Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review & Analysis: TSIDMZ – Ungern von Sternberg Khan


Hello everyone!

Another stretch of time between this post and the last entry on this blog. I am afraid this may become a regular habit, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. This essay took A LOT of effort. I need to underscore A LOT. A lot of reading and researching went into this and I had many handicaps in my way due to the Western/American hegemony I operate in which runs counter to the subject matter of this review and essay. I don’t want to do reviews. Reviews are a dime a dozen. I am trying to do legit, scholarly work on the neofolk/martial scene, and to do that I need to put real effort into it. Real passion. Real scholarship. So as a review this could’ve been written in a few days and I could’ve reaped some internet kudos of “oh good job”, “nice review”. But I don’t want that.

I want to do work, and I wanted to be challenged.

Which brings us to the essay at question this time around: a review and analysis of the Ungern von Sternberg Khan album by TSIDMZ.  You’ll notice the direction this essay is going as I am attempting to do more than just provide my thoughts, feelings and analysis, but to capture the voice of the artists themselves. They are the ones generating these songs so it only seems reasonable to reach out to them and ask them for their voice as well. I am also consorting more and more with outside texts to really supplement these essays, and I believe you will see a nice payoff with this one. I am going to try and follow or build upon this format for future reviews/essays of individual releases in my attempt to generate more “academic” and “scholarly” material.

Sincere and humbled thanks go out to Solimano of TSIDMZ, Valerio Orlandini, Willem of Styrdwolf, Chris and Lisa from Porta Vittoria, Mario of Suveräna, the writer Boris Nad, and the project Le Cose Bianche for their quotations and insights into this album. This essay would not be as comprehensive or insightful without their input and it is with sincerity I thank them for their contributions.

Side note – the delay in this article being written does carry with it an unexpected boon. Right now the Winter Olympics Games are going on over in Sochi, Russia. The site of the Circassian Genocide and clashes between the Whites and the Reds of the Russian Civil War, this area has seen much history and has been settled by many groups of people. How appropriate that such a Eurasist city come into the limelight right now as I conclude this essay about a Eurasiaist album. 

Biasness

Probably some. My original reason for buying this album in the beginning was purely the presence of Porta Vittoria, which as you may recall from a previous essay, is a project I hold in high esteem. On the other side, my political leanings also don’t mesh with some of the philosophies (that I perceive) of the Eurasia movements, (of which TSIDMZ endorses). So I need to be cognizant of that. I’ve done my very best to get as acquainted with Ungern von Sternberg, Eurasian philosophies, and even some political concepts like the Fourth Political Theory. I can’t become an expert on it all, but I most certainly can give it my best.

General Overview and Packaging

Ungern von Sternberg Khan is the newest album released by the TSIDMZ project. TSIDMZ itself is an initialism for Thulesehnsucht in der Maschinenzeit. However, just like nobody calls KMFDM “Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid”, TSIDMZ appears to be the preferred vernacular and will be referred to as such forthwith.

Front of the album with buttons - from my personal collection

The album was released by Old Europa Café in September 2013 as a glossy digipack in an edition of 300 copies along with some themed badges. 

Back of the album with CD - from my personal collection

 The style of the digipack is a dark green that has an almost eerie subterranean glow. Front and center on the cover is a picture of Roman Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg taken from one of the few photos of him in existence. Juxtaposed above him is a faint Symbol of Chaos that has been appropriated for various Eurasian-centric groups. The schwarzesonne emblazons the CD proper as well as the back of the digipack. Over all the design of the digipack conveys a brooding, dark sense of unease but also of mystique, definitely in alignment with some of the settings this album presents: underground deep in the Hollow Earth to an early 1900s Russia and Mongolia that still eluded modernization and industrialization.

Track Analysis

The track analysis for this essay will somewhat follow my setup I did for Porta Vittoria. Each track will have a review that is just pure opinion from myself on the song’s music and lyrical integrity. If there is a video from YouTube or another location, that will also be posted. The second section of each song I move away from opinion to actual analysis. Here I’ll put statements from the band or contributors, add facts or history, or provide what my interpretation of the song is if needed.  

The Fourth Political Theory

Review

The journey for the Ungern von Sternberg Khan album starts with the song “The Fourth Political Theory”. The track begins with samples of protestors chanting in the streets to “Free Palestine!”. These chants also serve to bookend the song as they appear at the song’s conclusion. After this intro, a second intro starts with what sounds like some ethnic folk-ey singing. It’s catchy.

After about a minute-forty into the song, the real meat and potatoes is served. The vast bulk of this near 8 minute song is a presentation delivered by the Russian political science scholar Aleksandr Dugin advocating his concept and call for a “Fourth Political Theory”.

The usage of a political speech overlaid with bombastic music put us totally into Barbarossa Umtrunk territory, who is a collaborator on this track. Barbarossa Umtrunk has a forte for doing a “speech/spoken words with music” style and this track is much in that vein.  If you’re familiar with and enjoy such Barbarossa Umtrunk songs such as “Vive Le Quebec Libre!” and “Le Secret Du Marecage”, then this song is right up your alley.

Fan made video on Youtube (video doesn't want to embed)

Dugin’s fragmented and slow English isn’t too bad, and some charisma does come from his delivery, particularly later in the song when his delivery is more fluid. It is refreshing to see a modern or contemporary speech being used in a song. From “Runes and Men” by Death in June to “Terrorangriff” by Derniere Volonte to “Sarabande Oratoria” by Blood Axis – the usage of sampled speeches from the first half of the 20th century has become an accepted trope of both the neofolk and martial genres, so it is nice to see the same aesthetic achieved from other speeches from other eras.

Taken in context with the entire album, the song functions quite well as an intro to the album, and is probably best enjoyed if the intent is the listen to the successive tracks. Isolated, the track doesn’t quite stand by itself. It truly needs to be listened in tandem with everything else. 

