Archive for the ‘dark ambient’ Tag

Uneasy Listening: Dark Ambient Music Appreciation for Pagans   Leave a comment

“Encoded in the earth, encrypted in our bodies, and built into temples is a knowledge that wants to live again as music.”

 ~ Susan Elizabeth Hale,
Sacred Space, Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places

“Dark ambient is definitely a big part of my spiritual life…It almost functions as a gate to another reality, where different rules apply. It’s like reading a great book or looking at a painting, but much more intense, faster, and more direct.”

~ Matej Gyarfas of Phragments

When I began my journey into the world of dark ambient music in 1992, I hadn’t a clue that this obscure musical style — originally called “industrial ambient” — would alter my life so completely that I would one day consider it indispensable to my spiritual practice.

Over the years I discovered that dark ambient music could be a remarkably effective facilitator of meditation, contemplative practice, and paths of sacred endarkenment — a theta-wave-inducing enabler of hypnagogic states, lucid dreams, and inner journeys. Since I was raised in a New Age family, I’d already had more than my fill of spirituality with a heavy emphasis on white light and transcendence; dark ambient became my perfect down-to-earth antidote.

With its discordant tones, introspective moods, extended ominous drones, and typical lack of vocals or rhythm, the genre occupies territory far removed from conventional musical norms, and has acquired a notorious reputation for inaccessibility. Reactions from newcomers upon their first exposure to dark ambient music include:

 “What is this evil shit?”
“Reminds me of a Satanic Enya.”
“Now there’s some music you can’t dance to.”
“Nothing but churchbell-tolling overblown solemnity.”
“This isn’t music!”

Dark Ambient Humor - by Matej Gyarfas

So true that it gets funnier every time I look at this meme. (Thanks to Matej Gyarfas for the image.)

Many people — even fans of industrial, the genre that spawned dark ambient in the 1980s — consider dark ambient music unremarkable or boring at best, if not repulsive. And if you’re not among those who are instinctively drawn to dreary sounds and imagery of crumbling ossuaries, subterranean black pits, church ruins, and barren winter lands when you’re seeking out new music to enjoy, you’re unlikely to stumble across music of this sort in any context other than, say, a computer game or a film soundtrack.

As a dark ambient music specialist, author of an in-progress book featuring interview quotes from insiders, and fan of the genre for 25 years — with a passion for this music that has been described as “so intense it’s almost religious” — it is a privilege and a joy to have this opportunity to help guide your way into the shadowy realms of this obscure genre.

Dark ambient music can facilitate contemplative practice, deepen meditation, foster emotional authenticity, enliven rituals, and even boost creativity. It’s also a powerful tool for facilitating experiences of deep listening, religious worship and reverence, inner journeys, and connection to the earth. As part of my hospitality work on a path of monastic service, I design and create physical spaces for these purposes through my Black Tent Temple Project. I’ve found that careful attention to the acoustic qualities of sacred space, combined with a careful selection of atmospheric dark ambient music, can open the way for direct experience of the numinous.

I also offer a music advisory service, known as the Chthonic Cathedral Project, through which I compile custom themed playlists of dark ambient music and recommend tracks suitable for rituals, devotional work, sacred dance projects, meditation groups, and yoga classes. Enthusiastic feedback from the folks I’ve worked with (“This music is amazing! Where can I hear more? Why haven’t I ever heard of it before?”) has convinced me that there’s a need for this music in Pagan and polytheist communities that remains largely unmet because the genre is still so obscure. So I do my best to get the word out about this music, as a service to our communities, and as a way of expressing my appreciation to the musicians whose work has inspired me to write this.

Why might dark ambient music be of interest to Pagans?

It’s a tool for deep listening as contemplative practice.

I find inspiration in the late composer Pauline Oliveros’ concept of deep listening. She defines it as “going below the surface of what is heard and also expanding to the whole field of sound whatever one’s usual focus might be.” Judith Becker, author of Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing, defines it as “a descriptive term for persons who are profoundly moved, perhaps even to tears, by simply listening to a piece of music.”

