- Overall Production
- Ridiculously Vintage Production
The weather has turned, the leaves have fallen, and Winter has taken hold of the land – it seems like the right time for Termo Records to fire off another release from the confines of their vacuum-tube powered world. A few months ago, we got the latest release from “The world’s only listenable singer/songwriter®”, which is actually something Rhys Marsh should trademark because it’s 90% true. This time around, I was thrown a curveball by four guys that love pagan rituals, folk traditions, and like to call themselves “Tusmørke”.
Tusmørke, which means “twilight” in Norwegian, is a four-piece outfit led by the Momrak twins (formerly of Momrakattakk, a name that for some reason cracks me up only because I can absolutely see twin brothers coming up with that band name, probably in a tree house when they were 5 or 6 years old). Benediktator plays bass and, judging by the band’s official promo video, appears to take charge of most vocals, while his brother Krizla contributes flute. Lots and lots of flute. It’s probably the most immediately striking feature of the group – the keyboards provide little more than ambiance and texture for the vast majority of the album while the bass and drums provide the rhythm, leaving Krizla the lead role in nearly every instrumental melody.
Right off the bat, I hear a lot of Jethro Tull and a tiny bit of Caravan/Gong. And the Jethro Tull comparison isn’t simply because of the flute; Benediktator’s voice typically sounds like a cross between Ian Anderson circa 1973 and the late Jim Morrison, residing in what sounds like a baritone range, which is a partial shot in the dark because I’ve never been in a choir one day in my life. I got the immediate impression that the vocals were going to illicit a “love them or hate them” reaction from listeners, and that was pseudo-validated in my two person listening experiment: I love them, and my female cousin, who was forced to listen to the album twice in succession, hated them. Who knew?
But let’s get back to the music in Underjordisk Tusmørke. Having no guitar throughout an album proved to be a unique experience, but one that I enjoyed. Krizla is honestly a fantastic flautist. There aren’t too many flashy moments, but his playing is crisp and clean, and his vibrato is stellar. The vocals and flute often harmonize to cover the main melodies, and it comes off as quite folky and even occasionally whimsical. The drums were simple but interesting, and while they will probably fail to blow anyone’s mind, they certainly succeed at being musical and contributing to the mood on each song. The keyboards were difficult for me to put a foot on: when I heard that producer Lars Fredrik Frøislie was going to contribute some “esoteric” keyboard elements for the album, I was justifiably excited. Suffice it to say that not one particular keyboard part was remotely memorable, but credit is due to Tusmørke’s Deadly Nightshade and Lars for playing a solid background role. As I mentioned earlier, the keyboards primarily function as ambiance and texture, and nothing does that better than an army of vintage ‘boards.
And talk about vintage! This album seriously sounds like it’s straight out of the 70’s. I know we say that a lot when we hear “vintage” or “throwback” recordings from modern bands, but I don’t think I’ve heard one quite like this. I wasn’t completely in awe with the production or anything like that, but it was well done and noticeably enhanced the presentation, which is all a listener can ever ask for. Two of the bonus tracks were obviously recorded in the same sessions, but the third bonus track and final track overall, the nearly 18-minute Ode on Dawn, certainly wasn’t. It either sounds like some sort of live recording or a studio rough cut; I may have to contact the band and get to the bottom of this at some point.
Are there negatives? Unfortunately, yes. I enjoyed the lyrics, but too often in the earlier tracks I felt that the band sacrificed the melodic structure in order to fit in the maximum amount of syllables. This is probably most immediately evident in “The Quintessence of Elements”, but can be heard in places in each of the first five tunes. And while I personally think that these sort of people can buck up and listen anyway, I can certainly see how Benediktator’s voice could put a damper on the album. My main frustration with the album, though, was the inconsistency; I thoroughly enjoyed last four tracks, comprising Hostjevndogn and the three bonus tracks. My favorite moments were in these tracks, and I thought the lyrics fit best, which could certainly be the result of using Norwegian lyrics instead of English ones. Ode on Dawn, production deficiencies aside, is a really cool composition, and those people who can’t seem to live without a guitar will be pleased to know that their six-stringed friend makes an appearance on this epic track. I found myself wishing the the first five tracks sounded more like the last four. I suppose there’s something to be said for finishing strong.
Overall, Underjordisk Tusmørke is a solid piece of progressive music. If you’re interested in something folky and uniquely Scandinavian, you’ve found the right album. I might not recommend this to everybody, but I can safely say that Scandinavia has once again given the listening public a well-made musical recording. Give it a try!