Verdict – Good track (if listened in the context with the rest of the album)

Analysis

Overtly, “The Fourth Political Theory” doesn’t seem related to Ungern von Sternberg, so some inference is going to have to be made between Dungin’s theory and Ungern. Solimano of TSIDMZ describes “The Fourth Political Theory” as a “Bombastic track with an A. Dugin speech explaining the Fourth Political Theory; to overcome the old and failed ideologies as Fascism, Communism and Capitalism to reach a new point view of the politics for a multi polar world against the globalization/unipolarity of the modern world.”1 Dugin doesn’t express exactly a definition of his theory. He talks about what it should accomplish, but not necessarily how to accomplish it. In essence for Dugin - Fascism, Marxism, and Capitalism didn’t work, so another successor theory needs to be created and embraced. However outside these three political ideologies, there’s actually a plethora of others that have existed, but have been outmoded by the prevailing winds of modernity.

Perhaps aspects of The Fourth Political Theory are values and political beliefs that Ungern held dear and hence why this song and speech is being tied to him? In The Bloody White Baron scholar of Asian studies James Palmer dives into the various beliefs, opinions and ethics that Ungern held. From the text, one would learn that Unger was extremely anti-Semitic2, anti-Bolshevik3 and ergo anti-Marxist/Communist, and anti-Capitalist.4 Fascism had not really come about as a prominent ideology during Ungern’s time, so that ideology can’t really be factored in.

What Ungern was a staunch believer in was a feudal system, were the peasants had their place on the bottom and the aristocracy (of which Ungern had came from) was above them. But even more important, he held the concept of the monarchy as “the centerpiece of the hierarchies that governed the world.”5

However, feudalism and monarchy are virtually extinguished in this globalized and modernized world. Not necessarily “failed” (as Dugin may put it), but superceded or perhaps existing mostly out of ceremony and tradition rather than practicality. I doubt The Fourth Political Theory would regress itself to propose those tenants.

No, perhaps the linkage of The Fourth Political Theory to Ungern is the geopolitical one. Perhaps the romanticized view of Ungern, triumphant over Mongolia, and then succeeding in a conquest of Russia and its satellites under some Pan-Asian-Russian banner has some simile to the geopolitical proposals of Dugin who advocates a Russia with many of its old satellites intact.

However, I am a film scholar, not a political one, so I must cut my positing there. I do think though the association of this song to Ungern is not necessarily a political one in terms of fascism, communism, capitalism, etc. – but more in regards to both Dugin and Ungern have strong views on how Russia should be shaped, with overlapping ideas of boundaries and territories. This shared concept would be present in Dugin’s advocacy, in his political theory.


Beasts, Men and Gods

Review

Of the songs on Ungern von Sternberg Khan, “Beasts, Men and Gods” is both the most accessible track and the most neofolk-oriented track. It also happens to be the best track, standing out with clear and interesting vocals, great guitar work, and ethnic trappings that combine to create a great folk sound. This is due in part to the presence of the neofolk group Strydwolf, a newcomer to the neofolk scene within the past 5 years, but establishing themselves with a solid sound and a prolific presence on the SkullLine label. The solemn vocal delivery in this song recalls Strydwolf’s song “Dunkle Waelder” while the guitar work is pure Strydwolf canon. Both of these aspects blend well with the more traditional and ethnic music that carpets the majority of the track. Unfortunately, the song tapers off toward the end, with some noise effects. It isn’t intrusive on this song at all, being overshadowed by the great music, vocals, and other elements delivered before it. However these noise effects will play a more prominent, and unfortunately, more distracting role in successor tracks as Ungern von Sternberg Khan progresses.

Verdict – Best song on the album

Analysis

“Beasts, Men and Gods” is a multifaceted song. At the first level, it can be taken as a normal neofolk track, and enjoyed as such. Without context, the lyrics seem clever and stand on their own as a normal song. However, if one wants to dive into what the song is about, it can actually be appreciated on a different level.

The lyrics to this song are happily printed behind the CD holder in the digipack, but for reference they are as follows:

Did you see how our horses stood fixed in fear,
how the herd on the plain moved their ears?

How the herds of sheep and cattle lay crouched
 close to the ground?

Did you notice that the birds did not fly,
the marmots did not run and the wolves did not cry?

The air trembled softly and bore from afar
the music of a song which penetrated all our hearts.

Earth and sky ceased breathing. Men and birds alike.
The wind did not blow and the sun did not shine.

The wolf is stealing up on the sheep arrests his stealthy crawl;
The frightened herd of antelopes check its wild course;

Thus it has always been whenever the king of the world
in his subterranean palace prays and searches out the destiny
of all people on the Earth.

The text (with some minor word substitution) is taken from chapter 46 – “The Subterranean Kingdom” – of the book Beasts, Men and Gods by Ferdynand Ossendowski.6

Willem of Strydwolf provides his insight on how this track ties to Ungern von Sternberg and how it relates to other songs on the album:

Well, textually the poem from FA Ossendowski fits quite good. He was a writer and an adviser of Ungern von Sternberg Khan. In Mongolia, Ungern was seen as the incarnation of the "God of War" and he had relations with the 13th Dalai Lama. Hence the connection with Ossendowski's poem concerning the subterranean kingdom of Agharti and comparing Ungern to "King of the World", etc.

Musically, it's a bit different than the rest of the album, because I added vocals and guitars to it and made it more like a neofolk song. Though I like some of the powerful noise and military pieces of the album, there could be more variation and diversity in styles in my opinion.7


Solimano seconds the Ossendowski connection in his explanation of the track as a “tribute to the Ferdynand Ossendowski book Beasts, Men And Gods; main source of Baron Ungern[‘s] spiritual mission.”8


The spiritual qualities of Ungern are definitely elaborated in Beasts, Men and Gods. However the chapter the text culled from Ossendowski spends more time elaborating about the subterranean kingdom of Agharti than spirituality, so this chapter is actually visited in greater detail in another song on this Ungern von Sternberg Khan.

