Paysage d’Hiver | Paysage d’hiver | | 1999
A review by Antonio Espinosa
Perhaps the most regrettable impact of modern ‘progress’ on our everyday lives has been the complete eradication of silence. It seems as if, from the very moment the first steam engines began to roar across European harbours, the world has been caught in an infernal crescendo of anvils, propellers, furnaces and facts. And just as we have annihilated open spaces in the aural sphere, so too has the temporal sphere of our lives been absolutely saturated – one could even say invaded – by industrial society’s torrential stream of mechanized tasks, duties and even “entertainments,” which have re-framed our very lives around the movement of little gears. Space, geographical, aural and temporal, is a non-existent commodity.
This tendency has a close relationship with a loss of awareness regarding the question of Being. As Heidegger would have it, our relationship to Being is consistently defined by a “mood” with which we engage the world, or rather, with which we are-in-the-world. This condition is perennial and inescapable: it is, as it were, a prerequisite of being-in-the-world. Awareness of Being therefore consists largely in awareness of how these moods condition our relationships to the world around us. It is a type of wisdom that we intuitively know to exist but for which there are no equations, and for which there is certainly no practical “use” in the Jeremy Bentham sense of the word. Achievement of it requires patience, time and silence. It is because of these very requirements that the modern world inherently rejects it.
This awareness is not a “rational” one, in the sense that it resists direct expression in language (it cannot be “said” to use Wittgenstein’s terminology), as it is awareness of a process that transcends the false subject-object dichotomy inherent to grammatical structures.  Thus we recur to other methods of “showing” (in Wittgenstein’s terms) or “disclosure” (in Heidegger’s) when tackling the question of Being, art perhaps chief amongst them.
It is often said of works of art that they are “atmospheric.” What this refers to is their capacity for disclosure of Heideggerian moods, the way in which the work may seem to hint at, and lead us to, an intuitive awareness of the networks that constitute our being-in-the-world. In order to be meaningful this atmosphere must always be tied to a particular situation in time and space, and it is thus we speak of the atmosphere associated with things like a landscape, a city, an event, or even an epoch.
Concern with atmosphere is at the aesthetic foundations of black metal. Its veneration of nature, solitude and mystical experience, reflected in both lyrical and musical choices, hints at a legitimate counterpart to the ideal of saturated and mechanized time. In the black metal Weltanschauung, life is slower: surroundings are mulled over, the atmosphere of situations and places is valued highly and keenly felt, the ear is open to hidden whispers. In short, the world is lived in with rare intensity. 
Switzerland’s Paysage d’Hiver, comprised solely of multi-instrumentalist Wintherr, are firmly rooted in black metal’s atmospheric tradition. The specific atmosphere Wintherr is attempting to conjure should be evident to any observer quite quickly; you need go no further than the band name to figure it out. This particular atmospheric goal was certainly not a novelty in black metal when this self-titled demo was released in 1999, let alone now. The album’s main formal devices are those that Burzum and, to a lesser extent, Darkthrone had already assimilated into black metal from ambient music: repetition and layering. Wintherr’s instrumental armament is the standard one: minor key tremolo riffs played by a hissing, hyper-distorted guitar, perpetual ‘tin can’ blast beats and Varg Vikernes style shrieks, accompanied by flourishes of synths, strings and acoustic guitar. These elements create a sonic palette that is very familiar to the black metal listener, one that Wintherr has arguably helped push to new extremes of impenetrable obscurity throughout his career. This palette goes a long way towards setting up the atmosphere, but on its own it is not nearly enough to be convincing past the 30-second mark, a fact that hordes of mediocre bands have made black metal listeners painfully aware of.
The distinction between the average lo-fi black metal project and Paysage d’Hiver is compositional. The album benefits first of all from extremely memorable and well constructed riffs and melodies, strong enough to undergo massive cycles of repetition without becoming grating. Paysage d’hiver is rhythmically simple to the extreme: there are no more than three different drum patterns on the whole record, while guitars mostly play tremolo sixteenth notes. This, coupled with the aforementioned repetitions and the extremely low sound fidelity, makes the riffs take on a very different quality after a certain time. As the ear becomes accustomed to their constant humming presence the riffs start to morph into a thick aural fog, out of which may crawl a lonely violin, a shrieking vocal or a soft chant, only to fade back into the mist of the drums and rhythm guitar. These “top” layers often seem to float above the rest of the mix with conspicuous clarity (which perhaps is not saying much in the context of this production), turning the rest of the music into a hypnotic and hissing backdrop for the ethereal melodies they outline.
Despite its intense minimalism there is a pervading sense of direction in the music. Wintherr achieves this by making the minimal layering play into a highly delineated formal plan. In a (possibly unconscious) gesture, one that would have pleased many a Renaissance composer, all three songs on the album have a clear tripartite structure, the sections themselves often also divided into two or three easily identifiable sub-sections. Sectional changes are clearly marked by strong dynamic shifts, in a manner that may remind the classically inclined of Schubert or Bruckner. In order to balance this and ensure the transitions remain smooth, Wintherr wisely chooses to retain melodic elements whenever these changes happen. This makes the album’s flow feel tempered, patient and natural.
Formal clarity may seem like a demerit for some, particularly those most inclined towards labyrinthine death metal of the Nespithe school, but in the case of Paysage d’hiver it is an asset, as it makes the howling drones navigable and helps give the atmosphere a sense of movement and direction, thereby maintaining a degree of intensity and engagement. Wintherr allows the formal plan to shape and determine the entrances and exits of his sparse, repetitive layers, achieving thus a synthesis between black metal’s atmospheric and narrative tendencies attained with similar success perhaps only by the best of Burzum.
The result of this synthesis is a mesmerizing and immersive experience. Many bands that aim for atmosphere manage to get a great sound, but forget that music, like life, exists in time. In order for the atmosphere of anything to be invoked through music in a convincing temporal manner, the subtle changes and movements of a situation must be musically addressed.
This is the value of Paysage d’Hiver: it captures not only the image but also the rhythms of our being-in-the-world, here specifically the natural world. Thus the album manages to be not only atmospheric, but truly convincing atmospherically. Getting lost in the album one leaves behind the inane bustle of the urban world and taps into an older feeling for time, one that allows space for a slower sentience of the world around us, for true awareness of Being. Paysage d’hiver reminds us that this feeling for time is still out there, waiting for us in the vastness of the world, and in the silence of the mountains.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
1. Welt aus Eis (18:51)
2. Gefrorener Atem (17:55)
3. Der Weg (17:38)
Total time: 54 minutes
 This statement is meant to refer only to languages within the Indo-European family tree, as the author knows absolutely nothing about grammar outside of it.
 This very concern with atmosphere, which is ultimately a concern with Being itself, has led black metal, like it led Heidegger, not only into a deep relationship with nature, but also with the concept of the homeland. It is therefore at the root of the genre’s nationalistic tendencies.