To me, deep listening means learning how to hear not just with the ears, but with the whole body, and in connection with the deities, spirits, and the ground of being. Dark ambient music both facilitates and richly rewards this deep listening.

For Pagans, deep listening to dark ambient music can become a self-directed contemplative practice every bit as valuable as prayer, lectio divina (sacred reading), or ritual. True contemplative practice is a powerful transformative force, capable of deepening focus, discipline, clarity of purpose, compassion, and ability to tolerate frustration. The mindful capacity of attention we develop through active listening can be expanded and applied in many other realms. The skills involved in stretching your musical perception and capacity for deep listening can be learned, and dark ambient music is an excellent aid for this purpose, albeit an unconventional one.

It enhances ritual and mysticism.

It’s no accident that dark ambient music has been called “audio LSD for the activation of the divine parts of the spine,” as it can serve purposes far deeper than entertainment. For me it has facilitated journeys to realms I could not reach through any other method I tried, and helped me connect with deities and spirits more reliably than I’d previously thought possible.

One of the most exquisite pleasures of dark ambient music is the way it can relax the drive to understand the world through the intellect. Sometimes the joy of this music — and its effectiveness in ritual space — comes from not knowing, not understanding — simply allowing oneself to revel in the mystery, leave questions unanswered, and rest in the presence of the unknown.

It’s the sound of nature.

Sounds emitted by the deep earth and in space — e.g., the NASA space recordings made by Jeffrey Thompson and Richard Stamper, a.k.a. “Song of Earth” — can be readily recognized as dark ambient, both literally and metaphorically. As the venerable Drone Records puts it:

“The Drone is a metaphor for everything that vibrates, that releases energy — from atoms and elementary particles to the hum of the earth and the universe. The Drone is an entity that connects everything that exists within our own “mind-space,” perception, and self.”

It facilitates inner journeys and access to embodied sources of wisdom.

Good dark ambient music contains subtle but perceptually expansive qualities that provide just enough structure and atmosphere to keep the conscious mind occupied, but not so much structure that it becomes a distraction. In this way, it can serve as a conduit into liminal spaces, and can open doors for visions. It can even serve as an epistemological tool, as it helps open pathways for listeners to access sources of embodied wisdom that are much more deeply rooted in instinct and the land than they are in the conscious mind or waking awareness. I call these paths of sacred endarkenment.

It stimulates creative flow.

Many of us who paint, draw, design, dance, and write find that dark ambient music liberates our creativity in unprecedented ways, leading us into states of flow and light trance where time seems to expand and our awareness becomes completely absorbed in our work. Since dark ambient is deliberately devoid of the conventional elements we usually follow in a musical composition, it creates just enough space for the listener to drift off into a creative reverie of their own — inspired, but not constrained, by the work of the composer.

It creates valuable space for downward-moving or unsettling emotions.

Melancholy, loneliness, regret, foreboding, dread, sorrow…these are emotional states that can lead us on a descent into our own inner depths. In a culture that so often expects us to mask our suffering, paste on a smile, and get right back to our jobs, dark ambient can be sweet relief — a source that reminds us of the value of introspection and authentic emotional experience. “Dark” emotions are not only acceptable in dark ambient music, but artistically respected.

It provides an outlet for ecological grief.

If you truly love the earth — as most Pagans do — no doubt you are intimately familiar with the emotional landscape of grief and despair, as ecological destruction continues on unabated, and we hear and feel the sounds of the earth crying in our own bones and flesh. We carry so much of this primal grief in our bodies, much of it unconscious, and few of us have access to effective community-based practices or social support for dealing with this kind of ongoing grief as it presents itself in intermittent episodes. In order to carry on our lives in the face of repeated ecological disasters, many of us shut down some of the more primal aspects of our sensory and perceptual capacities to avoid constant overwhelm.