Willem provides final thoughts about the collaboration and its production:

I liked working on the track and it was nice working together with Solimano. The collaboration went very smooth. TSIDMZ provided me with the drums and percussion, background samples and lyrics. Only thing I had to do was to play guitar, to sing, record and mix it all together and send it back to him for the final mastering.9


Palestina (Al Maut Li Israel War Mix)

Review

“Palestina (Al Maut Li Israel War Mix)” starts off with some rhythmic hand drumming with a sample of a person yelling “Al Mawt Li Israel!” followed by a crowd repeating it back in unison, albeit in lower volume. This formula drives the first half of the song. It sounds like it should get repetitive, but it actually doesn’t: it sounds good and is hypnotic in a weird sort of way. It starts off as a rabble-rousing track that slowly gains momentum.


Fan made video on Youtube

However the song falters after the first half is done. The drumming and the sampling continues, but a layer of martial noise is added on top and starts to build on itself, getting more aggressive. Some of the noises, such as a rhythmic “chug-chug-chug” sounds ok and should add to the song. But there is another more intrusive noise I can only describe as a static TV that made love to a blowtorch would produce. This is the sound that really carries the final half of the song and I think hinders it more than adds to it.

Verdict – First half of the song is good, the last half is subpar

Analysis

I believe there is a misspelling in the song’s title. The packaging calls it the “Al Maut Li Israel War Mix”, while I believe “Maut” should really be spelled as “Mawt”. The phrase “Al-Mawt Li Israel” in Arabic would thus translate to “Death to Israel”, a popular slogan used by many in protest of the state of Israel. The political overtones for this song are made clear by Solimano. To him the song calls for “Death to the criminal state of Israel, first enemy of the Eurasian life interests.”10

I Cancelli Di Agarttha

Review

“Beasts, Men and Gods” showed a hint of the noise element that would gain prominence on the Ungern von Sternberg Kahn album but without it being intrusive. “Palestina” showed a song that unfortunately got too tainted by unnecessary aggressive noise. “I Cancelli Di Agarrtha” on the other hand shows noise incorporated perfectly and seamlessly into the song. It’s a shame most other instances on this album don’t incorporate the noise as well as this song does. It’s a reoccurring motif on this album and obviously important to TSIDMZ to include. But this track is an example of it done well.

If “I Cancelli Di Agarttha” has to be compared to another music style, I would say the sounds of the very Martial-industrial oriented group In Slaughter Natives. The harsh, martial sheet-metal percussion of this song would feel right at home for fans of the song “As My Shield” from the ISN album Resurrection. The martial percussion doesn’t pulse through the entire song as the ISN song does, but does it in spurts. These spurts make the song structurally feel like the In the Nursery song “Temporis” from their Sense album. So there we go, a dash of In the Nursery and a larger dash of In Slaughter Natives and you have this track. This excellent martial work is no doubt from the Spanish band Suveräna, an newcomer to the scene. Their track “Dembowski’s Duel” showcases the same excellent martial sounds present here.

Verdict – Excellent song

Analysis

Solimano simply describes “I Cancelli Di Agartha” as a “Soundtrack for the entrance to the kingdom of Agarttha.”11 Mario from Suveräna contributes his insight on how this track ties to Ungern:

On the idea of subversion of Ungern von Sternberg, there was an underlying idea of spiritual renewal that started from a very oriental reaction and I'm sure he was very influenced by the old oriental spiritual traditions to use them against the modern world. One of those myths, Agartha, with which he had direct contact by the stories told by old lamas he met, was a liberator and protector of Tibet and it's very interesting how these legends forged him spiritually as is the case with other thinkers like René Guénon. It´s very inspiring to me to take that traditions as he did for his cause.12

Just like Barbarossa Umtrunk and Strydwolf, Suveräna is one of the many other acts invited to participate in the genesis of Ungern von Sternberg Khan. Mario from Suveräna recalls how his collaboration came about and how he contributed:

Solimano asked me to collaborate with him for his album last year and I loved the idea because TSIDMZ material has always interested me. I was honored with his proposal because Suveräna is very recent in this genre and he asked to collaborate with him and I am extremely grateful. He sent me his sound ideas to do the track and explained to me the "spirit" he wanted to transmit with the song, obviously focused on the music that I make. He inspired me a lot with his ideas and the process was very simple because I had all the inspiration from him. I enjoyed making the track a lot because it was a breath of fresh air that he shared his world to me. So, it was a great experience that opened roads in the way of composing my work.13

Ungern Khan, Le Cavalier Du Vril

Review

If Ungern von Sternberg Khan has a low point, it is unfortunately this track. While the joint efforts of TSIDMZ and Barbarossa Umtrunk was quite successful on “The Fourth Political Theory”, it is unfortunately not replicated on this track. “Ungern Khan, Le Cavalier Du Vril” is a mess of a track, a puzzle set tossed on the floor but incorrectly put back together. There is a hodgepodge of sounds: ethnic singing in deep baritone, Ozark harp, a string instrument like a fiddle or violin, faint martial snare, aggressive “furnace/static/glass shattering”-noise-like elements, and other sounds. The beginning and the end of the song sound well enough – pastoral and serene, but the bulk of the song is a mixed stew with too many ingredients and seasonings. If perhaps the abrasive noise was cut from the middle and the song focused on the more traditional aspects and instruments, I think it would’ve sounded better. This track is for lovers of noise music who like a hint of something else in their song.

Verdict – worst song on the album

Analysis

Solimano explains the connection between Ungern and Vril in that the “Vril energy is a power source, a fundamental, limitless, cosmic life-force energy. It comes from the Black Sun, the inner sun that gives light and life to the hollow earth race. Ungern reached this spiritual center.”14 The concept of Vril coming from the Black Sun ties to the aesthetics used in the packaging of Ungern von Sternberg Khan. Referring to the image in the beginning of this essay, one can see the schwarzesonne on the CD proper as well as on the back of the digipack.

The concept of the Vril itself isn’t found in the Russian occultism or flavour of Mongolian Buddhism that was the core of beliefs for Ungern.  There are, however, numerous comparative concepts that are Vril-like that would be important to Ungern. Russian Theosophists at the time believed in “’hidden masters of the world’ – great spiritual figures who influenced the world through their mystical powers.”29 Mongolian Buddism was a practice that demanded sacrifice, were followers could make “payoffs to various malevolent spirits” for “divine protection.”16 Shamans were present to acts as a pole between the spirit world and the earthly world.17 This spiritual world was always in a “state of conflict between malevolent and benevolent spirits.”18 with lamas playing a pivotal role in praying to these spirits to shape the world. However, the most important concept that probably ties best to Ungern is the concept of the King of the World. In Beasts, Men and Gods, Ossendowksi relays a dialog he had with the Lama over what the King of the World is and what his power entails:

The King of the World prays for a long time and afterwards approaches the coffin and stretches out his hand. The flames thereon burn brighter; the stripes of fire on the walls disappear and revive, interlace and form mysterious signs from the alphabet vatannan. From the coffin transparent bands of scarcely noticeable light begin to flow forth. These are the thoughts of his predecessor. Soon the King of the World stands surrounded by an auriole of this light and fiery letters write and write upon the walls the wishes and orders of God. At this moment the King of the World is in contact with the thoughts of all the men who influence the lot and life of all humankind: with Kings, Czars, Khans, warlike leaders, High Priests, scientists and other strong men. He realizes all their thoughts and plans. If these be pleasing before God, the King of the World will invisibly help them; if they are unpleasant in the sight of God, the King will bring them to destruction. This power is given to Agharti by the mysterious science of 'Om,' with which we begin all our prayers. 'Om' is the name of an ancient Holyman, the first Goro, who lived three hundred thirty thousand years ago. He was the first man to know God and who taught humankind to believe, hope and struggle with Evil. Then God gave him power over all forces ruling the visible world.19

The power of all forces ruling the visible world. The power to see all the thoughts of all men and influence as such. The ability to talk to God. These are indeed grand powers. It may not quite fit the definition of Vril 100% as the song calls out as such, but the metaphor of comparison between these two concepts is certainly apropos.

Spiritual Struggle

Review

“Spiritual Struggle” is the first soundscape-esque track of the album (the other being the final track, “’Nihil Sine Deo’ Inside the Hollow Earth”). As such, it is meant to be enjoyed much like an ambient track is. Though there is a nice introduction in the song by Lisa of Porta Vittoria that sounds ominious, almost like a warning from an oracle. The rest of the song is various sounds and ambient soundscapes. There is a plucking stringed instrument coupled with a “bird-call” sound that drives the bulk of the song that is pleasant. In the latter half of the song some samples kick off: trains, horses, and even some martial stomping. The sound of the march is really subtle and a nice flavour to the track. There are bursts of music that pepper the song that make me think of a majectic door being opened. Strangely enough, the song ends with a coda at the end, and the music shifts to a serene, lush, piano like sound. It almost sounds like beams of light coming from above, a revelation of sorts.

 Fanmade video on youtube (doesn't want to embed)

With all of this, this track sounds nearly flawless. This is a track that had potential to be amazing, but is unfortunately hindered by unnecessary noises. There are sounds peppered though out that sound like screeching, humming static, or dying light bulbs. While it does act to make the song sound a bit more unnerving, I feel the ominous attributes of the background soundscape accomplished this as well. While the noise isn’t as intrusive as, say “Palestina (Al Maut Li Israel War Mix)”, I do feel it hinders the song from achieving the same greatness as “Beasts, Men and Gods” did.

Verdict – Good Track, but could’ve been Great

Analysis

The struggle for one’s self is an important battle, and Solimano is apt to point it out: “the first and most important fight, is the inner one, the personal and spiritual one; the one against ourselves.”20 In this regards, “Spiritual Struggle” is more or less a follow up to the previous track, “Ungern Khan, Le Cavalier Du Vril”. That song details the powers that are to come – harnessing the Virl, to become the King of the World. “Spiritual Struggle” on the other hand, details the path one must take to get there – the journey and the battles one must overcome. The proverbs about life being a journey and not the destination are abundant, and “Spiritual Struggle” is definitely about the journey.

Lisa’s cryptic message reads at the beginning of the song proclaims:

What remains at the end of this day
Is what remained yesterday
And will remain tomorrow
The boundless, insatiable longing
To be always the same, and other

The phrase “insatiable longing” in German would roughly translate to “sehnsucht” which of course makes up part of the moniker of TSIDMZ (ie “Thulesehnsucht”). The struggle being talked about in this quote though, seems to be having a difficult time to cover come, if the progress is the same as yesterday to today to tomorrow. So this truly is a difficult struggle – perhaps one that few people cannot win.

Ungern actually had two struggles he had to cope with, his spiritual one and his physical world one. Spiritually, Ungern was caught in a flux between Russian Orthodoxy and Mongolian Buddhism, eventually turning to Asiatic beliefs. But even with this, he would have the conflicts that other practitioners of Mongolian Buddhism would have to juggle: the negotiating between benevolent and malevolent spirits, the concept of sacrifice, etc.

Emotionally, the Russian civil war also had a strain on Ungern. His country, his entire way of life was in upheaval, with brother fighting brother, or more specifically, the Whites fighting the Reds. Ungern’s allegiance was to the Tsar, a different “King of the World” than the version in Mongolian Buddhism, but the metaphor is apropos. Without the Tsar, without the structures of Imperial Rule that Ungern upheld zealously, with the tide of Bolshevism, the toll would certainly rattle Ungern’s world beliefs.

