Though he’s staked his claim to the Nine Inch Nails gothic electro rock sound in recent years, the elf-masked Norseman known as Mortiis is still best known for his atmospheric synthesizer instrumentals. And with good reason—few electronicists are as adept at conjuring mood as Mortiis. Brought back from the deep, dark places of the world by Projekt, Ånden som gjorde Opprør and Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent (his second and third albums, respectively) delve into four tracks of lush, forboding smoke and fire. Using little more than an orchestral synthesizer (that sounds like Mortiis sat at the keyboard and actually played, rather than programmed) with some tympani and the occasional spoken or chanted vocal, the trollish wizard evokes the march of some distant army returning from the wars, or the sunlight hitting the dungeon as the door opens for the final time, or that instant as the drawbridge lowers in the fog and the weary travelers emerge from the forest. Mortiis’ melodies borrow from Norwegian folk and military marches, apparently giving that proud Nordic blood a high-five, but you’d be hard-pressed to isolate his sources. Suffice to say that the ancient moods haunting these disks come more from the dark elf’s brooding imagination rather than some repressed racial memory. These albums aren’t for everyday play, but on those nights at the inn hoisting a tankard after trudging heavily through the fjords, they’re just the ticket. -Michael Toland
Mortiis, as rather fey young man once told me in a deathrock club, is a troll. Judging from the prosthesis-and-makeup photos in Ånden som gjorde Opprør and Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent, I would say he looks more like an evil creature from Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal...but there is something undeniably trollish about Mortiis's music. On these two albums, both in recent digipack re-releases from Projekt, Mortiis crafts dark synth-orchestral journeys into a world of medievalesque fantasy. Mortiis's synth work is decidedly lo-fi and without much dynamic movement, and this creates an atmosphere entirely different from artists working with a similar aesthetic. Indeed, both of these records seem to keep to the depths of the dungeon instead of ascending the castle's spires; the four long tracks contained on Ånden som gjorde Opprør and Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent all tend to wallow in depressive tones rather than the usual shift-and-flow of neoclassical or dark ambient music. The new art for the digipacks does an excellent job of setting the mood for these albums: both Ånden som gjorde Opprør and Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent play like the soundtracks to sword & sorcery epics that were never filmed.
Mortiis is an excruciatingly complex and immensely interesting persona. With roots in the infamous Norwegian Black Metal styles, and having played bass for Emperor (a black metal band), for only a short period, Mortiis set out to build up on a theatrical aspect to his music. Specializing in what he refers to as Dungeon Music, he's created synthesizer-filled ambient albums of long pieces that mix an old-age Norwegian time period with the visuals of fantasy.
Mortiis transforms into a goblin with long, pointed nose, unkempt hair and excess, shedding skin (if you remember Blix from Ridley Scott’s Legend that starred Tom Cruise and Mia Sara, then you have a perfect idea of what Mortiis’ alter-ego appearance is like – but Google and see for yourself). And if you can imagine film music much like the old horror features with their brooding and menacing soundtracks, then, once again, you have an idea of what these decade-old Mortiis solo releases sound like.
Released in 1994 (Ånden som gjorde Opprør - ?) and 1995 (Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent – Emperor of a Dimension Unknown), these extended 2-track albums provide a soundtrack to ancient and isolated castles with dungeon in medieval times. These are not the war-torn and oppressed castles that we’re film-familiar with but rather, weathered edifices with deep dungeons and wet, dripping walls that hide horribly corrupt goings-on within. Outside, the sun grudgingly reaches the interior of the castle grounds for the mass of trees that surround – and protect – the mouldering structure.
Listening to these one can easily imagine a torture chamber filled to capacity with agonized kidnapped villagers camped on the castle owner’s vast lands by need. If anyone is familiar with Brian Lumley’s Necroscope book series, one could easily apply these albums of music as the soundtrack to the Starside aeries that fill the series during the Vampire World trilogy. Now and again, sinister spoken words pepper these sometimes majestic, mostly funereal ambient discs. 1995’s Keiser av en dimensjon Ukjent delivers a creepier feel but with sadder undertones in sound than 1994’s Ånden som gjorde Opprør, which itself is the more majestic story piece.
Projekt, a premier Gothic label based in NYC, have often released quality titles of pure ambience. It is then natural for the label to reissue these Out of Print titles from Mortiis (who now records excellent industrial metal as a four-piece band) with beautifully coloured, and redesigned glossy digipak casings. If you follow the Mortiis mythos, then you are aware of his theatrically enhanced and transitory musical styles. Mortiis ambience isn’t for everyone but if you are a fan of ambient music that is different in scope than most ambient pieces, then Mortiis’ Dungeon Music might be the thing. -Matt Rowe