If you’re one of the people who keenly perceives the sounds of the earth in pain, as I do, you may find that dark ambient music can become a source of strength, reassurance, and comfort — especially if you spend a lot of time in the company of people who don’t perceive these sounds, and would look askance at you if you admitted that you do. Music like this is entirely appropriate when there’s so much to grieve! With its themes of dark barren lands, endless winters, and abandoned places, dark ambient can help give voice and recognition to the grief and despair that lurk beneath our collective facade. With time, it may even help you come to recognize and gradually reawaken capacities of ecological awareness that have been dulled or denied in order to function. But don’t take my word for it — try it out for yourself.

Dark ambient music appreciation tips for neophytes

If you can, attend a live dark ambient performance.

Dark ambient has a reputation as a genre that lends itself to solitary, isolationist listening, and with good reason. As a result, live performances of dark ambient music are infrequent. Not all musicians in the genre perform live, but if you do have an opportunity to attend a performance — especially one in a space appropriate for deep listening and bedazzling visual enhancements, such as a Maschinenfest stage, planetarium, or church — I recommend it highly. If you’re skeptical about the notion of live dark ambient music performance, imagining a bunch of sedate people quietly standing around listening to boring monotone music and watching a musician hovering over a laptop, I encourage you to give it a chance — especially if you have a chance to see a veteran of the genre such as raison d’être, Northaunt, Herbst9, Inade, Atrium Carceri, Kammarheit, Svartsinn, Lustmord, or Desiderii Marginis. There is great power in live dark ambient performance done right.

Develop a musical memory.

Identify familiar layers or patterns in the piece you’re listening to, if you can, and link them to other compositions you’ve heard. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the genre, at first you won’t have much to go on, but the more you listen, the more this capacity will expand.

Seek out audiophile space to enhance deep listening.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an audiophile friend who has access to top-notch stereo equipment and a space with great acoustics, ask them if you can listen to, say, one of Thomas Köner’s albums — I’d recommend Daikan or Permafrost — in their space. Good headphones help, too, but there’s nothing like experiencing the reverb, low-frequency bass, and deep repetitive drones of good dark ambient music in a space designed for audiophiles.

Keep learning.

Read as much as you can about dark ambient music: album reviews, artist bios, promo text, liner notes, and interviews with musicians. Broaden and deepen your awareness of historical and cultural contexts that have shaped the development of the genre. Zero Tolerance (a metal magazine) published “Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient,” in issue 58 (April-May 2014). It’s an article I recommend for those interested in a broad overview of the genre. As far as I know, it’s the first print source to publish something like this. Online sources include Santa Sangre, Heathen Harvest, Wounds of the Earth blogzine, This Is Darkness, and the archived material at For The Innermost.

Minimize distractions and potential for interruptions in your listening space.

For most people, an ideal listening environment for dark ambient music is one that permits sustained, focused attention. Many artists experience a drop in cognitive capacity if they’re interrupted while working in a state of creative flow, as it takes time for the deep mind to recover. Sometimes even a slight interruption can bring the flow state to an unceremonious halt. This applies to deep listening as well. Do what you can to ensure that you won’t be interrupted, and you’re likely to find your listening deepening, especially with time and repetition as you continue to reinforce your capacity for sustained attention.

Slow down, and set the stage.

This musical style isn’t one that can be expected to reveal its secrets quickly. You’ll have a tough time learning to appreciate it if you are in the habit of speeding through tracks, clicking from one to the next if it doesn’t grab you right away. Better to deliberately cultivate a patient attitude of openness, engagement, and active waiting to see what will be revealed in the music. Give it time. Enjoy the process. With practice, most people can expand their perceptual capacities and learn to shape their attention into a supple instrument capable of perceiving ever-more-subtle layers of a composition.

Sit. Relax. Rest. Enjoy a cup of tea. Close your eyes, if you are so inclined. Learn to listen with your deep mind. Dark ambient music — like so many of life’s greatest pleasures — is far more sublime when you give it room to reveal itself gradually, at leisure. As you dwell with it and allow it in, magic happens.

