Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Hiemal - The Seventh Continent

Album: The Seventh Continent
Artist: Hiemal
Label: Self-released
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      Glaciers and Antarctic Mountain Ridges
     2.      A Shipwreck by Polar Lights
     3.      Sheltered in a Frozen Cave
     4.      Drifting Icebergs by Nightfall
     5.      White Horizon, Black Waters

Hiemal appears to be quite a prolific gentleman, Bandcamp listing 53 releases of his, two of which came out this month (August 2019). I recently reviewed Shoreline Inertia, the first of those releases, and now along comes a second, The Seventh Continent. The term seventh continent is a real thing, referring to Antarctica – indeed Hiemal states that the inspirations for this five-tracker are the Endurance (1914 – Ernest Shackleton) and Terra Nova (1910–1913 – Robert Falcon Scott) expeditions to that continent at the bottom of the world, which is probably one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. And the one thing that truly emerges from this THREE hour album (apart from its brilliant value for money - just €5!) is just how microscopic we humans are in comparison to the magnitude of this last continent.

Opening proceedings is forty-six minute long ‘Glaciers and Antarctic Mountain Ridges’, a freezingly cold blast of frigid air, over which Sir Ranulph Fiennes describes Scott the man and his expedition in an interview (Fiennes himself is a noted explorer). That wintry backdrop is a portent of the tragedy that played out later, the insignificant human scale pitted against the immovable and implacable forces of nature native to the continent. Winds pile upon winds, battering and demolishing, stifling and pummelling relentlessly. And, having just introduced my new headphones to the wonders of dark ambient, the bass frequencies are absolutely seismic, physical entities in themselves, appearing able to move things just on their own. One can easily imagine vast chunks of glacial ice cracking and moving, fracturing off their parent walls of ice and plummeting into the seas. Seen in this context, is it any wonder that failure and tragedy more often than not accompanied those early expeditions?

Both sets of men were at the mercy of the elements which they couldn’t do much to counteract. ‘A Shipwreck by Polar Lights’, another 40+ minute epic, probably refers to the Endurance expedition, led by Shackleton, the ship ultimately being crushed by frozen sea-ice. Soaring flights of drones ride high above the ice-bound continent and into the unnaturally clear air, the wonders of the heavens twinkling unashamedly on the canvas of the night sky, the aurora shimmering and shimmying, lifting its skirts and moving to the music of the spheres, patently oblivious to the human drama unfolding below. The enchanting light-show, a marvellous wonder for a little while, would have paled by the time the expedition crew would have realised the situation they were in.

Then follows ‘Sheltered in a Frozen Cave’ and here the battering of the wind and elements has abated somewhat, at least for the time being, but it’s only warmer inside by a few degrees. Outside, though, it’s still an icy maelstrom of obliterating gales and white-out blizzards, a place where no unprepared human would last long. At times like this, one cannot do anything more than ponder on the fragility of existence: survival depends on so many factors, where an excess of one factor or the lack of another can mean the difference between living and dying. There must have been a point at which the crews of both ships would have wondered whether they’d ever make it out alive.

‘Drifting Icebergs by Nightfall’ must have presented a spectacular sight, floating mountains of ice sailing majestically past by the light of the stars, soundlessly and unstoppably, like ghostly ships. Stately high-flown washes and drones drift serenely past, just like the monoliths of compacted ice themselves, the silent waters carrying their bulk effortlessly and purposefully. And, finally, ‘White Horizon, Black Waters’, another long and epic track, sets down in sound the perfect summation of the continent and its immediate environs – vast open spaces of unbroken white stretching from one horizon to the other, often leading to snow-blindness where everything is covered in a disorientating blanket of white. The seas around the continent are another world, a dark wonderland that, like the rest of the world’s oceans, has yet to be fully explored. No wonder that HP Lovecraft set one of his Mythos stories, ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, on this continent.

The music on here, all three hours of it, reflects Antarctica itself, with its sweeping drones and heavy ambiences that appear to have no limits or end. In spite of the knowledge we’ve gained about most of the world we call home, the southern landmass is still a substantial mystery. The music here on The Seventh Continent carries with it a deep sense of the unfathomable and indecipherable enigma that is Antarctica, a place where very few have ever visited or are likely to visit. Above all, it delineates the immensity of the riddle of ice-enclosed geography that sits at the southern extreme, a puzzle that perhaps we might never solve. There are some who would say it would be better left that way.

Available as a digital download via Bandcamp on this link:

Psymon Marshall 2019.

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