Say what you like about Facebook-enemy-number-one Varg Vikernes, before he completely went off the rails he defined not one but two musical genres: Burzum’s early recordings perfected the raw, DIY style of second wave black metal but also introduced the pensive atmospheric treatments that would one day become dungeon synth, paving the way for any number of other genre-crossing one-man-metal luminaries, from Striborg to Xasthur.
Fast forward to 2011/2012, and enter Old Castles, a member of the intriguingly-named “Old True Dungeon Synth Committee and Temple of Paroketh Death Current Alliance,” who has recorded several solo outings in the primarily analog style of raw black metal as well as dungeon synth. This mysterious entity now brings an alarmingly Burzum-esque record, Die Wampyriskra Symphonie, under our scrutiny via Inferna Profundus Records and the result – while excellent listening – is unfortunately derivative of its aforementioned major influence.
“Sceptres of Translucent Virulence” likewise echoes the unpolished audio aesthetic of the early 1990s.
Luckily, being a great fan of said influence, I am of a very forgiving disposition and Old Castles – like similar artists from Druadan Forest to Roman Monastery to Mortiis – hits all the right notes in terms of eerie, haunted and minimal soundscapes, making Die Wampyriskra Symphonie a strong addition to the dungeon synth genre. The album closer, “Funeral Sorcery,” is particularly noteworthy, strongly echoing the long-form (another pioneering Burzum staple) “Tomhet” off 1994’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss while still retaining its own melancholic character. Balancing these with eye-wateringly rough exercises in anguish like “Orgiastic Feast in Excrement” makes for a varied listening experience, but the strong sense of atmosphere the tremolo picked riffs (and reverb-laced texture!) impart make for a common thread throughout the record, regardless of style.
The raw black metal movement may be seeing something of a revival: records like Die Wampyriskra Symphonie (which is only seeing a limited run of 150 vinyl records) or the recent Chilean release Graven til Måneåpenbaringer by Gryftigæn (read our review here) speak of a growing dissatisfaction with digital recordings, streaming services and modernity as a whole, hearkening back to the tape-trading underground days of the genre. Even long-running, established artists like Acherontas are deleting their social media accounts and taking a step back from the proliferation of “content creation” that fuels marketing and promotional practice today. While this makes access more difficult – and more exclusive, unfortunately – it does make the discovery of these hard-to-find bands and their records that much more rewarding for the few brave enough to enlist in the search.
That said, despite the inherent perils and trials of a deep dive into underground black metal circles, je ne regrette rien: the music stays evocative and moving, the layers and depth remain startling given the primitive recording techniques and the drive to be creative purely for creativity’s sake, not for financial motives, all inspire me on a daily basis. Old Castles is not a band I would recommend to just anyone, but for the few and the brave, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Top tip: “Burial into the Mist” not only ticks all the creepy ambience boxes, but also strongly recalls Rozz Williams’ (of Christian Death fame) side project, Premature Ejaculation, with its harsh, grinding samples and field recordings punctuating the mood.
Die Wampyriskra Symphonie Track Listing:
2. Orgiastic Feast in Excrement
3. Scepter of Translucent Virulence
4. Burial into the Mist
5. Forsaken Relics of Wisdom
6. Tyrant Supremacy
7. Apparitions from the Burial
8. Funeral Sorcery
Run Time: 34:29
Release Date: February 1, 2021
Record Label: Inferna Profundus Records