When I was young and when I would purchase a new record by a favorite band of mine, I would lay on the floor of my old bedroom, close the door, put away the phone and any other distractions, plug in the headphones and allow myself to be completely immersed in the music.
Nowadays, it seems everyone is in a state of having to go somewhere, to do something. When I first received Das Seelenbrechen, I started it up on my computer as I was working on something and jamming it out from my studio reference monitors.
Upon the opening of the first track, I had to hit stop. I knew instantly that this album required my undivided attention; that this album sounded more like a film, read more like a book. I turned everything off, grabbed my best pair of headphones and laid on the floor to allow myself to be engulfed by the music.
This isn’t the right or wrong answer on the album – as I’m not sure what the meanings are in the lyrics and in the music – but when I listen through this album, I picture a storyline. Das Seelenbrechen unravels itself, displaying pictures, scenes, characters and a world: something set amongst a futuristic world, in one that is about to be ripped apart. Perhaps utopian, perhaps something not unlike a place we know of that is building today.
“Hiber” begins almost immediately with vocals… a characteristic rarely seen these days in Metal. The second vocal-line that appears gives you a preview of the greatness to come in this record – in both its deep production and unexpected musical production-tokens; things perhaps initially unnoticed upon first listen. On the second lyric, you hear Ihsahn’s signature scream, with an almost mechanical, robotic-doubling underneath that you don’t see occur again; something so brief and so sudden that it makes you want to hear it again.
Once the stage is set, the song then takes an instrumental interlude; one that could be considered the intro of the song itself, only traded unexpectedly into the second movement of the track.
Das Seelenbrechen is a record of many unexpected twists and turns as far as song structures, movements and feelings. “Hiber” is a menacing opening: at first it grips you by the throat, then it drops you down upon the introduction of the song’s melodic motif that will appear throughout the track. Allowing the song to come in at full velocity, then diminish into minimalism, taking its time to ramp up the anticipation of things to come, is an immensely effective stylistic choice that takes this record more from conventional album to something more like a film soundtrack, or in this listeners’ ears: a film itself.
Hearing this album is to be immersed within a storyline: one that moves like a classical piece, however utilizing completely modern colors. Ihsahn has no problem with building, dropping, ascending back up, then plunging the song down to infinite depths, just before bringing a track to it’s closing.
The song structure is refreshingly unorthodox and opens you to the world that becomes Das Seelenbrechen. “Hiber” is the introduction to the conflict at hand.
“Regen” is the settling of the flames set by “Hiber”. The destruction set by the opening track – the startling ups and downs the listener was just taken through are now replaced by a somber, colder undertone. The beautiful little piano line at first has notes familiar to the ear, then introduces melodies that make your brain feel like it’s hearing a scalar mode unlike one heard before. Ihsahn’s soft singing, the occasional music-box-like bells and soft-drumming paint a picture of a building dawn, now climbing around the embers of a small fire.
When the horns kick in… when the guitars and screaming come in, you feel the full scope of the picture. The musical crescendo escalates with wonderful strings coupled with the track into operatic grandiosity. One can picture ancient cathedrals surrounded by monolithic, dystopian spires as the sun rises on the world Ihsahn has created; the juxtaposing of classical music and Metal have never sounded better than on the end of this track.
“NaCl” has the world already laid out for you: the musical-tone of this song don’t have an evil or righteous tone; the song feels like an observation of the futuristic world Ihsahn has brought the listener in to. The arpeggiated chords coupled with Ihsahn’s now more soaring vocal create a feeling of calm – always taking its time to fall back into that initial groove motif. You feel as if you’re floating above and viewing life below.
Half-way through, you feel the song begin to darken; the rhythmic theme once familiar now begins to decompose and transfigure into something that hints of the darker things to come on this record and in its storyline. You are given this glimpse for only a moment – then you are taken back into safety, carried within the original, familiar mood of the track.
Electronic tones begin to carve their path in Das Seelenbrechen on “Pulse”. A small electronic drum back beat is paired with an ever-present piano theme. Rumbling distortion-pulse-currents start to flow beneath the track (a character you will see again later in the picture); the hauntingly powerful wave of sound effectively serves once again as a preview, a Sauron-ic spot-light creeping over the city-scape that is this album.
The lyrics and singing style, the repetition of the vocals and musical themes all give you a look into Ihsahn’s psyche more than ever. Within this track, you feel the pain – the hurt – that it took to open himself up as a lyricist in this song.
At 2:07 on the word “Cold…” choir vocals stream from out the word itself, pouring like rivers from the ocean… and they stick with you; their presence sends chills down your spine.
After the quieting, saddening bridge… the calm before the storm… in comes the guitar slide that orchestrates the climax of the song. All the layers are present: the guitars, the choirs, the electronics – it’s all been building up to this moment.
The lyrical lines in the final chorus are words that make you look inward – words that turn the observant listener unexpectedly into the protagonist of the story. When has one not felt these words within themselves? Never before this moment has Ihsahn crafted lyrics more relatable; never before this moment have we as listeners been given a look into this great songwriter’s mind.
“Incompatible… with myself… too proud, too ashamed… incompatible… incompatible… too proud, too ashamed… incompatible… with myself… too proud, too ashamed… incompatible… incompatible.”
Black Metal – in my eyes – was the rebellion to the normalcy that Metal had become comfortable with. Eventually when Black Metal began settling into its own state of normalcy, a handful of bands within the genre would transform it once again into something new. Emperor did this with each record, and Eremita accomplished this feat very well; pairing in instruments, sounds, textures and moods that would never have been expected.
