It’s Music Monday! It’s also time for my final post for Sci-fi Month, which I’m sure we can all agree has been fantastic. For today’s post, I will be pairing an album with Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Music Monday is the creation of Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek, and this is my adapted take on it.
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Regular readers might remember me raving about The Left Hand of Darkness before, as part of my You Wouldn’t Want to Live There series. Le Guin’s 1969 novel is written in the form of a report from one Genly Ai, in his role as ambassador to the planet Gethen. He’s there to try and convince them to join The Ekumen, an alliance of worlds populated my multi-faceted humanity. The Gethenians are unsure what to make of his proposal though, and Genly faces considerable obstacles in trying to convince them. Cultural differences abound, but the most fundamental aspect Genly struggles to come to terms with is the ambisexuality of the Gethenians. With their ability to shift sexes, Genly finds himself unsure how to behave towards them, and must learn to overcome his own closemindedness if he’s to stand any chance of completing his mission.
Of course, Genly’s own internal struggles aren’t the only challenge he faces. Gethen was nicknamed Winter by those who scouted it before Genly arrived, and for good reason. The planet is partway through an ice age, which the Gethenians have been able to adapt to; Genly has no such luck, being much more used to warmer climes. He finds this unpleasant enough even in what the planet’s inhabitants would think of as comfortable surroundings, but when forced to trek across the frozen countryside he struggles even more.
Something frosty seems in order then, and for me, there’s one album that springs to mind instantly. Its title even sounds like it could be the name of a port on Gethen.
Winter’s Gate is the seventh studio album from Finnish melodeath band Insomnium, and follows their highly successful 2014 effort Shadows of the Dying Sun. It’s the band’s only concept album, and consists of one single forty-minute-long track, itself based on a short story by bassist and vocalist Niilo Sevänen.
In said story, a party of Vikings capture a man who tells them of an island of treasure and gold off the coast of Ireland. They set out to find it, despite the fact that winter is approaching, and at first their gamble appears to have paid off. They discover huge golden statues of fearsome creatures, too heavy for even the strongest of them to lift, as well as a young girl by herself. A mysterious stone gate in the mountainside fires their greed still further, as they are convinced more treasures lay behind it. It’s not long before winter moves in though, and with it, the savage mysteries of the island reveal themselves.
Fleeing for his life, Asbjörn, son of the chief, is reliant on the young island girl Síne to guide him to safety, just as Genly finds himself dependent on a Gethenian to do the same for him across a similar landscape. The wind howls around both characters as other dangers lie in wait in the swirling snow, Insomnium conveying the situation through their emotional and evocative music and Le Guin through her stunning prose.
Opening with gusting winds, you might feel yourself shivering involuntarily – I myself once put this album on and looked out of my window to find it had started snowing, completely out of the blue, which was pretty magical. Elsewhere, the album has all the usual Insommium hallmarks, with swelling, anthemic moments trading with rawer ones. Harsh vocals, luscious chorus style ones and menacing spoken word lyrics are all utilised to great effect to deliver one of the band’s most unique albums.
And with that, my Sci-fi Month schedule is complete. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, as well as my reviews and other bits and pieces as part of this celebration of science fiction. If you would like to buy your own copy of The Left Hand of Darkness, you can do so through this affiliate link.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Imyril at There’s Always Room For One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for all the work they’ve put in to make Sci-fi Month such a great event. I’ve loved seeing what other people have come up with, and have unsurprisingly added more books to my TBR as a result of all the great reviews and insightful discussions that have come out of the last few weeks. Rest assured that I’ll be back for more next year!
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