A friend of mine who is a fellow long-time dark ambient fan once observed that listening to dark ambient music requires “work.” At first I thought he was referring to a certain quality of attention required for a full appreciation of this music, so his comment intrigued me. Later I learned that it was not a reference to perception, but to the early days of the genre, when fans had to put in a great deal of effort to track down dark ambient releases, since they were extremely difficult to find.

As someone who remembers those early days of the scene vividly, I’m delighted that music discovery doesn’t require that kind of work anymore. In the modern landscape of music distribution, great dark ambient music is now just a click or two away…and the genre seems to be growing, slowly but surely, so its days of obscurity may be numbered. It has a crossover appeal that I haven’t seen with industrial music in general. In recent years dark ambient music has made inroads into yoga studios, meditation retreats, and other unexpected realms far outside the shadowy industrial music scene of its origins — a sign that its potential as a facilitator of spiritual practice is becoming more widely known.

Sustained active engagement from the listener is still required for full appreciation, however, and that is one of the greatest joys of dark ambient music, as well as art in general. The meaning, emotional content, and symbolism are shaped by the listener as much as they are by the artist.

Enjoy the journey!

“…this is precisely where the beauty of dark ambient lies. It’s devoid of everything superficial…It’s so subtle that you can be listening to it in your room, for example, and the random, common passer-by won’t even notice that any music is playing at all, as if the sounds were hidden from perception, revealing themselves only to those who are searching for them. Indeed, dark ambient is not a rollercoaster ride; you can’t expect this music to take you over, you have to learn how to let it consume you. The journey is never directed forwards, only inwards. It’s not there to tell you its story, it’s there to reflect your own. If I had to find a simple phrase to sum up everything that dark ambient is, I’d most likely say — mirror of the soul.”

~ Vladimir Gojkovic, For The Innermost

An introductory dark ambient music sampler

These tracks and albums — most with Pagan themes — were selected for this list because they elicited multiple positive responses from people unfamiliar with the genre. If you enjoy them, and they are available on Bandcamp, please buy them there, as your money supports the artists directly.

Introductory tracks:
Council of Nine — Chimes of the Unfortunate
raison d’être — The Slow Ascent
Mulm — Night Water Reflection
Sephiroth — Now Night Her Course Began
Herbst9 — Blood Whisper
Arktau Eos — Oracle of Frozen Sands
Asmorod — La Vallee Fleurie
Ulf Söderberg — Nordvinterögon

Introductory albums:
Cities Last Broadcast — The Cancelled Earth
Lamia Vox — Sigillum Diaboli
Herbst9 — Consolamentum
Mulm — The End of Greatness
Sinke Dûs — Akrasia
Kammarheit — Asleep and Well Hidden

Heathen themes:
Allseits — Hel
Draugurinn — Móðuharðindin
Skadi — Eliwagar
Gydja — Umbilicus Maris
Apoptose — Nordland
Thurseitr — Brenna Alheiminn

For meditation:
Daina Dieva — Ice Cold
Havan — Yajna
THO-SO-AA — Epoch Pt. 1
Troum — Tjukurrpa Part II: Drones
Lustmord — The Dark Places of the Earth

For ritual:
Lamia Vox — Lapis Occultus
raison d’être- The Eternal Return
Draugurinn — Urðarmáni
Penjaga Insaf — Sama Sadja
Herbst9 — The Tide
Paleowolf — Call of Fire
Asmorod & Esylt — Therianthrope

Want more recommendations? My playlists can be found at Playmoss, and volumes one and two of my series of underrated dark ambient album recommendations can be found at the venerable I Die: You Die. The third article in this series is finished and will be published in June. I also have a fan profile on Bandcamp that features review comments.

[Ed. note: This piece has been widely shared, and has received a more enthusiastic response than anything else I’ve ever published. Thank you for all the lovely feedback! I appreciate it so much!]

