I haven't encountered the work of Alexander von Meilenwald before, but he's been around for a while and has a pair of active projects. He's the drummer in a black/death metal band called Truppensturm, who have released a couple of albums since 2006 and he's the founder and sole member of this project which is now on its sixth album since 2003. It's labelled atmospheric black/doom metal, but it appears to me like he takes that very much as a starting point rather than a boundary.
It's ambitious stuff, this album running close to seventy minutes but featuring only seven songs, with three of those lasting into double digits. I'm assuming that it's a concept album or at least a thematic collection of songs that revolve around strange magical goings on at the end of the earth. The Greeks and Romans saw Thule as the location farthest north, while grimoires are books of spells. Put the two components together and this album certainly feels like it's introducing us to unseen places that can be found on no maps.
I liked the opener, Ropes into Eden, immediately. It's an engaging piece, whose minute and half intro of oscillating guitar grabs our attention and makes us wonder where the song is going to take us. It's quite the ride, at points an almost ritual storytelling chant and at others a dramatic narrative played out in front of an eerie and atmospheric backdrop. It ought to grab any fan of extreme metal not as a mere exercise in brutality but a mechanism to create weird art.
However, I liked the next song so much more that it sold me on the album all on its own. If Ropes into Eden told me a strange story, The Tundra Shines grabbed me through the magic of technology and let me be part of it. Everything about this one speaks to me, from its outré whalesong opening through a doomy deliberation punctuated with cultlike celebrations to a sort of spiritual conversation. A ritual beat keeps us grounded while everything else going on takes us on a bizarre journey. And there's a lot going on. It lasts eleven minutes and I immersed myself in it a few times before allowing the album to move onward.
And that's just the first twenty-five minutes. These two epics give way to a set of shorter songs, where shorter here means six to nine minutes each, that weren't as immediate to me but which grow well on repeat listens. One thing I realised exploring these shorter songs is just how good the drum sound is on this album. I'd enjoyed it on The Tundra Shines, whether fast and urgent or slow and resonant, but there's percussion like whips on Mammothpolis and that highlights how crystal clear the beats are in these songs and how beautifully each of them transitions into silence.
What else struck me is how far this drifts from its black metal roots. There's definitely black metal on this album, in abundance, and there's plenty of doom too, but this weaves its inexorable way into the less usual genres of gothic rock, post-punk and even new wave. It's never less than heavy, but this is a very different way forward from the avant-garde genre mashing of Celtic Frost than I've heard before. There are points where this album, which would have been an unimaginable thing in the early British eighties, touches on Bauhaus and Depeche Mode and other names I wouldn't expect to cite here.
The variety in vocal styles helps too. Quite frankly, I got far too immersed in this to quantify any sort of break down between them, but a lot of this is harsh in a blackened death sort of way, while a lot of it is clean and resonant in more of a gothic vein. There are spoken word sections too, which only add a level of drama to music that's inherently dramatic anyway. While I'm only seeing Michael Zech's name credited on a variety of odd instruments, like Jew's harp and EBow, along with effects, so I'm unaware of who the female vocalists are, but there's a middle eastern voice on Anchoress in Furs and a distant echoing soprano on Deserts to Bind and Defeat. Maybe they're samples.
I'm already rating this highly, but I need to throw this onto headphones and listen in the dark in the middle of the night, because I think it may merit more than an already highly recommended 8/10.