Artist: Silencio Permanente
Album: The Miserable Hall of Oblivion
Release Date: 3/4/2020
On their social media pages Silencio Permanente describe themselves as “True Pagan Ambient” and it is not difficult to see why. Their artwork depicts pentagrams, forests, ships, death and other occult imagery one would associate with black metal and by extension, dungeon synth. Even the font they use looks like that of an old tome one might find sequestered in a cave or long forgotten sorcerer’s tower. In the few photos I can find of them performing they don hooded robes and seem to enjoy playing by candlelight. It is all a very cohesive aesthetic that serves to draw people in before they have even heard the music.
Before diving in to this The Miserable Hall of Oblivion I think it is important to stress how inextricably linked dungeon synth as a genre is to black metal. The genres share not only the same region of origin but many of the progenitors of black metal also created dark ambient, synth-heavy music which shared the same pagan and mythological imagery. Håvard Ellefsen (Mortiis), former bass player for Emperor, and the ever controversial Varg Vikernes of Burzum infamy were two black metal icons who also created what we could call “proto-dungeon synth”. The music referenced Norse mythology and pagan imagery and used lo-fi production techniques that would be familiar to any black metal band from the 80s and 90s.
I only emphasize this because Silencio Permanente’s first album Sombre Macabrum wears its black metal influence on its sleeve. It’s a dark and ominous record with distinct black metal sections complete with heady screams and blast beats all with that lo-fi airiness that is as integral to early black metal as the corpse paint. But The Miserable Hall of Oblivion is not that. Not at all. To me it represents a departure, an attempt at something new. It’s an album I think about a lot. It sits at the back of my mind scraping the walls of my skull until I listen to it again. This music stirred something in me that I have not been able to pin down and I hope to convey some of that emotion through my writing. I’m going to take a few of the tracks apart and hopefully we can both learn something about what we are feeling and what Silencio Permanente are trying to tell us.
The record opens with Winter Confessions, the shortest track by a slim margin. An arpeggiated synth riff that dances between A minor and C major carries us through what to me sounds like a prelude for the rest of the album. Something that gives us a small sample of what is to come. The oscillators playing the endless arpeggio wobble ever so slightly in and out of tune which lend the track an almost weary quality. As if the music itself is tired, perhaps from a long journey. Some shimmery, lo-fi synth pads join the mix and after one minute and forty six seconds the track ends.
Her Tears on the River is the second track and one of my personal favorites. Two somber synth melodies meander around one another arrhythmically in a way that sounds like a conversation between two companions. We then hear the faint sounds of dripping water and a woman weeping until the track ominously fades away leaving only the sound of a river. This is a perfect microcosm of what Silencio Permanente are good at. This track and the entire rest of the album are absolutely drenched in atmosphere. The mood of this record looms large over you like a tremendous storm, a dark cloud, a deep fog, or a freezing night. I find it impossible to listen to The Miserable Hall of Oblivion without thinking of lost loved ones, an uncaring universe, a ship lost at sea, or a vast silent forest. The record is melancholy incarnate.
But as grandiose as the record can feel at times it is also deeply intimate. The track Forgive the Wind sounds, not surprisingly, like the wind on a warm evening. Another beautiful arpeggio is played on what sounds like a flute synth patch tuned quite low. It sounds foreign but also familiar. Many of the sounds on the record would not sound out of place on a yoga VHS tape from the 1990s which is a core component of most dungeon synth records. But another thing that Silencio Permanente are good at is taking the nostalgic sounds that are typical of the genre and using them in unfamiliar and occasionally unsettling ways. It’s the main reason this record is so engrossing. It really feels like we the listener have walked through a door into a magical realm. One that is dark and quiet and scary but we also can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.
Silencio Permanente stand out to me because they transcend genre in a way that only truly great artists can. We can call their music whatever we want: dungeon synth, dark ambient, dark wave, electronic. They clearly have roots in all of these but something about The Miserable Hall of Oblivion seems to surpass them all. This is a record that is worth more than the sum of its parts. It’s simple yet contemplative, atmospheric yet intimate, unfamiliar but nostalgic. It will guide you on a meditative journey through a lonely world full of wind and water, and it will swallow you whole if you let it.Listen and order here: