Dark Arts for the Dark Age

In August I moved into a new apartment. This is one of the fabled “old buildings” of Taichung, which has no elevator. Throughout the night I carried by baggage up five flights of stairs. Each time I arrived I my door, I took some time and listened to the deep, throat-music emanating from the neighboring room. I put my face close to the door, smelled the thick smoke and examined the Buddhist iconography adorning the inner-part of the door. I just stood and listened. I allowed myself to become entranced. In a sense I willed myself to become entranced because of course I was in the middle of something and had less than no time to waste. The music hadn’t stopped by my next trip, or by the fifth one when I’d finally made it upstairs and collapsed onto my new bed. Nor had it stopped by the morning when I went to work.

Like the monks in the monastery, the voice chants on until the mind coalesces around its pattern. The practitioner of the ritual does not reach out to one of the angels up high to intervene in one of his ephemeral wishes. It is the wishes that require subduing; the appetitive soul that must be redirected to favor spirit.

As the character Shepard Book says in “Firefly” after he finds River cutting up his Bible: “It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.” 

This is what I think the real wisdom that creates a spiritual practice is; the destructive and vital energy that overthrows the ideas that came before for the sake of eternal ones. Get enough of a following and your order will eventually become corrupt. Your spirituality will degenerate into mysticism. Pray for strength and the ancestors will come to guide you. Pray for a miracle and watch as natural law does her work unimpeded. And death will smile its pale-faced smile in either case.

I have found that some people think this is a morbid and unnecessary reminder. Why remind someone people that they are going to die…?

…except to remind them that they are eternally alive in something outside of their own body? …is how I might respond.

Setting aside for today the belief that music is in fact the origin of all life and the physical world (an allusion of which forms the beginning of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion). I’ve often felt that music, especially certain styles of music have a drug-like effect that open a new possibility in the mind. This possibility is in my case is the re-appropriation of mental and bodily energy to serve a single purpose. It’s an energy that festers and schemes beneath the conscious mind toward the absolute total triumph of will.

This is an extreme view; because if sound has any meaning at all, then it wins out over everything else. It wins out against the most carefully designed image and the most well-phrased invective. It is power, and growing is its only dance.

A few months ago I read a short essay on the website Black Ivory Tower about Paysage d’Hiver, a musical project that has influenced me a lot:

“Perhaps the most regrettable impact of modern ‘progress’ on our everyday lives has been the complete eradication of silence. It seems as if, from the very moment the first steam engines began to roar across European harbours, the world has been caught in an infernal crescendo of anvils, propellers, furnaces and facts. And just as we have annihilated open spaces in the aural sphere, so too has the temporal sphere of our lives been absolutely saturated – one could even say invaded – by industrial society’s torrential stream of mechanized tasks, duties and even ‘entertainments,’ which have re-framed our very lives around the movement of little gears. Space, geographical, aural and temporal, is a non-existent commodity.” 

Shouldn’t any worthwhile piece of music (shouldn’t any worthwhile man..?) defy whatever force seeks to subvert it until it becomes a mere product? Isn’t any idea inferior until it can reflect the infinite darkness one sees when he looks up into the nightsky?

“Getting lost in the album one leaves behind the inane bustle of the urban world and taps into an older feeling for time, one that allows space for a slower sentience of the world around us, for true awareness of Being.”

Search the internet and one can find out lots of information about Paysage d’Hiver and a band to which its sole member is also belongs; Darkspace. This group is similar in its heaviness, its slowness, its instrumentality and so on. It is reflective of the eternal in a similar way.

Meanwhile, there exists another extraordinary musical project from Switzerland, called Nychts, on which there is relatively little information out there. It is a one-man-band crafted by a man with the pseudonym “Trähn” (“Tears”). The imagery that accompanies Nycht’s music depicts a ghoulish hooded figure in a gray/black tree-filled atmosphere blowing a clarion.

One online commenter says: “Thirty or forty minutes in to my first listening of [Nychts], playing in the background as I worked, I stopped what I was doing and let out an audible ‘Whoa’. The majority of atmospheric black metal I’ve been hearing lately (dozens of demos and press releases) is stale. Not necessarily bad or without some merit but…stale. Nychts is a breath of fresh air. This is how it’s meant to be done.”

Nychts is unique. When I listen to Nychts (the name is an archaic form of the German word “Nichts” or “nothingness”) I hear a hymn to destruction. I’ve said before that it’s the absolute finality of death made into song. It is as extreme as a piece of music can be. I wonder how a human being could make such despairing sound and yet go on to express it in sound. Who is he? What has he lost?

The Nychts Facebook page info reads:

“Nychts is a musical concept from Lötschental-Wallis and Bern-Oberland, Switzerland. A musical jewelry, portraying astral projections, inducing out-of-space sensations characterized by a thick wall of cosmic sounds and grandiose song-writing. Following the pilgrim Trähn in his space odyssey, each release is a musical story of his travel on different planets, under different skies. A skywalker never ending travel through the infinity of the universe. Somewhere in Space, far away…”

Its work consists of five albums. In my view his primary work is an hour-and-fourteen-minute long track called “Und So Gehen Wir…” (“And So We Go…”) It’s growls and screams are anything but virile and confident. It likely dissuades a lot of listeners with its dismal shrieks and occasional somber singing. Hopelessness. Pain. Loss.

What could possibly be so invigorating about this long foray into auditory anguish will probably remain a mystery to whomever hasn’t felt pulled into its sphere already. I could theorize about the physiological causes for why some people prefer ‘dark’ music. I could ponder over questions about anxiety, demeanor, strength, masculinity, Weltschmerz and all the rest. But I’m less interested in the material minutiae of what we are. The sun glows and here we are.

I don’t know how to describe music, but I’ll try anyway.

It varies between ‘energetic’ and ‘slow’ moments, preparing the listener each time for the maximum impact of the next. There are moments when a tune that sounds like it is supposed to sound ‘positive’ is in a minor key and distorts the whole thing, like mocking you for not feeling the gray clouds weighing down on you. Then all the base, guitar, and drums blast in and the vocals and eerie ghost-like wails come in. They keep going. Everything is dramatic and slow. There’s a variation on the same melody that plays throughout, though barely similar-sounding enough to recognize.

Someday I may find an adequate way to describe what I feel Nychts’ music can do: use a basis of ‘heaviness’ or of ‘darkness’ as a way to build and then combine that base with a lighter melody that combines with it to spark the imagination and send chills from the head down through the neck and shoulders and spine. It whispers the unspoken truth that everything you’ve ever learned is nullified by what you already knew deep down. That very fulfillment of your desire carries the price of a desiring soul. That “if a temple is to be erected one must be destroyed.”

What is this if not a religious experience? What can a religious experience mean if it cannot do this? We know what it’s like to live life in devotion to wealth and comfort. But what is it like to live with the knowledge of eternity, of darkness, always in mind?

And so, we go……..


I remember an old man griping my wrist.
He was dying. “Imagine”, he said
Looking into the eye of a nova,
The bursting flames, the roar of it’s energy,
Faintly echoing down the corridors of time,
Whispering, “All life ends”

“Death”, he said, “Is like a bolt of lightning
Light cast upon every secret, just for a moment
‘Til the last spark of life fades and all is dark”
Then he breathed out his last breath into my ear
His gaze already way out among the stars.

“All Life Ends” by At The Gates


2 thoughts on “Dark Arts for the Dark Age

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