[This piece was originally published at If you enjoyed this piece and you’re on Patreon and/or Medium, please follow the Hermitage there (and on Medium, click the little heart to recommend it to others!)  My newly released work is always announced on Patreon first.  If you have a Patreon account, you can use the follow button to receive all of my public posts in your feed, and you can comment on them even if you are NOT a patron.]


Delving Into the Dark: A Dark Ambient Playlist for Móðguðr and Hela   4 comments

Art by William Leighton Fisher, used with permission. Text by Danica Swanson.

Art by William Leighton Fisher, used with permission. Text by Danica Swanson.

This Friday, October 30, in Portland, Ingrid Kincaid will be hosting “Delving Into the Dark”, a ritual for Móðguðr and Hela. Ingrid and I met in person a few weeks ago, and I agreed to put together a customised dark ambient music playlist for her to use at this ritual.

My Chthonic Cathedral Project has been expanding quite a bit over the course of the past year into a dark ambient music consultancy. I now consult with yoga teachers, ritual planners, organisers of meditation retreats, etc., to provide custom themed playlists of dark ambient music for events, gatherings, or classes. If you are interested in this service, feel free to contact me via e-mail. I can design a playlist for you centered around a theme (e.g., magickal yoga, grief and mourning – see my list of playlist titles for more examples), a specific emotional state, a devotional practice for a deity or spirit, or a contemplative monastic practice.  I can even design an image to accompany the playlist.

About the service I provided for her, Ingrid writes:

“This will be a sobering yet gentle ritual, and I particularly love the ending of the Skadi “Hel” piece, as it truly sounds and feels the way I experience Hela and Her hall. Welcoming, soothing, dim, and at rest and peace. No judgment, just acceptance.

“I want to say again to you how much I appreciate your gifts and talents. What a great service it is to have someone provide the music for an event. This is a first for me.”

Fortunately, I already had a devotional playlist for Mordgud that I’ve been using ever since I first built a shrine for Her at the Hermitage, so all that was necessary in this case was to add some tracks for Hela.

If you’re in Portland and would like to join us for the ritual, there’s still room! Please register in advance via Ingrid’s website.

Here are the final selections. If you like them, please support the artists and buy their albums, so they can continue to make more of this wonderful music!

Tracks selected by the organiser for introduction and prep time, and after the ritual:

  1. Lamia Vox – Descend
  2. Lisa Gerrard – The Rite
  3. New Risen Throne – At the Shadow of the Gates
  4. Council of Nine – Blood Lit Skies
  5. Herbst9 – Bloodmoon Ritual
  6. Herbst9 – Blood Whisper
  7. Ignis Divine – Entrance to the Gate Down Below
  8. raison d’être – The Eternal Return
  9. Allseits – Hel
  10. Profane Grace – From Shadowlands… Dying…
  11. Hyios – Aquila
  12. Inade – Through the Gates of Death

Tracks selected by the organiser for the actual ritual:

  1. Wardruna – Helvegen
  2. Allseits – Gjöll
  3. Allseits – Modgudr
  4. Skadi – Hel

Other tracks I selected:

  1. Svartsinn – As a Black Stone Monument (New Risen Throne Mix)
  2. Hagalaz’ Runedance – Hel – Goddess of the Underworld
  3. Innfallen – Epilogue (Scattered Remains)
  4. Herbst9 – Bloodwhisper 2 Pass the Gate
  5. Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
  6. raison d’être – Metamorphyses Phase I
  7. Blood Box – Lower Realm
  8. Mulm – Mørke

Underrated Dark Ambient Albums, Volume 2   Leave a comment

An Open Door - Frederick H. EvansI’m delighted to announce that volume 2 of my series on underrated dark ambient albums has been published at the venerable I Die: You Die.  Lots of love and care went into this piece.  I hope you enjoy it!

I have an ongoing list of albums to recommend for volume 3 in this series.  There are a LOT of underrated dark ambient albums out there – enough to fill many articles!  Suggestions?  I’d love to hear them!

