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Album: Svederna- Härd

Härd | Svederna

For a non-Swedish speaker, you might be mislead by the umlaut in Härd without a first impression into thinking this might be some blackened take on Motörhead. Singing in their native Swedish, Svederna’s third full length translates to “hearth”, the place where a fire burns. In the band’s own words this acts as a metaphor “for a sacred place where everything melts and only the truth remains”. For the unfamiliar, a quick way to describe their sound is the 90’s black metal of their homeland, with a subtle hint speed metal technique and the crystalline, sharp production of Swedish hardcore such as Disfear and Driller Killer.

Whilst the latter influences appear only minor, they are fitting for a style of music where a founding figure, Euronymous of Mayhem, sought inspiration from hardcore towards foundational black metal as he saw it as emblematic of a will to be “true” towards a set of principles and stylistic templates. Anti-authoritarianism and resistance to commercial and technological control appears to be the center of their lyrical content. Whilst this would seem contrary to the tropes of what is typically associated with black metal, the lyrics embrace a poetic and metaphorical quality where worldviews and opinions can be uniquely encoded into the language of the genre.

This reflects the production values, which emphasizes little in terms of “atmosphere” but is meaty, direct and compact. There is an overall “flat” tone to Härd that can be easily compared to Arckanum’s Fran Marder album. Melodies are constantly vibrant and full of momentum, songs weaved together in a manner that evokes albums such as Dawn’s Nær sólen gar niþer for evogher, Throne Of Ahaz’s Nifelheim and Mörk Gryning’s Tusen år har gått.

Härd is the type of record that takes more than one listen to fully appreciate. It is of a lyrical and ideological milieu that may not please aficionados of the more typically occult and mythological themes associated with the genre. It certainly cannot be accused of being untrue to form, as this is a solid and engaging work of riff based, fluid songwriting. It is “orthodox” not in the themes explored, but in that it evokes some of the more overlooked works of Swedish black metal.

https://svederna.bandcamp.com/

 

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EP: Lament Cityscape- The Pulsing Wet

The Pulsing Wet | Lament Cityscape

True to the word “wet”, Lament Cityscape use reverb and distortion to create a vast sonic pool out of simple influences and ideas. Building on various tropes associated with “atmospheric sludge”, the Oakland, CA duo create a pleasantly contrasting and intense dynamic throughout this three song EP. 

Heavy bass guitar lines are the cement that binds all the other components together, made clear with catchy opener “Lustre”, whilst “Bleedback Loop” is more tense, grinding, and foreboding. Whilst stylistically in the same vein, closer “The Great Reveal” comes across as the most soothing of the three songs.

The melodic foundation are cemented in slow, heavy bass runs which are characteristic of classic sludge from Flipper, and percussion which evokes both the atavism of Neurosis and the urban dystopianism of Godflesh. Not unlike The Angelic Process, textures and layers have the uncanny quality of being rich in distortion yet lush and ethereal.

More than simply just being an outfit that set out to create an “ambience” or a “mood”, Lament Cityscape know how to build them, with an abundance of suspense. Like the best work of Jesu, The Pulsing Wet achieves a juxtaposed distinction of sounding viscerally warm, yet cohesive and endearing.

https://lamentcityscape.bandcamp.com/album/the-pulsing-wet

 

Album: Witches Hammer- Damnation Is My Salvation

Damnation Is My Salvation | Nuclear War Now! Productions

A truly cult band, Witches Hammer not only have a solid bunch of early demos and EP’s from the mid to late 1980’s, but also a very authentic, overlooked relevance in the genealogy of extreme metal. Having had their back catalogue reissued on various compilations, the Canadians have since reformed in 2018. “Damnation Is My Salvation” finally marks their full length debut on Nuclear War Now! productions.

When speaking of the unsung relevance of Witches Hammer, it is necessary to point out that their lead member and guitarist Marco Banco would also feature in the line up of Blasphemy that would unleash the groundbreaking, grinding black metal opus Fallen Angel Of Doom. Having released their early output before Blasphemy, it is quite clear that the character of Witches Hammer’s sound filtered itself through to the Ross Bay Cult in a more streamlined, brutal manner.

Their early material of Witches Hammer was highly indicative of young musicians whose output had a lot in common with early work by fellow Canadian bands Razor, Exciter and Sacrifice. On Damnation Is My Salvation, their original approach is updated through the filter of foundational death/black metal, eschewing the more formative punk and NWOBHM inspired characteristics that many speed/thrash bands were attempting to shrug off in lieu of a more “extreme” sound that would come to define fledgling waves of underground metal.

The musical approach has modernized and matured, but certainly not compromised. The overall production of the guitars is comparable to what one would expect from on an Angelcorpse album; full of clarity and bite, less compressed but channeling the aggression and attitude of the playing sincerely. Drums pound frenetically and occasionally spill in and out of blastbeats, and vocals are a simple but effective rasp with plenty of echo applied.

Old tracks “Frozen God”, “Witches Hammer” and “Deadly Mantis” are re-recorded in a manner which reflects their new approach. Visceral opener “Across Azeroth”, the albums’s title track and the epic closer “Nine Pillars” highlight an intense, frenetic and highly appeasing album. Along with long overdue “debuts” such as Goreaphobia’s Mortal Repulsion and Profanatica’s Profanatitas De Domonatia, Damnation Is My Salvation holds its ground and deserves some of the same reverence that is granted to Canadian classics such as Strappado (Slaughter) and None Shall Defy (Infernal Majesty).

https://nuclearwarnowproductions.bandcamp.com/album/damnation-is-my-salvation

 

Album: Old Tower- The Last Eidolon

The Last Eidolon | Old Tower

Spread over three long pieces (“Loremaster”, “Shadow Over Thy Kingdom”, “The Fallen One”), each track on The Last Eidolon is pieced out into different movements. Whilst dungeon synth is a form of music where the artists have a medievalist/fantasy approach in common, this Dutch one man project of The Specter leans more toward the influence of dark ambient music.

For the reviewer and the trained listener, then a clear and discernible influence is the dreamscapes of early Mortiis, something that is very clear in the overall composition and weaving together of different pieces. Whilst Mortiis and some of his Norwegian contemporaries seemed quite fond of their Roland and Casio synthesizers, Old Tower seems to make versatile use of a well treated, analogue sounding digital audio workstation.

There is a very clear attention to texture, and compared to many contemporaries in dungeon synth, Old Tower have less in the way of “cheese”. The dark ambient influence adds a lot of weight to this; it is highly comparable to Lustmord’s Heresy and his collaborative album with Robert Rich, Stalker. There appears to be a more occult and alchemical twist rather than a fiction/fantasy bent to Old Tower’s themes, a world and series of concepts of its makers own doing.

