Grimrik – Eisreich (Review)

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Title: Eisreich

Artist: Grimrik

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dark Ambient

Year: 2014

Country: Germany

Label: Deivlforst Records

Links: http://deivlforst.bandcamp.com/album/eisreich

Music that has a strong concept behind it has always been more impressive to me. Concepts allow music to become more focused and creatively express the subjects and ideas in musical form. This is especially important with instrumental music, since there are no lyrics or vocals present to represent the ideas; the music itself is solely responsible for acting as a manifestation of the subjects involved.

Grimrik does just that with the debut album Eisreich. The liner notes of the album describe the concept as follows: “The music of GRIMRIK is inspired by the arctic / polar myth. The subject of this first album is the descending of the impalpable ethereal ancestors of the primordial race of mankind”. The album truly embodies this concept with minimalistic dark ambient that creates a cold, mysterious atmosphere. The first two tracks are especially impressive. The opening track ‘Der astrale Ursprung (Teil I)’ begins with the tolling of a single synthesized note, with an accompanying melody eventually joining in. I view this as the “birth” of the ancient race described in the concept, the cold minimal notes expressing the primordial beginning of life. When track two ‘Der astrale Ursprung (Teil II)’ begins, the notes from the first track continue, eventually being accompanied by additional synth pads and melodies. The production and mastering of this album is quite impressive; not only is the music crystal clear (which gives the notes an airy, icy quality), but Grimrik utilizes other effects (such as the increase of volume as track two builds up) to enhance the dramatic effect of the songs. The production is definitely one highlight of the album, and it is clear that a lot of time and attention to detail went into the mastering. By the time the volume reaches it’s maximum level and all instruments are playing in ‘Der astrale Urpsprung (Teil II), I understand the underlining idea behind the song; the complete realization of the ethereal ancestors of the artic past coming into being.

As anyone who reads this zine knows, I am obsessed with the power that old synthesizers create. The synth sounds used by Grimrik pulsate with electronic life, while at the same time maintain a dark and cold feeling. The combination of synth pads and instruments used are consistent, which allows the entire album to flow in a logical direction; no song seems out of place. The album moves forward evoking mental images of silent stars gleaming atop the slow moving glaciers of the arctic, where mysteries have been forgotten over time.

Another highlight of the album is the excellent cover of Tomhet by Burzum (here renamed Leere to match the German song titles). Again, Grimrik continues in a consistent fashion with this cover song by utilizing similar synth sounds used on the original songs. The cover song fits in with the rest of the album and has it’s own unique style without wandering too far from the original. Of the many Burzum cover songs I’ve heard, this is certainly one of the best and most unique. The cover song was the perfect way to end this obscure album of primordial dark ambient.

I highly recommend this album to be listened to through headphones on solitary nights, when you wish to escape into the secrets of the unknown past.

Forgotten Pathways (Interview)

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Forgotten Pathways is a project that means a lot to me. When I first began to explore the Dungeon Synth genre, the “Shrouded in Mystery” demo really stood out for me, and to this day is still my favorite underground Dungeon Synth release of the 90’s. 18 years after the project’s creation, mastermind Cedric Hommel is back and working on new material. This interview with Barbarian Skull is one of the only Forgotten Pathways interviews in existence, and as far as I have discovered the only English interview published online.

  • Greetings! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with Barbarian Skull. Tell us what inspired you to create Forgotten Pathways; what year did you come up with the idea of the project, and what was your main motivation?

 

The pleasure is all mine, thank you for inviting me to this interview.

I started Forgotten Pathways in 1997; I was heavily into reading folk tales and fantasy back then, while listening to music, mostly (Black) Metal and medieval music. So that became more or less the aim of my music – to compose music, that tells of old tales, ancient tragedies and forgotten heroes. It should as well be perfect to accompany the listener while reading, and also be able to work on its own, leading the listener on „Forgotten Pathways“ into a strange, yet maybe somehow familiar world, hopefully targeting on the subconsiousness the way that legends and fairy tales also do.

 

  • The Shrouded In Mystery is my favorite obscure Dungeon Synth release of the 90’s, and many fans regard it as a cult classic of the genre. Can you tell us more about recording the demo? How did fans react to the demo when it was first released?

 

I’m glad that „Shrouded In Mystery“ still circulates and people still listen to it. Honestly this was quite a surprise for me, and I only found out about that when I received a few emails by listeners inquiring about new material. I recorded the demo on a cheap synthesizer, one of those that have about 100 onboard sounds and have built-in space to record own songs and rhythms. I just tried to make the best out of that, which meant to be recording single tracks over and over again, as every mistake would render the current take useless (there was no option to correct and edit the tracks). That’s also the reason why some of the drum tracks are a bit bumpy. The whispering vocals on „In Caverns Deep“, I recorded on a cassette player, and then played that cassette in a walkman thru the keyboard aux input while recording the whole song via the keyboard outputs on cassette. So you see, it was a pretty basic setup…

As for reactions, they were generally positive, though not ecstatic. People that ordered the tape mostly didn’t provide feedback (which is not uncommon, I guess), but I did some interviews and had several positive demo reviews.

