30/08/2011

Review: Mystified – Passing Through The Outer Gates

First Fallen Star, 2010


Tracklisting:

1) Eulogy For Thomas Park
2) Dark Transition
3) Lost My Body
4) Up Down Or Out
5) Approaching Something
6) Soul In Motion
7) The Final Gate
8) The Souls Resting Place

The first volume in First Fallen Star’s “Eulogy” series, Mystified’s “Passing Through The Outer Gates” is intended to, as per the instructions given by the label itself to all participating artists, transpose the artist’s own vision of death, the afterlife and the transitional process between the two (if any) into dark ambient. The honour of opening the series was given to Mr. Thomas Park, as the title of the first track suggests, and his dark ambient project Mystified, a yet-to-be-heard-of name in the scene, despite a rather large number of (mostly self-released) CD-Rs and digital-only albums in his back catalogue. I have to say that the concept itself is very original and has great potential by itself, but, to paraphrase the all-famous saying, with great tasks comes great responsibility, and in order for this responsibility to be matched, several layers have to be carefully laid down.

First of all, the concept itself. Normally, an album’s concept is a personal, entirely subjective thing, which would hardly deserve (or need) an entire paragraph, but since the concept here is given by the label (at least the basic guidelines are), it requires a more in-depth approach. As for the label itself, the job is done superbly. The glossy (but not overly so) A5 digipack has a coffin-shaped cover, giving only a glimpse into the full artwork (displayed above) seen when the cover is lifted. One of the more distinguished and exciting physical presentations I’ve seen so far, by all means. The artist is given an entire page (or more precisely, panel) to explain the personal twist added to the concept – and this is where I first got suspicious. As open-minded as I try to be with other people’s views and beliefs, I couldn’t escape the impression that Thomas' personal vision wasn’t all that thrilling; in fact, it sounded a bit clichéd and ill-thought out. A mild look at the track titles did little to dispel my doubts, as some of the titles sound just too banal to inspire any real interest into the thoughts behind.

My doubts were confirmed almost as soon as the album started playing. Knowing that this should be a developed and complex album, I kept an open mind and listened through the album attentively, all the way to the end. Nothing changed. I listened through it again. Then a few days later. Then an additional few days later. Yet ultimately, I had to come to terms with the fact that this album is a letdown, at least in my book. One issue is the lack of true variation. What you hear in the first track will essentially, in various forms and guises, be repeated until the end of the album. It’s all interesting enough to make for an involved listen, but Mystified’s bag of tricks seems to be rather limited, to be honest, which brings us to the primary issue. The aforementioned bag has some truly bizarre tricks indeed. I’ve always frowned upon blatant rhythmic patterns being used in dark ambient, and in order for me to approve of them, they have to be seamlessly and masterfully integrated into the ambience, which in this case they’re not. What’s more, they reek of Fruity Loops way too much, which may be understandable having in mind Mr. Park’s history as a DJ, but that alone doesn’t make the deed justifiable. Another feature commonly present throughout this album are short, melodic bursts, which would be OK, even beneficiary to the tracks, were they not horribly folkish-sounding. Not that I have anything against folk as such, but apples and oranges shouldn’t be mixed, and Mystified seems to have done just that. Other than that, the underlying ambience is actually fine; there are more than a few moments to savour for the duration of this album, and I’d even go as far as saying that the entire album would’ve been better off had that essence not been tampered with in what I have to admit is a rather blunt way.

Simply put, this album lacks a proper theme or ambience to back it up, and since this is dark ambient we’re talking about, and not some easy listening for you to enjoy as a secondary activity, that’s a problem. It’s more of a pot-pourri of ideas than a uniform statement, which is a particularly difficult circumstance when the entire album is supposed to revolve around a very deep and personal concept, which makes the music on here sound too superficial. It’s not a bad release as such, and it still gets a spin in my music library every now and then, but that fact alone is hardly enough for anyone to spend their cold, hard-earned cash these days, especially when so many good releases are scattered around waiting to be picked up, many of which released by First Fallen Star itself. In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting for the second installment in this series, tentatively done by Svartsinn, which is almost a guarantee of quality in itself.

4/10


Buy CD @ Amazon.com