I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about a certain quirk of my taste in music. As 2016 is in its last quarter, I’ve slowly started to compile a list of my favorite albums of the year, and in doing so, I’ve noticed something in the make up of that list that I never really took into consideration. That something is that I really love atmospheric music, don’t I? Without spoiling too much of the list, the new records from Ulver, clipping., and Swans are all present on my list, all albums that take a significant portion of their runtime concentrating on mood. So much of what I’ve been listening to recently, from the post-rock that I go on and on about to some of minimalist classical music that I’ve been dipping my toes into, has at least several of its eggs in the drawn-out ambience basket, and I think I’ve finally figured out why I’ve developed such a predilection for this area of music. The answer is actually quite simple; I’m quite the night owl. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious stress relief mechanism or simple insomnia, but for the past year or so, I often find myself taking late night walks in the surrounding suburbia. And of course I take my headphones with me. I have a bit of an automatic response to fit whatever music I’m listening to to the conditions I’m in. So, isolated walks at night is perfect for the ambience that is funneling into my ears.
I think I’ve found a record that truly encapsulates that idea like no other piece of music this year, and that’s the debut record from Darkher, Realms. This is a one-woman project, and it’s one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I’ve heard all year. To be honest, I decided to give this album a shot based purely on the badass cover art, which perfectly reflects the music that lies behind it. It’s an empty, sepia toned field with a single figure standing in the middle, cloak blowing in the wind, her hair obscuring her face, the high contrast making it look like she’s absorbing all the light around her. On paper it sounds like just about every other nineties Norwegian black metal album cover, but the way this shot conveys the desolation contained within is captivating.
But enough about my gothy aesthetic fetish, what does this record sound like? I’ve seen this woman’s work described as doom metal, but I don’t think that’s really all that applicable in this case. I usually think of modern doom metal in three different categories, the first being the classic rock inspired Black Sabbath worshipers like The Sword, the drugged out, psychedelic yet crushing end of the genre with bands like Electric Wizard, and then there’s the ponderously slow, suffocatingly depressive style that this record, if one can even call it a doom metal record, inhabits. But the overall impression I got is not really that much metal, but that of extremely dark neo-folk with occasional flares of doomy riffs. If there’s any adjective that can be used to describe this, it’s lumbering. One thing is totally consistent across this album, and that’s fact that the tempo never really gets above 100 bpm, and there’s a colossal sense of weight to it even in it’s quietist moments. The louder portions are heavy but not necessarily all that aggressive. There’s a carefully maintained poise at work here that allows the despair to really fester.
But all the instrumentation is just a backing to the real standout feature of the record, and that’s Jayn Wissenberg’s voice. Put bluntly, this woman has an absolutely gorgeous voice. It gives these slow, dirge-like songs an extra layer of creepiness to hear her subtly trembling singing echoing across the soundscape. The lyrics are of course an album-long meditation on death and the afterlife, and the quiver in her voice giving the impression that this is all very real to her, or at least to the protagonist of the songs she’s written. This juxtaposition of the beautiful and chilling is the perfect way to go about this theme, reflecting the possible conflicting emotions surrounding the end, and what, if anything, comes after. I think a lot of people will draw comparisons between Darkher and Chelsea Wolfe, and I can definitely see that, but whereas Wolfe has an industrial vibe permeating most of her work, Realms is a lot earthier. Acoustic guitar and strings play a vital role here, and you can almost hear the crunching leaves below your feet as this record marches along, Wissenberg’s voice emulating the chill breeze. If Chelsea Wolfe’s 2015 record Abyss was an abandoned industrial yard, Realms is a still forest during the winter under an overcast sky. Don’t get me wrong, this is in my opinion a beautiful record, but in a more nineteenth century gothic sort-of-way, stately but imposing.
-Buried Pt. II
Released on August 19th, 2016, on Prophecy Productions