I recently had the pleasure of putting together a mix for the wonderful zine Wounds of the Earth. The result is a mixture of dark ambient and martial industrial. See the full track list.
In addition to my obvious love for the genres of martial industrial and dark ambient, I’m also rather partial to a bit of EBM and futurepop. One of the finest musicians in those genres is Stefan Poiss of mind.in.a.box and THYX. So when he offered remix kits to anyone who wanted to make a remix, I jumped at the chance and made a rather Hands of Ruin-ish mix of Black Hole.
I was hoping (and I think he was too) that the remix album would come out sooner. When it does, I’m optimistic that my mix will be on it. But in the meantime, I want to share something of what I did. This is the instrumental mix of Black Hole. When the remix album is released you’ll hear the mix complete with vocals (and if my mix doesn’t make the cut then I’ll put it here on the blog).
Some time ago I announced that I was working on a soundtrack for Lot in Sodom, a 1933 avant-garde silent film. After slightly longer than I’d expected, it’s here.
James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s silent film, Lot in Sodom, tells the biblical story of Lot, who is visited by angels and instructed to leave Sodom before it is destroyed by God for the sins of the Sodomites. Watson and Webber were pioneers of avant-garde film-making, much influenced by German expressionism. Lot in Sodom takes an experimental approach to telling the story and makes use of a variety of innovative visual effects, including superimposed shots and shooting through prisms.
The soundtrack was written in 2014 and 2015. I wanted to create something that would support and emphasize the mood of the film. And it seemed fitting to write a soundtrack for this film in particular, having previously made one for their 1928 film, The Fall of the House of Usher.
The soundtrack is available to buy on Bandcamp.
This is the second part of my mix for the Settlers of Catan game. It builds up slowly from a dark ambient opening, journeys through some early and religious music, and ends with an intense, bombastic finale.
- Archon Satani – Another Great Moment in Paradise
- Raison d’etre – The Maturation of Nature
- Orplid – Parzivals Traum
- Djivan Gasparyan – Little Flower Garden
- Daemonia Nymphe – Thracian Gaia
- Gor – Kyrie Eleison
- Anatoly Grindenko / Russian Partriarchate Choir – Prokimenon (mode 3)
- Raison d’etre – Death in the Body but Made Alive by the Spirit
- Cold Fusion – Crusade
- Arvo Pärt – In principio: II. Fuit homo missus a Deo
- Hildegard von Bingen – O Viridissima Virga
- Kronos Quartet – Brudmarsch frå Östa
- Ordo Equilibrio – After Reign cometh Sun
- Rukkanor – Defenders of Faith
- Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture
- Kreuzweg Ost – Exitus in Paradisum
- Kazeria – Like Ancient Legions
- Hands of Ruin – Against the Gods
- The Protagonist – Hesperia
- Rukkanor – Desireth
- Parzival – Uttara Purana
- Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard – The Battle
- John Bergin – Marshes of Untill
- Howard Shore – Forth Eorlingas (featuring Ben Del Maestro)
See also part 1.
A playlist put together for games of Settlers of Catan. I’m not terribly good at the game, but my friends say that I have the best music for it. This is part one of two.
- Jo Quail – The Falconer
- In the Nursery – The Other Side of Reality
- Johannes Ockeghem – Missa “Fors seulement”: Credo
- Arcana – Parisal
- Dead Can Dance – Chant of the Paladin
- Wardruna – Sowelu
- Rukkanor – Tiveris
- Arcana – Infinity
- Peter Andersson – Tulpa Part VII – Yang-Tul Unveiled
- Wardruna – EhwaR
- Dead Can Dance – The Song of the Sibyl
- Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium
- L’effet c’est moi – Ianvs axis mvndi
- Peter Bjärgö – As We Evaporate
- Howard Shore – Flight to the Ford
- In the Nursery – Crepuscule
- Blood Axis – Wulf and Eadwacer
Update: Part 2 is now available.
You know how it goes, they say if you’ve heard one martial industrial album than you’ve heard them all, and that’s more or less true.
[…] every band in the last 5 years sounds exactly the same.
As for pop, well… it takes real talent to write a good pop song certainly more then it does a bog-standard martial-industrial nazi-shite-fest anyway.
There’s a view that I encounter every so often: that all music made in the martial industrial genre sounds the same. This carries with it the implications that all the musicians are imitators and that the scene is devoid of new ideas. When I first heard it said, I didn’t really agree with it. And given that the Wounds of the Earth quote above is from a review of my own Empire and Dust, perhaps I have an interest in rebutting this view. But really, it just doesn’t reflect my experience.
