To await or to undergo this punishment is to be a Penitent. It all started in 1994, when Karsten Hamre, the founder of Penitent, was obsessed by the idea of combining his poetry with the music, in order to create more powerful atmosphere than one could get by only reading his poems. These poems, emanated from the shadowside of life, reflected his thoughts and visions, which came from deep within the soul and mind. They dealt with themes and topics such as life and death, pain and torture, sorrow and depression.
Acclaimed as "mad poetry", all of them indeed had deep sense. It's obvious that the music also should not be a kind of regular music, but a kind of musical Art, growing on people and becoming something special to each and one of us, in our own way. And Karsten Hamre fully succeeded his goal by creating such unique musical act, recognized as Penitent. Not long after the creation, Asbjørn Log joined the band.
Together they made the material for the band's first and only demo tape, which was recorded at Eternal Damnation studio and released in March 1995. This demo received very good response, and as the result the band got offers from the several labels, from which the well-known Swedish Cold Meat Industry was chosen. The band's debut album "Melancholia" was released in 1996. It was the album of sad and sombre, but majestic synth music, which together with the spoken poetry awoke the most dark and depressive feelings.
During the summer of 1996 Penitent left Cold Meat Industry. In August 1996 Penitent signed for two albums on Draenor Productions, a division of Napalm Records in Austria. During November Karsten Hamre spent his time at Sans & Samling studio and recorded the second Penitent album "The Beauty Of Pain", which represented a drastic step forward for the band. The synth sounds were largely replaced by the piano, and the songwriting reached an utterly spellbinding level of development. Most of the music was written by Asbjørn Log, except the final track, which was written by Karsten Hamre, as well as all the poems were written by him too.
Not everyone could see the beauty, which walks alone with darkness, a beauty that is both attractive and fascinating in a thousand different ways. The title "The Beauty Of Pain" is a metaphor, a way of underlining a deeper meaning, which here is used to illustrate that pain can be beautiful. One has to see it as a unity and not as two separate words. Beauty can be seen as well as experienced, in the changes of autumn, when the leaves slowly change colour and fall from the branches.
Nature holds many beauties, but beauty can also be harsh and in that way it often manifests itself through sorrow, grief, depression and pain. The magical and mystical atmosphere of Norwegian nature always had an enormous influence on Karsten Hamre, and was the source of inspiration to most of his works. "The Beauty Of Pain" was released by Draenor Productions in February 1997 and there is absolutely no doubt, that this work of Neo-Classical Art, already had become a real classic of our times. At about this time Asbjørn Log left the band, and Karsten Hamre became the sole member of Penitent again. In the time hereafter the debut album "Melancholia" was re-released by the German label Prophecy Productions both on CD and picture disk LP.
They came with different artwork and the CD edition had 3 bonus tracks, which were taken from the debut demo of the band. New compositions were made and in late April 1997 Karsten Hamre started to record the third album. It has been entitled "As Life Fades Away" and was finally released in January 1998. On this album, which consists of six instrumental tracks, the music of Penitent develops in mostly classical direction, heavily influenced by the late Baroque period, when court/chamber music was at its height of popularity. In October 1998 Karsten Hamre decided to sign the contracts offered to him from Dark Vinyl Records, for a new album releases for both of his bands Penitent and Arcane Art on their Memento Mori label.
On the 12th of January Karsten Hamre entered Mansion Studio at his native Stavanger to record the 4th Penitent album "Roses by Chaos Spawned". The recording session was completed when the album was finished mastered on January 22nd 1999. This time the vocal parts were done not by the author of the poems Karsten Hamre, but by the new vocalist Mark Andrew Goldfine, whose expressive manner of performance fitted the music very well. Besides him, there is a guest vocal appearance by Ellen White on "A Bleeding Heart Of Desire".
The music on this album is beautiful, sublime and mournful. In general it is prevailed by the variety of orchestral samples, but also piano and organ are taking the leading roles in several compositions, just like it was on "The Beauty Of Pain" album, yet on the track "In Mortal Fear" one can even hear the drums similar to those which were used on the debut "Melancholia". With this new Penitent work Karsten Hamre proves one more time that he is a real artist, for whom the Art is the only and the true way to express the deepness of the emotions he carries inside. Art is a struggle to penetrate as deep as possible into ones soul, and when performing your chosen form of Art you have to work hard to transform your emotions into an everlasting vision, which reflects the true atmosphere of you, your soul and your own personality. From the end of 1999 until May 2000 Karsten`s main focus on making the 5th Penitent album a quite special effort, as he worked on arrangement and choosing the instrumentation for several Beethoven works.
"Maestro Beethoven" was recorded in June, and released in November 2000. In the second half of 2000 an agreement with Counter Attack Productions (Bul) was signed for the release of a special Penitent album, an album that could be seen as a summarizing of the first cycle of Penitent. The album consists of instrumental versions only, re-recordings, remixes/remakes and remasters. Suitably enough one could say the album has been entitled "Reflections of Past Memories". Towards the end of 2000 Penitent got a new family member when Bernt Sunde joined, so then the base of Penitent became a duo. For Karsten and also the future for Penitent Bernt must be the perfect companion, as he is an artist with visions that fits well within Penitent.
A new album, “Songs of Despair” has been recorded and features eight tracks with a total playing time of 45 minutes on the new album. The music on “Songs of Despair” could be described as a mix between darkwave, gothic metal, death/doom metal, theatrical madness with elements from industrial and even black metal. At the end of 2001 Bernt and Karsten decided to end their co-operation. In February 2004 Penitent released their phenomenal seventh studio album in their decade long career. Ever evolving and exploring new dark waters Penitents “Deserted Dreams” was a return to the bands roots with a wink and nod towards today's martial industrial music arena.
Penitent has chosen to blaze forward into the current fever over martial industrial music. Entering the martial industrial music scene successfully is no easy feat with acts such as Sophia, Karjalan Sissit, Predella Avant, and Toroidh already defining and leading the genre forward. The true test for Penitent and Deserted Dreams was if it could contend with its predecessors. Deserted Dreams opened with the song Behind the Mirror, surprisingly devoid of martial drums or other signature martial industrial accents. The music is amazingly delicate and gentle expressing feeling through restraint and subtlety rather than the full on assault often expected of martial industrial music.
Karsten Hamre the man behind Penitent is known for his skill in dark ambient music and on Behind the Mirror this skill is aptly applied. If there is any doubt as to the martial content of the music song two, Transfiguration, lays all doubts to rest. The song begins with snare drums and some of the most moving and beautiful orchestration I have experienced in this genre. Transfiguration really awakens the listener to what Karsten is striving. This song alone ensures this album is poised to be an enormous contribution to the genre.
Rather than pounding the listener into the ground with thundering drums Penitent has created a lighter domain in which martial drums and horns share stage with inspirational atmospherics and orchestral arrangements. The effect is one of delicacy married to martial supremacy. Transfiguration is as epic and powerful as the best Sophia or Toroidh song. I salute Penitent for bringing something original and refreshing into the genre. In October 2004 the follow up, "A Shapeless Beauty", was released.
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