Norwegian dungeon synth/dark ambient masters Mortiis bring us their latest offering – Spirit of Rebellion. Upon first listening, it becomes immediately apparent that this album takes a different turn from their most recent discography and instead returns to the dungeon synth of their early 90s (“Era I”) material, back when it was still the solo project of Håvard Ellefsen (better known as Mortiis, the namesake of the band).
The album is intended as an elaboration on their Era I album Ånden som Gjorde Opprør (which translates to “The Spirit Who Rebelled”). Although much remains the same melody and song structure wise, the production quality is noticeably superior on this reworking. With better synth sounds sounding much closer to the instruments they were intended to imitate.
Grand, stately sounding horns open the first track with a triumphant, marching melody reminiscent of preparing for battle. It’s more akin to medieval inspired dark symphonic metal than the modern sounding Sisters of Mercy inspired industrial metal Mortiis have been producing more recently, with songs such as ‘Parasite God’. This only serves to remind of us of just how much Mortiis’ music has evolved from the outset.
Like its source material, Spirit of Rebellion only has 2 parts - both around 25 minutes long. Within each of these parts there are distinct sections making up the different songs of the album. Each part importantly stands by themselves and has an overarching flow though between the songs – for example the motif introduced at the start of ‘A Dark Horizon pt I’ is elegantly reprised in the last song 'A Dark Horizon pt VI'.
The whole album is instrumental – unless you count the synthesised vocals used to create atmospheric choral backing in places – giving the impression of a dark fantasy film or game soundtrack. It’s no wonder dungeon synth has some overlap with video game music, and comparisons are often drawn between the two.
Overall this is an immersive and atmospheric listen, with no small amount of melody and charm. This isn’t the sort of dark ambient to deeply unsettle and perturb, but rather to transport you somewhere bygone and fantastical. At its darkest and most energetic moments, it sounds like it could perhaps be gearing you up for a boss battle in a dungeon-crawler; but at its softest it is chilled out enough to be the soundtrack to quiet contemplation in a peaceful forest somewhere.
Would recommend for fans of: Burzum, Emperor, Lord Lovidicus, Depressive Silence, Nox Arcana, Old Sorcery, Elffor, Thangorodim, Lunar Womb, Wongraven, Jääportit, Vond, Summoning