Belgium is admittedly not a country that has borne many interesting musical projects. Keeping that in mind, projects like Ashtoreth are always welcome to these ears for their exotic flavour. Morana is the debut full-length album from the project and is also the first to be released not only in digital format, but also as a CD-R by the Unexplained Sounds Group. Despite being the project’s first full-length effort, Ashtoreth has been active since 2011, collaborating with Tim Holehouse, releasing a number of live recordings in Threnody IV, Itobia, and Credo Mutwa, and even offering a one-track recording of a cover of fellow Belgians Grown Below.
Ashtoreth is a one-man project that came into being in 2010 through the great experimental mind of Peter Verwimp, who is also known and respected for an assortment of other projects including Building Transmissions, Station Grey, Stifled Cries, Maya, Haunted Places, Code Ishan, and Sombra DeBestia, which shows at least a one-time alliance with the once incredible but now sadly defunct Belgian imprint Conspiracy Records. If you’ll excuse the cliche, Verwimp ventures deep into the subconscious of his audience with a carefully crafted, shamanistic, and ritualistic approach. This is a sound that ultimately feels intended for meditation and seeking spiritual depth. This is, of course, not at all a new approach, but in a world where ritual-minded and sacred projects like Phurpa and Ariadne are among the most popular artists in their respective genres, it clearly remains an interesting focus in the minds of post-industrial fans.
Morana‘s cover artwork is monochromatic and melancholic, immediately bringing to mind thoughts of winter—the season in which Ashtoreth entered the world. Winter is the time of year that brings on the most depressive state of mind, of course, yet it somehow also feels the most mystical. This is the time of year when nature collapses into itself and leaves nothing but emptiness in preparation for renewal. The cold freezes over everything, and as the saying goes, “hopes die in winter.” Yet, our modern civilization just doesn’t know how to naturally live though winter; man tends to blindly have an aversion to this beautiful phenomenon. This modern society is incapable of coming to terms with the condition of dying and desperately tries to put this cold and merciless manifestation of it through nature out of mind. But there are still those who welcome it, creating works of art as a sign of their appreciation. Morana is just that, and more.
The sound of Morana is thus understandably painfully cold. These atmospheric themes are not only generated but prolonged by the sheer length of each of the album’s four tracks. Each ranges from between eight and twenty-seven minutes long, so be prepared for a borderline exhausting listening experience. Indeed, Morana feels like an excruciatingly slow trip through barren, snow-crossed fields. There is no ideology to be found here, no deeper meaning lurking within Morana‘s depths. There is only the sonic tundra it develops and the sparse few who dwell within, lighting the fires to keep the darkness at bay.
I imagine by now you get the point. For all the grimness that some works of dark ambient have to offer, few artists this obscure have managed to bring two worlds together so succinctly as Verwimp and his truly frozen approach to ritual ambient. If you practice meditation or are simply interested in this sort of dark art, do yourself a favour and listen to Morana. It is a solid album and despite its desolate nature manages to generate strong emotions, but it‘s not for everyone. Unless your ear is attuned to this style of ambient, Morana could easily come off as boring. But for those who tend to seek ambient works that can take them deeper in their mental travels, this is an album that you shouldn’t pass up. Let the darkness and cold of winter embrace you here in the darkest days when those of us in the northern hemisphere need it most.