Intended or not, even though the song is called “Spiritual Struggle”, there is actually a huge emphasis on the Earthly, real-world struggle found in this song, specifically found in the sampled effects that were added by Porta Vittoria. Ungern was a soldier first and foremost, and being in battle is what he lusted for. The sounds of the whiney horses recall that Ungern was attached to the Russian Calvary. There was a romanticized view of riding into battle on horseback and leading the charge, but by World War I, this practice was extremely outmoded and the horses easily cut down from enemy machine gunfire. Instead Ungern would use his abilities as a horsemen in a form of guerrilla tactics, to raid parties or small patrols and eek out supplies.21 He would hone this craft into an art and it would serve him past World War I into the Russian Civil War and beyond.

The samples of the trains in the song recall the importance of the railway in Russia during the Russian Civil War. Russia is a huge country, and the most practical way to mobile was via the railroad. This of course lead to much sabotage on the tracks and the  necessity to fortify key stations. Armoured dreadnoughts were constructed, heavily fortified trained with armour and armaments.22 These trains could easily traverse to an advantageous position and bombard a settlement or fort. Coupled with the dreadnoughts were Death Trains that would prisoners of war that would be shuffled around, station to station until they either died en route, or were executed at their destination.23

The marching noise is indicative of pure military might. Groups of soldiers – Cossacks, Mongols, Chinese, and Buriats combined together in a Special Manchurian Division of which Ungern led.24 With the samples of martial marching in this song, this was a group preparing to take the field or ready to be drilled by Ungern himself. His men looked to him with loyalty because Ungern would shun the lifestyle of being an officer and instead put himself at the same level as his own troops.25

Itaca

Review

The proclamation of “we’re sailing to Ithaca!” starts this track with a blast off, and a cascade of looped noises, piercing shrieks and sequences follows. “Itaca” is an extremely hard track to review. This is Ungern von Sternberg Khan at its most noise oriented and noise just isn’t my genre. However, this track doesn’t fail like “Ungern Khan, Le Cavalier Du Vril” does. “Itaca” is not an amalgamation of different sounds that doesn’t mesh together. On contrary the song has a flow and is decently cohesive and the layer of spoken lyrics underneath has promises of being interesting.

 The vocal delivery of short sentences in a precise and dark manner recalls the song “WAT” by Laibach off their seminal album of the same name. Both songs actually have a lot of in common and they take of stance of being proclamations of sorts – the difference being the Laibach track is more accessible to listen to. It’s actually a shame the noise is at the forefront of the song instead of the lyrics.

In a weird sort of way, when I close my eyes, I think of this song as a signal being sent through space. A message from a black star (to continue with the Laibach simile). There is an encoded message in the song, but transmission decay renders it muddled. The static, the shrieks and the noise is just that – noise from space that is obfuscating the message (lyrics) underneath. When I view the song this way, it is extremely successfully executed and it’s a brilliant idea. It’s still a tough and challenging song to listen, but I least can verify that there is a method to the madness.

Verdict – Average track unless you’re into noise then it’s a brilliant track


Analysis

This is one of those tracks I wish the lyrics were more accessible or at least printed in the CD. Lucky for us, the original author of lyrics for “Itaca”, Boris Nad, has the English version of his lyrics under the title “Ithaca” at his personal blog, so a proper reading into them can proceed.

For Solimano, “Itaca” is a “symbol of the primordial and not-physical motherland. Symbol of the first and spiritual origin.”26 There is much more to this song than this though. I had made the statement earlier that the lyrical content and delivery was reminiscent of the song “WAT” by Laibach, and I want to dive further in a compare and contrast between these two songs. Some of the commonality is pretty uncanny.

The major body of the song “WAT” goes as such:

From Moses to Muhammad
From Kapital to NATO
Acropolis to Opus Dei
From Marx and back to Plato
From the Golden Age to the Age of Steel
From the beginning to the end
From zero to infinity
From first to the seventh continent
From no solution to revolution
The red star to Star Wars
From the turning point to the point of no return
New Order to a Brave New World
Mechanical to Digital
From Poltergeist to zeitgeist
From God’s will to evil
And from Superstars to the Anti-christ27

The major body of “Itaca” goes:

Through the chaos and anarchy, in which there is no one below or above that
Through sickness and eclipse
Through the meantime, in which nothing is close or far away anymore.
Through the confusion and through the error.
Throughout the long night and short day.
Throughout the war that still is not freedom and through the peace that is not peacefulness.
From Golden Age to the Iron Age, from Christ to Antichrist.
From the beginning to the very end.
Some call it progress, advancement, but it is a progression in death, because we are dying every day, going from the dawn of the Golden Age to the full eclipse, in the deep night of Iron Age28

To begin with, both bodies of text closely follow a similar structural formula: from X to Y or through X to Y. Secondly, there is a lot of overlap in drawing from the same metaphors. Both bands reference going from the Golden Age to either the Age of Steel or the Age of Iron (it’s commonly called the Iron Age, but it was the age both iron and steel gained widespread use). Nad goes from Christ to the Antichrist while Laibach goes from Superstars to the Antichrist, but in this case Superstars is a reference to Jesus Christ Superstar, so in the end both sets of lyrics have the same origin. Both sets of lyrics also references going from the beginning to the end. A final similarity, (although less overt), Laibach references going from mechanical to digital while this sentiment is echoed in Nad’s verses referencing progress and advancement.  Both songs also have a hint of misanthropy, a brooding feeling. These are not optimistic verses!

A side bit of trivia. In regards to Laibach, the song “WAT” stands for “We are Time”. TSIDMZ released an album in 2011 called We are Time. Possible connection or coincidence?

So while textually the lyrics are quite identical, they both veer into different paths. Laibach’s verses take on an additional element of parody, with self referential lines about their catalog. At the time when WAT came out, Laibach had been missing in action for numerous years, so “WAT” was a song they needed to reinforce who they were and what they stand (or not stand) for. TSMIDZ doesn’t have the discography nor the history, so such self reflection isn’t in their cards.

