Winternacht - Lands of Ice and Snow
With the concept of "sound" in its purest form being increasingly musical in nature, more and more artists are taking the route of experimentation to near-cinematic levels and crafting what are essentially mood pieces. Such aural quests may contain not a single spoken word, yet still convey all manner of strange or original messages. These artists use the ear as a canvas, across which they can paint all manner of surreal images or stark moods. Seeing as the use of purely instrumental music is so constricting when it comes to transferring the artist's message across a medium, the tones and techniques used must fit the concept perfectly.
With this in mind, how does Winternacht and its Lands of Ice and Snow hold up? The debut release from Malphas (otherwise of Nargul), Lands of Ice and Snow is an attempt to recreate Winter via music. For me personally, Winter holds many complex emotions, memories, and ideals; because of this, readers should take my review with a grain of salt as it is readily apparent everyone could interpret these sounds much differently than I do.
As far as interpretation goes by the way, this is pretty solid thematically. Composed of lush, chilled ambience, the disc conjures feelings of isolation, cold, chills, solitude, barren apathy, and inner darkness. In terms of picture associations, wisps of snow drifting over white plains stretching forever into the distance is your best bet, though icicle caves, auroras, and deepest blues have their place too. Malphas has a lot of themes, concepts, and traditions to work with, and I'd dare say that this would make an oddly fitting Christmas album when that time of year is afoot.
Besides that though, I'm not so sure what to think. In a trace of irony, the disc's crowning glory (its unwavering bond to a well-defined concept) is also its biggest fault. As majestic and awe-inspiring as Winter snow can look outside your house the first night after a blizzard, three days later the cabin-fever has set in and you are undoubtedly going insane from personal boredom. This is in essence the dualism inherent in Lands of Ice and Snow, and probably the reason this has become one of the more challenging reviews to write in quite some time. Lands of Ice and Snow treads a very thin line between stoic, subtle grace and claustrophobia-inducing meandering; it really all depends on the mood of the listener. What does that mean exactly? Well, you'll love this album if you need some rest-and-relaxation set to glimmering artic bliss, and you'll hate it if you want something with palpable energy. In fact, as far as CDs go, this is probably as relaxed as music can get; anyone looking for some fist-pumping music is definitely in the wrong season with Winternacht.
Another gripe is the relative similarity between tracks. Normally I'd treat this as a major error, but here I'm willing to forgive a little as it makes sense conceptually for the music to be uniform. Despite my kindness, opening epic "Wandering Through a Frozen Cavern" is pretty much the entire length of the CD in one nineteen minute song. With another six tracks and around thirty minutes more of music, the slowed, shimmering synths and crystalline hums that seemed so intriguing at first just seem redundant when done in shorter form later.
That isn't to say Lands of Ice and Snow lacks variety. I've already touched on "Wandering" for example, but there are other highlights present. The sinister, frosty build of the album's title track, "Lands of Ice and Snow" is both soothing and evil at the same time, and the near-spiritual hums of "A Room of Shimmering Dreams" will make you wonder if you've stumbled onto some religious ceremony older than time and performed by ice monks. The insanely bleak "Winter Graveyard" is arguably the best track, as Malphas uses exceedingly subtle nuance to really make the track stick out from its fellows. "Graveyard" employs glacial melodies, the likes of which are shiny, freezing-cold, and blatantly-slow. Slowly but surely, like snow burying a frost-bitten corpse, extra depth is added and the song become increasingly stark as it progresses further in. The crowning point of both song and album is Malpha himself, the man using a bone-chilling rasp to whisper and taunt in the darkness. At first I thought maybe I was just vocal-starved, but with repeated listens I've decided Malphas could really have something special with this approach, and I'd like to hear more like this from him.
Lands of Ice and Snow is an interesting journey through an entire season, one typically associated with the greatest beauty and the starkest death. This paradox is directly reflected by Winternacht to the best of ability, but is never fully captured in my humble opinion. It is almost as if Lands of Ice and Snow is too broad, each song reflecting the entire concept of Winter rather than narrowing things a bit and taking each track as an individual nuance of the season as a whole (one song for snow, one for Yule, one for frostbite, one for snowboarding, you get the idea). All-in-all, I think this is a noble effort, but one that could have been better realized.
Winternacht's Lands of Ice and Snow
1. Wandering Through a Frozen Cavern
3. Lands of Ice and Snow
4. A Room of Shimmering Dreams
5. Wandering Continues
6. Winter Graveyard
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