Comments from readers:

“…best Dark Ambient list I’ve ever seen…bravo!  It’s sure nice to see a really well curated list that was obviously created by someone with a passion for the genre.”
~ Jay Gambit

Wonderful list! I felt on this one, you really dug deep and brought some lost gems to the surface.”
~ Robert C.Kozletsky

“Nice work, Danica. Made me drag out my dusty, and indeed overlooked, copy of Veil of Secrecy.”
~ Abby Helasdottir

Call for Donations: Skaði’s Shrine Room at Many Gods West   4 comments

“Skade” by Carl Fredrik von Saltza (1893)

In July I will be building and hosting a shrine room for Skaði at Many Gods West, and I would like to invite donations of devotional writing, art, and other materials. Here are a few guidelines.

Skaði’s Shrine Room will be assembled in my hotel room as a meditative space designed to facilitate quiet prayer and contemplation of Her mysteries.  It will feature shrines (of course), art displays, devotional writings, decorations associated with Her myths (snowflakes, bow & arrows, mountains, wolves, etc.), and a beautiful devotional playlist of dark ambient music continuously playing in the background.

Small offerings for Her (e.g., coins, stones, mementos, beaded jewelry, etc.) will be welcomed.  There will also be a “Dear Skaði…” box to hold written prayers and words of praise.

I will be putting together a small binder with drawings, poetry, and devotional prose for Her, and will make this available for guests to look through. I will accept electronic submissions for the binder, as I can print them out in black and white on a home printer.

If you have statues, figurines, craft items, miniature skis or snowshoes, etc. to offer, please bring them to my hotel room at the conference.  (Preferably on Friday, before official open hours for the shrine room start – it will open at 6 PM on Friday, July 31.)

The devotional playlist of dark ambient music that will be heard in the shrine room has been carefully curated to facilitate praise for Her, and includes several tracks I often use for my ritual dance project.

For a preview of the music, check out the following sublime tracks…

…all from the (criminally underrated!) German musical project named after Her.

And speaking of exciting musical news: I have confirmed that the devotional playlist will feature an exclusive new Gydja track, “The Iron Pine Tree’s Daughter.” It was generously crafted for the shrine room by the brilliant Abby Helasdottir, whose work has inspired my own, and whom I recently interviewed for Heathen Harvest.

No liturgy, libations, ritual, or performance will take place. My intention is for the shrine room to be an intimate retreat for contemplation and prayer, set apart from the hustle-and-bustle social environment of the rest of the conference. As an introvert, I have often wished for hermit-friendly spaces like this when I’ve attended events – a place to retreat and recharge my batteries where I’m not expected to speak or be “on” in any kind of public way, and can focus my attention inwardly. I am pleased to have the opportunity to create and hold a space like this for Skaði and for the polytheist community.

Here’s a list of things I can accept, providing you can bring them to the conference or they can be electronically submitted:

  • Devotional poetry and prose (e.g., “Dear Skaði…” letters and prayers)
  • Statues & figurines
  • Crafted items for Her (e.g., miniature snowshoes, skis, bow & arrows)
  • Devotional art and photography featuring winter scenery, mountains, etc.
  • Scarves and “wintry-looking” fabric remnants in white, silver, black, and dark blue (for draping over tables)

Scented items could be problematic, as I have fragrance allergies and other sensitivities, so please check with me in advance if you would like to make any kind of scented offering.  If you’d like to contribute something that isn’t on this list, please contact me and let me know what you have in mind.

Official open hours for Skaði’s Shrine Room are 6 PM to 9 PM on Friday Jul. 31 and Saturday Aug. 1 only.

For ideas, check out some imagery on Pinterest or Tumblr, explore Skadi’s shrine at the Northern Paganism site, or take a look at the previous shrines I’ve built for Her over the years I’ve worked in Her service.

