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Into the woods - Primer & Interview [2008-07-24]

Striborg is one of the most controversial and prolific figures in Black Metal scene today often hated and misunderstood by mainly straighter laced metal heads but celebrated and praised in more experimental metal and experimental music circles in general.  Striborg's one and only member is Tasmania, Sin Nanna & at his most inventive he takes black metal down new dark and heady corridors, using lo-fi and noisy elements as a composition tools and atmosphere maker, often weaving bizarre and creative elements through out his song grim trails. So after reviewing some of his more recent works and highly enjoy them I felt it’d be interesting to look back to his blacked past with a primer, but firstly you’ll find a brief interview with Ron W Veltkamp joint owner of Dutch label Displeased records who are now Striborg's primarily label releasing all new works as well as reissues.

m[m] How did you come to sign Striborg in the first place?
Ron Our A&R guy Roman Buschman let us hear some Striborg albums and after some listening sessions, we agreed the band would be great on our label. We loved the desperate vocals, the harsh guitars and the monotone drumming. Not sure which albums we heard first, but they were the early ones.
Roman contacted Sin Nanna for a record deal and things started pretty soon. After we released the Embittered darkness and Nefaria albums, we agreed to reissue the previous albums, which were mostly released in very limited editions.
We have talked many times on the phone and Sin Nanna is someone who knows what he wants in terms of the music he makes and the message he's sending with it. Living in a very low populated and undamaged, beautiful island like Tasmania, it's understandable where Sin Nanna gets his inspiration for making the music he does. I have a deep respect for him.

m[m] How did the idea of the dvd come about?
Ron The idea came when I was on the phone with Sin Nanna and he told me about how Tasmania looks and that all the pictures he took for the artwork are from Tasmania. The images help create the atmosphere for the music. That's when we thought of making the DVD, which would be perfect for enhancing the atmosphere even more with moving images. In my opinion (and nearly all reviews of the DVD) Sin Nanna succeeded in doing so.

m[m] Does Sin Nanna have complete artistic control over the covers and artwork of each release?
Ron Yes, he does. Although the covers are sent as images and we make something out of it, add the logo and title and send one or more suggestions to Sin Nanna, who then decides which one to use.

m[m] Who decided to replace the reissues with new and different covers?
Ron Sin Nanna decided to change all the artwork. He wanted to do everything better this time. He has access to a better computer and learned more graphics skills, so he can make how he wants it to look.

So onto the primer:

Nefaria/ A Tragic Journey towards the light
This near on 80 minute release is as it's title suggests bringing together two separate releases—Nefaria from 2006 and A Tragic Journey towards the light from 1995. And through there’s 11 years between them, both share similar traits of using lo-fi recording techniques and textures to there advantage and showing Sin Nanna really as a sound artists in his own right. A prime example of this comes with the first and title track of the Nefaria album which finds black metal lo-fi clatter tied to looped melancholy keyboard element with Sin Nanna effect peddled and lo-fi vocals frying over the top sounding like more like a layer of demonic storm noise than vocals—giving the track this wonderfully otherworldly grim & barren 3d feel. Another example of this at the end of A Tragic Journey towards the light album with the track Drowned in Black Beauty II where a melodic and black acoustic guitar track is bent, muffled and waved in a superb grim manner by the lo-fi recording. The journey between the two separate releases is a stroke of lo-fi artistry too, the last track on Nefaria drops quite shocking into muffled almost mono sound half way through, which semi prepares you for the ultra tinny and grim lo-fi air of A Tragic Journey towards the light.

Nefaria was recorded deliberately lo-fi and creatively on a four track and is for the most part made up of shorter tracks with only two tracks going above the nine minute mark. As a result the tracks are more focused, grim and experimental slices of Striborg's black wonder that mixes together keyboard elements, blacked mainly mid pace metallics, Sin Nanna often creative vocals and loads of inventive sonic flare. There seems less a separation between the keyboard tracks and the more metallic tracks with both camps often melding into each other. Every track having its interesting mix of sounds and textures—with a lot of them been wonderfully and darkly harmonic.

