Demen’s Darkly Atmospheric Nektyr Embraces Gloom and Melancholy to Stunning Effect (Review)

The enigmatic Swedish artist’s debut album is dark, shadowy, and veiled, the perfect music for long, lonely winter nights.
Nektyr - Demen

Nature, according to Aristotle, abhors a vacuum. And so does our internet-fueled age. The moment something even appears to be mysterious, we instantly flock to Google, Wikipedia, and social media and do our best to fill up the information vacuum as quickly and thoroughly as possible before moving on to the next “mystery.”

This is doubly true for those music obsessives who track down every last little detail about their favorite artists and albums, from their most obscure influences to the equipment used to achieve that particular sound during the recording process, from ephemera about their childhood to acquiring every single “B” side, alternate version, and outtake.

As enjoyable as it can be to know so much about our favorite artists — if nothing else, it makes them more relatable, especially if you find that you have something even trivial in common with them — something intangible is lost when all mystery is gone. The music no longer needs to stand on its own merits; indeed, it can’t. Instead, whatever we think or feel about an artist’s songs becomes necessarily and inescapably filtered through what we know and feel about the artist themselves, for better or worse.

There’s very little to know about the woman who recorded and released Nektyr under the name Demen. We know her name (Irma Orm), where she’s from (Stockholm, Sweden), and that she might be a graphic artist, and that’s really about it. Not even her own label Kranky seems to know any more than anyone else; she originally reached out to them via anonymous email and took months to send them material between short, succinct exchanges.

With all of this mystery and enigma swirling about Demen, you might wonder what her music actually sounds like. Well, it sounds exactly how you’d expect: dark, shadowy, and veiled, the perfect music for long, lonely winter nights. Straddling the lines between goth, ambient, industrial, and experimental music, Nektyr’s seven songs cast a spell over the listener that recalls classic 4AD artists like This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance, but with a decidedly gloomier pall. If Lisa Gerrard’s rich contralto conjures up angelic visions, then Orm’s own otherworldly voice is that of a forlorn spirit doomed to wander the earth forever in mourning.

Not surprisingly, then, the music on Nektyr is glorious in its embrace of darkness and melancholy. The clattering percussion on “Niorum.” The manner in which “Morgon” transforms into a stirring fantasy epic with Orm’s voice soaring over galloping instrumentation. The murky piano melody that underscores “Korridorer.” The harrowing, cinematic way that “Illdrop” takes shape, with Orm’s plaintive vocals contrasted against towering synths… it’s all so incredibly stirring and powerful, as well as unpredictable given how Orm shapes and structures her songs. Even the album’s most familiar-sounding moment, the Twins Peaks-ish “Ambur,” becomes skewed and off-kilter as it unfolds, though never in an unpleasant way.

All of this shadowy enigma surrounding Demen’s music might easily come off as pretentious and overblown if it weren’t for the fact that the music itself is so effectively haunting and all-encompassing in its gloomily gorgeous vision. Therefore, I say we don’t really need to learn anything more about Irma Orm (if that is, indeed, her real name). Let her continue to release music in semi-anonymity. Nektyr is so well-realized, so singular and powerful in its execution, its sense of atmosphere so bleakly beautiful, that it stands entirely on its own merits.

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