The use of electronic strings and orchestral percussives is reminiscent of Endura, particularly the albums Black Eden and Great God Pan. Not unlike Romantic composers of old, pieces often maintain a constant suspense, building up and giving way to a central melody that becomes the memorable centerpiece that binds the whole work together. The Last Eidolon is a great sonic synthesis of the neoclassical fringes of post-industrial music with the now classic motifs of mid-90’s dungeon synth.

https://oldtower.bandcamp.com/

 

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Album: Circle Of Ouroborus- Viimeinen Juoksu

Circle of Ouroborus - Viimeinen Juoksu | His Wounds

Finnish duo Circle Of Ouroborus have left an immense body of work behind them since forming in 2004. Amidst an abundance of splits, demos and EP’s, Viimeinen Jouksu is their 18th full length. With eight tracks spanning just over half an hour, and over an exhaustive discography, their most palatable and accessible material.

Whilst their aesthetic approach is immediately identifiable with black metal, they have brought the direct influence of post-punk and post-rock into their blend, with plenty of tonal experimentation. Rather than use these approaches in a manner that aims to come across as purposely crowd-pleasing and acceptable a la Deafheaven or Alcest, there is a genuine “outsider” character to Circle Of Ouroborus that distinguishes them from all other peers.

Melodic, hypnotic, tense and with a lo-fi, hallucinogenic production, Viimeinen Jouksu is somewhat more refined than on previous work, with a much sharper, less distant and “washed out” sound than on previous material by the Finns. Vocals are a cross between the shrieked standard of black metal and a half-sung wail with a “drowned” echo effect on the voice.

Guitars have a rugged atmospheric tone; and some of the more trebly riffs are typical  of the more traditionally “black metal” themed aspect of the Circle Of Ouroborus approach. You could compare the sound to “Forgotten Legends” by Drudkh or the clean instrumental passages of Forest or Branikald re-imagined through a noise rock filter of harmonious distortion.

Catchy leads, harmonies and the occasional arpeggio are abundant, and each song has an essential component to it that makes it “click”, whilst a throbbing bass plays complimentary, fluid lines that create their own space beneath the hazy wave of guitar. The overall groove coupled with the production have plenty in common with the barren, oppressive and atavistic atmospheres that Killing Joke immortalized on What’s This For? through to Fire Dances.

The spatial qualities of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures are also a definite reference point, and one could easily imagine how a minimal, stripped down take on the Cure’s Disintegration might sound if it were approached with the same timbre that can be found on the Grymyrk and Trondertun demos of cult Norwegian act Thorns. Highlights are constant, especially on tracks such as “Irti”, “Varjonhauta”, which help make Viimeinen Juoksu an enthralling and engaging experience.

https://hiswounds.bandcamp.com/album/circle-of-ouroborus-viimeinen-juoksu

Album: Shitfucker- Sex With Dead Body

Degenerate sex rockers Shitfucker deliver their second full length after 2013’s Suck Cocks In Hell. They sport an appearance and aesthetic that resembles the New York Dolls if they were extras in the sleazy William Friedkin flick Cruising. True to this perverted and ugly facade, the Detroit trio play a style that would easily entertain those who happily digest anything that fits the “black thrash”, “black ‘n’ roll” or “black crust” milieu.

This is an area that has enjoyed a particular niche of popularity that corresponds with the increasingly punk influenced direction that Darkthrone took since the mid noughties. Emerging at the same time that the Norwegians took a more purposely “retro” turn, Shitfucker can be compared to fellow US outfit Midnight.

Often, I find very little depth in a lot of music that sounds like this, as it’s usually little more than a regurgitation of something that was already laid out by Motorhead and Venom, but lacking any real spark or inspiration. Shitfucker however manage to take something that’s derivative and use individual influences to make a good mark. There are marked changes since their debut full length Suck Cocks In Hell that develop from where they left off.

The musical influences on Sex With Dead Body are pretty much the same as they always have been, and their macabre, slimy, camp preoccupation with death, sex, torture and murder is true to form. The production is still primitive and raw, but individually each of the instruments have more a more sharp tonal clarity, all separate from each other in the mix. Amidst what is still a scuzzy yet more direct sound is a big emphasis on distortion and fuzz pedals with the guitars.

The change in production makes the songs stand out more clearly. Songs are rendered catchier as a result, as if Nunslaughter channeled KISS and the more “bubblegum” elements of GG Allin’s earlier career. The sense of technique is very much inspired by GISM, and the guitar technique and lead playing can be compared to Randy Uchida. Additionally the tonal progression between Suck Cocks In Hell is and Sex With Dead Body not unlike the jump in clarity made by the Japanese legends from Detestation to M.A.N.

The album is catchy for the most part, held together by an intro and outro titled “Naked Came The Strangler”, a blatant ode to the horror synth scores of John Carpenter and Dario Argento’s films. Songs such as “Rickys Dead” and “Serial Killer” are the highlights, and the most energetic tracks, whilst the likes of “Stab The Head” and “Skitzoid” are more straightforward and aggressive.  “Leather Lady Lover” has the amusing honor of at times sounding like the result of Paul Stanley trying to sing GG Allin’s “Bite It You Scum”. In a thoroughly satisfying yet distasteful sophomore full-length, Shitfucker are catchier, have more clarity, but are still nonetheless unclean.

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Thomas Ligotti And The Search For Nothingness

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American cult author Thomas Ligotti is far from the merriest of men. Any reading of his literature will prove this to you. An author of a wide body of supernatural horror, he has a devoted fanbase, and is considered a master of portraying the haunting forces of the eerie, the weird and the uncanny. His fictional work is often compared to the greatest and most legendary of his fellow countrymen, Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft.

I can’t claim to be an “expert” on Ligotti, as the only work I’ve read by him thus far are his short story compilations Songs Of A Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. But what is unique about these collections is that his stories are dominated by a constant presence beyond their narrative. Being a genre where a malevolent “aura” manifests itself in some way of form, the “horror” enters the narrative and juxtaposes itself against any orthodoxy or definition of “good” that will oppose its disruption by default.

In the work of Ligotti something is true to form. Part of it is that there is a lack of gore or bloodthirst, and for the most part, there is little of the “mangled” and bodily grotesque. His aesthetic, unlike his influences does not dwell within a generically “gothic” grandeur tinged with romanticism and plot-wise strays from the “redemptive” narratives and arc which positively resolve the “problem” that a protagonist faces in the storytelling. Ligotti’s fiction can be interpreted as being portrayed within a contemporary setting, or true to the “uncanny”, set within an environment where the place and location can’t quite be discerned.

