Thursday, 25 July 2019

Winterblood - Finsternis


Album: Finsternis
Artist: Winterblood
Label: Self-released
Catalogue no: N/A

Tracklist:

     1.      Finsternis (Chapter 1)
     2.      Finsternis (Chapter 2)
     3.      Finsternis (Chapter 3)
     4.      Finsternis (Chapter 4)


Once in a while, a dark ambient project comes along that ticks all the right boxes, and Winterblood manage to do so several million times over. All I know about Winterblood could be written on the back of a postage stamp – the man behind these deep, cold atmospherics is an Italian by the name of Stefano Senesi. He describes his sounds as Polar Ambient and his stated aim is “to put the listener - after a reassuring prelude - into a cold state of loss and confusion; this makes [causes] an awakening...”…

I caught this project through the Waldeinkamseit I – III album, released in 2017, on Bandcamp via a Facebook group, and which is now due for a re-release on vinyl. The sheer frigidity and deep resonances contained on that album struck me in a way as if I’d been transported to somewhere at the southern extremes of Earth, a place where an icy voice whispers softly and beguilingly as you lose all sense of being and the warmth that is life. It’s a picture of isolation in possibly the most extreme sense of the word. Finsternis, the most current release (May 2019), elicits a similar evocation of loneliness and separation but this time transfers it to the centres of deeply and unimaginably ancient forests. Think such places are warmer and safer? By day perhaps – but come nightfall and those very same woods become places of unsettling unknowns; who knows what creatures and things lurk within its recesses, or what those bizarre noises are – are they human, animal, or something else?

It is commonly acknowledged that certain places, specifically natural places, accumulate what could be called a confluence of ‘spiritual’ or ‘magical’ energies – this is why we have sacred groves, or sites like Stonehenge and Glastonbury. These are generally thought of as benign in nature, so equally there must be other places where negative energies collect (a particular example that springs to mind is Japan’s Aokigahara, the ‘suicide forest’, on the northwestern flank of Mount Fuji). One can easily imagine malign energies aggregating in such places, accumulating blackly depressing and affecting atmospheres. What if, perhaps, the most ancient forests harbour a resentment of the fact that humans have distanced themselves from the roots of their own creation and sustenance?

What we have here are four mid-length tracks of repetitive brooding loops, simultaneously airy and yet oppressive. The deeper into the trees we go and the closer we get to the forest’s slumbering blackened heart, and the more the trees huddle together and blot out the light, the more keenly we feel the overwhelmingly bleak and stifling antagonism emanating from our surroundings. But it’s apparent that we aren’t alone – just on the edges of our vision we see shapes flitting between the trunks, but are they real or imagined? Perhaps they’re the hapless shades of those who came here before us, drawn in by the majesty and power of these places. The trees watch us balefully, resenting every step we take, animosity flowing like a shimmering tide against those who no longer acknowledge or seek their wisdom. Simultaneously, it’s the sound of an antediluvian Pied Piper, mesmerising us with sweet promises only to lure us down sinister paths into darkness where we’ll meet who knows what?

A contradictory album in some ways, as noted above: it is both airy and oppressive. Light wafts of uplifting chords swell magnificently to greet us, but lurking just beneath the surface are those hints of something darker at work. And that artful repetition: it becomes a burden after it’s been carried for a while, and only becomes heavier. Furthermore, in reality these four pieces never really begin or end – they’ve always been in existence, waiting for the receptive to catch their mournful refrains. And that cover image by British painter, illustrator, and author Walford Graham Robertson (1866 – 1948) – nothing could encapsulate the hidden occult power of ancient woodland better than this starkly monochrome illustration.

If nothing else, Finsternis reminds us that these wonders have existed for perhaps longer than civilisation has been around, and that should we ultimately disappear they’ll outlast us. The Earth was theirs to begin with, and more than likely it’ll be theirs once again.

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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