Nordvargr is not a man that needs any introduction in the world of ambient. He is one of the most prolific and diverse artists in the genre today. However, would you believe that I had never actually listened to a complete album before? It was before I started Resounding Footsteps, when I wasn’t exactly well versed in the genre of dark ambient. Before I started the blog, I wasn’t able to gauge the art behind industrial ambient. Since the blog started, though, I found myself having to listen to Nordvargr, even if it was only as a point of reference. What did I find? I found that I enjoyed it, quite a bit actually. Industrial ambient is still growing on me, but thanks to artists like Nordvargr, I am getting better. Malignant Records, the very best in terms of industrial ambient, released a new album from the legend, The Secret Barbarous Names. What can I learn from this album? Let’s found out!
Some stray thoughts first, though of course. One, the album cover is dark and stark, it’s beautiful despite the fact that it’s very different from many of the other Malignant Records albums. It’s still industrial in its coloring so there’s no mistaking what lies behind the cover. Two, this is only album I can think of that belongs in both the gnostic ambient and industrial ambient. The name itself “Secret Barbarous Names” belies a sort of hidden, forbidden knowledge. Even before you press play you can tell there’s going to be a massive dose of atmosphere and occultic sounds.
The sound is cavernous and dungeony (I am just getting off an entire month of nothing but dungeon synth so it’s bound to show up in places). There’s all sorts of dark and shadowy ambiance here, it comes in creepy waves upon creepy waves. This is the kind of album that deserves to be a soundtrack to a film. But what film would be good enough for a score such as this? This is one of those rare instances that the film has to match the score. What kind of story is here? I once said Monocube’s story was the initiation of a new cult member. If that’s true, then the Secret Barbarous Names is the continuation of that story. What is our acolyte up to now? What dark secrets do we learn about the cult? About the world at large?
The album has a dusty, scholarly aspect to it. The sounds, dark ambience and hollow chanting, seem to act as dictation for some terrible, Lovecraftian kind of book, detailing the true horrors of the world. As the album goes on, the sounds become more horrific and more erratic. This makes me believe that the protagonist of the story is going insane. The more he learns about his secret order, the madder he becomes. The darker the album becomes, the more secluded and withdrawn the protagonist becomes. The narrative of the story, which is always my favorite thing to talk about, is fantastic, worthy of all the praise Nordvargr gets for all his works.
This album is a little different from the rest of his, Nordvargr, albums. There still a raw edge to the sound and the music but the album is cleaner, it’s less rough and ramshackle that many of his previous works. For an industrial ambient album, it’s almost pristine. But, thankfully, there is still that raw, chaotic edge to the music. The sounds are subtle in places, adding to the tension and terror of the album, and bombastic and cacophonous, adding large doses of drama and suspense.
This is one of the best cinematic albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to without the initial intent of the album being a cinematic album. I have the tendency to see a lot of things in albums that the artist isn’t necessarily trying to convey. I like to see these albums as a landscape for the listener to see what they want to see within the frame of the music. Nordvargr’s work is very applicable in my opinion. The sounds are meant to point towards a very specific direction but that doesn’t mean that the album is completely dictated by that. There is room for myriad interpretations and analyses for a wide variety of sources.
If you haven’t heard of Nordvargr before, read if you’ve been living under a rock, this is your chance to get on the bandwagon. Nordvargr is an absolute king in the world of ambient music. Start with the Secret Barbarous Names and you will see just how diverse and varied his work has been. He has been able to touch on nearly every subgenre within dark ambient and excel at it. There is no end in sight for Nordvargr as his legend continues to grow. All hail the king of ambient!
Listen and support the music!