What is unique about the horror of Ligotti is that compared to his contemporaries, the “aura” of his horror, that which haunts is more of a crippling, suffocating tension and unease. Rather than something manifested by Lovecraft’s cosmic deities or “Great Old Ones”, often portrayed as a dormant, slumbering evil awaiting to be awakened, Ligotti is focused on what he sees as the perpetual nothingness that lies beyond what he sees as the profound meaninglessness of human animation.

Though this perhaps is nuanced in his fiction, it is in his widely regarded philosophical work, Conspiracy Against The Human Race that Ligotti professes the profound reality of death above all, and refuses to see anything redemptive in individual and collective drives for optimism. Throughout this work, this theme is quite common. His largely reference material is the Norwegian writer Peter Wessel Zapffe, who has stated that bearing children is akin to “carrying wood to a burning house” and that human yearning is not merely marked by a ‘striving toward’, but equally by an ‘escape from.”

These deeply pessimistic and nihilistic views are outreaches of Zappfe’s axiom that the over-development of human conscientiousness goes against nature, and leads to what he sees as a “biological paradox” characterized by existential panic and succumbing to tragedy. For Zappfe, this can only be remedied by “artificially limiting the content of consciousness”. This pessimism largely emerges from the pessimistic worldview of Arthur Schopenhauer, and examples of what Zappfe and Ligotti would see as the flaw of consciousness is embodied in various archytpes of the “tragic hero”, with the Nietzschean ubermensch being an example.

This compliments what is central to some of Ligotti’s themes; an espousal of anti-natalism, and an outright negative view of optimism, which he illustrates in his rejection of “happy endings” in his analysis of various works from the gothic horror genre. Complimenting Zappfe’s axiom regarding consciousness, the author states the following;

“What we do, as a conscious species, is set markers for ourselves. Once we reach one marker, we advance to the next – as if we were playing a board game we think will never end, despite the fact that it will, like it or not. And if you are too conscious of not liking it, then you may conceive of yourself as a biological paradox that cannot live with its consciousness and cannot live without it. And in so living and not living, you take your place with the undead and the human puppet.”

In seeing the human race as tragically flawed, and seeing the cosmos as an inherently worthless nothingness, Ligotti is drawn to the figure of the puppet. He often refers to puppets allegorically to portray what he sees as the folly of human strife, and an embodiment of the biological paradox. Whilst puppets are inanimate, and can only be manipulated by a cloaked force, to Ligotti they seem to present what he says as a contarian folly in humanitys efforts to aspire beyond the natural. In his analogy of the puppet, this also figures how we might view the “weird” and the “uncanny” as a sublime object of horror;

“Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life. In such moments of mild disorientation, a psychological conflict erupts, a dissonance of perception that sends through our being a convulsion of supernatural horror.”

To Ligotti, the puppet has a contrarian quality. It is anthropomorphic yet seem animate, being made in the image of man, whose wooden form can be inhabited, moved, invaded by the uncanny. Expounding on this, Ligotti’s explores cult horror films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing and Philip Kaufman’s The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. What makes both films unique, and relevent to puppetry in Ligotti’s view is that both movies deal with invasive, otherworldly, unearthly forces that seize, control and determine the behaviors of their hosts, doing so in ways that blur the onlookers perception as to whether the depicted persons act out of their own free will or are “possessed” by a will that is not their own.

Conspiracy Against The Human Race also owes a deal of influences to the Romanian misanthropist Emil Cioran. Inexhaustibly cathartic and cynical, his worldview could be summed up in a short passage from Tears And Saints, where he asks;

“Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?”

This compliments Ligotti’s idea that in the trappings of what he sees as as the undead human puppet, we are condemned to live out our “biological paradox” and remain condemned to forego the tragic striving that only ceases when we die. This also should allow us to consider the first season of the crime drama series True Detective, in which the deeply disturbed, profoundly cynical detective Rust Cohle delivers a worldview and philosophy similar to Ligotti’s

Referring to humans as “sentient meat” and stating that consciousness is a “tragic misstep in evolution”, Cohle’s character and worldview, abundant with existential musings is tainted by the death of his child. It is a worldview that alienates those around him, rendering him a loner and outsider. This may in some respects be comparable to Ligotti’s experiences with chronic anxiety and anhedonia, of which he states that under its affects, “everything is revealed in its true purposelessness and inanity.” In parellel with Zappfe’s idea of limiting the “content of consciousness”, Ligotti also states;

“Assuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear.”

Nic Pizzolato, creator and director of the series, has acknowledged the influence of Ligotti on True Detective’s first season and Cohle’s character. Zappfe’s idea of the “biological paradox” is also clearly referred to when Cohle’s pessimistic view of human existence is elaborated on throughout the series. Returning to Cioran’s notion of nothingness as a “home” and existence as an “exile”, Ligotti elaborates the following in regard to assisted suicide;

“There is nothing in this world as important as to be able to choose to die in a painless and dignified manner, something we do have the ability to bestow on one another. If euthanasia were decriminalized, it would demonstrate that we had made the greatest evolutionary leap in world history.”

This compliments what he sees as the tormented existence and animation of the human puppet, always wanting, striving for more, never fulfilled, unable to end its functions even when existence is rendered as a downward spiral of constant and never-ending pain. Yet it is a sentiment that matches Schopenhauer’s of suicide;

“They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice; that only a madman could be guilty of it; and other insipidities of the same kind; or else they make the nonsensical remark that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”

It is not easy to fully find Ligotti’s conclusions and overall worldview fully agreeable on a good day, particularly in a world where despite cynical competition, people want the best for themselves, and see the world in what they deem to be their own earthly being and activity that accompanies it. His philosophy, regardless of whether you disagree with it is rendered profound by the level of withdrawal that he has from the notion of the “joy” of life itself.

Ligotti’s view of the human condition, whilst it may be atheistic from his own view, is strangely profound in that he makes us want to feel that behind Zappfe’s “biological paradox” there are forces, pupetteers, manipulators, powers of which we cannot fully comprehend nor fathom. This ultimately creates a mystique which touches the soul or the inner feelings of many a reader. Other than serving as a literary inspiration for a key element of True Detective, Ligotti has also collaborated with apocalyptic neofolk outfit Current 93.

What makes Conspiracy Against The Human Race a worthwhile read and gateway into Ligotti’s work, is that the author is fully aware of the fact that arguing for the end of human existence is not going to convince many people. Whether you feel that as a species we ought to simply die out or persevere is down to you. Like some strange magician from a dark corner of nowhere, what Ligotti does successfully is distance the anthropocentric experience from what it really is, treating humanity and all its minutiae as even as all other matter that “exists”, be it sentient or inanimate. To Ligotti, it is only the misstep of consciousness that allows the human race to somehow delude and flaw itself into believing that it can go beyond its biological limits.

Thomas Ligotti. Greatest horror writer ever, the apex of the Weird ...

