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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mystified - "Eschate Thule"

Artist: Mystified
Album: Eschate Thule
Year: 2014
Label: Cryo Chamber
Genre: Drone
Website: www.cryochamber.com

I'm always a bit skeptical when I hear a new Mystified album; a quick look at discogs shows us that this is a project with over 300(!) releases to date over it's rather short life span, which doesn't even include his various side projects. Is it even remotely possible to craft good music when you're making tens of albums per year? Well, the newest (at least for this week) Mystified album takes us on a journey to the cold, white lands of the far north. The cover art is absolutely beautiful, though perhaps it gives us an unrealistic expectation for the audio portion.

Usually when an album is described with phrases like "never ending tundra" and "frozen wasteland" it means that it's going to be monotonous, lengthy, minimal drone, and that's exactly what we get here. The opener "Bering Strait" is one of the best on the album. It's got a very melodic guitar-like drone that carries the listener on a cloud of light. Every so often there is a weak drum hit that fits, but could have been processed better and more powerfully. The song has the right tone, but doesn't really go anywhere despite being nearly 9 minutes long. As you will see, that is a dominant defining characteristic of the album. One of the focal points of this release seems to be strings, which appear on several tracks. Our first introduction to them is on the second track "Frozen Vapor".  Honestly, they sound kind of jarring and annoy me. As with the first song, this one contains an interesting and seemingly arctic vibe, but it doesn't evolve in any discernible way. It's basically a dude playing a few notes on a synth over an unchanging low rumbling drone for 8 minutes. The third and longest track, "Deep in the Tundra" takes us in a darker and more organic direction. This one features what sounds like crackling ice and water mixed with a deep drone. This song builds up a suitable ice cave vibe, though despite following a similar template, it pales in comparison to something like Necrophorus' "Drifting In Motion" (Which is basically the standard for arctic ambient imo, hence why I reference it in every review of this style). Even still, this is one of the better tracks on the album although it could have been several minutes shorter and dictated the same journey. "Patriotic Exploration" is easily the worst song here. It's got a terribly annoying looping string sound  that clumsily repeats each iteration with an awkward stutter. It sounds like a cheap children's museum display where you're watching a wooden figure dutifully climb a tiny glacier while a broken speaker tells you about the conquest of some notable arctic explorer, and this awful string sound is supposed to represent his glorious anthem. "Northwest Passage" returns to the sweeping strings sound of the second track, and the album closer "Whiteout" goes back to the spacious, ice cave vibe, courtesy of what sound like field recordings. Unfortunately, "Whiteout" is more minimal than it's predecessor "Deep in the Tundra" and the quality of said recordings isn't too good. You can get a quite usable recording of water (for example) with the stock iphone microphone, so I'm not sure why in 2014 people are using low quality samples.

Overall a mediocre album. Not awful, but at the same time nothing particularly stands out about it. It has more low points than high. It's like a Kammarheit record if you took the soul and defining characteristics out of it. It's slow and repetitive, but it fails to grasp & immerse the listener. It's hard to accurately articulate critique of this type of music because it's so subtle and there is a very thin line between minimal & boring and minimal & genius. Eschate Thule contains plenty of elements from the formula, but it just doesn't have that "it" characteristic that transports it across the threshold from boring, droning ambient to enveloping, deep droning ambient. If Glacial Movements was a camp atop a massive glacier, this would be the traveler in a boat at the foot of its icy wall, looking up at them.

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