But I don’t like relying just on personal experience. I know enough about science to know how unreliable that is. I want to put it to the test.
I figured that if I could go through a sufficiently large and unbiased sample of martial industrial music and classify whether each piece was derivative or not, I could get a sense of just how derivative the genre is, and therefore get a sense of whether it was an accurate accusation.
So I went through all the reviews tagged martial industrial on Heathen Harvest, which yields 68 reviews in total. (The archive stretches back to July 2011 — not quite rotorschnee’s five years, but close.) To make it a little more relevant and manageable, I decided to strip out the ones that just seemed to have martial elements but really belong to another genre, and I removed compilations. This made 46 reviews of 38 bands. The full list is at the bottom of the post.
So then I went through and noted down, for each band, whether they seemed to be same-y or not. Admittedly, “same-y” is a pretty subjective evaluation, and furthermore, what are they all the same as? According to Wikipedia, “Nowadays, the Wagnerian style of Triarii serves as point of reference for most martial industrial acts.” That fits with my own impression, so I used that as my standard.
Ninety percent of everything is crap.
But then the other question is: what is the test? Ideally, we would have an index of the “sameyness” of each genre. Then we would know where martial industrial fit into that. But in the absence of that, I’m happy to take Sturgeon’s Law as a baseline. Admittedly, ninety percent of everything is crap is not the same as ninety percent of everything is unoriginal, but I’ll be satisfied if I can pick out more than ten percent that I think are original.
A fair number of these bands were already familiar to me, but by no means all. So I had some serious listening to do… And it was a slightly more disappointing process than I had anticipated. It turns out that a lot of them really do sound the same. Nonetheless, there are some good bands in there, so let’s take a look at them:
Dead Man’s Hill
My introduction to martial industrial was In Slaughter Natives and other bands from the Cold Meat Industry label, which instead of the current obsession with the wars of the twentieth century, seemed more focused on the macabre and on rebelling against Christianity. It seems to me that Dead Man’s Hill continue this somewhat neglected tradition, mixing in elements of black metal and noise as well. And the review is of a split with Hrossharsgrani, an ambient/noise/metal band, so that adds to the diversity.
Epoch combine martial industrial with the harsh electronic sounds and rhythms of EBM. And far from being a “nazi-shite-fest”, their politics comes from a left-wing American viewpoint.
I.R.O.N. is a side-project of the musician behind Legionarii, and while I’ll admit that the latter is martial-by-numbers, I.R.O.N. introduces a more mechanical and electronic sound.
L’Effet C’est Moi
L’Effet C’est Moi are superb musicians. Their melodies are complex, exciting and beautiful, and their palette of sounds is diverse while still fitting together coherently.
Order of Victory
I can’t claim to be a big fan, but I have to admit that Order of Victory’s strangely processed vocals give them their own sound.
Again, it’s the quality of the music (and the unique voice of Dimitrij Bablevskij) that raise this band above the rest of the genre. Though it wasn’t the subject of the review, I was recently blown away by Casta, which they made in collaboration with group of Indian Sikh folk musicians, and which has an exotic sound that I haven’t heard in this genre before.
Rose Croix have a heavily mystical feel, perhaps a little reminiscent of some aspects of Dead Can Dance but certainly not out of the regular martial mould.
Rukkanor brings middle-eastern influences to martial industrial. While there might be a precedent for this sort of thing with Dead Can Dance and Arcana, Rukkanor’s approach is very much his own.
Sala Delle Colonne
I was only able to find one track online, but from that and Heathen Harvest’s review I gather that, rather than making modern martial industrial, Sala Delle Colonne makes music that sounds as if it were genuinely recorded 50 years ago.
Svalbard make surprisingly catchy military pop.
Tethrippon are a Greek martial and neofolk band. The vocals are full of drama.
So out of 46 reviews and 38 bands, I’ve picked out 11 bands that I think can’t be called derivative. This is roughly a quarter — well above the 10% that would be predicted by Sturgeon’s Law. I’ll concede that there was more bog-standard martial industrial in there than I’d anticipated. Still, I consider the accusation refuted.
I think when making the argument that all martial industrial sounds the same there are a few things that one should remember: Firstly, this is a genre of music. Music made within a genre has to sound similar at least to some degree, otherwise it’s not a genre. Secondly, when compared to other genres, is martial industrial more homogeneous? When I think of the other genres I’m familiar with, the answer is a clear no. Most EBM sounds like most other EBM, most dark ambient sounds like most other dark ambient. For every boundary-pushing mind.in.a.box or Desiderii Marginis there are numerous uninspiring imitators. And thirdly, I wonder why martial industrial is singled out? Perhaps because it tends towards being instrumental music, while surrounded by genres such as neofolk that are led by songs. I think that — at least for non-musicians — discerning the differences between vocalists is easier than discerning the different sounds and techniques of instrumental music.
