Artist: Vacuum Aeterna
Album title: Project:Darkscapes
Release date: 12 May 2017
Label: Cyclic Law
03. Anatomy of a Spirit
04. Liminal Rits
05. Nibela Equinox
06. Control Metamorphose
07. Parasites Fall
Cyclic Law has released a lot of albums recently from well known artists in the post-industrial realm. They are the solid in a sea of fluidity. Fans are likely to know what to expect and without a doubt will find a positive confirmation in their latest release. Vacuum Aeterna is one of the new names to enter the dark ambient scene. Coming from a label like Cyclic Law, there is plenty of reason for fans to pay full attention to this debut.
What listeners will find on Project:Darkscapes is a breath of fresh air. There are certainly the usual dark ambient tropes involved. But the album uses the formula in their own unique way, coming up with something that will be hard to compare to other seemingly similar releases.
The opening track “Kurtz” sets the scene. We are given equal doses of industrial and ambient here. What starts out feeling like it is taking place in a primal setting, deep in a wooded wilderness, soon comes to life, not through some animals or humanity, but through the machinations of a futuristic, highly industrialized world. Yet, as the album progresses, the line between the primal and the mechanical becomes increasingly blurred. It seems that each track shows a different way of confronting this dilemma, a dilemma that speaks volumes about the state of our planet. Standing at a crossroads in time, where we will either fall backward into the life of previous countless generations or storm forward inevitably destroying the remains of the planet in the process, we certainly have a decision to make. Vacuum Aeterna seems to use this premise to make us think hard about where we stand in time.
From a technical standpoint Project:Darkscapes definitely paves its own path. While there could be similarities drawn between this album and something like Paleowolf or Ulf Söderberg, there are some distinct differences making it stand out. The tribal elements are overwhelmingly present. But the feel never moves into a primal ancient era. We somehow continue to feel the futuristic elements presented. The beating of the drums feels simultaneously futuristic and primitive. The drones and field recordings setting the foundation move from an ambient forest to the depths of some highly mechanized facility. The combination of the two seems counter-intuitive, but it somehow comes together smoothly.
The instrumentation used on Project:Darkscapes is uniquely interesting and nuanced. For example, on “Anatomy of a Spirit” there are deep whirling drones providing the foundation. A thumping bass sounds like the beating of a heart. Field recordings and possibly even some vocals can be heard dispersed masterfully throughout the mix. All the while a distorted guitar fades in and out, going from disjointed noises to outright solos. By the close of the track we are left with nothing but a staticy noise that slowly fades out. “Liminal Rites” brings those tribal drums back to the spotlight, though they can barely be considered primal, at times moving much closer to something that would feel natural on an industrial metal album, if only for fleeting seconds. There is always a dichotomy to be faced. One can never settle on a certain style or direction in which the music moves.
While Project:Darkscapes can certainly become quite active at times, it never takes on a disruptively bold persona. If one intends to use it as background music to study, read, or whatever else, it will certainly work, with only a few distractions. Conversely, it has so many interesting takes on the dark ambient genre, so many unique uses of the instrumentation and such a vast catalog of field recording sounds that there is more than enough to keep the focused listener entertained for multiple playthroughs. Each time I hear the album there are several new elements that present themselves, new ideas that take shape.
Vacuum Aeterna has created an album in Project:Darkscapes which is uniquely relevant to our times. It asks the hard questions of humanity and refuses to allow the listener to ignore the warning signs. I could absolutely recommend this to fans of the more primal forms of dark ambient, while there is also much here to entertain fans that prefer a more industrial infused sound. It will be interesting to see where they take their sound next, if they will continue delving into these topics and this format, or if they will veer off into a totally different direction. The level of skill seems to be there to make either a worthy endeavor.
Written by: Michael Barnett