Lord Wind (Graveland), Danzig (Black Aria) and Burzum leading. On The Ways of Yore, Burzum integrates organic sounds like vocals and guitar into the cosmic ambient that defined the last album, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan.
The Ways of Yore creates within the same spectrum of music stretching between Dead Can Dance and Tangerine Dream that marked the previous album but with even more of an ambient feel. Songs rely on repetitive patterns with layers of instrumentation and song structures that shift to develop melody or make dramatic contrast enhance the imitation of their subjects. As in ancient Greek drama, poetry and music merge with sole musician Varg Vikernes‘ spoken and sung vocals guiding the progress of keyboard-sample-based music. Melodies refer to each other across the length of the album through similarity and evoke themes from past albums, culminating in “Emptiness” which previously made itself known as “Tomhet” on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the album that ended black metal by raising the bar above what others could imitate.
Somber moods prevail throughout this work which mixes melancholy with a sense of reverence for the past. Hearing Varg sing and develop harmonies with his voice shows room for expansion by this creative musician who previously let the guitars do the talking. Guitars show up on later tracks, distorted in the shuddering but mid-tone texture that gave Filosofem its otherworldly sound. Even though songs begin with simple note clusters, they expand to full melodies which match to a cadence and regulate atmosphere. The result demands attention through its conquest of empty space with the barest of sounds but over time reaches an intensity of expectation that resembles a ritual.
What makes people love neoambient is that it obliterates the pace of modernity and replaces it with a reverent, transcendental atmosphere. Burzum takes an approach that aims at a sound older than medieval, a primeval cave-dwelling primitivism that strips away the pretenses of developed culture. Its striking Nordic imagery, including songs to Odinn and Freyja, add to this mystery and the Burzum mythos as a whole. Escaping black metal, while controversial, granted Vikernes a chance to explore the development of melody in silence, and the result serves to expand atmosphere beyond our age to something that is both ancient and futuristic.
The movement that some are calling “neoambient” — a fusion of dark ambient, Conan soundtracks, and neofolk — generally arose out of the metal community. The classics of the genre converge on Lord Wind (Graveland), Burzum and Black Aria (Glenn Danzig). In addition, metal bands contributed to related forms of epic ambient, like Beherit (Electric Doom Synthesis) and Neptune Towers (Darkthrone). Newer entrants like Winglord and Hammemit explore different paths along similar directions.
But how do we trace the influences and evolution of this genre? Glenn Danzig (Misfits, Samhain, Danzig) launched a partial revolution in 1992 with his Conan-inspired Black Aria. Several years later, Burzum followed this with Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf, both of which used Dead Can Dance-themed ancient world music to frame the epic nature of its compositions, giving it a feel not just of Conan-styled epic conflict, but of a cultural basis.
There’s another influence lurking just a few years before Danzig — affirmed by Rob Darken as an influence on his music in Lord Wind — which was the music of Clannad as used in the BBC series Robin of Sherwood:
Burzum, the sometimes black metal and sometimes ambient project of Norwegian-descended French national Varg Vikernes, announced the release of new album The Ways of Yore on Byelobog Productions/Plastic Head for June 2, 2014. No further information is given about whether the album will continue with the post-modern black metal style of Umskiptar or the folkish dark ambient style of Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which was one of our “Best of 2013”.
Emerging from the same locus of intensity in Norway that produced Immortal, Mayhem, Emperor and Ildjarn, Burzum began in the early 1990s as a complex riff-narrative style of black metal with unnerving vocals that combines a feral animality with emotional sensitivity. Early works attempted to integrate elements of ambient music and create a sense of ritual designed to “stimulate the fantasy of mortals.” This era ended with Filosofem and composer Varg Vikernes being jailed for the murder of Euronymous of Mayhem.
During the incarceration years, Burzum shifted direction to full ambient with Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf. These albums allowed Vikernes to escape the monolithic sound of guitar/bass/drums and work with multiple instruments, culminating in the lush creative density of Hliðskjálf (which was revisited somewhat in Sôl austan, Mâni vestan).
After prison, Burzum entered a period of post-modern black metal influenced by droning indie-pop variants of NSBM such as Drudkh and other Eastern European bands. This music reflected pop song structures, a shoegaze-style approach to melody but with the longer phrasing — albeit recursive — of black metal like early Ancient, and extensive use of North mythology. It is unclear whether this period continues now with folkish dark ambient album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan in 2013 being a temporary detour, or whether Vikernes will launch Burzum into a fourth period with the more complex instrumentation and hence compositional density of that album and Hliðskjálf.
The crossover between metal and keyboard music is vast and well-documented to the point that the well-dressed death metal site simply ignores instrumentation and picks the keyboard bands that sound as evil and nihilistic as death metal. Whether that’s works by Neptune Towers, Beherit, Jaaportit, Goatcraft, Burzum or Danzig, evil metal has crossed over to occult keyboards.
