I discovered Nostalgia during the days of MySpace, the project stood amongst the best in all of the experimental music because of its effective simplicity at first.
As I kept up with the releases ambient and noise qualities worked together within the project. Nostalgia never disappointed me with any of his four releases. I’d mentioned Nostalgia in a previous article on Premature Ejaculation, but always felt the project worthy of its own article.
Mark Hunter’s ambient project Nostalgia began in 2005 with the self released CD Funereal Rituals. Nostalgia was immediately recognisable as a mournful instrumental project whose sound at first was a combination of keyboard drones and samples.
Funereal Rituals was limited to 300 copies. The calligraphic logo and text drew influence from the visual aspects of black metal. It was a four-track recording consisting of seven tracks. Despite its four-channel recording, Funereal Rituals is immediately ambitious in its cinematic scale, it doesn’t just seem content to use four channels as a genre identification, there seems to be a wider scope.
The music was categorised in its early years as being more in the area of Dark Ambient but seems rooted in a different, mournful, slightly ethereal area. Keyboards switch through intense drones as the dominant instrument, complemented by some effective instrumental samples and dark ambient undertones that pass through. It’s as if the album slips from sadness to darkness periodically.
The rise and fall of Hitler is explored in To Kill with No Remorse, it’s this track that pushed Nostalgia into a more aggressive electronic territory than the rest of the album. Hitler’s speeches are backed with some powerful rumblings. It draws parallels to Maurizio Bianchi’s early work under the alias of Leibstandarte SS on the Come Org. label. But key influences at the time were Rozz Williams’ experimental work as Premature Ejaculation and Heltir, but still in these early stages, Nostalgia does seem to work within its own territory.
Funereal Rituals was followed by 2006’s The Aesthetics of Death, recorded straight after Funereal Rituals over a 5-month period.
This was also a four-track recording, made with improved equipment and limited to 100 copies. The album starts with keyboard drones and surrounding ambience. Vocal samples move in and out of the work. The sense of sorrowfulness overwhelms with a continued strength in space and dynamic.
Aesthetics alludes in brief to martial and futuristic sounds; Withering into the Ashes also successfully combines both. But drones do turn to rumbles that threaten to take the lead in parts yet slip back into the background. Self Destruction the Process of Withering allows a lasting aggressive industrial and Dark Ambient passage of sound to come through.
It’s as if the key Nostalgia sound at this time was broken down in areas to explore new possibilities. Track 8, The Aesthetics of Death, accelerates Nostalgia’s experimental and industrial qualities to a higher degree. Pulses, metallic clangs, channelled atmospheres battle each other to good effect. The purity of sound evident on Funereal Rituals continues on The Aesthetics of Death but the breakdowns of that key sound within would shape the later work of Nostalgia.
In 2006 a self-released (100 copies) split was recorded with the artist Cerberus: Axis I/Seasons of Decay. The human mind, perception, and disorders were particular interests that influenced Axis I.
There is an immediate difference in sound on the opening track Hell?; it’s as if Nostalgia has stepped into a far darker ambient territory than before. It successfully combines Dark Ambient soundscape and Industrial hostility to an effective hybrid; Dementia Praecox and N2OC10H12 achieve all of this perfectly. Axis I could be seen as the beginning of the second phase of Nostalgia in its development of sound. Mark Hunter saw The Aesthetics of Death as a stepping-stone to what he envisioned Nostalgia as becoming.
In my opinion Axis I is the full fruit of that development. Axis I was also the beginnings of Mark Hunter’s first venture into digital recording instead of the four-track methods of the previous two albums.
The Infestation EP is currently the final Nostalgia release. This dark intensely compressed, claustrophobic soundscape seems ready for explosion at any time.
Tense layers of sound pulse and distort, it would fit in the genre of Dark Ambient, but there are elements of low-level Power Electronics there, bursts of low-level noise pop up as lead aggravation devices on Prologue; Decomposition. Infest pulls drones in and out of distortion, other harsh distortions intensify and pulls back. Sharp bursts of sound pattern around the drone.
Infest 2 immediately starts on the high levels Infest built up to, with breaks of feedback and aggressive beat-like electronic samples used as lead instruments working around each other in duet. Infest 2 relies on harsh repetition and occasional breaks within. A vocal distorted and pulsed to overload cut through by a siren bring Infest 2 to an end.
The final track is Decadence; here Mark Hunter brings things back to a dense hellish atmosphere overlaid with a vocal sample to an end. Overall Infestation represents Nostalgia allowing complete breaks from drones and compressed atmosphere with sounds and noises taking the lead and forming a new extra surface upon compositions.
This is the third phase of development in the work of Nostalgia.
