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svrm: Infinite Reflections in the Eyes of an Atmospheric Mastermind

svrm

Musical atmospherics result from distillation, not manifestation — conjuration is outright false, and to “summon” is to merely extract that which has been withheld within. It’s all about the self and its innumerable ingredients; boiled by chaos, your essences evaporate and then condense into One Pure Substance. Outwardly expressing your self-understanding grants access to the deepest realms of your mind. And it’s music which best mirrors the intensities that guide you through the resulting cerebral ether. Atmosphere is an extreme environment, especially once you obtain artistic agency over it: music with extreme atmosphere can catalyze extreme states of mind, unstable yet chock full of undiscovered nuance and meaning. As far as metal is concerned, black metal is the key specialist in the realm of atmospherics. Black metal is not just music with great atmosphere, it is the music of atmosphere — analyzing it illuminates the process of atmosphere’s distillation from the most chaotic horrors of the human mind. For it’s only on the sharpest edge of extreme music that we can access the new truths which lie just beyond the blackest of all horizons: your very own death.

Like your reflection along the edge of a pristinely clean and sharp knife at your throat, Ukrainian solo outfit svrm illustrates the sad, forlorn hopelessness that death brings to life. In three years, mastermind Sergey Tkachenko (“C”) has released three demos and four EPs through the svrm project, culminating in the debut full-length and magnum opus Лихиї вітри стогнуть без упину (online translator: “The Wicked Winds Moan Without Incline”) this year. Each release steps forward blindly but courageously into one of the bleakest atmospheres in the business, distilled from an immensely varied pool of emotional substance. Consistent in sound from inception to current, svrm’s output feels more like a wavelength or journey than a set of waypoints; likewise, consuming svrm’s music allows you access to one long flow of C’s complexly dark and ethereal interior. The rawest expression of that darkness stands as svrm’s debut demo 7 (2015): true ugly grit, but blossomed, beautified, and released into the world’s sickened madness to live and then perish.

The album’s opener “Mir,” for instance, immediately relishes in its own atmospheric decadence: walls of fuzzy guitars, harshed-out vocals, and an impervious bass/drumline all coalesce into one triumphant sonic ascent toward the song’s climactic death. While technically a demo, 7 does not feel prototypical; rather, it reads like an introductory chapter, establishing the characters and setting the mindful but ultimately unpredictable tone which then carries on throughout svrm’s discography. This dynamic is crucial for the establishment of prime atmosphere: a layer of consistency meshed with a layer of experimentation both acting as “hooks” for your attention. Importantly, too, 7 ends on a conflicted and tense note, not as if the demo was unfinished, but as if something more profound was to follow (which it sure did as the Den Sidste Messias demo).

The following year, При смерти (“At Death’s Door”) and Зима (“Winter”) arrived as a demo/EP pair which deepened and mysterified the story begun on 7 and appendixed by Den Sidste Messias, allowing for even greater skygazing distances. With a heftier push for atmosphere, both production quality and songwriting stepped up their depth/complexity. And, mitigating the space constraint of these two demos only comprising four songs, C honed svrm’s pithy approach to black metal: the transitions, for instance, are so fluid that segments are stripped of their fragmented arrangement in exchange for something more amoebetic. Ultimately, the svrm picture quickly became an abstract blend of colors; with 7 being the sharpest but shallowest expression (certainly a strong debut in its own form, though), these two follow-up demos dissolved any atmospheric ceilings which may have resulted from less cohesive arrangements. Moreover, their emotional content feels freshly impassioned — screams which are even more void-ripping and encircling than on 7 — across steeper ascents toward loftier highs. Lots of black metal runs out of headroom in the extrema of maximization, i.e. the result of focusing too hard on forcing atmosphere rather than letting it flow. Effortlessness characterizes svrm even to the extent that the instrumentation and musicianship don’t really even aim for technical perfection. Rather, the goal is strictly force of impact and modulation of intensity; such a focus transforms imperfections into the minuta and detail of artwork.

2017 brought three svrm EPs — голод (“Hunger”), За смертю (“For Death”), and Останнє Сонце (“The Last Sun”) — which together form an ascending, mid-sectional array of C’s devastating narrative. Here, svrm began to experiment more with tempo shifts, clean guitar, and much more complex drumming; the story remains consistent, though, as the project’s reliance on steady, forthright swaths of blast beats does not wane. Also consistent are the guitar tone and vocals (though gradual production polishes have altered these for better or worse depending on personal preference), albeit “wider” and less compressed in sound on each subsequent release. This progression, while persistently incremental, mirrors svrm’s almost desperate search for a full-length, full-featured debut: one step/layer at a time, practicing each additional concept in the form of bespoke short-format releases, heading toward a perfected/streamlined formula which generates the lofty, music-suspending atmosphere. These three EPs in particular begin to pour out C’s extreme form expression rather than display it; likewise, the atmospherics begin to take on a sound and life of their own as analysis is replaced by reaction. Poised as such, and ready to offer its most cerebral impact, svrm was ready to output its most complex and cohesive work to date: a full-length.

Capturing torment, despair, the absence of hope and faith, and the nightmares of reality in its atmospheric grasp is Лихиї вітри стогнуть без упину, one of this year’s most solidly grounded but ascendant atmospheric black metal releases. This album represents the largest departure svrm has made from a preceding album and therefore stands as the riskiest to the project’s overall appeal. With a smoother, more melodic approach, C has foregone some of the edginess for nuance: guitars, for instance, now seem to lilt across long, tremolo-picked sections instead of attacking them head-on. Where there may have been threads of punk drumming or hardcore cadences on prior releases, the currents of blackgaze flow more wildly and unpredictably here. The resultant atmospherics are still on-brand, but they contain a new dimension beyond hopelessness: absence itself. In that sense, svrm is the opposite of “heavy” despite being acutely aggressive; the project retains its sense of effort-free expression. This is music for floating, not being grounded. This is music for the profound uncertainty which results from the most hauntingly certain thing there is.

What’s interesting about the svrm story is that while atmospheric elements arise from the music-as-art itself (helping shape the headspace the final sound creates), it’s the overarching narrative across releases which provide that disconnected feeling of infinity. Manifesting this arc — whose endpoint extends through the opaque fog of death — with expression alone poses a daunting task, though it may not enrich the svrm experience to assume C knows at any given time which direction he currently faces. Rather, getting to know C through the bleakness of svrm itself generates its own atmosphere — a void, essentially — wherein your reflections, reactions, and relishment meld together. Important questions form: Why does this music make me feel lost, but also found? Why can’t I explain the emotions this music catalyzes while I can explain the process itself? Why can’t I recreate this atmosphere in my head without the music, now that I know what it sounds like? It comes down to the raw existential power of experience: not absorbing music album-by-album but rather as uninterrupted evolution of someone else’s journey toward their own eventuality. The process of understanding will not prevent the unwanted inevitable; the dimensions of experience (and, ultimately, the art that you absorb), though, will give meaning to death by assigning its grisly and ghastly process to life itself.

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