Another entry into this world is Khand, made by lifelong metalhead and now synthesizer jockey Arillius. Describing his music as “cosmic ambient,” which overlaps with black ambient and dark ambient and neoclassical, Arillius started Khand back in 1998. Influenced by medieval, space and fantasy themes, Khand’s demo “Interstellar Dominions” was released in 2006 and immediately attracted an unusual but dedicated audience. Seven years later, Khand released The Fires of Celestial Ardour which is now available on tape for those who wish to order it.
The Fires of Celestial Ardour shows Khand having refined its style and narrowed its focus, which enables the band to train its resources on a certain type of deep space exploration sound. For those who want to experiment, the album is available as a free download from hi.arc.tow records.
Some years have passed since Emit was first featured in these pages, but the UK dark ambient/noise/black metal-influenced project returns in the coming year with the newest edition of its most recent work.
MM, the creator of Emit and Hammemit, took the time to answer a few of our questions. Not only is he an underground musician, but he is also a zine publisher, having produced three issues of the Anti-Art Manifesto zine during the later years of underground black metal.
Emit claims influence from a number of sources, including its constitutent genres of black metal, dark ambient, electro-acoustic music and noise. However, there are extra-musical influences as well, such as a rumored connection to the Order of Nine Angles and other mystical groups.
As metal seeks new influences and directions in which it can go without losing its essential metal-ness, it makes sense to observe how others are navigating paths through the chaos. Thus we are very proud to present an interview with MM of Emit/Hammemit.
So… Emit’s back. What made you decide to resurrect this project?
Typically, Emit resurrected itself because it began to irritatingly manifest unbidden within recording sessions for Hammemit. Rather than contaminate the pure spring waters of my youngest son with the angry attentions of the estranged eldest, something had to be done with it. They are of the same blood, but are of different temperaments. I now create music as Dr. Jekyll might.
What have you been doing in the intervening years between Emit’s cessation and resurrection? Do you view these as similar activities in spirit, even if not in sound?
Well, there is Hammemit. To inaccurately quote myself from an unpublished interview: in varying shades of subtly dark sound I have raised again to their former use and gestalt such structures of worship and diligent study as may currently be found ruined or in state of repair within a certain radius of my guitar, in spectral form. These existing in an ancient realm quite recently known as England that I understand from books and hearsay actually once existed and is become resurrect via such musics as mine own. It is the spirit of a dead realm I still sadly bear living memory to.
Of course they are similar in spirit as I speak with one voice, searching for the ultimate expression, faltering with words yet more fluent in music to express the mysteries I am bound to darkly perceive yet struggle to grasp since earliest memory.
What motivates you to make music? Is there a philosophy to your life?
The motivation is a sudden urgent and painful desire to attempt a capturing of the essence of mysterious elements of existence, because mere words fail me as already explained. Music fails me too, but comes closer to describing that experienced than any other medium I might think of using for such means.
My most fervent hope is to capture perfectly, like ancient insect in amber, this unexplainable inexplicable. I perhaps came closest to doing so with a Hammemit piece called “The Trod of the Darklie Faye,” but yet still remains so distant from the core of the thing.
If there is a philosophy to my life it would surely be the cause of many a smile in the Greek underworld, in the unlikely event they bothered to peer up from their dice games to take notice.
Your CD is coming out on Crucial Blast Records in 2014. Can you tell us what the new Emit will be like? What’s the title?
It has already been available on cassette from a label called Glorious North, originally a demo. However, such is its apparent accomplishment that it deserves releasing again with full album status, expanded tastefully where necessary (I mean no bonus tracks).
The title is not quite borrowed from a compendium of M.R. James short stories, Spectre Music of an Antiquary. The cover (for the CD) is a photographically recorded arrangement of what “might” be called necrotic artifacts, of varying degrees of relevance to the music in question. Items with history and spectres of their own tied to them. In any case, not just some accidental collection of random rubbish as can often be seen elsewhere on album covers belonging to profane Public House crawling musicians with time and nothing else to kill.
It is musically comprised of bio-mechanically haunted vignettes, with a subtle 1980s film soundtrack aftertaste.
How do you think the metal community has changed between the last Emit and the next?
My connection to and interaction with any kind of music community or movement was always minimal. This not being by choice and I sometimes in the past regretted that fact. However I realise now in the light of maturity I was happier that way. I remain a writer of letters (and emails), mostly to people I have known a long while. Most of these people, if not all, bear the same opinion as myself, namely that there is little that such a community can offer people like us and increasingly so. The majority of those comprising these communities have no spirit or panache and wish for acceptance.
What’s next for Emit, and for you as a musician, after this album? Tour? More recordings?
A tour is unlikely to say the least. But some more live examples should be made where possible. More recordings are not out of the question, but only if there be a violent urge to do so. I never record anything for the sake of making a “new” recording. Especially as everything I have ever committed to tape (or .WAV file nowadays) has already been given birth in some form or other many hundred years previous. Even if it took the shape of a church or priest hole rather than unpopular song.