To hear “Tacit II” is to hear Black Metal for the first time all over again. It is a terrifying listen. The song never quite establishes a rhythm you can lock in to; the drumming has taken a life of its own, hammering away in a chaotic and claustrophobic manner. Vocally – this track has some of the most intense screaming Ihsahn has laid on record. A Galas-like viciousness is present; within the vocal you can hear the screaming shift into notes at time, you can feel the grit and the razor-sharp tearing in the vocal cords.
If speaking storyline of the album, gravity has opened up, razing the structures of the dystopia. Everything collapses within itself, images of debris are painted by the guitars’ tremolo and underlying soundscapes.
“Tacit I” is the answer to what happened in the moments before “Tacit II”. The chaos of the drumming in “II” is now a more graspable beat in “I,” you can feel the foreshadowing of destruction within the symphonic swells.
This track feels immense. Its weight and width are immeasurable in scale. Upon the song taking a breath in its march-section, the listener is soon taken into a brief moment of an evil-sounding jazz section, then into a flowing epic soundtrack-piece.
The scream at 3:13 starts with a rasp, and then holds into a clear note; the efficacy of something shrill becoming clear, moves once again in intuitively opposite directions of where the listener would assume.
The beginning of Das Seelenbrechen introduced us to the world in the album – it’s characters, the struggle and conflict. The “Tacit” pieces displayed the climax of the story. From “Rec” on, the listener is now plunged into the degradation and what remains after destruction. The album here begins to morph into truly dark territory, exploring sonics and moods and spaces uncharted.
“Rec” feels like a soliloquy set on the stage of the now scarring wounds inflicted by “Tacit II”. Whispers and ghosts of remnants of that damage are felt in the drumming, at first clicking away on non-drumhead-surfaces and soon building into a mechanical trudging; images of engines and machines become present. The piano line in the intro plays inside and outside of tempo, causing unrest; it eventually is replaced by a high pitch noise nestled in a fully built up band and song.
“M” begins with spoken word over a newly-laid version of ambient-noise. In the distance, you hear the giant swell reminiscent of the tone heard in earlier tracks; vocally, the lyrics read like poetry. In the right ear, you hear Ihsahn’s speaking slightly distorted, the left ear feels like an evil whisper; the mechanical tone from the second line of Hiber is felt here as well.
The viciously intense line, “By how many cuts will you die?” evokes a brief pause and wonderment of where the track will go from here. Amazingly, the song takes a blues-approach from this point and somehow it seems like exactly what should have come next.
The song begins to quiet back down into the ambient soundscape backdrop that it has been living in since the catastrophe.
Beginning with an eery guitar line, “Sub Ater” is a song of constant organic growth. Introduced first after the guitar line is the ambient-backdrop, then sounds of bizarre synths and occasional textural drumming.
The guitar line tells the story of the song, it builds in pattern and note and chord – attempting to transcend; the violins pulling it back down in their tremolo-buzzing. Once the drums come in, more building begins behind the guitar and vocal lines.
New sonic-characters begin to surface as the song nears its close, tension escalates – then drops; “Sub Ater” is sucked back into the ambient void.
Das Seelenbrechen‘s story continues in a graveyard of debris, electrical sparks, and lone-wandering. The drumming feels like limping-footsteps, wandering amongst the ruined dystopia. The distortion waves first heard in “Pulse” are back, more frantic and determined than before – seeking out, following. In this song, it feels as if the protagonist – still surviving – is left wandering amongst the wreckage. “See” moves as unpredictably as an ocean: moments of steadiness and ease, into pulsating rifts and tides… climaxing with a tidal wave of gut-wrenching screaming, ambient and electronic-degradation-noise and musical instruments chaotically rumbling away. The repetitive vocal lines follow the motif of the record, and consistently keep the intensity at a maximum.
The piece settles in the static and returns to the ever-changing sound of the ambient void. The final chapters of Das Seelenbrechen prove there is no light at the end of the tunnel in this story, only the exploration of the remnants of catastrophe.
“Entropie” begins the close of Das Seelenbrechen. It feels as if it’s coming entirely from the mind of the electronic-machines that have become the backdrop of the storyline. The ambient-noise set from the second-half of the record on have evolved into more of a body than an eye: the pulsing has pulled back from it’s search and fallen into a quieter place of rest – is the pulse at rest from completing what it set out do to?
If one viewed the “Tacit” pieces as the climax and “See” as the conclusion, “Entropie” and “Hel” is the realm after all is said and done in Das Seelenbrechen – a purgatory of sorts. “Hel” has a haunting choir that brings back classical singing for the first time in a while, with the electric blips and breaks that sound like a failing heart monitor as the main voice of the song.
Watching this album evolve and morph from the utilization of more human-performed instruments alongside vocals as the main dialogue of the record, only to shift drastically into a brutally-chaotic middle, then begin it’s decomposition into depths uncharted before; relying on a void and back-bone of carefully fleshed-out noise – is quite the voyage. Das Seelenbrechen brings you places entirely unexpected; the album is obviously a work of the absolute challenging of oneself to pull from the reaches somewhere beyond the norm and the comfort zone. The storyline envisioned alone by this writer is merely one way to go about seeing this album, Das Seelenbrechen is a complex listen; it’s an immense work of art that will always leave more for the mind to interpret and discover.