Lifetime Achievement: The Dark Worlds of Dungeon Synth Artist Aufhocker

Aufhocker

Any artist with an extensive back catalog can be intimidating upon first discovery, but dungeon synth/dark ambient artist Aufhocker—the alias of Canadian multi-instrumentalist Andru Jorj—has put out an impressive 16 releases since November 2017. This figure is even more notable when you take into account that Jorj has, in the same period, released music as the D-beat/crust project Disaxis, the drone/black metal entity Varituuk, the noise/experimental creature CHVX, and the keyboard-driven ska/reggae revivalists The Stylephonics.

Jorj has been making music for most of his life, but only started working with synthesizers over the last few years. His work under the Aufhocker name combines the atmosphere and aesthetics of synth-infused black metal with a DIY spirit, an ambitious release schedule, and an interest in historical legend (Arthurian myth and the folklore of Count Dracula are prominent themes in these compositions). The sound of Aufhocker is the sound of another time, another world. It’s a world that is vast and well worth exploring.

At the Gates of Castle Dracula

Existing sonically somewhere between 1950s monster movie soundtracks and Angelo Badalamenti’s compositions for Twin Peaks, Aufhocker’s debut conjures bleak landscapes of imposing stone towers silhouetted against jagged mountains. The whole thing’s bathed in tape hiss that sounds like a relentless rainstorm. To try and find shelter from the downpour within the dimly-lit castle walls could expose you to even greater dangers from the unseen perils within.

Quest

Aufhocker’s folk music influences are on full display here. Quest ranges from driving marches that conjure imagery of an assembly of knights marching to battle to more idyllic pieces that bring to mind contemporaries such as Fief or Ur Pale, but with a stronger undercurrent of menace and foreboding. This album’s title track is a plaintive meditation built around a solemn pipe-organ drone. It’s filled with a sense of purposeful motion, embarking (perhaps reluctantly) on a mysterious journey to an uncertain end.

In the Name of the Father

This album, a collection of self-described “rituals,” is dedicated to Satan. He’s right there on the cover: horned, bearded, high-contrast, swathed in shadow. But this isn’t an album filled with the bombast and aggression you’ve come to expect from tributes to The Lord of Demons. The music here is calm, soothing, pleasant. Even the appearance of percussion on album opener “Dance of Unquenchable Fire” serve to accentuate the melody rather than attempting to whip the listener into a frenzy. These five tracks are varied enough to reward repeated listening but cohesive enough to stand together as a singular work.

Solstice

This is Aufhocker’s “Christmas” album. It’s obvious from the title that it was created as a celebration of the winter solstice, but “solstice album” is a phrase without the same pop-cultural weight. Solstice also features “One Horse Open Sleigh,” a reworking of the James Lord Pierpont song (later retitled and popularized as “Jingle Bells”) which, as Aufhocker is quick to point out, “was originally intended for the Thanksgiving season.” It’s rendered nearly unrecognizable here, but it, along with the other four compositions on Solstice, feels appropriately icy and clear. A fitting celebration for the longest night of the year.

Cathedral of Sins

A shorter work, this collection evokes the hymns and liturgical chants of a religious order. Cathedral of Sins is notable for “Unholy Sanctuary,” which, while retaining Aufhocker’s unique dark ambient and neoclassical elements, has a similar feel as “Nanaki’s Theme” from the soundtrack of Final Fantasy 7.

The Journey

This album is Aufhocker’s soundtrack for the journey of William the Conqueror and his Army from Normandy into England. It starts off spirited, light and full of hope, but as the album progresses, the composition get darker, more dismal and gloomy. In Jorj’s words, “The fear of impending doom one must have felt at finally setting eyes on Britain for the first time would have been immense. Troop morale might have been high when they first left France, but now that war was becoming a reality, that adventurous optimism slowly fades away, and the sky above becomes a little greyer than it was yesterday.”

Lost Among the Ruins

An improvised piece recorded over the course of two days, Lost Among the Ruins functions as a spiritual and thematic sequel to At the Gates of Castle Dracula. Most noticeably, the tape hiss has returned, and along with it, the sense of apprehension and dread. It’s cinematic in its scope, bringing to mind a more minimalist style of soundtrack-without-a-film artists like Umberto. The music is by turns soothing and jarring, at times ghostly—and at others outright menacing. This is certainly the most chilling and ominous entry into Aufhocker’s catalog.