Another facet that both songs seem to have but actually different on is the “who”. In Laibach’s “WAT”, the song is purely about them as a band, their deeds, their intent. The torch is passed at the final verse to be about “You”, and in this case the “You” is the listener of the song, a consumer of it, or maybe even an audience attendee at a concert.

The “we” in “Ittaca” however isn’t about TSIDMZ the band (although perhaps it could be weakly argued it has been appropriated as such). And there is no “you” at the end of the song, but there is a “they”. Instead the “you” is part of the “we”, if that makes sense. Another way to put it, the Laibach song was about Laibach verses the listener; the TSIDMZ song is about a group of people of which the listener is a part of in contrast to a different group of people, the “they”.

Still with me?

So who are the “We” and the “They”? Whomever “We” belongs to, they have been though a lot. Whomever “they” are, have not acquired the worldly knowledge that “we” have, and in fact are antagonistic of “we”. The “they” are ignorant, and hence why they are powerless to articulate concepts of truth, or fathom other concepts and principles as is hinted in the final verse of Nand’s text.

I feel this track is one of the most far removed tracks from exploring Ungern von Sternberg as a person, and only a broad net of loose connections can be made between the lyrics here and Ungern. No, I think this song has been more or less appropriated to Eurasian concepts, of which Ungern has become a symbol of. The “we” could be the artisans, scholars and common folk, enlightened by some other ideas, standing fast against the “they”, which could possibly be concepts of the West, harbingers of modernity. I know myself, as an Occidental American, I can hardly fathom the goings on, or even articulate the complexities of that area of the world.

The author of the text, Boris Nad, adds his thoughts on the piece:

The text can be interpreted in various ways, the author's interpretation is only one of many. I guess that's TSIDMZ chosen Itaca because of the atmosphere. Atmosphere is key. It is a journey through time, through the modern era and more - on the other side of the modern era. Through war, through anarchy. So it can be associated with adventure of Ungern Khan. TSIDMZ  did the music for another one of my text (War song). It is much more directly related to this topic.29

Il Mantra Del Re Del Mondo (Om Mani Padme Hum)

Review

Structurally, “Il Mantra Del Re Del Mondo (Om Mani Padme Hum)” flows just like “Palestina (Al Maut Li Israel War Mix)”. This song is driven by the mantra “Om mani padme hūm” repeated over and over. As the mantra loops, there is a beat that also gradually loops in. Slowly in short bursts, but as the song continues it gets longer and more pronounced. When the beat finally gets going in the latter half of the song, it recalls elements not of noise, but of digital hardcore music. It is almost Atari Teenage Riot-esque. Not a bad track at all, a good melding of something traditional with something aggressive.

Verdict – good track

Analysis

The phrase “Il Mantra Del Re Del Mondo” roughly translates to “the mantra of the King of the World”. In this case, the King of the World’s mantra is “Om mani padme hūm”, a mantra that is usually multifaceted and has different meanings to different followers. In this case, this could’ve be a mantra used by Ungern after his conquest of Mongolia, but at his demise to his Russian executioners, when he would’ve ascended (or descended) to the realm of Agharti, in the Hollow Earth.

Against the Post-Modern World

Review

If TSIDMZ is flirting with dance music, this track is showcasing that. The foundation of this track is a speech from Claudio Mutti, but with a nice and rhythmic beat thrown in. The catchy beat somewhat contains the Atari Teenage Riot feel that was found on “Il Mantra Del Re Del Mondo (Om Mani Padme Hum)”, however this is less digital hardcore and instead more shades of industrial beat. In fact, it would almost be borderline EBM, appealing to fans of early EBM music like DAF or Nitzer Ebb. The structure of the song – a speech overlaid with beats – recalls the song “Wieder Die Masse” by Von Thronstahl, which saw three versions of different “groovy” beats. There are other effects in this song too, such as police sirens along with small explosions with women and children crying and screaming. The crying/screaming samples echo the song “Torpedos” by A Challenge of Honour” from their  Wilhelm Gustloff album. There is noise effects in this song, but they integrate into the beat rather well, so this is a track where the noise elements work.

Verdict – Good track

Analysis

Present on this track is the project Le Cose Bianche who gladly elaborate on their contribution:

About the track "Against the post-modern world", after the proposal of TSIDMZ, I recorded some synth lines, among which I then chose the one that is going to compose the song. To provide a work surface closer to the sound world of Solimano I added a sample of drum, very martial. I equalized and passed the track to Sol who then proceeded to complete it.30

L.C.B. goes on to elaborate that he “did not know that it would have added voice samples. The song made it his own, and I think has its own inherent power very strong. Very communicative and intense.”31 Solimano states that the samples are from a “C. Mutti speech about the crisis of the post modern world. When the ‘Gods’ go away, demons arrive and new fake spiritualities.”32

In regards to how the partnership between TSIDMZ and L.C.B. came to fruition, L.C.B. illustrates that:

I know Solimano since 2008. Our projects have been born about the same time. There has always been a relationship computerized esteem and friendship that has been consolidated over the years to lead this collaboration. I was glad his proposal, we come from two different worlds of sound, I Power Electronics, Martial him, but this did not stop us having fun together.33

This partnership of TSIDMZ and L.C.B. is pretty indicative of how collaborative the Ungern von Sternberg Khan album has been and more or less how seamless the different styles from the other projects do flow with each other and are canon to each other. For example: while the neofolk sounds of Styrdwolf may run counter to the power electronics of L.C.B. in concept, the theme of this album and production work of TSIDMZ ties both of them (and other projects present on this release) together, to make a cohesive experience and strong narrative.

The irony that should be pointed out here is that all these collaborations could not be possible without the structures created by the advent of globalization which in turn is one of the products from the embracing of modernity which this song (along with “The Fourth Political Theory”) stands strong against. That a martial electronic project could collaborate with projects from Spain to Italy to Germany to France, to release a CD on an Italian label, to interact with fans via Facebook, to use software developed in other countries, and samples culled from YouTube (or other sources), to sell to an American listener such as myself.

