Natural Snow Buildings are a duo from Paris, consisting of Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte. Formed in 1997, they make long droning soundscapes punctuated by psychedelic folk elements, all filtered through an, at times, very lo-fi production. They were extremely popular in the cassette scene during the late 2000s, despite, or perhaps because of their extremely limited runs. Extremely prolific, particularly during 2008 when they put out no fewer than 8 different releases in various formats, their output has waned somewhat in recent years, and you can find a few of their releases in regular physical production from Ba Da Bing! Records (who also have a digital distribution deal). Pirated copies of albums not available from Ba Da Bing! still float around the blogosphere and can be easily obtained (seemingly with the bands’, well maybe not encouragement, but at least indifference) through cursory Googling. Physical versions are much more difficult to obtain, with some releases going for $30 to $50 on Discogs.
I’ll make no secret that, for me, the initial allure of them started, in part, with an attraction towards their elusiveness. Though I had heard an MP3 copy of The Dance of the Moon and the Sun prior to its rerelease in 2008, I didn’t think too much of obtaining it until I saw Students of Decay’s Special Edition release in Aquarius Records’ new releases email. Not only did it contain the original 2CD album, but it also came with 2 exclusive 3” CDrs as well as another exclusive double album called Sunlit Stone. I listened to a bit of the album again, and decided to go for it. However, by the time I went back to Aquarius’ page not only was the Special Edition sold out, but the regular (still limited) edition was gone too. Through some stroke of luck, when I contacted Aquarius they said someone cancelled their order for the regular edition, and I snatched it right up. An obsession was born.
Basic Studies: Folk/lore Music
The Dance of the Moon and Sun is the easiest release to recommend as a starting point. At two and a half hours it might seem a trial by fire, but the actual content of the release is a gentle but appropriate illustration of Natural Snow Buildings’ breadth of styles. Additionally, it is by no means their longest release (we’ll get to that in a bit), but anyway, besides extremely limited pressings, extreme length is another hallmark of a Natural Snow Buildings album. It wouldn’t be a Natural Snow Buildings record if it didn’t take up a good chunk of your afternoon.
I’ll simply link to the full album on YouTube here, that’s not just because it’s an easy thing to do, but the first two tracks, taking up a little over the first 16 minutes, offer a concise illustration of the band’s interests. The first song, “Carved Heart” features Mehdi’s gentle vocals over strummed guitar belying the sinister lyrics about an undying, undead bond. “Cut Joint Sinews & Divided Reincarnation” then slowly looms in. The track changes shape over its 15 minutes, gaining meditative percussion, before losing it and transforming into a drone and ambience. If the gentle folk of “Carved Heart” seems at odds with its lyrics, then the darkness of the lyrics extend in the cinematic tension and horror of the second track.
But despite their obvious interest in horror both as a form and a mood, Natural Snow Buildings never let it become oppressive. There’s beauty to be found in the melancholy “Wisconsin” later in the record:
(A friend of mine, when I told her the title of that song while we were listening to it said, well that’s appropriate because it’s making me depressed).
The first disc ends with the pretty “The Cover Up,” with its extended guitar instrumental outro:
Prior to The Dance of the Moon and the Sun, Natural Snow Building counts three releases in their output: Two Sides of a Horse, a 2001 demo tape given out to a few people; Ghost Folks, initially a run of 50 CD-R copies on hinah in 2002 (now available for free at archive.org); and The Winter Ray, another 2 CD-R, two-and-a-half-hour album self-released in an edition of 15 copies in 2004. For any other band, such scarcity and obscurity would relegate these releases to the dustbin of history. Perhaps, at some point the band would release them as compilation tracks later in their career. But Natural Snow Buildings, for a time, elicited such devotion that the originals were dredged up, ripped and are now shared as much as possible. Incidentally, one copy of Two Sides of a Horse was sold on Discogs for over $500.
These early releases fall much more comfortably into the ‘post-rock’ vein, and could’ve conceivably been released contemporaneously on something like Kranky, or Temporary Residence, if NSB cared to do so. After The Dance of the Moon and the Sun, however the band pivoted slightly and moved much more towards noisey longer drones with a series of cassettes and CD-Rs in 2008. We’ll get to these in the next section. 2008 also saw the release of what some consider the pinnacle of their output: The Snowbringer Cult. This is actually a ‘split’ release of sorts. The first CD features two ‘albums’, one from Solange’s side project, Isengrind, and the other from Mehdi’s side project, Twinsistermoon. The second CD is an 80 minute album by Natural Snow Buildings. This also has the distinction of being one of the few albums to still be readily available: it was re-released by Ba Da Bing! In 2013 and is still available from their website. To be perfectly frank, it’s not one of my favorite releases by them, but I’ll include a link to the YouTube of the full (NSB) album just because it’s a lot of people’s favorite:
No, my favorite album by Natural Snow Buildings, even more than Dance of the Moon and the Sun, is 2009’s Shadow Kingdom. Yet another double CD two-and-a-half-hour opus, this reins in the drone and noise of 2008, but still maintains a darkness unseen on Dance of the Moon and the Sun. I have the triple LP version, shipped from the UK label to the US at an astronomical price. It is a heavy record both physically and sonically. Grok the layers of sound in its opening track ‘Fall of Shadow Kingdom’:
Shadow Kingdom came with a comic book story entitled ‘A Story from Botosani’. Natural Snow Buildings cite their source as Agnes Murgoci’s “The Vampire in Roumania” in Folklore, vol. 37, no. 4 (Dec. 31, 1926), though the librarian in me feels the need to point out that Murgoci cites Ion Creanga, vol. iv, p. 202 as her source for this particular tale. In any case, this story and Natural Snow Buildings’ presentation of it in their record made me realize that they did, perhaps, produce a kind of ‘folk music’, but not anything in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, or even something out of Child Ballads. No, their music is an evocation of the horror of folklore shared on a dark night around the campfire. It’s what the villagers tell Johnathan Harker before he ventures towards the Borgo Pass in Herzog’s Nosferatu.
