To be brutally honest — which is the only kind of honest we know how to be at NCS — I’m not qualified to review a black-metal album for trve black-metal fans. Even after about a year and a half of trying to educate myself, I’m not steeped in the history, there are still big gaps in my listening, and I can’t provide a comprehensive context in which to explain the place of albums I hear. But my enthusiasm overwhelms my sense of limits, and so I just forge ahead anyway. Fuckitall.
There might be a silver lining to that cloud. I might be able to serve as a surrogate for some of you who are like me — metal fans who generally listen to other genres but who are intrigued, maybe even beguiled, by what black metal has to offer — and curious about discovering more of what lies within those cold depths.
So, here’s a new discovery: A one-man project from the UK who sunk an unimaginably deep part of himself over a very long period of time into creating one album called A Haunt Within the Mist recorded back in 2006 (and at earlier times); a man who made some disillusioning efforts to find a label to promote what he’d done, and then just shelved the music rather than have it become lost in the great wash of underground black-metal releases and demo’s; a man who finally decided, just weeks ago, that because he was sincerely proud of what he’d done, it would be better to put it out here in the world than consign it to oblivion.
And so, a remarkably humble e-mail arrived at our door from the dude behind Undying, who calls himself Hiraedd, with a link to Undying’s Bandcamp page, where that long hidden album could be retrieved and heard. Not necessarily a unique story, and certainly not one we would tell except for the fact that, for us, finding this music was like discovering a diamond in your sock drawer one morning: It was a surprising and completely wonderful occurrence. (more after the jump . . .)
A Haunt Within the Mist is a heart-felt anthem of fire and anguish. Within the very big tent of black metal (or more accurately, a deep, cold, endless cavern), it falls within the sector of grim, entrancing, atmospheric music. At times, it’s harrowing, almost unbearably intense — a feeling of being engulfed in flames. At other times, it produces the feeling of being caught in a whirlpool, sucked down into stygian depths. At still others, it generates an almost meditative, dreamlike state.
There are only six songs on the album, yet they consume a total run-time of more than 45 minutes. I’ve listened a half dozen times from start to finish (that’s a lot of hours), and it has never been less than a completely enveloping experience — one that blots out what’s around you, one that replaces what you may have been feeling with emotions that the author of the music wants you to feel. That’s a good test of merit in music, isn’t it?
The arrangement of the songs is one reason why it pays to listen to the album straight through. There is an internal progression of mood within the album, a type of mental and emotional journey. That’s most apparent in the contrast between where you start and where you finish. Album opener “The Awakening of Black Hatred” begins with an ominous collage of noises and ghastly whispers before the commencement of an aural assault of blast beats, tremolo-guitar waves of somber melody, and echoing, ice-edged demonic vocals. The closer, “Beneath the Shroud of Midnight”, is a hypnotic instrumental track — all shimmering synthesizers and acoustic guitar, sorrowful and beautiful.
In between that ominous, angry beginning and that resigned conclusion, the music rises and falls in intensity and pacing. Much of it is dominated by a melodic wall of rapidly vibrating guitar chords, deeply thrumming bass lines, and relentless drum blasts (with shifts in the drum rhythms often serving as bridges or bookmarks to a change in the music). Yet even at its most furious, I found that the music had a stately quality to it, perhaps in part because of the judicious use of keyboards — not nearly so heavy as to drag the music into the realm of “the symphonic”, but enough to make it sweep and soar at the right times.
But all is not fire and storm. For example, the mid-section of “Beyond Monoliths of Frost” is a long, slow, funereal dirge — the stately celebration of a black mass, the sense of cold judgment being passed. “May the Earth Forever Wither” is also down-tempo and powerful, producing mental images for me of the ocean inexorably rising on a flood tide, slowly climbing up the legs of a chained Andromeda on the shore — with a monster lurking within the rising waters.
Special mention should be made of Hiraedd’s use of the bass on the album. Most of the time it simply provides heaviness and depth, with individual notes and chords almost unnoticeable. But at moments within many of the songs, it rises in the mix and takes the lead in the music. Sometimes, it has an almost warm, human sound, standing in contrast to the inhuman desolation around it. Sometimes, it’s just as grim, blasted, and ominous as everything else.
There’s no question that for most metalheads, this kind of music takes some getting-used-to. Some will never get used to it, never find it appealing. But for those who make the adjustment, this kind of black metal is capable of transporting you further away from yourself than almost any other kind of metal. And we all need that from time to time, don’t we? Here’s an example from A Haunt Within the Mist:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Undying-A-Haunt-Within-The-Mist-1st-Edition-02-Fog-Envelops-the-Lightless-Earth.mp3|titles=Undying – Fog Envelops the Lightless Earth]
Now, to return to where we started. Here’s an April 2008 blog entry that Hiraedd posted on Undying’s MySpace page under the title “dissolution”:
For the foreseeable future I have come to feel that Undying has served its purpose for me. That is to say, it was utterly self-indulgent, and at present I feel completely sated in this specific regard. “A Haunt Within The Mist” proved on reflection to deliver precisely what I wanted from it, therefore drawing a line now will protect that totality from dilution.
Consequently, Undying will return to the murk from whence it came and will only emerge if ever I see fit. . . . Not to labour the metaphor too vigorously, but like a haunt within the mist, Undying was destined to emerge but briefly. It is fitting for it to become a ghost itself, having left one fleeting touch on the world.
Here we are, three years later, and I for one am glad that Hiraedd changed his mind and decided to make the album available. You can download it for a “name your price” option at Bandcamp (use this link).
P.S. I don’t know how many other people will write about this album now that Hiraedd has decided to make it available — mass marketing isn’t exactly his forte — so I’ve sort of been collecting in this post most of what I’ve learned about it through my investigations. What I’ve found isn’t a lot, but I did discover the lyrics to two of the songs, so I’m including them here; I think they’re good:
BEYOND MONOLITHS OF FROST
Music: 1999 Lyrics: 1999/2004
Through subconscious lands of Unlight, by paths too dreadful for human tongues…
Through these lifeless mists have I wandered, drawn down through Underworlds innumerable.
I hung my pride in chains of suffering from the decaying gates that mark this road.
Down phosphorent stairwells out of the tracts of time, I crawled on dying limbs into the yawning dark.
Down here…I hear you…Charnel voices of the dead.
Cold, sibilant whispers, tortured by the pain of being, deformed and broken beneath the weight of centuries.
Drowned by wordless cries, I commune with the ghosts of long dead hate.
Consumed by their revulsion, my flesh becomes a vessel of their unbending will.
DARK WINDS HOWL OVER THE BLIGHTED PEAKS
Music & Lyrics: 2004
The stars are fading, above this most remote of frozen eyries.
Beneath me the only movement is mist coiling above unseen ruins.
Dark winds howl over the blighted peaks, stirring the silent fields of crumbling bones;
A wordless, lifeless soliloquy, amid the leaden profundity of death.
I never perceived as the earth around me withered,
For in a world so decayed that it serves my beliefs, there is no strife, and bitter triumph has no savour.
In its husk shall I be interred, none left to disturb my grave.
The void calls me, a plane beyond this hateful flesh, for I cannot truly rest, though there’s no world left to torture.
In a war against life one makes war against oneself.