TRAUMATIC VOYAGE, the nihilistic musical expressions of a shady German character called Astorian, is an alluring entity. The project commenced as early as 1986, and has repeatedly recorded and released albums since; Cogito Ergo Sum being the third of six. Astorian seems slightly cursed; the ambitious promotional life-spanning biography tells of many label rip-offs and implosions, an example of the latter leaving this particular album unreleased until 2008, twelve years after its creation. And despite the album’s high ambitions and experimental will, it seems time has had its way on Traumatic Voyage’s black metal.
Cogito Ergo Sum showcases a highly set level of ambition of transgression and creativity, which is unfortunately barred by its own foundations. Driven by a pummelling drum machine, the riffs are basically hardly more than average melodic black metal, sounding more or less like what you would expect from a German band in this genre at the center of the 90’s. The sound is also quite horrid; buzzing digital distortion achieving a constant rather annoying hiss, coagulating with the synthetic percussion. Harmonically, little new ground is made, the riffs and chord sequences are rather predictable and uninspired. And so much for the negative criticism. What makes this monster of an album, reaching a whopping 77:07 minutes (overbearing to say the least), interesting are the ambitions thus far mentioned frequently but not described. What gives Traumatic Voyage their/his/its raison d’etre are the many experiments. As the album was recorded in 1996, one must see it from that perspective; Dödheimsgard and Aborym had yet to truly make electronica in black metal a common and acceptable feature; Mysticum’s BM/techno fusion a few years earlier was little more than an interesting footnote and cul-de-sac. Black metal had then become consecrated and stiffened into certain shapes, and hence should every contemporary attempt to break out of the necrotic mould should be if not lauded than at least given a few huzzahs and a pat on the back.
First, the album starts off with what Germans dance away to high on E, with the addition of extreme vocals, for about four minutes; not what you’d expect at all. The fifth track goes even farther over the top; distorted speedcore with guitars. Strangely, I think this is the best track on the whole album; the riffs are great and the monotonous pounding beat are plainly freaking out. Subsequent tracks feature several flirtations and fusions with sequenced electronics and the probably weirdest sounds he could find on his synthesizer, wrapping up the mundane black metal with an air of interestingness. Vocal samples abound too, supposedly adding to the philosophical ideas of Traumatic Voyage (complete hatred towards mankind). Elsewhere, the songs turn into some sort of distorted gothic rock, where Bethlehem around Dictius Te Necare would be an appropriate musical and vocal reference. Not the shrieks though; Astorian’s clean vocals are of the vibrato-laden complaints of for example early Sopor Aeternus (not the falsetto, i.e.). The voice is his strongest asset next to the experimentalism; there is much power in his declamatory and anguished howls, mostly resembling a furiously snarling combination of Moonspell’s Langsuyar and Quorthon of Bathory. Astorian might not be that much of a composer, but he’s a fabulous vocalist.
Traumatic Voyage sums up more or less all pros and cons of being a one man army. On the one hand, you have complete artistic freedom; no-one to compromise with or pay attention to, no external will impeding the direct outlet of your personal visions. On the other hand, you have complete artistic freedom; no-one to veto away overzealous or down-right bad ideas you can’t see because of home-blindness, no-one to push the brakes in time and rein in the open field of experiments much too far over the top; the veritable smorgasboard attainable for the soloist is a direct hazard to the sake of common taste. Made obvious here and there on this album; add to that the seemingly limitless CD format – vinyl time restriction did wonders to musicians’ creativity – and you understand what I mean. Less is more, even in symphonic black metal.
Considering the concept, sound and composition, Cogito Ergo Sum leaves a rather sketchy feeling. It’s not finished, or not completely worked through. Ironically, the album’s peaks are when metal is completely left behind, falling into the techno or gothic rock described above; that is where it really becomes interesting. Some riffs are good, but more often than not quite sub par. Traumatic Voyage seems most like a lost pioneer in the early days of electronica/extreme metal fusion; without a doubt interesting, but has it any real worth today? As a historical monument, yes, but Cogito Ergo Sum does not survive the competition of today, unfortunately, despite its extreme length and considerable versatility. How the project has evolved since, I do not know, and it would be interesting to hear whether Astorian has created any truly masterful pieces before or since Cogito Ergo Sum.
Label: Merciless Records
Avantgenre: Electrosymphonic Misanthrope Metal
Origin: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Official site: http://www.traumatic-voyage.de/
Review online since: 07.02.2009 / 13:53:26
1. Cogito Ergo Sum (Gedankenwelt)
2. No Man’s Land
3. Sagarmatha (Call Of The Mountains)
4. Behind Dead Eyes
5. Grenzgang (-Erfahrung!)
7. Jenseits Des Fleisches
8. To Belife…
10. Tripnosis (Deus Absconditus)