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
"The music in this album has a lot more industrial and gothic overtones than Mortiis' previous releases. This is Mortiis' latest release (his third) and the tunes are more accessible than ever. The music is also cleaner, catchier, and symphonic. To be honest, this is the first time I'm really getting into Mortiis' releases, and the music is amazing (amazing enough to have found an immediate influence in my own music) the atmosphere projected by it is incredible. One of the reasons the music appeals to me is that it's entirely created on keyboards, with oboes and French horns and a persistent timpani. The vocals are spoken (in Norwegian) and effect is to create a wise, majestic, and regal sound. It's easily possible when one composes this sort of music to forget the listener, to sound distant and haughty, but Mortiis doesn't. This does come off as a sincere attempt on Mortiis' part to communicate his visions to the listener. I am so earnest in encouraging you to try this music out that I am going to make some comparisons to contemporary music today, and the diversity in these comparsons should be telling. The music is reminiscent of artists as diverse as Paradise Lost, Pet Shop Boys, Brian Eno, and Beethoven, just to name a few. The whole album (47 minutes worth) consists of two compositions, with some repetitious passages. I highly recommend obtaining this album if you're at all curious about Mortiis' sound, and then going back to the older releases. This is bound to appeal to fans of both classical music and black metal, and others in between."
As the first era of Mortiis' dark development becomes available once more, his third album presents a score of majestic grandeur and dismal atmospheres.
Mortiis is an interesting figure in the modern electronic scene. Having started as the bassist and lyricist for the black metal group Emperor, Mortiis soon began a career making dark electronic music. Beginning with a series of ambient soundscapes that reached their pinnacle with 1998's The Stargate, Mortiis soon branched out into darker, more industrial-driven forms of music, at first with The Smell of Rain in 2001, and then with The Grudge in 2005. Today, many of the early releases (affectionately referred to as Era I) have been out-of-print. Now signed with Projekt Records, these early releases can be found yet again, such as Mortiis' third album, 1995's Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent. While comprised of only two tracks, whose titles translate to "Journeys to Deserts and Dungeons" and "Emperor of a Dimension Unknown," each track spans an excess of 20 minutes, demonstrating Mortiis' skills as a craftsman of dark sonic moods that are as majestic as they are dismal. Looped motifs of symphonic grandeur progress like imperial marches, filled with bursts of recurring melodies that will take the listener back to a time when knights roamed the land and kings ruled vast domains. Choruses of haunting voices with only hints of actual lyrics appear amidst the dungeonesque atmospheres, enhancing the quality of the music. This music would not be out of place at a Renaissance Festival or as background music to a lengthy reading of a medieval fantasy novel. The only downside is the lack of any real direction or buildup, no climax or crescendo to bring the pieces to a level of excitement, and they both end just as quietly. However, as ambient music, Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent fits the bill quite nicely. Fans of Mortiis' more recent industrial rock output might be put off a bit by the softer nature of this earlier material, while fans of old will be gratified to find it available in print once more. -Ilker Yücel