Sleep (or lack thereof) and madness often go hand in hand in literature. We’ve all read stories or watched movies about someone for whom reality begins to warp. We see them lose their grip on sanity as reality becomes more and more unreal, when they can’t distinguish between their dreams and the world they actually live in. HP Lovecraft was an avid learner and storyteller when it came to sleep and madness, he created the Dreamlands, a dangerous place where one could build an entire universe where nothing existed before and yet in the waking world they are as insignificant as ant. Many of his works involve reality colliding with madness and something terrible happening as a result. Consider, too, films like Inception, where the characters work and create in a dream world that goes down to their very subconscious. They can lose touch with what is real and what isn’t as easily as they can fall asleep. The very idea of being able to create a world to live in in your dreams is fascinating and terrifying. Black metal literature carries on the tradition of madness and losing touch with reality. With all the albums that follow the works of Lovecraft and other horror masters, one might think that a completely original text might be too hard to create or to find. The answer to that is wrong. Look no further than Aenaon. Hailing from Greece, this avant garde, post black metal band’s latest album “Hypnosophy” delves headlong into the story of a man who discovers an unimaginable ability only to be lost to decay and madness.
Hypnosophy is a listener-protagonist story, one in which the listener themselves are inserted into the story and act as the ship that guides the narration. They are the narrator and the protagonist. The story evolves and unfolds at the will of the listener, each song, verily each sound is a device to be determined by the listener. While the artist, the creator certain has a degree of control in the tale, they created the world, initiated the circumstances, and set the path for the listener, they are merely observers in the tale themselves. Hypnosophy’s tale begins with the protagonist feeling abandoned and despondent about the world they live in, in reality; yet they are given a gift, or discover it rather, that allows them to create a world in their mind, a place where they are the kings and the creators. Everything there is by their will and theirs alone. They build a world so real to them, so detailed and so perfect that they soon forget that this world is not reality, that this place is nothing but and escapist fantasy. And violent, irrevocably that façade is shattered and driven away. They wake up, the realize their world is gone, that it never even existed.
The listener-protagonist can try and go back, try to recreate their world, their safe haven, or they can live with the crushing weight of reality once again, a place that they have no control. Madness develops either way, a weight behind the eyes that something isn’t right. Even in the waking world, the physical world, something is wrong. Physics itself seems changed somehow. Are they back in the dreamlands? Have they slipped back into their own minds without realizing it? Both prognoses are troubling but does the protagonist even realize the danger they are in? Can they realize it? When the borders between madness and reality collide and dissolve, what comes through the breach? Only the protagonist can tell what can happen. They are the only ones aware of the breach at all. Are they going mad is a sane world, or are they the only sane person left in a world of madness?
The way that Aenaon crafts this tale, the way the band blends black metal with death metal, with ambient noise and doom jazz, it’s a complete story that only needs the characters. Each different genre that’s represented adds something to the world of Hypnosophy, every facet of the album is nuanced and detailed. The bones of the album, as it were, are thick and hardy, they can withstand the scrutiny of even the most skeptical of listener. Aenaon crafted more than just a soundtrack, the crafted the very physics of the world in the album. When the madness sets in, the change is subtle, just hints of doom and drone around the edges, until the blackness overtakes the listener and we can no longer tell what genre is what. We have become so engrossed in the music that we don’t quite realize what music it is that we are listening to. We trust the creators of the world implicitly and they lead us off into oblivion, where we are forced to question everything about the world. Is it real? Is it false? The different styles of music play back and forth, dizzying the listener-protagonist until they don’t know what’s up and what’s down.
Aenaon should be very proud of themselves for what they achieved on Hypnosophy. The entire album is not bombastic or provocative, but subtle and intense. They don’t chug away at their guitars so much as they make the instruments play themselves. The production is fluid and lyrical, the listener doesn’t have a chance to catch their breath as they are swept along in an epic and atmospheric chamber. There is no moment untuned. There are even changes in vocal styles throughout places in the album, signifying a change in reality (or in the subconscious), the listener can choose to heed these changes, to try and hold onto some shred of sanity they can use to rebuild their worldview, or is that that trick? Is the change in vocal styles meant to drive us further down the rabbit hole? Even as I’m writing the review, long after the music has faded and the world returns to the monotonous sounds of life, I find myself questioning what I heard.
It’s a brilliant piece of music, expertly written and expertly played. All the instruments blend, adding their diverse sounds together to make something that is just a little bit more than all of them together. It has an inexplicable quality behind the music, that goes beyond simple songwriting and music theory. It’s an epic storytelling event. Hypnosophy is a pure example of how to create black metal literature from scratch, the album relies on itself to tell the story and craft the world rather than depend on an external source for the listener to understand. They are unencumbered by their willingness to build something on their own. Black metal bands that want to create real, important albums that have a point rather than a haphazardous amalgamation of riffs and lyrics should pay close attention to this album. This album has everything black metal fiction needs.
Listen and support!