[Reviewed by Vitriol]
Softly and noiselessly some feet tread
Lone ways on earth, without leaving a mark;
They move ‘mid the living, they pass to the dead,
As still as the gleam of a star thro’ the dark.
Sweet lives those
In their strange repose.
– Abram Joseph Ryan, A ‘Thought-Flower’
Schattenspiel is the project of German artist Sven Phalanx, joined from this point onward by Lionel Verney (of Verney 1826). “Aus Dem Dunkel” is the last part of a trilogy that started out with “Schattenkrieger” in 2010 and was followed by “Lichtgestalten” in 2011, dealing with war and its implications. This album takes an individual point of view with regard to its topic, in a rather poetic manner – it tells the story of a man in the prime of his youth overtaken by patriotic enthusiasm; of how his life is unraveled from the moment he enlists for WWII, until the time of his death. No further details are given as to the man’s specific origins, and none are needed since the album describes the ravages of war on a man’s soul and life, a process very much the same from either side of the fence. Each track is a part of the story, however the tracks aren’t arranged in narrative order but in order of musical relevance, from what I understand.
In “Auf in den Kampf!” the journey of our hero begins; a military march slowly fades into a despondent ambient sequence – he has crossed the point of no return, his life will never be the same again. He is then shipped off to the “Western Front”, where he will face the specter of war for the first time. The track is dominated by a folkish melody, samples from Churchill’s famous speech in the House of Commons in June 4th 1940, and lyrics that prompt the soldier to “carry the flag and don’t look back” – a suggestion that bears a tragic irony given the circumstances. “Aus Dem Dunkel” contains one of the most graceful neoclassical string sequences in the album, expressing the album’s concept of hope for humanity – of its potential to emerge from darkness into the light. A differentiation from the typical martial release, that usually focuses on the horrors of war without offering a way out.
“Der Vorhang Ist Gefallen” (with the collaboration of Acta Non Verba) starts off with industrial-based electronics, and somewhere mid-track its gloomy atmosphere is pierced by a downcast, heavy rhythm and more folkish horns, the whole being accompanied by a few couplets of lyrics here and there. A powerful track that really manages to convey the despair of the moment when the illusion is shattered and war shows its true face: our protagonist watches his comrades find a horrible death, his notion of heroism challenged by harsh reality. “The curtain has fallen, there is no return”, we are poignantly reminded. The same concept of the relentlessness of war is transmitted in “Trommelfeuer”, a dynamic track with strong percussions and processed strings looping through the industrial electronics in the background, and vocals running throughout its entire duration.
In “Good Morning Sick World” (with Art Of Empathy and Miss Kitty) the hero returns to his old town after the end of the war, only to discover his loved ones have moved on, and he is no longer able to find meaning or connection to his previous life. He wanders the streets of what used to be his home, a sort of resigned sarcasm his only defense against this senselessness. A beautiful neoclassical composition led by piano, acoustic guitar and male/ female vocals, certainly counting among the best tracks in the album. “Two Nations” is the most electronic of the recording’s compositions. Its forcefulness in terms of rhythm and surprisingly modern sound aesthetics denote the rebuilding frenzy that took place after the war, as two nations hurried to reinvent themselves, not by learning from the mistakes of the past but by trying to ignore previous events. This fills our hero with sadness and he begins to feel his whole effort has been pointless, but it’s of no consequence now, as the time has come for him to leave this world. Once again he plunges into the wheel of existence – “Zirkulat” ends the recording in epic magnificence, a musical narrative of recited text, minimalistic strings and suspenseful percussions, implying an uplifting climax that we never actually hear, as the rest of the story takes place in another plane.
Given the subject matter, one would expect here the typical mixture of belligerent percussions, military marching samples and generic string crescendoes, that have become the norm in this genre ever since it abandoned its industrial roots. This however is not at all the tone of “Aus Dem Dunkel”. Instead the artists have chosen a more original path, giving a personal stigma to their work and progressing towards the formation of their own trademark sound. The music is well-composed, well-produced, interesting and captivating. Schattenspiel approaches its topic from a lyrical angle, that allows for the inclusion of romantic string and piano sequences, poetic lyrics, emotionally charged vocals, electronic elements as well as an abundance of voice samples. Thus creating a cinematic atmosphere reminiscent of a black-and-white WWII dramas, enriched with the depth and meaning of the album’s message.