I hate to do this, but I must push the pause button and interject myself into this analysis. The following is my opinion, but I think perhaps it may shed some light on the frustrations TSIDMZ and perhaps Dugin and other Eurasian artists have with the concept of Modernity or Post Modernity. I personally hate the term “post modern”. I’ve been presenting at conferences since 2009, and many academic papers reference post modern this and post modern that. I believe it is lazy scholarship as well as an outdated way of thinking that has been superseded by other paradigms. I think we are living in a post-post-modern age that has no name yet. Some are positing to call it a post 9/11 era, which I too think is not an appropriate term. I think the summation of so much stimuli, information and action in the past 20 years: from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the advent of the internet to increased violence and wars and with it increased visibility of it from news outlets and Youtube – we are living in an age that is something past post-modern. I know other scholars out there are arguing or collaborating on new verbiage to describe all of this, but nothing has quite been solidified. I personally don’t think TSIDMZ is against a post-modern world (such a project couldn’t exist without its tropes) and I don’t think Dugin is either. I think they are objecting to many of the aspects in this unnamed post-post-modernity that the world is operating under: the oversaturation of media, the diminishing of cultural or traditional identities, or the shift of balance from the many to the few while still maintaining an illusion of Democracy of sorts. Again, political theory along with epistemology is not my forte, but it is a general feeling I have when I am privy to the scholarship of others. Those are the frustrations I feel, and I think TSIDMZ and maybe other Eurasian artists may feel as well.

However, from the stand point of Ungern, he would most certainly be opposed to the advent of modernity as it would stand counter to the feudalism and monarchy that is important to him. Ungern was spiritual and religious, and more or less anti-intellectual. Tenants of modernity, such as parody and pastiche would not be his cup of tea. He was a soldier first, (and after much trial and error, a leader later), and a conversationalist who could keep his wits. But he was not an intellectualist. His world was depending on fate and destiny – the realm of critical thinking was best left to others. 


“Nihil Sine Deo” Inside the Hollow Earth

Review

The final track of Ungern von Sternberg Khan and a fitting end to the album proper. This is a soundscape track, meant to be enjoyed as one would enjoy an ambient track. There are some unnerving samples and sounds in this tracks – muted screams, echoing rhythmic pounding (which makes me think of a train descending into the darkness), wails and cries, and some other noise elements. It truly is a descent into an underworld and with a track like this, the unnerving sounds and noises work. You are supposed to feel unease. Much like “I Cancelli Di Agarttha”, the noise and other sound effects blend in well here, and the song is stronger because of it. Even though both songs are on different ends of the genre spectrum (martial industrial vs. ambient noise), they thematically go together (being underground). Perhaps this is why the noise elements serve these two tracks better than they serve other tracks on this album.

So as Ungern is laid to rest he takes his final position into the hollow Earth, the location of the kingdom of Agharti, to become the King of the World, the Brahytma. The narrative of this track signifies his end, and this the perfect end to the album for the listener who has been on the same journey.

Verdict – Good track

Analysis

As stated above, narratively, ending the track about the descent into the hollow Earth is extremely apropos since it provides closure to Ungern as well as to the album itself. Despite the lack of lyrics, there is still a lot of information going on in this soundscape track. The moods, feelings and intent carry a lot of weight. Solimano briefly sums up his explanation for this song as “Nihil Sine deo = Nothing exists without ‘God’... inside the spiritual center of the hollow earth...”34

Contributor to this track is musician Valerio Orlandini, who provides a bit more in-depth explanation to the theme behind this track and his contribution:

The title of the track says a lot about it. It is the final episode on the epic TSIDMZ album about the mighty figure of the Baron Ungern von Sternberg. He did not die, but he retired in the depths of the Earth until a new era comes. I tried to put it in music by being both aggressive and atmospheric at the same time. The thunder drums I used are treated with filters and reverbs in order to give a feeling of oppression and darkness. It has a rather different sound from the other tracks of the album, which are more majestic and 'epic', if I can say it. But different is the theme of this song, too, for it is not about the victories of the Baron, but it talks of his (temporary) retreat from our world.35

The mythical Hollow Earth, as sacred as it is, also sounds dangerous, and the feeling of oppression and darkness that Valerio hinted at is definitely felt. Valerio elaborates a bit more on how some of this atmosphere was achieved:

Sol gave me a series of samples and sort of field recordings. I put them together, rearranging and effecting them, and then I added the rhythmic part to the track. Some atmospheric breaks are mine, too. It has been very interesting to work on such particular and quality material, but certainly not simple. It took time to find the right sounds and to transform into music what I had in mind since the first time I heard the material I was given.36

Valerio also reflects fondly on meeting Solimano and how their partnership that cumulated in this track came about:

I know Sol from TSIDMZ personally (great person, by the way!), and I played live with him a couple of times when he came to the city where I live. What we created live was something we liked it a lot, so it has been natural to transpose it into a recording. Since we played together when he was writing the new album (Spring - Summer 2012), he caught the chance and involved me in this great piece of art he did.37

Legends of the Hollow Earth are about in both historical context as well as popular culture, especially as of late. Ungern may have been the first Russian to descend spiritually to the hollow Earth, but years later his fellow countrymen would attempt to brute force their way into the Earth via the Kola Superdeep Borehole.

Movies have been made in recent times about the Hollow Earth, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (2009) based on the Jules Verne book of the same name, along with the B-film Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012). Martial/Neofolk project Von Thronstahl actually explored this concept nearly a decade earlier with their song “Polar Expedition” from their Re-turn Your Revolt into Style album, which hints at the Nazis finding a passageway in Antarctica to the center of the world. It too was an effective soundscape track. Personally, my exposure to the concept of the Hollow Earth came from a Choose Your Own Adventure book called Underground Kingdom which I re-read a lot as a child. This is were my affinity to the Hollow Earth concept comes from: I sympathize with the themes of this track tremendously.

