REVIEW: Various Artists - "What Is Eternal"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

What Is EternalWhat Is Eternal is the premier compilation released by one of my favorite music distributors, Middle Pillar. Initially a special digipack casing heralded the first pressing release. A follow up, limited re-issue became available January 2000 for a short time as well.

The thing to remember about a Middle Pillar compilation is that they are unlike any other compilation domestically released. Musically there is more of an emphasis on ethereal, ambient and darkness, or "damnbient," to coin a phrase from the company. For those interested in finding songs that will make them jump around on a dance floor all night, you would be wise to check with your favorite club DJ for that. What Is Eternal and the follow-up compilations of Middle Pillar Presents, are decidedly for the more discerning and sophisticated musical tastes in the dark music realm. Refreshingly, if you want dark atmospheric music, Middle Pillar Presents can deliver in more ways than is imaginable.

The Machine in the Garden open the disc with an ethereal yet ghostly haunted song, Falling Softly, written by Summer Bowman and Roger Frace. It should be noted that many fans of dark music are not aware that Ms. Bowman contributes quite a bit to the writing of the music she and Frace create. We have become accustomed to assuming that duos are often just a female vocalist and a male musician/songwriter. As much of the case as this may be, Bowman and Frace truly keep the team model alive with their compositions, which distinctly becomes evident when listening to their music.

4th Sign of the Apocalypse deliver a somewhat medieval flavored excursion into dark madness with Lady Doe. Female vocals ominously wail from an uncharted abyss as if in a time transmutation. Throughout the song, snippets of live action sounds are filtered through which continue to give an uncanny eerie feel. Halfway through the song is a singsong male voice, which further solidifies the feeling of medieval love, lost and madness.

Unto Ashes further extrapolate on the medieval feeling with Conjuration of Lilith that sounds as if it was taken right from our past. Harp, percussion, guitar and keyboard swirl around gentle male and female vocals. The authentic feel and tone is so expertly delivered, that one would be hard pressed to identify a modern day keyboard on this track.

Mors Syphilitica are mesmerizing, hypnotic and not nearly on enough compilations. Lisa Hammer has the most exquisite voice that manages to transcend any limitations, clearly evident on Petals In Sequence. Eric Hammer has been blessed with the most brilliant musical ability, that it would be safe to venture that any instrument becomes an obedient slave in his hands. This particular track is not as rock oriented as some of Mors Syphilitica's other works, yet the same painstaking detail to each note is highly evident. The Hammers create a sound so flawless, that one would be inclined to assume that many other musicians are on this track in order to give it such an other worldly feeling.

Additional medieval/renaissance tones are elicited from Quartet Noir's Petals From a Rose. The song is less dark than some of the other selections, however its placement nonetheless carries the body and tone of the disc along without missing a step. After hearing the bands work on this compilation, this reviewer is anxious to hear any other recorded work by this band.

Loretta's Doll has a song that clinches the tone and feel superbly. The song opens with a bit of a narration with swirls of music lulling us into another place and time. Frantic clanging segues into the harsh hellish nightmarish and damnbient landscape that this group does so well. No one creates more sounds that require a whole new vocabulary than do Dall, Dunn, Rush, and Wahlen. More of this style of sound can be heard on the Middle Pillar Murder of Angels release.

Totestadt, by Dream Into Dust, has an intro that sounds like a shovel against dirt and rock. Morose piano melody and a multitude of background sounds seem to rise from the nebulous night mist like a rebelling ghost. Gate squeaks, pained screams and many other sounds continue to accompany the melancholic droning of the piano in some Beethoven nightmare.

The Changelings are exceptional artists who play with such passion, that all who hear them cannot help but be affected. Regeana, vocal front woman of the group, sounds as if she is coming from a haunted transistor radio during the intro verses. Later verses delve into her vocal skills where she sounds like a displaced angel awaiting for some divine intervention and guidance. The gentle percussion on this song is especially seductive as well.

The Mirror Reveals have a dark, folk-like song with Let All the Poets Sing. The sensitivity and inner turmoil as depicted in this song are inescapable. It borders on heartbreaking as Philips sings about the multitudinous questions about being wanted or not in a relationship.

Backworld deliver a darkly Celtic tune with Leaving the Isles of the Blest with male vocals that are really superb with handling this style of music. The song is such an impressive inclusion as a showcase, that it may make quite a few folks want to further investigate the band's other music as well.

Tor Lundvall and Tony Wakeford have an ominous sound that is reminiscent to Danny Elfman's style, but seems to go beyond Elfman's tongue in cheek macabre humor and drives home with a more realistic tonal sensation to elicit the beginning stages of terror.

Jarboe takes the song Breathe into an almost cinematic experience. The initial opening of the song introduces the premise with a wicked, ghoulish whisper. This may not be the best Jarboe song, but it certainly was a good selection for the compilation to maintain the mood.

Athanor takes us into a windy tundra with For Whom The Bell Tolls, which sounds as if it belongs on a movie soundtrack somewhere. A repetitive deep voice seems to be coming from a transmitter, which eventually moves to the background. A recitation comes to the foreground that intertwines with harpsichord like sounds. One could envision being in a barren deserted wasteland of a city. The result is desolate and chilling.

Zoar closes out the disc with The Beauty of Obscenity that also utilizes sound effects of a gate closing, footsteps, elevator creaks, mocking laughter and electric static that is interspersed with more dark, forbidden atmosphere. Some guitar work is laden between the sound effects to provide a more modern soundscape, which greatly assists the song. In no way does this tune sound like just an excursion into sound effects.

What is Eternal and all other Middle Pillar Presents compilations that have followed, have remained within the "damnbient" vein. They have often presented a real challenge when writing a review because the aim is to be descriptive of the sounds while attempting to avoid sounding redundant. The bottom line is they have managed to promote more styles of sounds for Macabre and dark than we have words for in the English language. The music on this compilation is not for everyone. Those who can appreciate a dedication to combining the darkest of dark from the most stellar underground performers will feel very comfortable with this work. In hindsight, this compilation clearly indicated the path that the company was striving for with other follow up releases. If you thrive on real atmosphere that is dark and at times gloomy without being depressing, you can't go wrong with any of the Middle Pillar Presents compilations.

Contact Information:
Post: Middle Pillar, P.O. Box 555, New York, NY, 10009

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