Two hours, twenty minutes long. That’s what you’ll keep hearing in reference to ‘Shards of Silver Fade’ – two hours and twenty minutes. Yep, it’s a talking point – by anyone’s standards, this is a long, LONG old album and just listening through to it once is something of a considerable task. To study and digest for the purposes of reviewing… let’s just say, it’s not one to approach lightly.
Thankfully, composer and mastermind Dis Pater has made this task far less arduous than it could have been by a) ensuring that the album features plenty of convincing ambient soundscapes that segue songs smoothly from one movement to the next and b) actually making the whole opus rather good. Indeed, it could be argued that for albums rooted in cosmology and astral phenomena, excessive length is something of a pre-requisite (look at albums by albums by Mare Cognitum and Darkspace which are not entirely dissimilar in subject matter and boast similarly eye-watering song lengths).
This immense journey to the stars commences with ‘From a Frozen Wasteland’, a masterpiece in slow-burning keyboard-led intensity replete with haunting clean vocals and a splendid opening refrain that seems to build and build before exploding into a melange of driving Manes-esque synth-driven black metal. From then on, we are truly drifting off into space. If I’m honest, picking apart these tracks piece-by-piece would be an exercise in futility – not only would this review end up scraping dissertation length but it would also do a disservice to the continuous ambience Dis Pater clearly strives to weave as the album progresses.
‘Shards of Silver Fade’ is a monumental achievement and much of it succeeds admirably in developing an absorbing, enveloping atmosphere of astral travelling. In amongst the dense waves of atmosphere, there are highlights – ‘Hunter of the Celestial Sea’ deploys chiming and reflective synths against a driving beat, the distended closing of ‘Starlight Oblivion’ is compelling and the sheer array of textures explored on the title track (and album closer) is impressive.
The challenge however is in the sprawl – quite simply, there’s too much here and it can be a real struggle for each of these 15-minute plus songs to maintain an element of identity. Structurally, most of the tracks stick to a familiar ‘synth intro – black metal build – synth breakdown – black metal finale’ which starts to become overfamiliar. The cause is not helped by some rather bedroom-y/clicky sounding drums and fizzy guitar chords that are little more than an afterthought – however, these are side issues against the greater problem of where Midnight Odyssey pitch their songwriting.
Dis Pater has a keen ear for a soaring melody and driving, mid-paced beat – no question – and the synth textures are at times bewitching. Nevertheless, when that’s all you have stretched out over 140 minutes of music, it can quickly become numbing. Manes explored a greater variety of dynamics on ‘Under Eine Blodraud Maane’ and that record is barely 40 minutes in length! There are some wonderful moments on ‘Shards of Silver Fade’ and great swathes of the record come close to achieving a sense of cosmic transcendence that its creator really seems to be aiming for. Sadly, with the metal being something of a side-salad, the album’s excessive length is to its detriment. That’s not to take too much away however from what is undoubtedly a real achievement.
(8/10 Frank Allain)