A Tragic Journey towards the light was Striborg's first album recorded in May 1995 and really shows his sonic talents already firmly in place and the ability to bring an distinct otherness to the black metal form. This truly is one of the worst recorded, tinny, muffled and grim sounding slices of music you‘ll ever hear. With sped up drum machine high in the mix, along with buzzing thin guitar tone and Sin Nanna vocals panning and bouncing effect loaded all over the places. Topped off with elements of weaving keyboard and quite accomplished played acoustic guitar elements here and there too. But somehow he makes it all work in a wonderful deranged manner, it’s easy to see from this why so many normal metalheads dislike Striborg work so, because though this has it’s origins in Black metal it has more in common with experimental and wonky sounding music from the likes of early Residents, early Throbbing Gristle, etc.

Embittered Darkness/ Isle De Morts
This is another split releases between older and new material with Embittered Darkness coming from 2006 and Isle De Morts 1997 both taking in a total of 73 minutes. First up we have the 6 tracks from Embittered Darkness which sadly for the most part are rather uninspired and bland—the metallic tracks are too long with little change or much of an atmosphere been built up. There for the most part mid-pace grim black metal rides, which don’t use much synth or other elements and vary little in pace or texture—they just seem to drag badly. Of the more atmospheric, creepy and horror filled synth tracks again they seem rather uninspired and almost by numbers feel about them. With only one track of the six really showing something a little different and more interesting, the track in question is Race of apathy which starts off with a wonky/ wavering acoustic strum before kicking in like a quite humble blacked/ lo-fi version of Hawkwind at the more rock/punk based riffing moments.

Isle De Morts fairs a little better, though it’s still not a great Striborg album. It opens up with this noisy old school industrial clanking and feedback hellish sound scape introduction that ends much too soon at just shy of 2 minute. The rest of the album is made up of very grim, lo-fi and mainly speedy black metal attacks with Sin Nanna vocals mixed very high in the mix. There’s certainly a tangible grim and pain atmosphere through -out, with here and there the clunking and noisy elements appear but sadly not enough for my liking. The are no more atmospheric and synth tracks based here either. This is just grim, nasty lo-fi black metal with little change in pace from one track to the next. Interesting to hear but not really something I can see my self returning to often.

Nocturnal emission/ Nyctophobia
This 73 minute releasers brings together Nocturnal emission from 2002 and Nyctophobia from 2003. Starting things off we have the title track of the Nocturnal Emission album which I think is one of the longest Striborg tracks yet at near on 22 minute running time. It starts off with great layers of muffled ultra lo-fi blacked guitar tone at the back of the mix with this whistling/ nocturnal screaming tone at the front of the mix—it really does bring to mind strange and nightmarish feeling of barren night time worlds. Then the drums and keyboards kick in and it’s still very odd—there’s this loop wavering synth melody the keeps stopping and starting, guitars that sound more like wind noise than guitars and Sin Nanna vocals sounding like a squawking storm demon far off in the mix. Towards the end of the track it picks up lo-fi and nightmarish blacked pace with the drums careering away over the stripped guitar tone and an eerier bobbing vibe like synth tone is added over the top. The other three tracks that make up Nocturnal emission are as good too—we have the cold cinematic blacked guitar meets indie wonder of Despondent cries, with its high wondering bass tones and Sin Nanna blacked cries almost treating to fuse/ blow out the instruments. Son of the Moon which is lo-fi gothic punked/ black metal mid-pace march of hypnotic nocturnal guitar, synth tones and storming coming growls from Sin Nanna. And lastly we have manic drum machine and bass blacked attack of The Freezing Northland where the guitar is once more just a fizzing and ripping sound more felt then heard.

Onto Nyctophobia which offers up another four tracks, opening things up get a strange avant track called under black rain, which is sound field recording of a real downpour of rain over which there’s what sound like sawing manic violin, deep ritual banging tone and weird rumbling thunder like tones. Next up is Through the darkened fog which starts off as a fairly speedy lo-fi blacked metal attack and Sin Nanna’s vocals up very high in the mix to quite disturbing effect he users a guttural demonic talking in tongues like tone that when it first comes in will make you jump out of your skin. Later on in the track the pace slows a little and a wavering 80’s horror synth melody drifts ghostly over the top. The next track is Across the thorn field goes from mid-pace to higher paced blacked metal with the vocals very high in the mix again and no really keyboard or other sound intervention. You can hear on these tracks why Sin Nanna’s vocals have sometimes been compared to a demonic Donald duck in some quarters, which does take away from some of the tracks effect in places. Lastly we have into the night moor which is a typical if effective Striborg keyboard track with quite a darkened and hazy almost eastern about it. But all in all both Nocturnal emission/ Nyctophobia are worthwhile and creative takes on black metal.

