Marcus Fjellström is a Swedish composer whose previous albums, Exercises In Estrangement and Gebrauchsmusik, were released on the Lampse label. The latter was especially interesting, as it attempted to bridge the gap between “absolute” and “functional” composition through a series of vignettes that incorporated both, sometimes within the same track. While the overarching sonic narrative helped the listener bind the tracks into a unified album, its dichotomous nature also created a jarring effect when listened to all the way through. This changes with Schattenspieler (“Shadowplayer”). Although several tracks from the album make up a suite of songs known as “House Without A Door” (which Fjellström created to accompany a film of the same name), Schattenspieler is a thoroughly cohesive listen.
If the title didn’t clue you in already, this is Fjellström at his darkest, with elements of musique concrète competing for space with minor-key, arpeggiated synth lines and shrieking violins. In fact, the music wouldn’t really sound out of place in a haunted house: floorboards creak, chains clank, and at one point bats seem to be calling out during “Perspex.” “Antichrist Architecture Management” sounds like John Carpenter’s score for Halloween (but with Goblin’s keyboard parts from Dawn of the Dead in place of the repetitive piano motifs), and I continually find myself imagining this music as the perfect backdrop for a Hitchcock film. Indeed, Schattenspieler is a cinematic album.
And it’s got the mood to match. One of the most impressive things that Fjellström accomplishes here is filling the listener with dread. There’s an enormous amount of space created here, but it feels claustrophobic. It isn’t space in the sense of there being a lot of it, but rather of multiple areas of confinement, of entrapment — attics, closets, basements, dilapidated houses, graves, tombs. Imagine that final scene from Lucio Fulchi’s House By The Cemetery, then imagine a version of Demdike Stare minus the dub or even Erik Skodvin’s album Knive under his Svarte Greiner alias.
Of course, an album of such theatrical qualities isn’t unprecedented: aside from the scores of horror films, the focus of this year’s Unsound fest in Poland was built entirely around making clear the already quite obvious connection between horror film scores and avant-garde music, with Fjellström, Demdike Stare, and Black To Comm all making appearances (the latter of which released a close antecedent to Schattenspieler with the excellent Alphabet 1969 from last year). But there’s a fine distinction to be made here: while many artists in this mode of music-making sound like they’re rehashing the sonic tropes of slasher soundtracks for aesthetic effect, Fjellström seems wholly intent on eliciting pure terror out of his listeners.