German death art

SCHATTEN MUSE: Vergänglichkeit

Release year: 2022
Label: The Circle Music

I’ve been a fan of goth music for a long time now, but I’m the first to admit I’m far from an expert. I know the big names and the essential albums, dabble occasionally in lesser known acts, but I’m very much a hobbyist. As such, I’d never even heard of the term Neue Deutsche Todeskunst before reading the description of this album. Honestly, I don’t fault myself much for it: this movement, born in the late 80’s and early 90’s in Germany, seemingly remained somewhat obscure and never rose to great international prominence. In other words, your favourite faux-alternative media will never make a clickbait post about the top 50 Neue Deutsche Todeskunst songs you need to check out right now.

Schatten Muse, a German-Greek duo, are a new name consisting of veteran members tackling the sound and spirit of the aforementioned movement. Responsible for the music is Shelmerdine, whom some of you may know from the more neofolk/martial industrial oriented Dark Awake. He is joined by vocalist Sylvia Fürst, who according to Discogs helped Finnish black metal act Impaled Nazarene to translate the lyrics to their classic ditty Gott Is Tot – a song whose message my German teacher back in school did not think too highly of.

If you, like me, were hitherto unfamiliar with both Schatten Muse and Neue Deutsche Todeskunst, be aware: throw all preconceptions of “gothic rock” into the bin, right now. This ain’t your momma’s old dramatic post punk a’la Siouxsie And The Banshees or Bauhaus. Whilst undeniably gothic, there’s absolutely nothing “rock” about Schatten Muse.

Schatten Muse’s sound is dark, dramatic, nihilistic, theatralic, tragedic, somber and morbid. Consisting basically entirely of synthesizers, the duo utilize not so much melodies as layers of sound to create their haunting gothic atmospheres. The somewhat retro sounding synths are augmented by dramatic, synthesized choirs and fittingly eerie sound effects. In comparison to more conventional gothic rock, Schatten Muse’s sound is more abstract; atmosphere instead of conventional form.

Fürst’s vocals take some adjusting to. The vocal melodies are far from conventional, weaving around the tempos of the songs and often being more of a rhythmic, theatrically over-acted recitation that singing. Again, convention gives way to impression: her undoubtedly personal style – and I use the phrase without any snide insinuations – expresses the haunted, dramatic nature of the songs well.

As alluded to above, I have studied German, but only for five years, and that was 20 years ago, so I only have a vague idea of what the all-German lyrics are about. However, as far as I can perceive, they are fitting to the somber, dark aesthetics and sound; eternal solitude, abandonment and loss seem to be recurring themes. All in all, Vergänglichkeit is an unconventional and somewhat demanding piece of gothic art. And, as it takes some time to get adjusted to, something that can be called an acquired taste.

Vergänglichkeit is a weirdly mesmerizing piece of gothic darkwave. Some of the compositions, arrangements and synthesizer sounds come across as downright crude, but despite that – and sometimes because of that! – there’s something very enticing about the album. The way the vocals sometimes seem a bit disjointed, like they didn’t quite fit the song, the way the sense of the dramatic and theatralic sometimes almost, but never quite, crosses over to the inadvertedly humorous – all of these just work to make the album more intriguing.

The first time I listened to the album I wasn’t sure what to make of it. At times it sounded… well, pretty crap. It took a good few listens to get to grips with the boldly unconventional form, and realize just how effectively Schatten Muse conjure their darkly, morbidly romantic visions through their music. This is definitely the kind of music where you have to look past impurities of form or execution, and see the spirit behind: for it is a potent spirit.

The album closes with a cover of Sopor Aeternus And The Ensemble Of Shadow’s Shadowsphere – an intolerable, medieval sounding ditty – and I guess you could sum it up like this: if the weird outsider goth of Sopor Aeternus hits the spot, check this out. And if the converse is true, if you just can’t stand it, then chances are Schatten Muse is too outside-the-box for you.

I opened my mind to Schatten Muse, and found it to my liking.

Visit Schatten Muse on their Bandcamp or Facebook

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