Eric Syre, a musician from French Canada, is best known perhaps for his work with TheSyre or Pohjast. However, he lives a double life. He is also an industrial/ambient musician recording under the name Unlife.
Unlife comes in two flavors. The first is a more Ministry-influenced version, while the second is almost pure Beherit Electric Doom Synthesis worship. For this reviewer, the first was actually the more intense because it is near completion as a unity of aesthetic and content. The newer material struggles with a bit of self-definition and because of this loss of familiarity, is more awkward but nonetheless compelling.
Ossuary (2005) uses guitars and vocals in a more traditional industrial-metal hybrid atmosphere and shows an influence not only of Ministry, but the generation before (Killing Joke) and lighter influence from the generation after (Godflesh). Songs emphasize heavy, mechanical beats over which Syre loosens up his pipes to give a melodic underpinning to what is otherwise purely “industrial” in the old sense, meaning it sounds like a cross between a factory and a war set to post-punk music.
Unlife (2007) on the other hand is all electronic. There is no attempt to fit songs into a traditional rock framework or imitation of its instrumentation, and cut free, the music experiments a great deal more with song form and texture. Clearly the largest influence here is Electric Doom Synthesis, which also gets alluded to if not outright quoted in a few of the songs, but this is in loving tribute and not some attempt to ride coattails. This longer work seems too simple at first, but suspends belief over time, and introduces a ritual trance mindset in the listener.
It’s our hope here at DeathMetal.org that Mr. Syre continues to develop these projects or at least the direction he was pursuing with both of these releases. His work on Ossuary more captures the power of his singing and sense of dynamics than TheSyre was able to, and Unlife shows us the potential of his composition as a viral stream of ideas alone.
Burzum composer Varg Vikernes has posted a “goodbye” to his old self as a metal composer and in a sentimental posting, announced his retirement from metal and his intent to pursue ambient music alone.
Burzum appeared from nowhere in 1991 with a demo tape made up of a dozen guitars-and-bass-only tracks in rehearsal quality. I made a few more or less successful metal albums, but they all always included at least some ambient music. With time I moved further and further away from metal, and today only the ambient music remains. Today (2013) I think I am done playing metal music for good.
Many of you followed Burzum through the years, some even from the beginning, and I think metal-Burzum deserves a proper “good bye”. So, just like I started out I will finish metal-Burzum with a guitars-and-bass-only track in rehearsal quality. “Back to the Shadows” is made up of the last metal riffs I ever made (in 2012). It was never released in any way, or recorded (beyond what you hear here), and it will not either — beyond this short “video”.
Take it for what it is; a sentimental good bye to metal-Burzum.
The music is playing with an image of the 17 year-old me, taken from the time when some of the first Burzum tracks were made. You can see this track as a good bye to that fellow too.
For those of us who have been watching Burzum and Vikernes over the years, this is a welcome development. Heavy metal is beautiful but it will always be attached to popular conceptions of entertainment. Ambient music, especially complex material, gets treated as culture.
While we hope to change that perception of metal and to have it be studied as art and part of culture, that’s an uphill battle when the fans routinely rush to gimmick bands and depthless clones in a hope to be part of the next popular trend.
Either way, this bodes well for more interesting compositions in Burzum’s future.
In the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.
While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.
Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.
Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.
A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.
This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.
Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.
A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.
Part of being metal is to be un-metal and to follow projects in a related spirit that do not necessarily use screaming guitars, blasting drums, howling guttural vocals and lyrics about doom.
Some in fact are more ambient. Take for example New England’s Khand, a project band from members of well-known right coast black metal bands, which works in the dark ambient genre but with its own twist that more resembles the classics of psychedelic and cosmic ambient music.
The Fires of Celestial Ardour, released via Hi.Arc.Tow as a GPL-licensed free download, is “all over the place stylistically, but it’s all done with a fantasy/sci-fi mindset,” according to Khand creator Arillius.
Touting itself as music for fans of Tangerine Dream, RPG music, Dead Can Dance, Mortiis, Vangelis, Lord Wind, Winglord and related epic dark ambient projects, Khand is more playful than the norm but creates an atmosphere not of darkness, but of great possibility in which darkness and light are not destinations but means to an end.
“I keep this project all low-fi and try not to use any keyboards, samples or programs that came out post-2000,” said Arillius, who is famed in north eastern black metal circles for his unusual lifestyle. He lives and records in a houseboat without windows anchored offshore, and much of his music reflects the motion of waves, the call of seagulls, and the occasional bloated corpse brushing up against the hull. Often he goes for months without human contact except to post misanthropic screeds on his Facebook Page.
For those who like ambient, but like it dark, and like dark ambient, but like it to have a range of emotions beyond “alone in my dark room with a sword,” Khand provides a perfect listening experience that is also free of charge.