 

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The Musical Legacy Of Bathory And “Foundational” Black Metal

In the history of black metal, as with any area of music we can certainly point to pivotal moments in the genres history. These can all resemble crucial stylistic turning points, be it the beginning of a new “wave”, a “prototype”, a “sound” or a national “scene”. However, no figure has continuously shaped the developments, approaches, changes and ideas as much as Quorthorn (Thomas Forsberg), the mainman behind Swedish pioneers Bathory. Founded in 1983, the name is a reference to Erzsébet Báthory, a notorious Hungarian aristocrat said to have slain young woman and bathed in their blood.

Beginning with their self-titled 1984 debut, executing a dark, lo-fi hybrid between NWOBHM, speed metal and UK 82 hardcore, their early output can be compared to Slayer’s classic 1983 debut “Show No Mercy” or the early work of Venom, but with a more solid, ambient production that is given greater exploration on following works. It is also consistent with emergent extreme metal of the early 80’s, a catchy, memorable song-for-song effort. Whether or not Quorthorn had never really heard Venom at this time, a claim he denied remains to be seen, but for the majority of trained ears they remain an essential reference point in discerning the aesthetic of early Bathory recordings. That one of Venom’s signature songs is called “Countess Bathory” may lead many to believe that this is more than sheer coincidence.

With their sophomore “The Return” in 1985, stylistic changes are clear. Repetitive phrasing of riffs, influenced by hardcore become more prominent, songs tend to be longer, and production makes more prominent use of reverb and echo. Whilst headbangers like “Born For Burning” continue where the the debut left off, the general aura of their second album acts like an anti-rock take on Venom’s “Black Metal”. Where Sodom’s “Obsessed By Cruelty” accelerated brutality, “The Return” introduced a dark, hallowed atmosphere that would become a genre staple. The roots of what can be heard from the likes of Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem and Gorgoroth on their defining work is clearly evident here.

Recording “The Return”…

This is enhanced and given a deeper grandeur on 1986’s “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”. Marked by a more immediate, speedier, pounding aggression, their third album builds on the dark ambiance of the second, and introduces more experimental production and aesthetics, with an added touch of dark keyboards and melodic riff playing. Whilst songs such as “Massacre”, “Equimanthorn” and“Chariots Of Fire” are more brutal takes of the more simplistic songs from “The Return”, the rest of the album oozes an epic theatricality, highlighted in songs such as “Call From The Grave”, “13 Candles” and the album highlight “Enter The Eternal Fire”. Solidifying and intensifying  the base they had built on the second album, their third embodies the perfection of black metal’s “pre-second wave”. All the tropes, techniques and aesthetics that nourish the Nordic, Greek and wider European black metal scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s is on full display here.

♆ Black Antiquarium♆ on Twitter: "BATHORY promo "Under Sign Of ...
A promo for “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark…”

The more epic components of Under The Sign... are expanded on more greatly on “Blood, Fire, Death”, in what is considered the last of the essential “black metal” works by Quorthorn. Embellished with choral synth and acoustic guitars, “A Fine Day To Die” and the closing title track show a Norse romanticism of Wagnerian proportions coming to the forefront, defining the dominant theme of much of Bathory’s essential work from then on. It also helps to accentuate the “symphonic” traits that ebb and flow within later black metal, as well as the “Viking” metal phenomena. With solid tracks such as “For All Those Who Died”, “Dies Irae” and “Holocaust”, the remainder of the album is a more extensive take on the more straight ahead aggression shown on “Under The Sign…”, and a definite template for much of the “black thrash” trend that would ebb and flow in decades to follow. “Blood, Fire, Death” is also the teaser to a trilogy in which the heathen sagas of the ancient Scandinavians become predominant.

Promotional shot for “Blood, Fire, Death”

It is important that in addressing what is called “Viking metal” that this is little more than an aestheticization, and not a genre in itself. It is like calling “gothic rock” its own genre when really, it is post-punk that overly tends to emphasize the “dark and gloomy”. With this comparison in mind, it is best to consider the monolithic, slow paced epic hymns that defines the best of post-“Blood Fire Death” Bathory more as epic heavy metal played at a doom tempo. Whilst their fellow countrymen Candlemass helped pioneer “epic doom” with virtuosity and funereal precision, Bathory’s later “Viking” themed output assesses a variety of moods; the triumphant and tragic, victory and defeat, life and death, the upbeat and the melancholic.

It is akin to a more conceptually realized, more self-aware take on the more epic, serious moments from the first four Manowar albums. Quorthorn’s shrieks give way to a mix of frail, airy balladry and barbaric, half sung, half-shouted vocals which are a perfect fit for slow, grinding, monumental anthems. Released in 1990 and 1991 respectively, Hammerheart and Twilight Of The Gods are unique in that they reinvigorate what had tired itself out in the best of 80’s mainstream heavy metal. Ushering in a decade when many heavyweights either grew tired and dull, became purposely commercial and watered down (Metallica, Pantera), or came to embody a millennial generation of irony and self-loathing (grunge), the more ‘ear-friendly’ Bathory was just as passionate as before.

They still conjured an esoteric weight that would make its mark on underground 90’s metal, through the more “pagan” themed elements of the black metal movement, and much of the “epic doom” that emerged in that decade since. As the onus on metal’s best output in the 1990’s switched indefinitely towards these underground channels, epics like “Shores In Flames”, “Baptized In Fire And Ice”, “One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”, “Blood And Iron” and “Under The Runes” were a remedy to the decay of metal’s mainstream. With the title of Twilight Of The Gods alluding to a Richard Wagner opera of the same name, the closing track “Hammerheart” also takes a melody from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” as its lead.

Untitled
Quorthorn (middle left) with Kerry King, Jeff Hannemann and Tom Araya of Slayer

When listening to the “lost album” Blood On Ice, recorded originally in the late 1980’s but only released in 1996, we can obviously sense the transitional period that lay between Blood, Fire, Death and Hammerheart. The speed metal influences are for the most part completely eschewed, though there is a more general variation in pace, with songs like “One Eyed Old Man” and “Gods Of Thunder, Wind and Rain” displaying that missing link. On the other hand, songs like “The Woodwoman” and “The Lake” are the true prescience of setting the tone, mood and style of their new direction. Whilst it has some small production flaws, largely being assembled from demos, it is still a very worthy archival release that is full of potential and clarity, and far from being a “completist” addition to a musical collection. If treated chronologically it makes the stylistic transfer between early to mid-period Bathory seem more obvious and less sudden.

