This Mortal Night
This Mortal Night
Download release only
Release date: 10/21/12
I fully admit to being an old-school person when it comes to recorded music, i.e. I cut my teeth on buying LPs at underground record stores in the late '60s and early '70s. Because of this, I am not up to date on the plethora of ambient netlabels out there, many of which I believe are releasing some excellent music. I only wish my limited time could be spent scouring the limits of the World Wide Web looking for gems such as the one I am reviewing now, the debut from This Mortal Night on the netlabel Katabaz records. The label queried me about this release and I thank my lucky stars I clicked on the link in the email.
This Mortal Night is an anonymous one-person "band" (according to the label) who, when I asked for further info, replied with "…we prefer not to give personal info (name, country), essentially because our music is based on imagination, fantasy and evocative atmosphere... and, of course, we are just a bunch of normal people so we don't really want to show what's going on "behind the magician curtain" if you know what I mean." Which I think is fair enough.
Instrumentation on the album consists of piano, synths, and some field recordings. The "tags" on the album page on bandcamp run the gamut: "ambient," "electronic," "dark ambient," "black metal" and even "dungeon synth" and "hell." If I had read those tags without streaming the music, I would've expected to hate this recording. While this certainly fits under the ambient banner and perhaps to some degree under the dark ambient one as well, the eight tracks are less "dark" than some might interpret the word, and instead might be classified more as atmospheric, moody, somber, with some elements of tragic melancholy (a la Tim Story, Mychael Danna or Jeff Greinke – his more recent works). The piano plays a lead role in much of the music, with an emphasis on minor notes and chords, but synths certainly contribute at times.
The first track, "Moan of the Winter Wind," starts off with, what else, wind, punctuated by mournful piano notes and a reverberating tone that has an eerie element to it (it sounds like a twangy guitar with a lot of reverb). This is probably the "darkest" song on the album, but it's more creepy and scary in a walking-through-a-graveyard-at-night way than a bottomless-pit-of-despair way which a lot of what I would label dark ambient tends to sound like to me. "My Cold and Beautiful Nights" strips away to just minimal piano, drenched in sustain/reverb, so that the notes overlap link ripples in water. A smattering of textural synth effects add some sepia tone to the sorrowful, melancholy of the piano, and on this track comparisons to Danna's recordings such as skys or North of Niagara would be accurate. "Echoes of Long Ago" bumps up the contributions from synthesizers while still having the piano a featured player. Classic retro synth chords underlie the piano while metallic-sounding noises float above the proceedings. "Field and Stream" is positively light by comparison to "Moan of the Winter Wind," as the reverbed piano melody has a warmish tint to it. Crickets open "Midnight Lake" and the mood is tranquil, as if one were sitting down by a dock off of the titular lake, watching the moon reflected on the blackness of the water, serenaded by the sounds of the night. A brushing of ethereal synths adds the perfect amount of ambient atmosphere. At just 1:43 in duration, the track is way too short (but then, the sure sign of good music is that it leaves the audience wanting more, yes?). "A Dark Sinister" opens with female chorals that are more angelic than sinister, although not in a syrupy way. Mournful synth horns and high pitched tones merge with the chorals which come and go from background to foreground and back again. The way the various synths are layered on this track is impressive (I'm listening on headphones and the mix is perfectly amorphous as it should be, i.e. the sounds all coalesce to surround you rather than being placed at unique positions in the soundfield). The last two tracks are "The Great White Hollow," which is another solemn piano tone poem with an emotionally neutral evocation, less impactful than the other tracks on the album and, as a result, it suffers somewhat by comparison, and "Those Were The Nights" on which the sound of wind and sparkling bell tones reminds me of Jeff Greinke's recent beautiful minimalism.
This Mortal Night (the album) flits between darkish creepiness, atmospheric pensiveness, and soothing calmness, but these mood swings are bathed in the unifying aspect of the piano's presence on most tracks as well as a general pervasive feeling of gentle melancholy occasionally tinted with unease on one end and somber reflection on the other. I know all too well that characterizing an ambient song as "beautiful" or, even worse, "pretty" is the kiss of death, but some of the tracks here are just that, e.g. "Midnight Lake." Finally, the cover image, a black and white ink drawing of a lonely, hooded figure, walking in the dead of night against a driving rain storm in a rural landscape, perfectly captures the mood of this solidly recommended album.
Look, folks, Katabaz is only charging as little as 2 bucks for this recording (or you can pay more if you like). If you enjoy Tim Story, Jeff Greinke, Mychael Danna, or similar artists, you won't be sorry you plunked down your money on This Mortal Night. I think it's a real find, personally, and I certainly hope to hear a lot more from the artist and the new netlabel in the future.