Dead Week is dead and so is the old year. With a turn of the calendar page we’ve started another 365-day march into the unknown even though everything feels just as familiar as yesterday. Tomorrow will be more work or more school and definitely more covid, which is why I’ve always felt the first Monday of a new year is kind of depressing: What’s on the horizon that’s worth looking forward to?
Well, hopefully you can find something, perhaps some new music. I have some of that to share with you today, in this first Shades of Black for 2022 — which is more abbreviated than usual and probably more strange than usual too.
Horn‘s new single “Alpenrekorder” is as majestic and as desolate as the alpine vistas in the accompanying video. The music is both uplifting and deeply melancholy, and carries a feeling of reverence in both of those aspects. It benefits from a guest cello performance and from Horn‘s own performance on another old instrument, which seems to be an hourglass-style mountain dulcimer (based on my own internet browsing).
The song will appear on an upcoming album named Verzet, which is due to be self-released in April/May 2022. It also appears on a multi-track single (CD/DVD/digital) entitled Alpenrekorder & Filmmaterial that was released on December 28th.
Although Triumph of the Snake (independently released on December 4) is the fourth album by this Italian duo, it’s my first exposure to their music — and what a wild ride it has proven to be.
The swirling synths, hurtling and prancing drum rhythms, piano and harpsichord-like keyboards, and mercurial and abrading guitars give the music the atmosphere of a mad bacchanalian carnival. Like another record you’ll find just after this one in today’s collection, it reaches back into musical traditions of past millennia but also throws us forward into hellish modernity and a very strange future.
Apart from an ornate array of instrumental sensations and vocals that range from crazed and caustic howls to predatory gasps and near-singing, it incorporates moods of sinister menace that brings to mind gothic horror, as well as episodes of ancient elegance, glorious riot, and space-faring adventurism. Stylistic ingredients of dungeon synth and prog rock go hand in hand here, along with elements of black metal and classical music.
I’m really just trying to give you a flavor of the album, because it’s damned difficult to fully capture such an elaborate experience in just a few paragraphs. I know it won’t appeal to everyone, but I hope I’ve written enough to induce you to give it a chance.
Sadly, Triumph of the Snake has been announced as the last album of the band’s career. They have bid us farewell in grand style.
To close I’ve chosen the debut EP of Straegor, Crypt of the Baleful. It’s labeled “dungeon synth”, but includes drums and occasional distorted electric guitar and acoustic guitar. It’s a multi-layered orchestral style of music that includes the sounds of horns, harpsichord, organ, and strings (among many other sensations).
If I were more familiar with the evolution of classical music I would be able to better characterize the styles that Straegor draws upon, but from my limited education I would say that its roots are in early baroque music. However, Straegor also interweaves modern drum cadences, astral synths, the afore-mentioned electric guitar, and the tones of wordless choral voices in ways that give the music a time-traveling aspect, reaching across musical epochs.
It’s quite often beautiful, quite often dark and mysterious, and sufficiently varied and surprising that even someone like me, who doesn’t often listen to anything that resembles this, stayed rooted in the music to the end.
The EP was released on December 30 by Three Rooks Records.