After a series of largely uninspired albums, Requiem , Octagon and Destroyer Of Worlds, Quorthorn finally revisited the formula that was first laid out on Blood, Fire, Death and laid out across the remainder of his Viking themed material. Whilst epic in length and scope, the Nordland I (2002) and Nordland II (2003) albums were more matured and varied in technique, with speedier riffs sitting alongside the more pounding, slow tempos, interwoven with dark Nordic folk music. They make for a fitting epitaph just prior to Quorthorn’s untimely death at the age of 38, highlighted in songs such as “Nordland”, “Ring Of Gold”, “Foreverdark Woods” and “The Wheel Of Sun”.

Throughout a musical career spanning over 20 years, Bathory delivered a series of works that consistently broke new ground for underground metal. There was also a consistent stylistic evolution between each of his works, with a large body of acclaimed albums which consistently outweigh career “low points”. Amidst all of this, the music of Bathory was mastery of all formats, be they the infernal and the romantic, the simplistic and the epic. All of the ideas and themes that embody the history of metal as a genre are explored and in depth throughout this one man band’s canon.

Datos Curiosos Quorthon | •Metal• Amino
Thomas Börje Forsberg  AKA Quorthorn (17 February 1966 – 3 June 2004)

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Seer Of Decay: An Interview With Mikko Aspa

The following interview/conversation is with Finnish artist Mikko Aspa, who works within a number of mediums. Many readers may know him as the founder and owner of the record labels Northern Heritage and Freak Animal. In addition to this, he has a highly prolific musical output, with the black metal of Clandestine Blaze, the power electronics of Grunt, and the funeral doom project Stabat Mater, among many other ventures. He is also a prolific publisher, through the printed zine and online forum Special Interests. To say that his name is something of repute within contemporary underground music circles would be putting things lightly.

There has been a distinct maturation in the sound of Clandestine Blaze over the past few years, yet the musical expression and artistic intent is still the same, without compromise. Music is still raw, yet there are points on City Of Slaughter and Tranquility Of Death where songs are accentuated with layers of synth, or in the case of the title track from the latter, acoustic guitar passages.

In some respects this reminds me of the simple, yet sophisticated approach that Beherit made on Engram. Traditional black metal, well thought out, and not just “varied” for the sake of being “open-minded”. Would you care to tell us what brought these changes, or better to say developments in the musical direction of CB?

MA: Natural progression took me into making songs different than they had been in early days. It would be foolish to repeat exact same template over 20 years. In case of Clandestine Blaze, shift is slow. It can be seen happening between each album. To compare couple first ones with couple last ones, there may be drastic shift. To follow discography in chronological order, the transition is subtle and almost logical.

With new albums, my intent has been to make songs that are not following the absolutely simplest expected template known from pop/rock. They are not progressive or complex by any means, but often you can not guess what will be coming after next riff or song part. In early days vast majority of tracks were intentionally repeating most common type of template with no musical variation or display of musicianship.

I wanted music to be utterly monochrome, everything else than “fun” to listen to. Nowadays intent is that music is not totally predictable or mathematical. There are many other goals too. Certainly not to sound uplifting or joyful like a lot of contemporary Black Metal appears to be.

You have undertaken many other projects across the metal and noise spectrum, in a variety of different capacities, exploring different themes and concepts. Of all of these, your work as Clandestine Blaze and Grunt seem to be the most collectively representative of all these as a whole. Could you tell us how it came to be that these two projects ended up becoming the dominant projects in your portfolio, and giving a background to that?

MA: Bands where I work with other people, I am often in role of assistant or collaboration and role of leader is taken by someone else. A lot of projects are sort of spin-off from main works, that are Grunt and Clandestine Blaze. These two are the focus points. Both were the most important right from the start. They are expressions of myself in many ways.

Many of the spin-off projects have narrow and tightly framed singular artistic vision they are meant to fulfill. Approach of these projects may differ from what is done with my main works. Scope of Grunt and CB is not merely specific artistic vision, but they represent my worldview and approach to life in general.

Are there any direct or indirect means by which the other projects you have done influence the development of CB and Grunt, or vice versa?

MA: There is always crossover. Most of the other projects have been spawned as “spin-off” to explore specific sound or theme, had already been dealt in main work. Instead of giving one particular topic too much attention in Grunt, there are opened a path that took closer look into specific topic or sound, while Grunt continued to explore with wider scope.

Besides this, you can draw line from one to another and find the common topics and musical elements. During last decade, often Grunt and Clandestine Blaze albums sort of communicate with each other. They include similar topics, similar themes, but often discussed with different language – so to say.

Bands I play or have played as member, also may influence at least in ways of keeping musical skills developing more than bands that exists only in form of recordings.

 

Can you tell us about the history of Special Interests as a print and online publication, its various mediums and what you’ve set out to achieve with it?

MA: I have edited noise related zines since the 90’s. Freak Animal and Degenerate ‘zines most notable. At the time when first issue of Special Interests came out, print magazines that focused on industrial-noise and related genres were pretty much non-existent. Original aim was to publish ’zine 3 times a year.To preserve current moment of the genre to physical form, to distribute information and to give platform for artists that would never get covered in music press of magazines of other genres.

There was also seemingly futile attempt to resurrect the 80’s/90’s style of approach, where wide variety of experimental noise co-existed in same milieu. Reality is that subgenre mindset is so strong these days, that eventually it was best to conclude Special Interests has barely ambient, electro-acoustic and such material. Focus remains power electronics, noise and closely related material. Scope is still very broad, not being spokesman of one subgenre or even my own personal taste.

Out of all these aims, Special Interests paper fanzine exists. It is published less regular manner, but remains among very few print publications of the type. There are various attempts in creation of podcasts, documentaries, etc. It all remains limited by lack of time. There will be more, but there is also other things to be done. Big part of my activity is not visible to foreign people, as I have shifted major part of my writing to Finnish.

Most stable activity is Special Interests forum, that enables bands, labels, collectors, and so on, to discuss, promote, sell and trade their material. To do this without restrictions enforced by social media platforms and marketplaces. Due strong content of many industrial-noise releases, it appears good to have some true independent infrastructure left. It is unfortunate that so much of contemporary ”underground” relies purely on good will and platforms of multinational corporations.

The opening track from Terror And Degeneration features a quite prominent sample from the David Cronenberg film Videodrome, which asserts that “we’re entering savage times” and that one needs to be “pure, direct and strong” to survive them. The film had a lot to say in regard to the convergence of human destiny and ever advancing technology, which i noticed seemed to be present in themes explored in other Grunt material.

This seemed to inform particularly the “surveillance” elements of Someone Is Watching. If any, to what extent is this explored in the work of Clandestine Blaze? As an artist who has worked and performed in the audiovisual medium before, to what extent does cinema influence you on an individual level and in the sonic output of Grunt?

MA: Those works you mention are created back in 1997-1998. While subject matter is far more relevant now than over 20 years ago, it is also almost too banal and trivial to deal with it now. At least it should be looked from less obvious perspective. Things explored in those releases are just daily life now.

