Shards of Silver Fade: Two-and-a-half hours, four years in the making, and clearly born from countless nights’ imaginings.
In the era of seventy-character-or-less instant messages, five-word tweets, and dollar-store clickbait, Dis Pater‘s prospect of creating a two-and-a-half hour-long epic took a considerable amount of fortitude from the start, and that would be true regardless of the music’s actual quality. While many are no doubt frustrated with the expansive shallowness of modern culture, so few in this day and age seek to create art that demands patience from its listeners as much as any other value. Suffice it to say, Midnight Odyssey limits itself from a lot of potential fans by sheer effect of the track listing: twenty-minute epic after fifteen-minute epic after twenty-minute epic. Like Swans‘ To Be Kind from last year, it is one album where there might have been two in its stead. Nevertheless, this is the way Dis Pater wants his music to be heard: in a massive stretch, a rebellion against the popular swell of impatience. The experience of Shards of Silver Fade is largely coloured by this particular fact, but the question of length shouldn’t deter from the cosmic beauty enshrined in the music.
Over the past few albums, Dis Pater’s Midnight Odyssey has amassed a pretty staunch reputation for its extraordinary space-themed black metal. Funerals from the Astral Sphere again gained notoriety for its similar length, but even outside that fact, the music had an undeniable grasp of atmosphere, indeed helped by the mastermind’s self-imposed liberation from time constraints. While I don’t think Shards of Silver Fade is quite as strong overall as the project’s last album, I find it difficult to think of another album this year that takes the listener on such a journey; Kamasi Washington‘s The Epic, perhaps. For its own intents, Midnight Odyssey rests in a league of its own, in more ways than one. While other bands like Mare Cognitum and the legendary Darkspace seek to exploit space for its more horrific traits (e.g.: cosmic predators, absolute isolation, having your eyeballs explode from pressure, etc.), Shards of Silver Fade uses astral themes to a more uplifting, surprisingly optimistic effect. It’s pretty easy to get lost inside Midnight Odyssey’s atmosphere, and for once you’ll come out of it feeling more upbeat about life than you were when you went into it.
Shards of Silver Fade‘s hinging on repetitive, minimalist use of ideas is pretty implicit from the project’s common labelling as atmospheric black metal; it doesn’t feel like there’s too much filler on the album to wade through. Most of the fifteen to twenty-minute tracks on the album are built around one or two repeating motifs, but the way they’re gradually built up gives the music a consistent feeling of direction. The composition takes its precious time to get anywhere, and while this should have the effect of tuning restless listeners out early on, there’s a mighty sense of release any time an idea changes. Take ‘From a Frozen Wasteland’, for example; as the album’s extended intro, it isn’t until about fifteen minutes into the song that Midnight Odyssey gets out of the ‘intro’ stage. Echo-laden vocals, symphonic fanfare, and soft ambiance colour the first minutes of Shards of Silver Fade, and it lasts long enough to have a listener forget that they might be listening to black metal.
Effects like that are contingent on Midnight Odyssey’s unprecedented focus on expansiveness, but it wouldn’t mean much if Dis Pater weren’t such a skilled composer. In his hands, the most minimalistic structures can sound engaging throughout. ‘Hunter of the Celestial Sea’ is arguably my favourite, melding together a plodding rhythm with celestial ambiance and screeched vocals echoing around overtop. The first band I thought of while listening to it was actually Summoning; much like those Hobbit-obsessed Austrians, Dis Pater knows how to get the most out of his musical ideas. Some of the minimalist builds here are proof of brilliance, and the dynamics are fluid enough that his motifs don’t wear out their welcome before their time is up.
Ultimately, one’s potential enjoyment of Midnight Odyssey’s music depends entirely on their love of atmosphere. As strong as Dis Pater is as a composer, I don’t think Shards of Silver Fade would hold anyone’s interest without its ambiance. Listening to the album, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is black metal to begin with. Synthesizers stake a bigger claim to the sound palette than the guitars, and the drums are cold and moderate; the vocals, however aggressive they were when they were recorded, lose most of their bite through the ever-present waves of echo and reverb. Such an ambient-heavy direction makes Midnight Odyssey more suited to specific moods than others, and the sense that it’s a greater part Tangerine Dream than Mayhem probably serves to limit the project’s appeal even further.
Dis Pater seems to have done everything he could to make this release challenging and inaccessible without resorting to typical dissonance, but I can’t fault him for it. Barring a flat production that honestly sounds far too digital to accommodate so much sound, Shards of Silver Fade almost transcends proper criticism. I might not be fully convinced that such a punishing length was entirely warranted in this case, but it does get a strong message across.
01) From a Frozen Wasteland
02) Hunter of the Celestial Sea
03) Son of Phoebus
04) A Ghost in Gleaming Stars
01) Asleep Is the Fire
02) Starlight Oblivion
03) Darker Skies Once Radiant
04) Shards of Silver Fade