Friday, 23 August 2019

Sysselmann - Ritual of the Aurora Noir EP

Album: Ritual of the Aurora Noir EP
Artist: Sysselmann
Label: Winter-Light
Catalogue no: WIN 025

     1.      Ritual of the Aurora Noir
     2.      MS Nordlysnatt
     3.      The Long Wait (Memorial Mix)
     4.      First Winter Light

I make no secret of the fact that I have long been fascinated by the northern regions of this world of ours. If there is indeed such a thing as a soul, then mine is irresistibly drawn to the septentrional, those areas where snow and ice blanket the land, and for long periods of the year the sun is absent. I put it down to the fact that I was born in 1963, when the UK had one of the worst winters on record with drifts up to six feet in some areas – it’s a fanciful reason I know, but I’d still like to think that it did have some bearing on my love of the Scandinavian countries, and Iceland.

Be that as it may, as beautiful and stunning as we deem the colder regions, it also has its darker side, and that not all is as picture postcard perfect. Sysselmann’s third release (and his first for Winter-Light) draws moody portraits of the ice-bound (well, not so much these days sadly) head and tail of our planet, ranging from the ineffable to the darkly unsettling. When you’re subjected to complete darkness for long stretches of the year, raging blizzards, and sub-sub-zero temperatures, neither the Arctic nor Antarctica will be featured in your local travel agent’s holiday brochures anytime soon.

The title track announces the onset of the dark season, a deep drone settling heavily into the atmosphere and the wailings of wind-driven squalls bringing with it blasts of deeply freezing air. The absence of light, broken only by the sharp clarity of the star-studded vista arching above one’s head, only goes to intensify the cold, seemingly concentrating it into tiny needle-sharp spears driving unremittingly into the body in spite of layers of thermal clothing. Caught out unprepared, the only consolation you’re likely to get from this is that your last view of life will be the dancing aurora waving serenely in the sky while you lie stretched out on snow awaiting death.

‘MS Nordlysnatt’, which roughly translated means something along the lines of MS Northern Lights Night, breaks upon the consciousness with a wash of glacial waters, crackling and crepitating until a species of calm descends with quiet string-like drones. If we look up, the sky is alive with waves of light being blown by unseen winds, a celestial light-show performing to music too rarefied for us to hear. To witness such a wondrous natural phenomenon is to make contact with the numinous and transcendent, as if the sky and earth are communing and the dancing curtains are acting as a bridge between the material and the heavenly. Who knows what spirits and entities are travelling those empyrean paths, and their purpose in doing so: are they welcoming new spirits, or are they visiting those still trapped on the material plane?

Is the ‘Long Wait’ of the third track the stretch of time between the dimming of the light and its resurgence months later? One imagines the slow, multiple rotations of the stars between ‘twilight’ and ‘dawn’ here: I see a time-lapse sequence in which the stars wheel in their assigned paths while wispy, insubstantial clouds flash past on their way to warmer climes perhaps. The stars are permanent while the clouds are ephemeral, with the land they pass over somewhere in between – appearing to be here forever because of the short span of time on this planet, but inevitably disappearing in cataclysm many billions of years hence. ‘First Winter Light’ is the herald of the new dawn, the end of the reign of night, and the welcome return of the sun. Life, as sparse as it is here, awakens once more, emerging sleepily to greet the much-missed golden orb of light. It’s an unhurried process, the purpling and blueing of the horizon nothing more than a sliver at first, until the light breaks free of the shackles of night’s imprisonment, and it bursts forth to claim its rightful hegemony for the time being.

A closely studied and observed musical characterisation of the remotest and least accessible parts of the world, where life and nature is governed more heavily by the seasons than most other parts of the world (perhaps dominated would be a better word in this context). A part that is less understood, second only in mysteriousness to the deeps of the oceans. It describes and accentuates its various moods and landscapes, and our aesthetic responses to them. Perhaps this is why I truly connect with the ‘soul’ of the northern lands – it’s that ultimate mystery, fenced off from the rest of the world unless you have the means to visit it, covered in darkness physical and metaphysical, and bathed in legend and lore. To that end, I think Sysselmann’s reflections on these places successfully mirror those very aspects, delineating the beauty, the danger, and the utter serenity with precise brushstrokes.

Available as a CD in a 4-panel digipak in an edition of 200, and a digital download from the link below:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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