Clandestine Blaze does not observe this type of elements of society. Material is meant to be sort of beyond technology and timeless in many ways. Not bound to society and current daily reality in same ways as Grunt can do. Things Clandestine Blaze deals with, are more primal. It would never talk about tech of surveillance, how it happens in contemporary society.

CB work could of course touche the motivations and reasonings and the spirit what is behind the actual technical level. It could observe the shattered free will and the necessity of illusion of paradise where sheep and wolves co-exist in peace like in Watchtower magazine covers. Surveillance society has traits of this.

To return to question about movies. I do have plenty of movies in my collection and I respect the artform. However, it is far less important that music or books. I can live perfectly without having TV or watching movies. It is most of all prioritizing my time. I am not looking much of entertainment, but food for though. These days I watch way less movies than I used to.

Most of the time I am not even seeking to find any particular movie and most of my collection I have never actually watched. They remain there for sake of one day wanting to do so. It is unlikely those movies to be found in popular streaming services and after times of wide and easy availability. It’s been several years since I last time put movie dvd to player.

Black metal and power electronics are genres of extremes. The widely mythologized and eulogized Norwegian scene of the early 1990’s was extreme not only in musical and ideological intent, but in the sense that destructive and fatal actions arose from its “inner circle”, with similar and more widespread illegal acts taking place in its wake.

Consistent with tropes within the genre, it is something which reflects itself in the cryptic and occult lyrical content of Clandestine Blaze, which often tends to reflect and portray destructive forces and urges within the nature of man. Whether one could consider this as the Hobbesian war of all against all, the Darwinian survival of the fittest, or Nietzschean concepts of will to power or the overman.

Power electronics on the other hand is a subgenre of industrial where many practitioners, since the early 80’s tend to aestheticize various extremes, be they socio-political, ideological, sexual, criminal or otherwise into a format which is presented in a manner that is confrontational, impartial and lacking in irony to the extent that many of the tropes inevitably shock, alienate, and anger the untrained listener.

Whilst not a type of “propaganda” to those outsiders, it may be interpreted literally and thereby judged as such. What are your thoughts on this? In increasingly politically correct times, to what extent do you think that “elitism”, “extremism” or “extremity” such as the types described above are a fundamental prerequisite to these forms of music having their desired effect, or as a means to achieve a sense of ‘authenticity’?

MA: We would first have to consider what *is* the desired effect? Lets say, if you are looking for people to be offended. Of course, that is probably easier than it ever was. However, this doesn’t have any real level of achievement in adult life. It may have seemed good in adolescent perspective, …but now? If you know the triggers how people are outraged, and you know that this outrage leads nowhere, why bother?

Confrontation and provocation is valuable when target is advanced enough. Of course one can’t totally rule out of usefulness of sheer terror or even annoyance, but generally I feel the music and the message is not performed for the enemy, but yourself and for potential fruitful receiver.

The goals of old industrial to ”shock” live audience with ripping noise, is futile in situation where most of the audience comes to enjoy the ripping noise. People receiving splatters of blood and rotten meat from stage of Black Metal gigs, are not offended or disturbed by such actions. It leads to necessity to evaluate whether the ”shock” or ”extremism” has value, and if yes, then in what way.

We live in utterly different cultural milieu than in times when the underground was largely directed to an unprepared generic crowd. You know, the 90’s youth house gig collecting every kid from the town, vs. gig of devotees and veteran followers of music gathered from all around the world. It is totally different realm.

I believe that the most important factor is that the creator himself has genuine sense of importance of his work. That he feels and knows that work has both meaning and purpose. That this meaning is personal, and beyond. Transgressions that are personal, have a purpose, that is not linked to any goal that requires ”audience”. I feel that there needs to be real revolutionary element to it. That this process is about change and transgression, not about irritating some sensitive pussies.

One should approach it not as a lecturer, but really realize your own role in the process. Artist himself is also in process of learning and experiencing things and transforming. It should not be the tales of something, but the actual thing taking place. Meaning, in context of Black Metal, this is personal magical transformation, and not some foolish ”telling how it is” to bunch of listeners.

Same can be of course said in context of industrial-noise. I feel most of the music is aimed to enable elevated level or perception and cause change in reality. It is the real apocalyptic music, where world formerly taken granted in shattered and no longer existing. It is full re-evaluation of values and system of world that crumbles in front of you.

Most often my own works, for me, are the realization and illumination. It is the moment of certain era of process being summed up. Many things are already in your brain and character, but only articulated in form of art taking shape. It is the utmost opposition to entertainment and ”fun”. It is less about telling audience, and more about revealing to myself. It is the journey into darker consciousness.

Furthermore, as I mentioned above, it is not about ”telling how it is”, but album often can reveal itself to its creator AFTER it has been done. Unconscious decisions and seemingly well thought reasons may appear in different perspective in light of new look to it – especially when compared in synthesis with past works. Returning few albums backwards and seeing what you attempted to say, but could not fully articulate yet.

Fact that most people appear to be totally unable to handle even modest irritations and emotional challenges, rules them totally outside the scope any art should (or could) reach. It is ok for them to listen it as music. I think good bands work on that level too. I am fine with my work being treated pure as music, even if it is not that for me.

To separate people who “really get it” – that is of course elitist attitude, and therefore to reply your questions: Of course, elitism both necessary and mandatory and extremity is logical destination of path that is always willing to take the next step. It may only manifest itself in different forms than what people generally think when those words are being used. Many of the traits and symbols of “extremism” are now only decor and eye candy.

Whilst Clandestine Blaze releases have become more varied in a way that might appear to be more “ear-friendly” to the untrained listener, harsh noise elements seem to take a more upfront, abrasive position in more recent releases of Grunt. They come across as more directly rhythmic and not unlike Genocide Organ or Grey Wolves in this respect. The more prominent use of abrupt, chaotic feedback blasts and squelches recall 1980’s Whitehouse, and hark back to the origins of extreme electronic music.

Yet at times, tracks are shorter and resemble more “song-like” forms. Can you tell us about how you undertake the compositional process, and whether these “changes” were a conscious decision or “from the gut”, so to speak? In regards to both CB and Grunt, what are the most “fun” or enjoyable processes in recording, and the most frustrating or time-consuming processes?

MA: Both are designed to satisfy my urge as both creator and listener. Both have progressed during the years, based on shifts of my approach. As explained before, Clandestine Blaze has shifted to create musically more interesting pieces. It certainly does not aim to be easy listening or any sort of ear-candy, but there is elevated level of song writing and riff structures. Especially the next album will be another leap on that.