The Ghost

Explicitly acknowledging Aufhocker’s black metal influences, this EP departs radically from the rest of Aufhocker’s recordings and presents the listener with a straightforward (instrumental) black metal song. Of course there’s an intro track, and of course it’s called “Intro,” but once those Enya-esque chimes and New Age-for-the-night melodies fade out, all that remains is three minutes of blastbeats and riffs.

Execution

Evoking the soundtrack work of composers such as Tim Krog or Richard Band, the Execution EP wouldn’t be out of place as the soundtrack to a straight-to-VHS ‘80s horror film. Here, Aufhocker uses bright synth voices and ethereal atmospheres to build to a mournful conclusion. It’s the sound of a carnival atmosphere in the town square gradually giving way to the grim reality of the hanging the villagers are gathered to witness.

Forteresse

With a sound as massive and imposing as its titular structure, Forteresse slowly builds in intensity to a towering finish. This is one of Aufhocker’s “noisiest” releases, with melodies often fading away to be replaced by creeping percussion and keyboard drones that conjure the moans of souls locked away in a forgotten dungeon beneath ancient fortifications

Sonos Mortiferum

Percussion plays a more active role here than on any previous Aufhocker release, but the drums aren’t overpowering. This collection is still atmospheric, but with more of a full-band sound. Along with the drums, sounds of stringed instruments emerge from the gloom. “II” (the tracks here are numbered rather than named) features sitar-like sympathetic string voices accompanying the spectral synths. The compelling minimalism of earlier works is set aside here, marking a new milestone in Aufhocker’s evolution.

Upon the Throne of Eternity

Although you’ll definitely hear the conventional hallmarks of dungeon synth on this album, it also marks a rare appearance of several non-synthesized instruments. Jorj’s use of whistles, guitars both electric and acoustic, and recorders certainly makes this the most varied collection of songs in the Aufhocker discography, but the neo-folk influence also extends to the more traditional synthesizer-based tracks. “Ethereal Disillusion” serves as a perfect combination of these synthesized and acoustic elements beginning with a celestial opening which meshes perfectly with the stringed instruments and drums that join in on the track’s second half. Album closer “Þunor’s Oak” is a fully acoustic piece that serves as the perfect conclusion to the most wide-ranging Aufhocker work to date.

Dungeon Knight

Where previous Aufhocker works have given voice to armies marching to battle, this is the tale of a solitary knight on an arcane and uncertain quest. The path before him is at times expansive and open, as in the sweeping vistas of “Wild Steed of the Wind,” and at others constricted, almost impassable, as in the claustrophobic rumble of “Cavern of Dark Mysteries.” This album is a fascinating bit of wordless storytelling and is as ultimately memorable as any quest for timeworn treasure or esoteric knowledge.

Memories of a Forgotten Age

This EP is infused with a sense of immense scale. It’s difficult to listen to the echoing chords of “The Stars Speak My Name” or the creaky melody of “Nymphs of the Evening” and not think of a scene similar to the one pictured on the cover art. Forgotten ruins stand stark against a clouded sky, immune to the cares of the comparatively fleeting lives of those who built them. This release is the sound of things outside of time, things that are not hurried, things that are of this world but will exist long after it is rendered unrecognizable by the passing of the ages.

Forest of Disillusionment

There’s something in the trees. You can feel it watching you as you make your way through the undergrowth. Forest of Disillusionment is the sound of a walk through landscapes barely touched by human hands. The listener marvels at grandiose stands of old-growth forest, stops to wash their hands in a cold stream rushing from an unknown source over rocks and roots, and looks out over expansive untamed vistas. Through all of this, though, there’s an undercurrent of tension and dismay. This album creates the feeling of isolation, but not necessarily loneliness. It’s the sound of being alone, but wondering in the back of your mind if there isn’t something out there making its way through the same forest. It’s the sound of wondering whether this unseen entity is making its way through the same trees, and questioning what will happen when your paths cross.

-Robert Newsome

One Comment

  1. Calignost
    Posted November 15, 2018 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Awesome!!! cover more dungeon synth and thank you bandcamp for helping the underground

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