 

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  • Can you please explain the meaning or concept behind the songs “Dyfed” and “Wuduaelfen”?

 

Dyfed was a celtic kingdom, located in nowadays Wales. One of its kings was Pryderi, son of Pwyll, under whose rule the kingdom flourished. He got killed later, but I wanted to depict a festive scenery of the Early Middle Ages when he was still alive and enjoying himself. Marching drums hint of war, as many battles had to be fought to maintain his rule.

„Wuduaelfen“ is a Germanic term, meaning „Wood Elves“. The Icelandic skald Snorri Sturluson wrote about Svartalfheim, home of the „Black Elves“, whereas in Nordish mythology one of the nine worlds is „Alfheim“, home of the „Light Elves“. The Wood Elves then might have been roaming the woods of Midgard (our worlds), which I found interesting to make a song about. I tried to link that magic in our world with the beauty of tranquil and supernatural woods in my music, so the instrumentation in this song is based on woodwinds accordingly.

 

  • Dungeon Synth music is primarily made by and listened to by Metal fans. What links do you see between metal and synthesized medieval music?

 

Yes, exactly. I think there are several reasons for this. For one, it is a counterpart to the power and aggression of Metal, but in some cases the atmosphere is similar. Burzum for example had a mix of Black Metal and Ambient tracks on the earlier albums, and there are plenty of bands that used keyboards and medieval elements to intensify the atmosphere of the subjects their music is about.

Often, Black Metal is about Satanism and Christianity, a battle that was fiercely fought in the Dark Ages, where Satan was believed to be a real demonic entity, where „black“ monks wrote whole books about sorcery and the battalions of Hell, and „white“ monks served a church that tortured and killed heretics and infidels. Of course similar themes can be found in every Metal genre since the beginning, be it Pagan/Viking Metal, Power Metal or even the old-school bands like Black Sabbath.

 

  • What other dungeon synth/ambient projects were you listening to at the time of the recording of Shrouded In Mystery? Which projects had the most influence on you?

 

As so often, early Mortiis was one of the first projects I listened to, which certainly has its great moments, but I found it too uniform in the long run. Other projects were mostly from the Ritual and Ambient genre, such as Raison d’Etre, Aghast or Arcana. At that time, I was more into Black Metal combined with non-cheesy keyboard elements, such as Burzum and Abigor, and Pagan Metal. What really blew my mind were Summoning, who for me made a perfect blend of Metal and epic synthesized soundscapes. These, along with actual medieval music and folk, and also the still marvelous soundtrack of „Conan The Barbarian“ were my main inspiration back then, I think (I cannot rely on my own memories, though, as it’s been nearly 20 years…).

 

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  • You have mentioned that you are working on new material for Forgotten Pathways. What can fans of the demo expect with the new music? Do you ever plan on re-releasing the Shrouded In Mystery demo?

 

Yes, I’m currently working on my new release, which will be out this year. It will be a full-length album, available on CD and digitally, and most likely also on vinyl and tape. As I will financing this by myself, I’ll have to see about the double vinyl release, though.

The album has no working title yet, but is mainly finished. I’m right now still composing a few tracks, to decide which one will be on the release and which will be possible bonus tracks or B-Sides.

Its main concept this time is focused on folk and fairy tales. These mostly have strong psychological and moral references, covering sin, murder, sexuality and such, as well as love, loyalty, and hope. Also, lots of these old tales are really dire, gruesome and saddening.

Muscially, you can expect a Forgotten Pathways album at its best! OK, I’m advertising here… No really, I’m confident about the new tracks. They are more complex than the old songs, more dynamic and in part also darker. I also played a few „real“ instruments such as dulcimer and mandolin, and field recordings I made in the wild, to create large soundscapes that add to the ambience. There are a lot of melodies that will stick in your head, but maybe that’s just me, because I naturally listen to my songs myself a lot while working on them. I think though, that you’ll definitely find they’re still „Forgotten Pathways“.

About re-releasing „Shrouded In Mystery“: Yes, I think so. I’m not yet sure about the way I will do that, but I could think of a double album – the old tracks, being remastered and accompanied by a few unreleased tracks (see below), as well as the old tracks being re-recorded and maybe changed a bit, in a way of „before-after“.

It might take a while though, as I have several ideas for further albums, so we’ll see what I will do first.

 

  • Have any record labels expressed interest in releasing Forgotten Pathways material?

 

No. But I have never been looking for a partnership with a record label myself. Instead, I released the demo tape on my own tape label „Irrlichter Records“ back then, and most likely will do the same with the new album. I tend towards keeping things in my own hands, but who knows, maybe this will change.

If there was a favourite label I’d be on, it would’ve been Cold Meat Industry, but unfortunately that closed down only recently.