My biggest influence is, and often has been, to create opposition to stuff I dislike. I am not so much being influenced by my favorite albums, but the ongoing situation of not being able to find material that satisfies me. While I do not want to complain about situation in Black Metal, for me it is highly inspiring to be nearly antithesis of contemporary Black Metal of almost all kinds. This remark is not saying there would not be abundance of good bands too. I feel I am rather influenced by what I do not want to be associated with at all, on any level.

Process of Clandestine Blaze is accumulating ideas for couple of years and then regurgitating this in fairly fast process where the ideas – both music and lyrics, are articulated into concrete form. Recordings are usually very fast and when material has sort of ”created itself”. I am more in role of observing the mental state and absorbed ideas of last couple of years that come out in shape of CB. Moment of creation is fast, when it is only about making the idea happen. I usually do not “intend” to write album, but one day it happens in sudden urge of gathering all the ideas that have been emerging and see what it may result.

Grunt is actually quite versatile. Full length albums give you one view. Live shows give another. Small scale releases may be utterly different. Abundance of material that does not show itself to audience or exists within ”scene” per se, but are private sessions or public street actions or such – again Grunt takes very different forms. It is true, that large pressing full length albums have taken very song oriented form.

Most songs are 3-5 minutes at length what may be easier for listeners to grasp than 60 minutes non-stop abstract harsh noise. However, Grunt has that element as well. For example ”Kraniometria” cd that came out last year was pure instrumental harsh noise. There are hours of such material existing, but I have not felt the absolute need to make it public.

These days, most recordings I make, are studio-live recordings of raw, but fairly complex song cores. Usually one overdub and vocals are added. There are plenty of things that need to fall into right place that the song is ready to be published. It is hard to say what is the ”fun” in making, when most of it is basically challenging and consuming. There is the urge that material must be made, and it is satisfaction to get something meaningful completed. It may have not been really ”fun” at most stages of creation, but it is satisfying.

You have a track on “Myth Of Blood” entitled “Linkola Legacy”, which references the recently deceased Finnish ecologist and anti-humanist Pentti Linkola. Do you share any outlooks or worldviews similar to his?

MA: Although his ideology is unrealistic and in many ways flawed, I agree with several points of his conclusions and respect his life’s work and contributions to culture. His passion for nature was obsessive and most of all focused locally. He was more of almost poet, than ”political” or “philosophical” person. His approach changed over the decades. I prefer the later era, especially the outspoken Linkola who would not shy express his views in media.

Lyrics in this song, are well known quotes of Linkola. Till very end of his life, he was opposed by many, but also appreciated by many. Considering the loathsome state of contemporary media, it was unusual that Linkola could be sort of mainstream ”celebrity” and also given plenty opportunities to speak. He was able to express opinions and facts that normally would never be accepted to be voiced in mainstream media.
This is the notable example. To strive towards your goal and ideal, in hostile surrounding. Opposition or time and devotion in seemingly futile struggle.

Of course, most of the audience respect him in form of martyr. Never in form of leader. It was his stubborn and futile struggle, that has passionate religious fury, that makes people look at him in same kind of awe like for saints. Although process is there merely to justify themselves continue the ways of sin, if we use the religious terminology. Acceptance the true divine wrath is simply too much for a man.

Do you believe there is a “misanthropy” inherent in the Finnish subconsciousness that might contribute to the country’s fair share of talent within various subgenres of underground music? If otherwise, what do you think that is?

MA: It may be called that sometimes. Perhaps the specific kind of stubbornness combined to lack of universally acknowledged talent would be better. I would assume that a lot of Finnish music appears less focused on “PR” and “marketing tactics” and “trends” than in some other countries. As one can observe, Finland has very short history of producing “globally meaningful” culture. There are very few globally known masterminds.

Most of underground music used to be somewhat clumsy, noisy and raw. Be it early 80’s hardcore punk, late 80’s thrash, 90’s death and black metal. Finnish industrial-noise, even Finnish techno was known to be somewhat low-tech and primitive. Back then, when the idea of “what Finland sounds like” was establish, it can be actually that lack of talent contributed greatly to the sound. Instead of visionaries and geniuses, you got most of all: circumstances.

It is curious observation, that in these golden times of raw music, most relevant Black Metal and noise and such emerged from small towns. If there was meaningful and legendary bands from Finland, you can trust that almost without exception, they come from small towns and villages. At least they originate from there and later on moved to bigger cities.

In the 80’s and 90’s, basically before all devouring entertainment business and digital communication, people were most likely not predominantly “misanthropes”, but seekers of meaningful things to do. This drive and hunger to do something else than just vegetate and rot, will certainly cause misanthropic tone when you see the small town “normies” just be happy and content with… vegetate in apathy.

It is curious to see, what are the effects, of not having this type of environment. Of course we have had already 20 years to observe, and one can ask whether Finnish underground music still carries the same spirit? To certain extent it does, but when looked critically, one may see it has been largely tainted by same global flaws that plague underground music in general. Large part of its uniqueness is gone, in favor or “better quality” and “professionality”.

What lies next for Grunt and Clandestine Blaze? Is there any new material currently in the works?

MA: I just released new GRUNT album “Spiritual Eugenics”. That was major effort to get finished in a way it is. It is double LP / double CD format, consisting wide variety of tracks in 80 minutes duration. There is more Grunt material that is “under work”. I am not in hurry, so it is not decided when and how something comes out.

Clandestine Blaze next album is probably within 2020. It is recorded for most part, but like with Grunt, I am not in hurry with actual release. I’m more focusing on feeling the material is strong enough to survive test of time and my own critical evaluation.

Aside from a full-length, various splits and a recent compilation of said works, is there anything we can expect in the future from your doom project, Stabat Mater?

MA: Yes. There is completed new recordings, but I can not yet confirm when exactly those are being released. There will be more material recorded, which might be released even before formerly completed recordings are being published.

What upcoming releases, new, reissued or otherwise can be expected in the near future from your labels Northern Heritage and Freak Animal?

MA: There will be soon new albums of VIGILANTISM and BIZARRE UPROAR. More will follow.

Northern Heritage will have new material from unknown new names coming in 2020. However, reissues keep coming and next expected DIABOLI CD repressings of Kirous, The Antichrist and Wiking Division CD’s. Baptism repressings on vinyl.

COVID-19 has been all the hype, dominating all forms of media and cultural dissemination. This affects business and day-to day life too. Firstly, what are your observations on the mass media alarmism that has characterized the outbreak, taking into consideration past events in world history? How has this affected or challenged your running of Northern Heritage and Freak Animal, in terms of supply, distribution, international shipping, print press et al?

MA: There is barely effect for me, except that shipping is not possible to all countries. Also there are delays here and there.

