Morals and Dogma
o the uninitiated, the name Deathprod and the cover design of Morals and Dogma might suggest death-metal. This presumption would be wrong. Instead, it’s a superb four-track excursion into dark ambience from Helge Sten, perhaps better known as a founding member of Supersilent. It’s his first solo release in nine years, the follow-up to 1995’s Treetop Drive. The Deathprod name hasn’t been idle, however. Sten has put out a split remix album with Biosphere in the interim and recently was credited as co-producer to the excellent recording by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra entitled List of Lights and Buoys. A more extreme contrast couldn’t be imagined, however, than that which exists between Susanna’s recording and Morals and Dogma. A closer analogue to Deathprod would be Thomas Köner, as both create music that’s immersive and spacious, paradoxically hermetic and boundless. In keeping with the glacial spirit of the music, the recording’s four tracks were created between 1994 and 2000 at Deathprod’s “Audio Virus Lab” in Oslo where he was joined on some tracks by Hans Magnus Ryan on violin and harmonium and Ole Henrik Moe on violin and saw.
Three of the pieces are in the ten-minute range. The opener “Tron” plunges the listener into a deep blurry haze of industrial churnings, cloudbursts, and ghostly choirs. It’s wholly captivating, and showcases the deft manner by which Sten modulates shifting layers of sound. The third piece “Orgone Donor” is a drone constructed of dissonant pitches of violin scrapings that float, suspended in mid-air and defying resolution. Morals and Dogma ends with the aptly titled “Cloudchamber” which unfurls in reverberant, rolling surges of dense clouds. Halfway through, massive waves begin to rise but, defying expectation, Sten doesn’t increase the effect to a pitch of extreme cacophony. Instead he subtly escalates the level of intensity but then just as carefully subdues it. As fine as these tracks are, it’s the second piece that elevates the recording from good to great. The sustained mood of funereal grandeur that he nurtures over the course of the eighteen-minute meditation “Dead People’s Things” is simply stunning. A base of electrical hum lulls rhythmically throughout while layers of violin and harmonium contrapuntally interweave to eerie effect. Contrast is generated by the juxtaposition of sawing, scraping strings with the mournful glimmers of high-pitched theremin-like tones. It’s a hypnotic dirge that, in spite of its slow pace and singular mood, never feels too long but instead convincingly exudes an aura of timelessness. In general, the music on Morals and Dogma is purposefully ritualistic in character, its meanings cloaked in shadow yet its sounds visceral, its cumulative impact clear. On the one hand, it’s crystalline and pure yet, on the other, hazy, ethereal, and indistinct. It is, quite simply, a remarkably controlled work, executed with the masterful sensitivity.
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2004-04-28