Spiritual Catharsis
Spiritual Catharsis was recorded between July 2003 and March 2004 and it starts off surprisingly melodic with a fuzzed acoustic like descend with the short instrumental track Grief and trepidation, before diving into the swirling discordant blacked lo-fi crawl of Within the depths of Darkness and sorrow that starts off with picked cold and jagged guitar tones before opening up into sinister graveyard synth, fuzzed guitar tone, vocal and some rather neat primal/percussive matter. The track switchers between been frenzied/ fast and funeral/murky again there are slight harmonic traces here and there but it’s harmonies or sweetness on the turn. As the album progresses there’s a nice mix of slow to mid-pace funeral and eerier fogged grim guitar/ synth marches, a few chilling wavering synth only tracks and odd more fast and frenzied grim lo-fi attack. All the longer metallic tracks are varied with changing paces and sonic route along the way. All in all a consistent if not particularly starling release that clocks in just over the 70 minute mark—not an early Striborg buy but certainly worthy of your time down the line.

Mysterious Semblance
This was recorded between July and December 2004 and is mainly a memorable and chilling collection of tracks that mix mid-pace black metal with haunted ghostly synth drones. Things don’t go too strange or bizarre here it feels like Sin Nanna wanted to concentrate on weaving a consisted eerier atmosphere and not throw in odd edger’s and strange detours too much. Though that’s not to say there not grim quirky moments on display here take the shimmering tremolo heavy melodic guitar elements towards the end of Looming Black Apparition that sounds like Hank Marvin going over to black side or the weird echo heartbeat drum sound that seemly appears randomly and quite creepily appears on top of the original drum elements towards the end of lurking the murky damp forest. All in all a consistent chilling release that focus chiefly on atmosphere—certainly worthy of your time just don’t expect things to get as bizarre as some of his works.

2005’s Trepidation has one the strangest and unnerving opening tracks of Striborg back catalogue. The track in question Pavor Nocturnus which is built around strange field recordings of movement and dogs barking and Bernard Herrmann lo-fi string sawing and keyboard drones, it get’s you nice on edge for the strange and bent blacked sonic fruits within. Next Journey of a Misanthrope gives a fast and effective if not that strange blacked lo-fi attack. With the oddness and sinister unwell feeling returning on track three Reaping the fields of the Black Death which starts off with a tolling tone and weird foreign tongue murrs before this disturbing female scream enters and we move into the fairy speed blacked metal body of the track which is under tied by drifting forestall melancholy tones and Sin Nanna doing a great alarming Burzum type high pitch screams. Black Gaia is next been a short strange instrumental track which use gathered together synth timpani tones that feels like it could explode into noise at any point. A lot of the album stays quite mid-pace to fast but it’s the odd edges and turns and off coarse quite jarring vocal elements that Sin Nanna puts in that makes this so rewarding and other. Take for example Dismal Snowset in the Sombre Forests that opens up on feedback laid grim harmonics guitar before settling in with this strange wavering synth bass tone that hoovers like grim and wonky psychedelic fog over the tracks. I’ve seen quite a few negative reviews of this album—but I think the problem is that people are approaching this from a black metal point of view but instead it should be seen as a grim piece of outsider art—with once more Sin Nanna guitar so stripped and fuzzed that those with only a metal background will find it too harsh and wrong sounding. A great more up pace slice of deranged black magic—all near on 72 minutes of it.

My other reviews of more recent Striborg work can be found here:
Journey of A Misanthrope (dvd)(2007)
Autumnal Melancholy(2008)

Thanks to Ron for all the help with primmer and answering my questions. All of the above albums can ordered direct from here.

Roger Batty
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