And here’s my short bio:
Danica Swanson is a freelance writer, devotional polytheist, animist, and dark Pagan monastic.  She is best known for her influential writings on alternatives to conventional employment, and her expertise on dark ambient music for ritual and meditation.  Her solo devotional dance project, Shrine of Skadi, is inspired by ten years of service to Skaði accompanied by “music you can’t dance to” – dark ambient.  As resident hermit and anchoress-in-training at The Black Stone Hermitage, a private Portland-based sanctuary, she lives in a haven of solitude made possible only by a web of thriving community relationships.

Contact: shrine.of.skadi AT gmail.

Chthonic Cathedral Playlist: Dark Ambient for Grief and Mourning   1 comment

Figures of Mystery - Grief and MourningToday I had the pleasure of serving as a host for a guest at the Hermitage who scheduled a session in the psychomanteum, and asked me for a dark ambient music playlist with a grief and mourning theme.

My guest was very happy with the playlist, and I let her know I would make it available here.  She told me she was already a fan of Kammarheit, so I complimented her on her excellent taste, and started off with one of his tracks.

I feel so fortunate to be able to do this kind of service work. It is a joy for me to create sacred space – even on a very small scale – and to have the privilege of witnessing its effects on people when they experience it.

To also be able to share the music that is nearest and dearest to my heart in a context of such appreciation is a pleasure beyond compare.

I read somewhere about volunteer service work that “it isn’t service unless both people are being served.” I am glad I’ve found one of the ways I can best be of service as a Pagan monastic – to the gods and spirits as well as my extended community (including the many musicians whose work inspires me and keeps me company in my sanctuary of solitude).

In the process of conducting this service, I too am served.

Here are the tracks I selected.

For prep/orientation time:

  1. Kammarheit – Hypnagoga
  2. Psychomanteum – Inward Eyes

For the 1-hour psychomanteum session:

  1. raison d’être – Mourning
  2. Claustrum – Penitential
  3. Cisfinitum – District Delta
  4. Phelios – The Funeral of the Wizard
  5. Maldur Atai – Endless Labyrinth of Chanting
  6. FoetusDreams – Revealed Behind the Gates
  7. Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture
  8. New Risen Throne – Lands Filled With Silence and Grief
  9. Skadi – Sadness of Love
  10. Arcana – Closure
  11. Sophia – Miserere

Dark Ambient Obscurities: Magna – Nordic Chants (Ritual Music)   3 comments

Magna - Nordic ChantsSince I am in the process of writing a book about the esoteric in dark ambient music and culture, I spend quite a bit of time tracking down details about obscure releases and musical projects. In the course of my research, a tip from my friend Pär Boström, who is also my illustrator for the book, led me to an album called Nordic Chants by a little-known project called Magna. It’s a hidden gem from 1997 that deserves to be more widely appreciated. The full album was recently uploaded to YouTube, which delights me, as it is long out of print and near-impossible to find. Go give it a listen while it’s available!

If you enjoy projects such as Andréa Nebel‘s Hagalaz’ Runedance & Nebelhexë, Wardruna, and Forndom (formerly Heathen Harnow) you may also appreciate this album.  Technically speaking I would not classify it strictly as dark ambient, but it has many of the same atmospheric elements, and it’s definitely ritual music in any case.

With the help of, I dug up this text from Magna’s old website (from 2004; edited slightly for readability):

“Magna’s music is inspired by the shamanic world. In the shamanic tradition song and music are medicine for both body and soul. The shaman uses song and music to fall into trance and travel to other worlds and realities. Magna have chosen to describe their music as “ethno-electronic soundscapes” as they use both ancient acoustic instruments and modern electronic music technology. Their inspiration is drawn from the very origins of music itself and their vision is to create music which gives healing, power and relaxation. Magna’s meditative music reflects ancient musical traditions while representing a contemporary approach to sound.”

“The members of Magna are highly creative artists whose contemporary world music concept incorporates influences from tribal music-traditions in the Scandinavian countries and beyond.”

Since I’ve been studying the Swedish language for almost a year now, I decided to translate the lyrics from Swedish into English as a learning aid. Such a great way to learn! I retain the Swedish words better when I learn them as song lyrics too. Pär, who is a native Swede, gave me helpful feedback on my translation and also corrected my errors. Here’s the final result of that collaborative effort for your enjoyment.  The titles and subtitles are copied from the entry on discogs.

