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Morvranh - Black Dynasty (2016) - Review

Band: Morvranh
Album title: Black Dynasty
Release date: 22 June 2016
Label: Self-released

01. Inner Sanctum
02. The Crawling
03. The Night When She Disappeared
04. Distant Mind
05. Bringers Of The Iron Idols
06. Mothers, Roads And The Black Cloth

Black Dynasty, the lastest album by Morvranh, is sacral dark ambient with loads of dark atmospherics and ritual elements. Black Dynasty is the fifth full length album to date by Morvranh, and definitely the most active yet. Somehow Morvranh has continued to slip beneath the radar of major dark ambient labels, so this will be also his fifth self-released album. Black Dynasty takes the listener on an aural journey into the depths of some wretchedly dark realm. The sounds are at one moment sacral and innocent while the constant shadow of some sinister fiend looms over the entirety of the album.

Morvranh released his first album Mysterium in the fall of 2014, a new-comer to the dark ambient scene. For an introductory effort, Mysterium hit the ground running, bringing out some of the deepest and darkest atmospherics yet from Morvranh. Mysterium, like much of the Morvranh discography had a very minimal and atmospheric take on dark ambient. The songs were never too active, at some points falling to almost a silence as the darkness fully engulfed each track. This album would later be picked up by Forest Path Records and would be the only solo physical release by Morvranh to date.

Earlier this year, Morvranh teamed up with Irish ritual dark ambient artist Ruairi O'Baoighill to form the collective, Order Of The Black Dawn, and they released their debut -I-. This seems to have marked a shift in the style of the Morvranh sound. There is a sacral element that comes to the forefront now, which previously was only hinted at. Furthermore, Morvranh has taken on a more active style with Black Dynasty, adding hauntingly beautiful female vocals and a variety of ritual instrumentation. The story seems to be just as enticing as ever, as Morvranh has always done a nice job of constructing a narrative through his music.

Having listened to Black Dynasty many times now, I have found that my ideas on the direction and narrative of the album have changed several times. It took a while for this shift in the Morvranh style to sink in. With that said, I did enjoy every moment of the process. Black Dynasty goes through some vast shifts in style from track to track, which seems to help solidify the concept of the album.

Black Dynasty starts with "Inner Sanctum", a track which has the most ritual elements of any Morvranh track to date. As chimes and ceremonial bells ring in the background, over an eerily hollow wind, there is a lonely female voice, which chants some decidedly religious hymn, before her male counterparts fill out the sound with their deeper chants, almost hidden in the background. We seem to have arrived in this bleak realm in the midst of a ceremony. As "Inner Sanctum" winds to a close, and "The Crawling" begins, the landscape changes. Where previously we were in the midst of a mortal ritual, now it seems as if we have entered the underworld, coaxed in by some cunning demonic figure. There is no humanity to "The Crawling", it is but a deeply troubling soundscape, which gently winds its way forward. "The Night When She Disappeared" returns to the realms of humanity. We are welcomed back with a lonely piano, playing some melancholic yet simplistically beautiful piece. It is here that the synth element of the album also takes its hold. As the same female vocals from "Inner Sanctum" return, we are also greeted with a crisp synth line, which surely takes its inspiration from the dungeon synth genre. Yet this synth never overwhelms the greater point of the track, which is the female vocalist, who seems to be at the center of this entire narrative. This is where my interpretation of the album can take divergent turns. The title of "The Night When She Disappeared" seems to suggest that this vocalist we heard several times through the early parts of Black Dynasty has gone missing, but how? and why? Was she abducted by the creatures that we were introduced to in "The Crawling" or is she indeed the play-maker in this dark story-line? The following track, "Distant Mind" gives us time to contemplate these questions. "Distant Mind" again returns to that highly atmospheric and less active vibe of previous Morvranh albums. With the lull in activity we are given ample time to ponder her disappearance, and maybe we can search deeper in the sound for the answers to this question. "Bringers Of The Iron Idols" is another large shift in style. As I mentioned previously, the dungeon synth style has already been hinted at, and on "Bringers Of The Iron Idols" this concept takes full form. As the title and shift in style suggest, something has changed, there has been an appearance on the scene of a new group, possibly some other cult or religion, previously unknown to the native inhabitant of this land. A prominent synth line takes the lead, while the atmospherics, never lose hold in the background. Are these "Bringers" the reason for the female's disappearance? We are given one more opportunity to delve into this question. "Mothers, Roads And The Black Cloth" reintroduces the female vocalist (performed by Lucia Pospisilova). She still sings her dark lonely songs, yet now she is surrounded in the sounds of nature and seems to be on the move. Closing out the album in this way, Morvranh gives the listener plenty to contemplate, and more than enough reason to come back to Black Dynasty, either in an attempt to uncover more of the hidden plot, or just to enjoy some well crafted dark ambient.

Morvranh has definitely stepped out of his comfort zone on this one. There are many elements here which weren't previously apparent in the Morvranh sound. Whether this is on account of a honing of skills or just an interest in trying a new direction, only time and more albums will tell. In the meantime, we are left with one more solid release by Morvranh, and one which is sure to attract in some new fans. In the past, with the more subtle and atmospheric Morvranh sound, it was unmistakably well crafted, but didn't quite stand out from other similar genre releases. Black Dynasty gives us a distinctive sound, and a lot of variety, helping to showcase more of the natural talents of Morvranh. The real accomplishment here, is that, with all these stylistic shifts, and the treading of new ground, Morvranh released a solid album, beginning to end. Many artists can find themselves a fish out of water when they attempt to move into new territory. The fact that Morvranh has so successfully shifted in style makes it apparent that he has a lot of talent and lasting power in the ritual and dark ambient realms. Add to this the formation of the Order Of The Black Dawn, who have just added two new members, and Morvranh appears to be around for the long run. Not content to rest on his previous releases, rather he is inclined to keep pushing forward, testing his limits, and entering new waters.

Black Dynasty is a solid album, especially for being independently released. The atmospherics are top notch, at times reminding me of that deep billowing sound of Shibalba. The theme or story of this album gives enough direction and hints to entice the listener into really thinking about what is happening, yet there is never enough revealed to put the question to rest, giving Black Dynasty all the more reason to be played over and over again, as if it were some abstract David Lynch film. With so much going on, I would be happy to recommend this album to newer fans of the dark ambient genre, yet the precision and direction of Black Dynasty would also warrant the consideration of more diehard dark ambient fans. I would feel comfortable in saying that Black Dynasty is the most well constructed Morvranh album to date, and shows the great potential he has for plenty more enticing works in the future.

Review written by: Michael
Rating: 8/10