For me, this appears as good opportunity to re-organization and prioritization of things. It proves that many things that were formerly considered out of questions and totally impossible to do, suddenly were very much doable. Whether these actions were good or not, is up to debate.

That concludes my questions. If you have any last words, please feel free…

MA: Thanks for the interview.

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Sculpting In Time- Tarkovsky’s Ritual Of Cinema

“Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”

The cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, like that of various classic “auteur” film directors, is the type that does not necessarily filter through into the world of mainstream commercial success. Nor is it the type of thrill-based, expectational cinema that one excepts from an audience that needs to constantly be “wooed”.

If you are a first time viewer of Tarkovsky’s science fiction films Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), and running on the excitement that would define a generic viewer of the Star Wars or Aliens franchise, then there is always the chance you may feel disappointed or misled by the drawn out, immersive aura of Tarkovsky’s cinema.

Ivan's Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo, USSR 1962) | The Case for ...

As a response to the Soviet State Committee of Cinematographer telling him that the film was too slow and dull, the director amusingly responded that “the film needs to be slower and duller”.  In spite of how idealistic and lofty his aspirations were, we are still speaking of a director who had the following to say about James Cameron’s The Terminator;

“The brutality and low acting skills are unfortunate, but as a vision of the future and the relation between man and his destiny, the film is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art.”

Though he held a lofty and idealistic view of what he believed made his cinema, and that of those he admired (Bergman, Ozu, Bresson, Bunuel), it was clear that he could still grasp the depths of cinema that was more geared primarily towards entertainment that art. Yet for his own craft, he called it “sculpting in time”.

Whether this concerned the bleak, science-fiction otherworlds of Solaris and Stalker, the icons and epiphanies of Andrei Rublev and Nostalghia, or the non-linear, “autobiographical” Zerkalo (1975), Tarkovsky’s films are meticulously crafted pieces of work that demand a total yet singular attention to be appreciated fully.

Andrei Rublev Japanese poster" by ConallGulban | Redbubble
Japanese promotional poster for Andrei Rublev (1966)

If you’re born, raised and inculcated into a culture that encourages the “expectational” mindset that I have referred to, one of increasing technological immersion and addiction, and overt emphasis on extroversion, then Tarkovsky’s “advice” for the young certainly gives a good insight into his own inner world and thoughts. It also suggests how you also might best approach his films, as a solitary, ambient ritual;

“I don’t know… I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.”

This type of value is one that largely lost on many within contemporary Western society, where introspection, contemplation a sense of looking inwardly is looked down on within a heavily mechanized zeitgeist. Tarkovsky said this at a time before digital technology had truly penetrated cinema, and the internet and social media were yet to even be commodified.

Solaris (1972)
Russian language promotional poster for Solaris, 1972

The statement that the Russian director made about Terminator was essentially a foreknowledge of these intense new developments that are now taken for granted. In an environment where restrictions bought about by the medical crisis of COVID-19 force people out of work and into greater social isolation, it is these very sentiments that Tarkovsky critiques which have been put to the test.

People who will forced out of work, or out of the “grind” of their daily routine will be left with more free time, and with a greater vacuum in their usual bustle of production and consumption, be forced to comprehend what life truly means to them. For many this may leave a void, a profoundly spiritually empty void.

On first viewing the movies of Tarkovsky some years ago, I felt that the best of my attention was spent primarily on the aesthetics of his films, particularly the mood and ambiance that was conveyed by his classic “long take” motifs. The use of classical music and ambient electronic scores by long term collaborator Eduard Artemiev also empowered this initial attraction to his work.

Nostalghia
Domiziana Giordano in 1983’s Nostalghia

Though I had found myself neglecting other and more fine details, this was more greatly refined by reading his seminal book on directing, “Sculpting In Time”. Whilst the lush, dreamy cinematography, choices of shots, choices of music and sound design most certainly give an “essence” to his filmography, these aspects don’t necessarily make them personable. Which brings us to how and for what purposes actors are used in his films, and how they might serve to further fulfill a sense of the “divination” in his work.

This is made quite explicit in his use of acting leads, particularly Anatoly Solonitsyn, who plays leading roles in Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Stalker, and a smaller part in the director’s “biographical” Zerkalo. Were it not for his untimely death, Solonitsyn was also written in mind for the lead roles in Tarkovsky’s final two works, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986). The placement of Solonitsyn by the director in his movies is a crystallization of the authors ideas, or the placement of his abstract ideas into a material, living form, whether the actor plays a medieval icon painter or a scientist.

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Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of 1979’s Stalker

For those new to Tarkovsky’s work, or vague on what his cinematic world is meant to highlight, then a more specific way to understand this relation is to use films you already know as a point of reference. For the writer of this article, David Lynch’s Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), and the entire Twin Peaks franchise appear to use Kyle McLachlan as a more “youthful” embodiment of how the director wishes to see himself in his own cinematic universe.

It may be convenient to say that Tarkovsky worked with Solonitsyn similarly, though rather as a representation of an idea, rather than the projection of the artist as they wish to represent themselves on a screen. The director-actor partnership is nothing new to cinema, and to Tarkovsky and the seasoned viewer of his movies, then some of the partnerships of his favourite directors may act as more solid references.

The stoic, Nordic heroism that Max Von Sydow portrayed in movies such as The Seventh Seal (1957) or The Virgin Spring (1960) may seem the most conspicuous if we see this merely from the perspective of the Tarkovsky-Solonitsyn partnership. The use of actresses such as Setsuko Hara by Yazujiro Ozu, or actresses such Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in the films of Ingmar Bergman also indicate how the female role in the cinema may be expressed.

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One of the most powerful scenes from Zerkalo (1975)

In doing this delicacies, sensualities and various psychological underpinnings associated with their manifestation can be expressed. This can all be tied back to how Tarkovsky works with female leads in his work. This can be said for Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari in Solaris and Margarita Terekhova as Maria, playing the “mother” role in Zerkalo (1975), where these characteristics are embodied and then played out.

Concluding, for those unfamiliar with Tarkovsky’s work but with a deep interest and passion for cinema, purchasing a copy and reading the directors excellent book Sculpting In Time would be highly advised. It is here in which the artist states his intent for film as a means of composition and form, as well as the nature of his films and the objectives of how he wishes to create a new form of poetic language through the cinematic medium.

For those familiar who are still yearning to make sense of the dreamy, abstract narratives of his work, then it is this book that will ultimately help you make more rigid, structural sense of them. In addition to some wonderful personal insights and thoughts of his, as well as some beautiful illustration and the inclusion of the poems of his father Arseny, it can be used as an essential “footnotes” section to the vast wealth of his essential cinematic legacy.

A Miniature Film Set : The Sacrifice (1986) » ShotOnWhat? Behind ...
Andrei Tarkovsky with a miniature on the set of 1986’s Offret (The Sacrifice)