Several post-Infestation tracks were recorded: a reconstitution/remix of Roto Visage’s Am God was recorded for a web release compilation The Reconstitution of Roto Visage. This revels in familiar hostile ambient territory low-level noises are used and compiled to make a formidable new version.
2006’s Creation through Deconstruction was made to soundtrack the site of the French artist St. Obscur, this furthers Nostalgia’s re-examination of low-level ambient sounds, sounding like a developed look back at the earlier ambient cinematic Nostalgia work.
This kind of re-examination was also the case with four unreleased tracks for a split with Field of Black Orchids. The unreleased Eradication Ritual, also from 2006, furthers upon all of this building a loop of tension and suspense. Axis IV, also unreleased, was made around 2007-08, this begins a very curious stage in Nostalgia; the breakdown of a track into several passages. This was not done before within Mark Hunter’s work. Noises drone and pulse around each other, come to a halt only for a more aggressive burst of distortion to pulse a similar gradual rhythm. These sounds pull back for an area of calm and seem well away in the distance, only to return with brutal killing sounds to start a cacophonous choir; layered atmospherics override this and bring the journey of Axis IV to a halt.
Axis IV is a strong development on the triumph of Infestation. There may be an online Nostalgia compilation of unreleased tracks being released; it would be good to see how these tracks work together.
Interview with Mark Hunter
Through contact with you I am aware of your involvement in the black metal scene in America particularly Xasthur. Was your introduction to more ambient music from the fringes of black metal where dark ambient sounds are explored, or did that come from elsewhere?
I wasn’t entirely aware of what “dark ambient” was until I was introduced to Premature Ejaculation. Some bands I was listening to at the time were already incorporating subtle dark ambient pieces into their music which I was highly fascinated with, but I really didn’t know what to call it (not that it needs a label either).
Since Xasthur, what bands have you been involved in? Is it a constant thing being vocalist in bands?
I’ve been active in a few bands before Xasthur, mainly handling vocal duties. Nothing has been as permanent as the band I’m still in today, being Spiculum Iratus (name change is coming soon because of a change of members and different ideology than when we first started). I’ve done vocals for a few bands only because it was requested of me and I happened to fill the spot just fine.
Throughout the visual appearance of the Nostalgia albums there seemed a visual aesthetic that pointed towards black metal. For some reason the more keyboard/drone - depressive feel of the first two CDs seemed to point towards that. Musically it seemed to disappear on Axis I and Infestation, but visual traces were left from the artwork. How did Nostalgia tie in with black metal?
Visuals - Nostalgia really had no ties with black metal other than aesthetically on the first two demos with the use of Beksinski’s artwork. After the 2nd demo, everything about Nostalgia was becoming focused and with that, came about a more focused aesthetics and what Nostalgia was representing. From a background of mainly black metal, I can see why the artwork had a similar aesthetic to what is used in black metal. After the 2nd demo, I did my best to stray from the visual appearance of black metal so a distinction could be made with what I was trying to do with the project.
You mentioned a change in recording techniques for Axis I, beginning to shift away from 4-track, what did you do? There seems to be an obvious change in mood to Nostalgia from Aesthetics to Axis, from sorrowful to threatening, was there a change in aesthetic in Nostalgia at this point, what changed to bring such a huge leap in sound and mood?
Recording was switched from analogue to digital. With this brought about a huge change in sound in a positive direction, which is why the moods also changed from The Aesthetics of Death to Axis I and beyond that. As I’ve discussed though, Axis I was becoming musically and conceptually more focused. I knew what direction I wanted to take Nostalgia; an abrasive cacophony of sounds.
Noise or an abrasive cacophony of sounds is a good description as Infestation and Axis IV do this perfectly. I would say you use elements of low-level Power Electronics in parts of later Nostalgia, and in Axis IV you use separate passages and juxtapositions of noise. On Infestation you allowed noises to take the lead over the ambient sounds to good effect your use of noise is progressing steadily yet consistently. However on the tracks you sent me for the proposed split with Field of Black Orchids as well as Eradication Ritual and Creation through Deconstruction you re-explore ambient territory. Do you see Nostalgia as a varied project that continuously explores both territories?
I do. I enjoy exploring what I can with both territories and it can lead anywhere which is what I enjoy so much about this type of music. There is a lot you can do with it.
Have we seen the end of Nostalgia? Will the project continue?
Nostalgia has ended, but I will continue where I left off under a new moniker. I’ve been slowly working on new material for an upcoming release. Familiar elements are present, but there will be new styles being incorporated (some will be quite subtle, some more present than others). In the mean time, I’m compiling the unreleased material and plan to release it on the net for free as a proper way to “end” Nostalgia. I’m currently working on the artwork and expect this to be released sometime in August 2011.
Many thanks to Mark Hunter for making many unreleased tracks available to me for this piece.