There’s perhaps also a different attitude towards similarity and difference at work among fans of martial industrial music than among fans of other genres. Whenever I dip my toes into any genre of dance music, I don’t hear any complaints about all artists sounding the same, despite what seem to my ears to be far stronger similarities. In those genres it seems much more acceptable to sound similar. After all, the goal of the DJ is often to create a seamless experience.
What do you think? Is my method flawed? Am I just biased towards my own genre?
Here is the list of reviews considered:
- Argentum – Salve Victoria
- Auswalht – Paroxysm
- Barbarossa Umtrunk – Der Talisman des Rosenkreuzers: La Mission Secrete du Baron Sebottendorf
- Corazzata Valdemone – Stornellando in Grigioverde
- Das Brandopfer – Infernal Pacts
- Dawn & Dusk Entwined – A L’aube Des Jours Anciens
- Die Macht – Instinct de Survie / Reflection
- Epoch – Purity & Revolution
- For the Madness of Lords: The First Full-length Album by Six Comm Side-project Schräge Musik is an Uneasy Excursion into the Abattoirs of WW2
- Heaven Host – Thou art my Hiding Place and my Shield
- Horologium – Tellurian Anthems
- Hrossharsgrani & Dead Man’s Hill – Dead : Meat
- I.R.O.N. – Evolving
- I.R.O.N. – Re-Forge: Metalized, Mechanized & Upgraded
- J Orphic – Villa Ardita
- Karma Marata & Kristian Giorgini – …And still remain
- Karma Marata – Das Sturmläuten
- Kraschau – Falanx
- Kraschau – Offenbarung
- Legionarii – Disciples of the State
- Legionarii – Europa Rex
- Legionarii – Iron:Legion
- Liyr – Sub Terra Inferis
- L’Effet C’est Moi – Genius Loci
- March of Heroes – La Chute
- March of Heroes – Liberation
- Oda Relicta – Ukrainian Insurgent Army
- Order of Victory – Nemo Oblivioni Tradita est, Nihil Oblivioni Tradita est
- Parzival – Die Kulturnacht
- Persona – Sota Setge: Memòria de Sant Ferran
- Rose Croix – Rose Croix
- Rukkanor – Deccarah
- Sala Delle Colonne – Il Destino della Orchestra Aurora
- Seuchensturm – Um jeden Preis
- Spreu & Weizen – Gott Vergelt’s
- Stricta Doctrina – Untitled
- Striider – Heimweh
- Striider – Voorwaarts!
- Sturmführer - Niemals Vergessen
- Suveräna – Vanguard
- Svalbard – Der Letzte Blick Zurück
- Tethrippon – Tethrippon
- Triangular Ascension – Sexta Republica
- Waffenruhe & Seuchensturm – Waffenbrüder
- Waffenruhe – Stuka
- Waffenruhe – War Rituals
A collection of dystopian sci-fi sounds, with a bit of 80’s retrofuturism mixed in.
- Vangelis – Blush Response
- Tineidae – Alta
- Candle Nine – Kerrianne’s Spine
- Hecq – Field
- Wendy Carlos – Title Music From A Clockwork Orange
- Gridlock – Re/module
- Forma Tadre – Corona Mundi
- Ghost Station – Tunnels
- Huron – Disrupt the Standard
- Dryft – no bargains, no pleas (featuring xiescive)
- Undermathic – Mechanical Steering
- Perturbator – War Against Machines
- Access to Arasaka – Oppidan
- C.Z. Robertson – A-38
- NEWT – Newtheme
- Liquid Divine – Broadcast
- Caliga Blue – The Azure Deep
- Headscan – Corroded Center Pole
- mind.in.a.box – Lightforce
Work on the Hands of Ruin typeface continues. I now have all the letters, but there’s more fine-tuning to do.
I’ve had plenty of help from a wonderful book: Designing Type by Karen Cheng. (There’s a nice review at The Designer’s Review of Books.) It’s a systematic comparison of the shapes of all the letters of the alphabet, in a variety of typefaces. It points out a number of frequent problems in the design of the letters, and how they’re solved in different faces.
