After his glorious “Sistereis” album from 2007 Tommy Jansen, aka Elegi, returns with his second album for Miasmah. “Varde” is, again, an immensely atmospherical album but this time it’s not about shipwreck but about polar explorers and the sublime environment into which they advance, aspiring to reach the pole first. I don’t think the album narrates any explorer’s particular story. There are documents printed in the booklet (designed, as always with Miasmah releases, by labelhead Erik Skodvin (aka Svarte Greiner)) and there’s what I take to be an authentic historical audio document that features heavily in the final track, “Den Store Hvite Stillhet”. But these seem to be about different journeys, shifting the focus from narrative to stasis, ambience, landscape. And to the melancholy induced by the explorers’ hubris.
In true keeping with the label’s sound aesthetics, “Varde” is crackling throughout, employing field recordings to evoke images and fragments of narrative: a child mysteriously wailing across the icy landscapes; a shovel being used to – pitch camp, maybe? Or to build one of the cairns that the title track alludes to (for that’s the meaning of the Norwegian word “Varde”). Four minutes into the album, Jansen’s widened scope becomes apparent when grandiose strings elevate the daring trespassers into the hostile landscape they’re unlikely to leave again. While “Sistereis” was a naval fantasy conceived in the composer’s mind alone, “Tonmeister” Jansen uses four players now to add violin, saw, percussion, double bass, thus giving the album a symphonic quality lacking from the debut. Doom is everywhere, but it is white. Hostility looms, but it is beautiful. As a consequence, “Varde” is organic, but cold, beautiful but keeping the listener at a distance while it warily follows the voyager’s cairns into the barren terrain. Once “Den Store Hvite Stillhet” (“The Great White Quiet”) is reached, no human steps, no crackling ropes, no sleds can by heard anymore. Instead, a voice over crackling static. Combining modern composition and a barren variant of ambient, “Varde” is yet another triumph for Skodvin’s Miasmah imprint. 9/10 -- Jan-Arne Sohns (28 January, 2009)