After Shadow Kingdom, they released several more albums. The most notable for me came out in 2011 and was called Waves of the Random Sea. This was originally intended as a cassette release, but the owner of Blackest Rainbow persuaded them to release it as a full-fledged album on LP and CD. Some people dismissed it as more of the same, but I feel like it’s a great distillation of the sound they achieved on Shadow Kingdom.
In 2015, they released their most accessible album to date, Terror’s Horn. At only 45 minutes, you can’t help but call it a departure. They still maintain a lo-fi experimental quality to their sound, though it’s much more searching here. There’s also not a little bit of Morricone inspiration to some of the sounds. The whole album is worth searching out, but I’ll just leave you with the most immediately sinister track on it:
Advanced Studies: I Dream of Drone
It would be a little ridiculous to label the above section the ‘pop’ Natural Snow Buildings, but a good chunk of Natural Snow Buildings’ releases don’t have the convenient intermissions of shorter lyrical tracks. These releases feature extremely long, probably improvised drones stretched across whole sides of cassettes. It’s a side of Natural Snow Buildings that’s really only hinted at in The Dance of the Moon and the Sun.
The most monumental of these releases is Daughter of Darkness. Originally released by Blackest Rainbow in 2009 as a five cassette box, it totaled over 6 hours of music. I missed purchasing it by a few weeks and, for a time it was my White Whale, spurring me to dig out my cassette deck and, inadvisably start collecting cassettes in the vain hope of catching another super limited cassette before it was too late. Eventually I bought a used copy of it for $75. I mean, what label would be crazy enough to release such a long album? Well, Ba Da Bing did so in 2013 as a 6 CD set (with a few bonus tracks making the total over 7 hours) or an 8 LP set. Listening to this record on 8 LPs seems highly inadvisable. You really need a format that can allow you to let the music wash over you instead of being forced to flip a record over every 20 minutes. The CD sounds better than the cassette version, but I still prefer my old scuzzy cassette set. This type of noise is best experienced scrapped off magnetic tape for some reason. It’s imprecise and blends in well with the hiss.
Daughter of Darkness was not Ba Da Bing!’s first Natural Snow Buildings rerelease. Because of that set’s infamy of excess, that almost would’ve made more sense. Instead Ba Da Bing! Started their (sadly short lived, it seems) rerelease series with the obscure 2008 3xCDr self-release Night Coercion into the Company of Witches. The album opens with Kadja Bosou, featuring a steady vaguely tribal beat increasingly overshadowed by feedback and noise.
Later in the album “Brooms, Trapdoors, Keyholes” overwhelms as NSB’s noisiest piece. And the final 60-minute track, taking up the entirety of the third CD, “The Great Bull God” kind of brings all of the approaches together.
Sadly, not rereleased by Ba Da Bing, or anyone else, is 2008’s melancholy Laurie Bird. “Song for Laurie Bird” is NSB at its least confrontational, most contemplative. A 46 minute, slowly evolving piece meditating on Laurie Bird the 70s actress who committed suicide at 26.
Other drone releases include, Wheel of Sharp Daggers, Sung to the North, and Slayer of the King of Hell. Each of these come in at well over an hour, and feature one to two pieces. They are recommended to the most adventurous.
The most obscure, release by Natural Snow Buildings is probably I Dream of Drone. Apparently a handmade box given to Digitalis Recordings Brad Rose as a gift, it contained copies of three previously released drone albums (Sung to the North, Between the Real and the Shadow, and the second disc of Night Coercion into the Company of Witches) along with two exclusive releases: Battle Gods, and Norns. The Internet being what it is, has captured it ripped it, and released it for your aural pleasure:
NSB continue to release records. Besides Terror’s Horn, they plopped out another “six disc” drone epic for ‘Netlabel Day’ in 2016 called Aldebaran. It’s okay.
1. The Dance of the Moon and the Sun
2. Shadow Kingdom
3. Daughter of Darkness
4. Laurie Bird
5. Terror’s Horn
1. Night Coercion into the Company of Witches
2. Sung to the North
3. The Centauri Agent
4. The Snowbringer Cult
5. Between the Real and the Shadow