From Cheng’s book I saw that there was a problem with the bottoms of a, d and u: the notch where the bowl connects to the stem at the bottom was rather small and unclear. I slightly thinned the bottom stroke and curved the stem into the serif to make it a little more pronounced. Also, did you know that the serifs at the top of the d and at the top of both stems of the u point to the left? Despite looking at typefaces for years, I didn’t know that.
You’ll notice that the stems on the current version of the typeface are heavier than they were originally. The typeface should be a bit on the heavy side for Hands of Ruin.
I also drew a couple of fs, eventually settling on the one with the tail. It adds a bit of a calligraphic swoosh, but without going to italics like I do with the current logotype.
There’s more work to do, though. It’s occurred to me that the serifs are thinner than the horizontal strokes, as if they don’t have any relationship to each other. I’ve been looking at other typefaces, and while there are a few that have thinner serifs than strokes, they’re pretty rare and it’s usually a very deliberate effect. I think I’d prefer to make mine match.
The spacing is still rather messy. I was hacking the sidebearings (the spaces at the sides of the letters) in an ad hoc manner, but really I should follow the recommendations of actual designers and do it systematically.
It’s strange that I find it easier to show a typeface in progress than music. With music, I want to polish everything before I present it. I suppose that, for whatever reason, the flaws in a piece of music feel much more like personal failings than the flaws in a typeface.
All in all, it’s been an easier process than I expected. Though I imagine that tackling a whole alphabet in upper- and lower-case, plus numbers and punctuation, is a more arduous process, and that the number of possible interactions that you have to think about when any text could be written is vastly more daunting.
A couple of months ago we took a journey to the north. This time we’re going east.
- Arvo Pärt – Kondakion
- Djivan Gasparyan – Your Strong Mind
- Daemonia Nymphe – Message Horn’s Enchanting Echo
- Dead Can Dance – Radharc
- Rukkanor – Damascus
- Cold Fusion – While Carthago Burns
- Arcana – The Nemesis
- Desiderii Marginis – Silent Messenger
- Hans Zimmer – To Zucchabar
- Peter Bjärgö – VI
- Vangelis – Damask Rose
- Hands of Ruin – Absolutio
- Russian Patriarchate Choir / Anatoly Grindenko – Troparion (mode 7)
Hands of Ruin is branching out into a new direction: typography.
Well, not exactly, but I’ve started work on a typeface which will have just ten letters in it: a, d, f, H, i, n, o, R, s and u, which will be just enough to write “Hands of Ruin”.
I’ve always enjoyed the visual side of Hands of Ruin: designing the website, album covers, and so on, and I’m proud in particular of the HR monogram. Even so, designing a typeface (even one that contains only ten letters) is a challenging undertaking, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have something specific to gain from it. In this case, I’m considering it a practice run for designing a full typeface. Entirely unrelated to my music, I’ve been thinking for a while about a typeface that combines the square-ish letterforms of Eurostile with the extreme weight contrasts of the Didones. It seems to me that I should get started with it soon. But I know that it’s going to be a serious and challenging project, and I want to first get some familiarity with font editing software and with the whole design process on a smaller, less intimidating project. In the same way that starting with a 13 minute silent film was my first step into writing soundtracks, a ten-letter typeface is my first step into type design.
Until now, the Hands of Ruin logotype has been written in Gentium. The monogram is also based on Gentium’s H and R. I like Gentium, but while I was thinking about the bigger typeface project, I had the idea for something heavy with an emphasis on straight diagonal lines, which seemed perfect for Hands of Ruin. In my imagination, it is something that you might see on an early 20th century grave or on a First World War memorial, though I don’t know of anything that actually looks like this. (What I mostly see looking at those memorials is that they tended to use all-caps or small-caps, so it’s hard to find anything with lowercase letters.)
The question of serif or sans serif is a tricky one. On the one hand, I feel like the shape of the letters makes more sense in a sans serif style. On the other, I’d like to use the H and R for a new version of the monogram, and I fear that will be too plain without serifs.
I’ve been using Glyphs for the actual font editing, which seems like a great bit of software. There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the interface, and some of the features, such as being able to split outlines at their intersections, are particularly clever and useful.
So far, I have early versions of the letters to write “Hand”. The sequence so far has been H, n, d and a. With each letter I design I’m trying to do something that will tell me more about the design, but also be a small enough chunk to be manageable. I think the next letter will be s, which I know will be tricky, but I’m very curious to see how the diagonal will work in the middle of the letter. Then I’ll move on to R and f. I’m hoping that o, u and i will be relatively straightforward once I’ve got to that point. If I were designing a full typeface then there would be a lot more to consider: kerning, and possibly hinting, for example. But that’s a good reason to start small, like this.