When one is at a loss for rational words to describe inner turmoil, music is often the most adequate outlet for expression. French mastermind Hangsvart was diagnosed with schizophrenia a couple of years ago, and after having heard his diagnosis, he started to write poems and create songs to come to terms with his illness. Since 2013, Abysmal Growls of Despair has been his primary outlet for alleviating the negativity surrounding that diagnosis, through which he focuses on a mixture of funeral doom and dark ambient. By the end of last year, Hangsvart had already released his fifth album, Between My Dead, which was released via the Russian label Satanath Records along with their colleagues in More Hate Productions and Black Plague Records (a different imprint from Malignant Records‘ sublabel of the same name that is so popular among our readership).
One doesn’t have to look much further than artists like Mystified or Zarach ‘Baal’ Tharagh to see that, without doubt, there lies a great danger in releasing too much art in too short a time. Listeners have had to deal with half-cocked songs before which would have only needed more time to develop and to get straightened out in order to be effective. However, mischievous hearts might argue that funeral doom and ambient songs are easy and fast to create because there is little complexity to be found in the genres anyway. This is a fallacy, however, and displays a lack of knowledge about the shortcomings of other artists in the genre. The great difficulty of composing an atmospheric and strong doom track lies, after all, in the challenge of bringing out the best ends from little means.
Thankfully, Hangsvart seems to be something of a prodigy in his obscure field of music. Between My Dead is an interesting mix between absolute darkness and melancholic catchiness. The genre-typical elements like long-winded songs, low-tuned guitars, slow yet disciplined drums, and extremely deep and unintelligible guttural sounds are put to good use and form the foundation of every song except for the dark ambient intro simply entitled ‘Misanthropy’. But since Hangsvart is obviously a fan of melodies, one can additionally hear creative leads and keyboard passages which not only award the songs an additional layer, but also make them more accessible. Granted, some of the darkness is lost because of these nice-sounding moments, but at the same time, Abysmal Growls of Despair manages to craft a form of gloominess which resembles the seminal ambient passages of Burzum.
‘New Beginning’ deserves a special mention here because of its joyful and youthful-sounding middle movement. Despite the deep and distorted growls in the background, there is something calm and innocent about these two minutes which not only shape the song but also catch the listener by surprise. However, since Abysmal Growls of Despair is known for incorporating moments of classical pieces (Hangsvart has, for example, used Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on an earlier release), it might be possible that he has worked with the same stylistic gimmick here as well. On the other hand, Between My Dead‘s final song, ‘Wake Up’, is a classic funeral doom piece right until the last five minutes wherein the song evolves into an eerie dark ambient track. This movement is strangely reminiscent of the musical aesthetic of the famous Lynchian television series, Twin Peaks. These changes in mood sound surprising and counter-intuitive at first, but they are almost seamlessly integrated into the basic foundations of the tracks. Additionally, these paradoxical feelings and sudden mood swings might also offer a small clue as to how far Hangsvart is inspired by the experiences of his illness.
Another insight into Hangsvart’s inner self can be won through the lyrics of Between My Dead. The seemingly sketchy lines about the undead do not stem from a simple fascination for morbidity and horror, but rather from real-life hallucinations that Hangsvart experiences on a regular basis. The deviousness of such imaginations is nicely described in the final lines of the last piece, ‘Wake Up’, in which he growls: ‘Suddenly I wake up / someone knocks at the door / it was only a nightmare […] go to the door / and stumble on a leg / looking around / blood and corpses.‘
Between My Dead is a worthy addition to the collection of doom and ambient fans, and even though the lyrics and some of the general aesthetics seem somewhat flat overall, they gain a deeper level when Hangsvart’s experiences with his schizophrenia are considered. It, however, remains a mystery why the cover artwork of Between My Dead features a destroyed post-apocalyptic industrial city. But what would funeral doom be without its artists’ deeply buried secrets?
02) The End of Previous Life
03) New Beginning
04) The Feast
05) Wake Up
Written by: Jonathan R.
Satanath Records (Russia) / SAT131 / CD
More Hate Productions (Russia) / MHP 15-161 / CD
Black Plague Records (United States) / BPR061 / CD
Funeral Doom / Dark Ambient