Metal, and black metal-adjacent styles in particular, has traditionally tended towards the chthonic over the celestial in its imagery.1 But Am Himmel (“In the Sky”) choose to base their horror in the heavenly rather than the hellish. Their music purports to express, it seems, the eternal divine separation in “starless” metaphysical voids. It could be a project born out of piety or heresy. In either case, the import of existential terror is evident. It even comes through on that frankly unsettling album art. To do this, mysterious sole member JMKP has chosen a palette of ambient, drone-inspired blackgaze where shrieks reverberate across warm synth soundscapes. It’s not a style known for its immediacy, but if it evokes the requisite mood it can be quite alluring. Thus, the question for Am Himmel is whether they can transcend the echelons of lukewarmly pleasant to reach something more elysian.
As Eternal as the Starless Kingdom of Sorrow is indeed quite aesthetically pleasing, and rather more sad than severe. It often recalls a slowed-down Unreqvited, with floating, dreamy melodies shrouding echoing shrieks. This is especially noticeable in the post-black synth of “The Virgin Wages Celestial War in the Seraphim Courts,”2 and the uplifting electronic notes alongside DSBM wailing on the title track. Elsewhere, the mournful haziness recalls a noisier (and again slower) Olhava. At a resolutely doomy pace, songs drift gracefully by with nary a change of tempo. In this way, it does conform to some subgenre staples of blurred anodyne irresoluteness. However, Am Himmel do paint their musical picture more vividly than many, and there’s no denying it does sound beautiful.
As Eternal…trades on straightforwardly lovely-sounding melodies, harmonized in a way that successfully calls to mind a kind of ethereal realm. Horn, flute, and harpsichord sounds give the music a semi-medieval, saintly touch. Sometimes they lead the melody (“The Fumes of Thy Preposterous Torment”); sometimes they simply imbue the air with warm waves of light while electronica guides the refrain (“The Patience and Silence of a Saint’s Death”). Both approaches melt into one another within individual tracks, a testament to the hypnotic quality of the compositions, as well as their densely-packed layers. There’s a persistent note of sadness that manages to almost touch that funereal pulchritude achieved by a certain species of doom. Whether through delicately melancholic refrains (“The Virgin…,” “The Bewildered…”) or desperate wails (“As Eternal…”). “Almost” only because the music’s semi-low-fi medium prevents it from being quite as hard-hitting as would be necessary.
The whole coheres very well, drawing you into its mystical world and managing to hold your gaze. Resisting the looming charge of dullness, Am Himmel play to the strengths of slow-moving blackgaze. The doomy pace becomes stately and grand, while the subdued echoing shrieks and ethereal refrains prevent it from feeling overwrought. This dreamy cadence also feels more unique when compared to tonally analogous ambient blackgaze like Unreqvited or Violet Cold, who stick to uptempo rhythms closer to the blackened root. Even at its slow pace, the album never drags thanks to songs that but once exceed the 7-minute mark, adding to a total runtime of less than 40 minutes. Conceptually also, the music succeeds. The hazy, muted mix, the fading vocals, the pulsing noise and medieval synth. All combine to evoke a sense of veiled, transcendental mystery shrouded in light. When Am Himmel turn up the noise (“The Fumes…,” “As Eternal…”), the beautiful can turn near-sinister. This, again, seems an apt expression of the thematic metaphysical anguish, as well as being another distinguishing feature in the album’s favor.
A listener’s milage may vary in tolerance for ambient blackgaze, but As Eternal…does more than just avoid sub-genre pitfalls; it’s engrossing and graceful. Effectively manifesting its purported tone with sad, mesmeric soundscapes, it flows past with dreamlike ease. If this is what the godforsaken voids sound like, then that’s where I’m headed.
Rating: Very Good
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Burning World Records
Websites: amhimmel.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/burningworldrecords
Releases Worldwide: June 30th, 2022