I found out, though, that some guy from New York and/or Amsterdam pirated the demo tape as a release of his own tape label lately, which is somewhere between flattering and weird.

 

  • The Forgotten Pathways demo featured keyboard and synthesizer sounds that were typical during the 90’s. For some fans (like myself), this is part of the appeal behind the project; creating an old, mysterious sound. Do you plan on using the same or similar instruments and equipment for new Forgotten Pathways material?

 

No, that is definitely not the case anymore. I sold the old keyboard years ago, and have been making music on the computer ever since. I know what you mean concerning the certain style of early 90s synthesizer sound, on the other hand I found this to be quite limiting. Using a sequencing program provides not only better sounding samples, but offers much more possibilities to use effects, to fine-tune, to work more complex. Using the keyboard wasn’t so much a choice of sound or style, but more one of finances and talent.

 

  • Is there any unreleased Forgotten Pathways material from the 90’s that was not included on Shrouded In Mystery?

 

There is indeed, but it’s not much. I planned a second demo shortly after the first one, which should’ve become a concept demo on the Beowulf Saga. I never finished that, so there’s only 2 or 3 songs from that time.

There are several other tracks from later on which were also unreleased, but these are quite different from the early demo as well as the new material.

 

  • What other music projects are you involved in?

 

None, apart of playing guitar in a Viking Metal band I just-for-fun started with a few friends almost 20 years ago (and which then died almost 20 years ago). In my professional life,  I’m doing sound design for movies, which is a bit related and influences my music, also.

 

  • The Dungeon Synth genre has experienced somewhat of a revival over the last few years, with more projects than ever before appearing and releasing demos. Do you follow the modern day Dungeon Synth “scene”?

 

No, not at all. I honestly didn’t even know about that, and thought that Dungeon Synth was a thing of the 90s, and even would not have thought there is an existing scene. It seems that I  have some things to catch up with…

 

  • Thank you again for taking the time to do this interview! Any last words are yours.

 

Thanks to you, Nate! Last words? I want to thank all those that still hold my old demo tape in high regard, that was a very positive surprise for me. I’m looking forward to the release of the album, and think it will make up for 17 years of silence. I’ll be reworking my website soon, so check there for news, or on facebook, or here on Barbarian Skull. Thanks!

 

 

Foglord – Journey of the Spirits (Review)

Foglord - Journey of the Spirits - cover

Title: Journey of the Spirits

Artist: Foglord

Rating: 4 / 5

Genre: Dungeon Synth

Year: 2014

Country: USA

Label: Self-released

Links: https://foglord.bandcamp.com/album/journey-of-the-spirits

Foglord is a relatively new Dungeon Synth project from the United States, who in the span of just a couple of years has released three great full length albums. The first album New Realms and Forgotten Lands was lo-fi dark ambient with medieval and folk motifs, with the second release In the Essence of Astral Solitude showcasing an even stronger dark ambient influence. Both of these releases are quality albums that can easily hold their place in any ambient fan’s collection.

The newest album Journey of the Spirits takes Foglord’s style a step further. While Mortiis has always been an influence, this album truly embodies the feeling of the early Mortiis releases without sounding like a boring or cheap imitation. The use of brass and percussion to build up the songs is excellent and highly effective (listen to the ending of the intro song Dawn’s Embrace, or the excellent outro to the song Return of the Tree Spirit before the strings fade the song out). Both of the aforementioned songs demonstrate Foglord’s unique ability to create an epic feeling while still maintaining the airy atmosphere which gives the songs a dreamlike quality.

Just listen to a track such as A Woodland Tale and compare it with Foglord’s first album and you will truly get a sense of the composer’s progression as a songwriter. This is not meant as criticism for the earlier albums, but I feel the songs on Journey of the Spirits represent Foglord coming into form and manifesting in the way that completely captures the essence that the composer was reaching for since the beginning. The song marches forward with crystalline keys played in a baroque manner over simple flute melodies, with brass and what I believe is a mouth harp acting as percussion. This is possibly the most complex Foglord song to date, demonstrating the composer’s ability to write more technical material without losing focus on atmosphere.

There are subtle elements throughout the songs which further add to their quality. For example, the song Gazing into the Veil of Fog features the sound of howling wolves in the background. The wolves are not placed at random, and come into the song at just the right moment to properly add atmosphere, not to mention are mixed into the track at the correct volume so that they are not overbearing and drown out the synth. Foglord also mentioned on their Facebook page that the song Return of the Tree Spirit was inspired by an actual dream the composer had of a spirit which spoke to him through a tree in a forest. These may just be subtle elements, but the music is enhanced by their presence. These are songs with real inspiration and purpose; to enter a dream world where the listener ventures through an endless, unknown forest.

This is by far the most mature and enjoyable Foglord release to date. It has accompanied me through many hours of reading books on pagan history, mythology, and epic fantasy. Every fan of Dungeon Synth should give this release a listen, and keep a close eye on Foglord in the future, as it seems that the music is only improving with each release.