A review, written by VITRIOL of Santa Sangre Magazine:
Melankolia is the project of ambient/neoclassical musician Mike O’Brien, under which name he has released two previous albums, the self-released “Nokturnum” (2008) and “Orpheus Down” (Quartier23, 2010). Mike is also one half of Gil-Galad, a neoclassical project that draws its content and inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, the other half of which is Marc Hoyland, and has recently started an ambient/field recordings project named James the Lesser. “III” is being released on the German label Quartier23, home for many pioneering ritual and ambient artists, such as Hoyland, Kristus Kut and Akoustik Timbre Frekuency among others. The album is available in two editions with different artwork each, the limited edition counting only 23 already sold out copies, and containing artwork based on Gustave Doré‘s engravings for Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”. The images are symbolically chosen to represent the artist’s own course towards a meaningful self-expression.
“III” is divided into three initial parts related to the formation of the Shadow during an eclipse, namely Penumbra, Umbra and Antumbra, that according to the artist’s own interpretation represent the three parts of the human entity: mind, spirit and soul. The final part, Postscript, represents a calcification in a way, of the internal process that has preceded, as well as a substantiation of its results. The completed formation of a new personality or a new Self. The three phases of an eclipse potentially correspond to many concepts, such as the triple Goddess, the three alchemical phases of the Magnum Opus (Nigredo, Albedo, Rubedo), the IAO formula, the Thelemic signs of NOX, the Jungian symbols of individuation and several other things. Each of these phases is completed by a meditation (Quies Animi I, II and III), and we can perceive how each phase is experienced based on the titles of the songs, and of course on the music itself. The first part for instance, is a sequence of romantic, slow-tempo, piano-based tracks permeated by a feeling of noble, withdrawn melancholy, the kind that one would engage in while stargazing at night in a beautiful landscape, or listening to the waves break on some distant, quiet shore.
“Formation of the Shadow” focuses on the building up of that feeling, with a sweet, downcast melody enchanting the listener, while something slightly ominous lurks in the air. A storm is coming, and there is nothing to be done to stop it. In the nine minutes of “Seas of Eternity” the journey begins, the beautiful melody prevails through sounds of thunderstorm and imposing, while hollow synths create an undefined anxiety. As the track progresses the air is cleared and the music slowly fades into the background. “In My Time of Silence” is a slow, sombre track with a medieval overtone and heavenly male and female voices, weaving together in the internalization of the sadness and loneliness. The first of the meditations continues in the same ethereal, medieval overtone to complete the phase of Penumbra, the coming of the Shadow.
Now the Umbra has fully set in, the tone is darker and in “Alone and Dreaming” we can hear the thunder roaring and bellowing in the distance, while the traveller continues his lonely course upwards and at the same time inwards. “The Darkness, Ever Present” features some very dramatic, theatrical vocals by Daniel Klyne of Appalachian Winter, who recites the lyrics in a high-strung, Shakespearean manner. His recitation fits very well with the ethereal ambient, soundtrack-like composition and poetic lyrics, personifying the agony of the search for truth and meaning. Immundus lends some of his ghostly dark ambient wizardry to the forlorn mournfulness of “Beauty..Interrupted”, resulting in a minimalistic narration of timed pauses, repetition of phrases and layered ambient sounds in the background. Neoclassical and dark ambient may seem like opposed genres, but in this track they coexist perfectly, giving depth and atmosphere to the narration, as if it were the tale of an old king, from the time when his kingdom was thriving and he was young and strong. Now everything has died, and all that is left are half-disintegrating memories. The triumphs of the past are put aside, cherished yet overcome, and what remains is the realization of their passing. The road to a new Self is clear. The second meditation, “Place of Memory”, an overall ethereal ambient track with harmonious strings, allows the traveller to rest awhile before embarking on the final part of his journey.
I was especially struck by the fact that the third stage, Antumbra, the release of the tension in a way, does not denote some sort of exit from the situation where the soul finds itself, rather an immersion and acceptance of it. It begins by discovering “The Beauty of Suffering”, and that is in fact a very sincere and uncompromising path to personal enlightenment: to find structure in the darkness, beauty in pain, to come closer to understanding the purpose of it all. This part of the recording contains some of the most beautiful tracks in the album, from the effortless, flowing lucidity and classical grace of “The Beauty of Suffering” and “The Mirror of the Past” to the shadowy, frozen dark ambient atmospheres of “Lucidity through Melancholy”,where Karsten Hamre mediates to help breed more darkness, it is the part of the record where Melankolia’s compositional and executional skills shine the most evidently, and it is impossible for the listener not to be utterly taken in.
After the final rest comes the Postscript, the soul has now attained its realization and it is time to reach outwards, to shift the focus from the internal to the external. The tracks in this final part contain more symphonic, sometimes even majestic elements than the previous part of the recording, in what I believe to symbolize. That is partly due to the musicians who collaborate in these tracks. “Bring Me Victory”, where Melankolia collaborates with Mortiis, is timed by rhythmic percussions along an atmospheric ambient sequence, while “Take Me From This Place” contains growling, spooky vocals by Buer, that come in complete opposition to the atmospheric, meditative ambient sounds they accompany. “Eastern Sun, Western Darkness” mesmerizes the listener with its striking female vocals, strings and flutes by Croatian ensemble Loell Duinn, giving an ethnic character to the track. The recording ends with “Destiny’s March”, co-written with Marc Hoyland, that is somewhat different than the rest of the album. It is an instrumental martial track with bombastic percussions and majestic sting sequences, its austere rhythms reminiscent of an army marching through the battlefield. Somehow that is appropriate when one considers the remainder of the title (For All Time). The traveller has conquered the Shadow, and marches onwards victorious, to fulfill his destiny.
“III” is a very sensitive and personal album, absolutely sincere in terms of its source of inspiration. It depicts the personal journey to self-transformation in a symbolic manner, the hardships that may ensue from such an effort, and the embracing of the inner Shadow and feeling of sadness towards the acceptance of oneself and one’s place in the world. As the journey progresses so does the music, from the intimate, fragile character of the first stages to the more extroverted tracks of Postscript. The impressive number of guest contributors that can be found here adds diversity and range to what is already a very thoughtfully structured and well executed atmospheric ambient/neoclassical album. The diversity of the elements included in the album enhance the layered presentation of the music, which at all times remains expressive of an elegant, classical and highly romantic ideal of beauty, harmony and grace.
released June 21, 2012
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