Scientifically, we know the core of our world is giant ball of molten iron and nickel. But something still pulls us toward it, to know the center of the Earth as we strive to know our deepest oceans or deepest outer space. A pull to some form of Enlightenment. Perhaps the same that Ungern was on his spiritual quest for and perhaps even achieved.


Final Thoughts

Music wise, Ungern von Sternberg Kahn is a good album. A good, but challenging album. What stops it from achieving levels of greatness is the misuse of noise elements on some of the tracks. Perhaps this is a small fault of my own, since I am more into neofolk and martial music and less than noise, so I hope readers of my review portion of this essay will at least make the distinction. The tracks with noise incorporated well are done very well, while the tracks that they were not did falter a bit. But despite that, there are way more good and excellent tracks on this album than busts. The album does have a range of styles but without veering to much into idiosyncratic territory.

However the strongest attribute of this album is its unwavering adoration of Ungern von Sternberg. I think the view TSIDMZ take of him is a little too glamourized and polished, but beneath that veener is a truly interesting and important man that has eluded critical and popular analysis. I see Ungern as a sort of “poor mans” T.E. Lawrence. Both were soldiers that came from affluent backgrounds, became adventurers, and both faught with other countries that were not their own (Lawrence with Arabian troops and Ungern with Mongolian and other Asians). However, T.E. Lawrence will forever be solidified in the annals of history and popular culture, no doubt in part to Peter O’toole's portayl of him in the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).  Such recognition escapes Ungern. He may have been a cruel, blood thirsty, anti-“a lot of things”, but he also accomplished a lot. How many other soldiers/adventurers can claim they restored independence to Outer Mongolia, become its dictator, and heralded as a hero, as the “King of the World”? No matter how you slice it, that’s a feat, a feat that eludes popular and critical assessment. This TSIDMZ album does the subject matter justice by trying to solidify his legacy in popular culture.


Cultural References

Alexandr Dugin, Buddhism, Fourth Political Theory, Hollow Earth, Mongolia, Ungern von Sternberg, Vril

Official Links

https://www.facebook.com/Tsidmz - official Facebook page for TSIDMZ
https://www.reverbnation.com/tsidmz - official Reverbnation page for TSIDMZ

https://www.facebook.com/portavittoria - official Facebook page for Porta Vittoria

http://www.lecosebianche.org - official website for Le Cose Bianche
https://www.facebook.com/LeCoseBianche - official Facebook page for Le Cose Bianche

http://www.strydwolf.nl - official website for Strydwolf
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Strydwolf - official Facebook page for Strydwolf

http://valeriorlandini.altervista.org - official website for Valerio Orlandini
https://www.facebook.com/ValerioOrlandini.official - official Facebook page for Valerio Orlandini

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Suveräna/288623267816885 - official Facebook page for Suveräna

http://arktogeja.blogspot.com - official blog for Boris Nad

Other Resources

http://www.discogs.com/TSIDMZ-Ungern-Von-Sternberg-Khan/release/4903725 - Discogs entry for Ungern von Sternberg Khan

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2067/2067-h/2067-h.htm - Text for Beasts, Men and Gods by Ferdynand Ossendowski.

End Notes


1.     Solimano, e-mail message to Nicholas Diak, January 2014, 13.
2.     James Palmer, The Bloody White Baron (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 98.
3.     Ibid., 80.
4.     Ibid., 189.
5.     Ibid., 25.
6.     Ferdynand Ossendowski, Beasts, Men and Gods (1922), Project Gutenberg, February 2014, Chapter 46, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2067/2067-h/2067-h.htm.
7.     Willem Witte, e-mail message to Nicholas Diak, January 2014, 5.
8.     Solimano, email.
9.     Willem Witte, email.
10.  Solimano, email.
11.  Ibid.
12.  Mario, email message to Nicholas Diak, February 2014, 08.
13.  Ibid.
14.  Solimano, email.
15.  Palmer, The Bloody White Baron, 29.
16.  Ibid., 60.
17.  Ibid., 61.
18.  Ibid., 63.
19.  Ossendowski, Beast, Men and Gods.
20.  Solimano, email.
21.  Palmer, The Blood White Baron, 72.
22.  Ibid., 104.
23.  Ibid., 105.
24.  Ibid., 83.
25.  Ibid., 94.
26.  Solimano, email.
27.  Laibach, “WAT”, WAT.
28.  Boris Nad, “Ithaca,” Arktoge, Last modified April 15, 2013, http://arktogeja.blogspot.com/2013/04/ithaca-boris-nad.html.
29.  Boris Nand, email message to Nicholas Diak, February 2014, 09.
30.  Le Cose Bianche, e-mail message to Nicholas Diak, January 2014, 3.
31.  Ibid.
32.  Solimano, email.
33.  Le Cose Bianche, email.
34.  Solimano, email.
35.  Valerio Orlandini, e-mail message to Nicholas Diak, January 2014, 23.
36.  Ibid.
37.  Ibid.

Bibliography


Laibach. WAT. 2003 by Mute. MUTE 9222-2. Compact disc.

Nad, Boris. “Ithaca.” Arktoge. Last modified April 15, 2013. http://arktogeja.blogspot.com/2013/04/ithaca-boris-nad.html.

Ossendowski, Ferdynand. Beasts, Men and Gods. Project Gutenberg, 2014. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2067/2067-h/2067-h.htm.

Palmer, James. The Bloody White Baron. New York: Basic Books, 2009.

TSIDMZ. Ungern von Sternberg Khan. 2013 by Old Europa Café. OECD 181. Compact disc.



1 comment:

  1. Just a note, generally, "Modernity" tends to refer to the philosophical elements and not the technology. Like Spengler, anti-modernists are wary of humanity being "enslaved" by technology, but are not anti-technology. We are not the Unabomber. Instead, the critique is against the overly materialistic and linear conceptions that drive the modern age. We have no desire to read Guenon while sitting in a cave and herding goats.

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