Áss – “the rune for air and inspiration” (0:00 – 5:52)

Vilda väsen jag kallar er nu
Från ljusalvheim, från svartalvheim
Här i midgard vi sejdar nu

Wild beings I call you now
From the home of the light-elves, from the home of the dark-elves
Wild beings I call you now
Here in Midgard we (sejdar)* now

Ur – “the rune for creative power” (12:44 – 19:08)

Känn hur den kallar, hör hur den kallar
Kraften den kallar dig
Kallar dig i den egen kropp
Kallar dig i den egen själ
Kraften den kallar dig

Feel how it´s calling, hear how it’s calling
The force, it calls you
Calling you in your own body
Calling you in your own soul
The force, it calls you

Ken – “the rune for fire and life energy” (19:10 – 27:21)

Jord och eld och ande är jag
Bär min glöd, natt och dag

I am Earth and Fire and Spirit
Carry my glow, night and day

Sol – “the rune for sun and love” (27:30 – 33:25)

Såsom solen sig stiga i öst
Så ska vi vandra som gryningens barn
Såsom solen sig sänka i väst
Så ska vi drömma som skymningens barn
Hela denna jord, hela denna jord
Låt den leva

As the sun rises in the east
We will walk as children of the dawn
As the sun sinks low in the west
So we shall dream as twilight children
Mend this earth, mend this earth
Let it live

Naud – “the rune for magic and destiny” (33:30 – 40:23)

Där månen möter dimman, där faller du i trans
Där dimman möter månen, där faller du i trans
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv

Where the moon meets the fog, there you fall into trance
Where the fog meets the moon, there you fall into trance
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web

Algiz – “the rune for guardian animal” (40:31 – 46:41)

I fullmånenatten jag ser din dans
I fullmånesken jag går i dans
Jag går i dans med min fylga här
Jag faller i trans bland dimmor och jär**

On the full moon night I see your dance
As the full moon shines I go to/into dance
I go to dance with my guardian angel here
I fall into trance among the mists and (spiritual signs)

Dagaz – “the rune for light and insight” (46:50 – 53:00)

Under himlavalv
En väv av ljus
Dagaz människans dröm

Under the canopy
A web of light
Dagaz, humans’ dream

Translation notes:

* According to Pär, “sejd” is untranslatable into English. But he adds that “when people in ancient Nordic tradition were sejding they looked into the future and could harm or influence other people.”

** Jär or järtecken are signs that are considered to herald strange or spiritual events.

Twilight Magick: An Interview with Abby Helasdottir of Gydja   Leave a comment

gydja logoI’m delighted to announce that the interview I conducted for the venerable Heathen Harvest Periodical with accomplished musician, artist, writer, and esotericist Abby Helasdottir of Gydja has now been published. Her Shadowlight website was pivotal for me at a time when I very much needed it, and I am a longtime fan of her music, so I was pleased to have this opportunity to interview her. She has fascinating things to say about artistic work as devotional and spiritual practice, post-industrial music as a boys’ club, her upcoming album with Edgar Kerval of Emme Ya, the Rökkr or shadow-dwellers of Germanic and Norse cosmology and the history of the term Rökkatru…and much more!

“Using the name gydja,” she says, “is not intended to be a boast about having a religious title (which is ultimately meaningless) but rather about the way in which occupying a spiritual office can be a devotional act, with music being the manifestation that this devotion takes.”

And I agree wholeheartedly with her enthusiastic take on Bandcamp:

“I’m a huge fan of Bandcamp…I love the way they appeal to so many of those little things that lock into what it means to be a passionate music fan: the nerdy building of collections, the little but not overwhelming social media elements, and the fact that you get to pay the artist directly. I love the way it allows you to show artists directly how much you appreciate their work, and there’s nothing better than getting that same vibe in return.”