Swedish Black/Death Metal outfit Zornheym return with their latest dramatic musical and narrative-driven concept revolving around the horrors of a mental institution and its prisoners. Four years after their last exposé of the terrible happenings at The Zornheim Asylum, more revelations are exposed of the evil work of the deranged Dr Bettleheim with The Zornheim Sleep Experiment.
Zornheym – The Zornheim Sleep Experiment (Noble Demon)
Release Date: 22 October 2021
Words: Jools Green
So just what has been happening behind those gates since the last visit?
Well, the evil Doctor has been pondering. “The average human spends almost one-third of their lives asleep. Why is this? What happens with the body, mind and soul when we are sleeping? Is it because the body needs to recover itself and the brain to process all the impressions we’ve had during the day, or is there something more profound behind the answer?
“These are the questions that form the foundation for The Zornheim Sleep Experiment.”
The experiments and revelations are indeed the stuff of nightmares. The collective of nine subjects are denied sleep by exposing them to epinephrine. Collected, refined and vapourised by the misguided Dr Gutzmann, it is administered to the subjects via a gas mask, as Adrenochrome gas, intending to keep them awake for thirty days and observe them in confinement. What could go wrong?
Band mastermind and guitarist Zorn spoke to Metal Talk about Zornheym’s aims for this release. “Something that we wanted to expand and improve on with The Zornheim Sleep Experiment was the use of choirs,” Zorn said.
“We wanted them to sing more words and use them as a lead instrument instead of just letting them sing ‘Aa’ and ‘Oo’. On An Evil Within, it’s only the choir singing, and they take the lead parts on Slumber Comes In Time.
“Scucca [guitarist and arranger] also wanted to use more woodwind instruments, something that worked out great. In general, we had learned a lot from making Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns, which in the end, made the arrangements more majestic and cleverly executed on The Zornheim Sleep Experiment.
“I also think that we used more colours and shades in the overall compositions, more styles of vocals and different tempos of the songs. We are extremely proud of this album, and it is a milestone in our career.”
The Zornheim Sleep Experiment is a ten-track offering that spans a full and complex thirty-seven minutes and comes with a pre-listen booklet that expands on the plot and is an essential read beforehand to enable a fuller understanding and enjoyment of the album.
Opening on Corpus Vile, the first thing to impact is how much the choir element shines through and adds to the atmosphere, with the previously mentioned addition of words. I love the blackened drive to this track which, along with the choral chants of “Immolo in nomine Medicus, Abyssus abyssum invocate, Aegri somnia, Corpus vile,” begin to create a sinister and foreboding air, setting the scene for the horrors that will follow.
This is set further by An Evil Within, a brief interlude of haunting choral voices and piano, opening straight into Dead Silence, a driving but melodic piece that balances strings alongside harsh and clean vocals, with a very organic, repeated ebb and build to the pace. This builds the sinister air of fear that is developing, as the subjects are sealed in the chamber and exposed to the gas and its harrowing effects.
The lines “Silence, dead silence – sleep denied, I don’t want to die, Fear rules my mind, A fate undefined, Awaits us…..” expresses for me, perfectly, the sheer terror building for the subjects.
Keep The Devil Away, which was the first single released from the album, sees the subjects at the six-dose mark, approximately thirty-six to forty-five hours into the experiment. Dr Bettleheim commented in his notes that “Some say that the eyes are a mirror of the soul. If this statement bears any truth, then the subjects’ souls are mired in abject terror. Can they see something that we can’t?”
The dialogue between a subject, and Dr Guzmann, expressing the rising fear levels, is delivered powerfully as a mix of clean and harsh vocals. An utterly engaging track that draws you in, superbly punctuated with choral and symphonic bursts which add to the unfolding drama.
On Slumber Comes In Time, the second single from the album, alongside harsh growls, there are traditional cleans from the choir, which I love. They add a magnificently tense atmosphere, with the finishing touch being that the final verse is delivered in Swedish.
Black Nine is so named because it had descended into a complete disaster by the ninth day of the experiment, primarily due to the preceding twenty-four hours. A frantic, soaring, symphonic beast of a track, it is punctuated with equally fierce guitar work that is part uplifting and part unnervingly urgent, along with fascinating choral work delivered to sound like musical notes. The symphonics burst through, all bound together with an unnervingly harsh and hugely expressive vocal delivery.
The Veiling Of Bettleheim’s Eye is an interlude of haunting symphonics and initially sparse piano notes, building with sinister strings and spoken word, as Dr Bettleheim attempts to contact the subjects who have now obscured the viewing window. This flows into The Revelation, at which point Dr Bettleheim gains access to the chamber and finds a cannibalistic carnage has taken place. They try to turn off the gas, but the subjects go berserk because of its addictive nature.
This musically manifests as a sinister building chant of “Stay Away” alongside acidic, harsh vocals, which, across the whole album, have been delivered with a harrowing degree of clarity of content—along with the clean vocals, building swathes of symphonics and soaring spiralling guitar work, this completes the unnerving mental imagery.
On Keep Cutting, a mix of frantic symphonics and guitar work continues to echo the desperate nature of the situation. There are just three viable subjects left. Attempts are made to save them, but three swiftly becomes one as two more die.
The remainder is a mute, who, on being returned to the chamber, suddenly speaks, before dying, “Have you forgotten so easily? We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all—begging to be liberated at every moment in your deepest animal mind. We are what you hide from in your beds every night. We are what you sedate into silence and paralysis when you go to the nocturnal haven where we cannot tread.”
In his notes, Dr Bettleheim comments that “I thought I heard the words ‘So nearly free’ rumble through the walls all around me. Subject died at that moment.”
The Epilogue, The Madness That Lurks Within, is an eerie and sinister meld of symphonics and a spoken element, which successfully brings down a dark cloud of madness over the whole affair.
Overall, a hugely enthralling and unnervingly engaging listen that you can’t pick favourites from, The Zornheim Sleep Experiment has to be viewed as one entire piece.
The conclusion opens up a whole new chain of thought, for me at least.
In particular, what in Hell’s name will we face on the next visit to the asylum? I guess I will just have to wait and see.
Given that I am still hugely enamoured with their debut album, Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns, which remains on my listening roster four years after its release, I was both nervous and curious as to just where Zornheym would go with this latest release.
They have built on the success of that previous album in a way I could not have imagined, not just expanding and improving on the choir and orchestrations, but in every other aspect.
They have succeeded in pushing their capabilities in composition, content, construct and delivery even further. The level of musicianship and the sheer depth and richness of the layering of the sound is astounding, and I love the complexity and focus of the plot.
Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns quite necessarily set the asylum scene, its inmates and staff. In contrast, The Zornheim Sleep Experiment has an in-depth focus of the experiment and draws the listener even further into the plot and the madness of the asylum.
Overall, an utterly superb album, with music so catchy it will stick in your mind.
With lyrics that will feed your nightmares, anyone into Symphonic Black/Death Metal needs to listen to this album.
It’s that good.
A graphic novel to complement the release is also under construction and will be available soon but until then elements can be previewed in the video below.