OR: THE BEST AMBIENT VIKING ELECTRONICA FROM MIDDLE EARTH EVER.
MORTIIS - THE STARGATE (1999)
I've got to start off by saying that this album cover is one of my favorites of all time. Something about the image of a benevolent Mortiis, descending from a dusky sky, sporting hook nose, elf ears, cape, and human skull codpiece fills me with both great dread and great comfort. A classic.
Mortiis was the original bass player in Emperor, but struck off to do his own thing early in their career. "His own thing" happened to be epic, ambient electronica, assisted by prosthetics and creepy warrior garb. His solo debut, 'Fod Til A Herske', was two 25-minute tracks played entirely on keyboard (keytar?). Atmospheric but a tad long-winded, he didn't really find his footing until his next album, 'The Stargate'.
'The Stargate' is definitely an acquired taste, and is definitely NOT metal (despite the imagery). It's somehow new age-y and medieval simultaneously, conjuring scenes of castles, elves, and outer space. Unfortunately, Mortiis went all Burning Man-techno after this release, but 'Stargate' stands as a testament what he COULD have been, it's a science fiction epic told with synthesizers, mellow as shit but creepy and haunting too. A great album to curl up with on a cold winter evening, cozied up in a Slanket with a cup of hot cocoa.
Below: The Slanket, retail price $44.95
FINNTROLL - VISOR OM SLUTET (2003)
If Mortiis is an evil elf of Valinor, Finntroll are his brethren beasts who dwell in the Misty Mountains. Although their unique brand of polka metal has increased their profile in the metal kingdom and allowed them to tour the world, their 2003 album 'Visor Om Slutet' is a whole different creature altogether. Sounding more like a horror movie soundtrack than anything resembling metal, it's another dark ambient masterpiece, full of ominous droning and foreboding noise. Although Mortiis wins the prize for his cover, Finntroll beats him on music here, their across-the-board approach on this disc really works. From bird and cricket noises to slow acoustic jams to the upbeat, Muppet-esque kazoo sing-along "Forsvinn Du Som Lyser" (the highlight of the album), they reveal an inner dimension concealed by their current incarnation, a dark, introspective center beneath the layers of distortion and blastbeats. Weird, awesome stuff.