Split albums are always fun: it’s interesting to see how one band teams up with another to deliver an experience that is characteristic of both their sounds, yet is distinctive enough on both sides that fans of either band can appreciate what they came to the material for. Different from fully collaborative albums in that both bands contribute their own separate material, they can throw together artists of disparate styles, like in the case of the Full of Hell and Merzbow split release from 2014, or, as it is here, bring together multiple artists of the same genre to build off of their individual strengths and weaknesses and provide a more holistic approach.
The latter is the name of the game on this split between Waldgeflüster (German for “Forest Whisperings”) and Panopticon, two atmospheric black metal one-man projects that incorporate folk elements from their countries of origin (Germany and the US, respectively) to create a combination that is extremely lush and evocative. The people behind this album are musical artists that paint beautiful soundscapes of scenic forests and snow-capped mountains, and across this album’s half-hour runtime, the journey from the Swiss Alps to rural Minnesota is breathtaking and diverse.
Musically, is this game-changing? No, at least, not to anybody who’s already familiar with either artist on this album, or knows the styles they dabble in, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good: both bands know the tools of their trade inside and out and excel in their field. Each side consists of a single 12 minute black metal track and a cover of an acoustic interlude by the other band, which makes for an interesting dynamic that isn’t present on many splits. The Waldgefluster side isn’t nearly as hard-hitting or as energetic as Panopticon’s, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good; it’s standard, mid-paced atmospheric black metal. The other side is much better: it feels like a continuation of the established melodic, savage, aggressive stylings of Roads to the North more than anything else. In fact, it’s strongly reminiscent of that style, so much so that this could easily be a track planned for Roads and cut due to time constraints.
The covers each one does of an ambient/interlude track from an album of the other is cool, but again, Panopticon wins out here, and the stripped-down, much less soulful rendition of Norwegian Nights that Waldgefluster contributed isn’t nearly as good as the original track, while the rendition of “Trauerweide Teil II” that Panopticon has here takes the German folkiness of the original and adds twangy banjos all throughout that help it feel much more fleshed out and complete as a piece of music.
For anybody who has an established liking of either of the bands on this split, or atmospheric black metal in general, this is certainly worth a listen or two; both sides are excellent and the acoustic tracks are some of the best interludes to break up the intensity that have been made in a while. After a few listens, though, only dedicated fans of either band are going to eke any more enjoyment out of this. A typical release from both artists, this is a good addition to their discographies, but certainly not anything to write home about.