Barbarossa Umtrunk is a French one-man project, which explores Indo-European mythos, millenarianism, and other similar legends and secrets. This particular album explores the myth about Agartha, the city hidden in Earth's core (according to one of the many versions of the myth). The project has done many releases since its founding in 2005, but this is the first one I've come to hear aside of the artist's contribution to one Schattenspiel-album.
The songs are a mixture of ambient synths, field recordings, various samples and militant rhythms, as well as some spoken vocals and samples in French. The songs aren't that massive, but moreso focus on the amount of detail in them, as well as their calm flow and strong dramatic side. For example, the song three consists of analogue synths that create a slowly growing mass of sound, but the main focus goes on the many samples of eastern folk-singing, violin-bits and chimes, as well as the metallic guitars that provide additional detail to the song. The song climaxes to sounds of something burning down, and overall comes out as a serie of events with a plot.
The album has a lot of variation and changes between the balances of all the different organic and synthetic elements. Song nine is a minimalistic and a tad noisy ambient-piece with some spoken vocals, "L'ile Verte" mixes eastern folk-singing with ominous synth-work, the songs featuring Schattenspiel rely on more "basic" but very enjoyable neo-classical industrial, and the list goes on. There's a lot to hear and to digest, yet it all comes together to serve the ensemble. "Agharti" has a really pleasing flow, as it varies from militant rhythms to calm ambience and noisier wrath in well thought-out sequences. It's a pity that I don't understand French, as I believe that understanding the vocals would take the album's drama and plot to whole new heights.
The sole main problem with "Agharti" is its lenght; 72 minutes is a long while, despite being filled with such an amount of variation, contrast and detail. The album would've been a lot more effective if it were ten or even twenty minutes shorter, although I can understand why the artist decided to leave it as-is; it goes forward with undeniable logic, and the bold mixtures of ethnic and traditional samples with more modern instrumentation and experiments keep the listener from becoming bored or passive. It just doesn't make as strong an impact as it should do based on its overall quality - which isn't a wonder, since it ranges from almost sci-fi-synths to a lot older and traditional forms of expression. There are limits on how tight a package you can knit from such diverse elements. Also, one could ask for the soundscape to be more powerful and cleaner, but I think that this slight hint of underground-aesthetics is one of the key things that keep all the album's elements together.
The album treads forward with a steady and calm pace, which means that it's quite a demanding listen - but also a very rewarding one. It holds over an hour's worth of mixtures of traditional instrumentation and more modern ways of soundscape-creation, and has a strong, dramatic atmosphere. I just wish that the digipack would've had more visual stimulation to give, as its bare design seems lackluster when compared with the aural offerings.