Month: February 2018

Northaunt – Istid III – Review

Artist: Northaunt
Album: Istid III
Release date:
Label: Glacial Movements

Tracklist:
01. Part I
02. Part II
03. Part III
04. Part IV
05. Part V

I’m happy to be reviewing the second Northaunt release in recent months. The last one, Night Paths (which can be read about & heard here), was a compilation of previously unreleased Northaunt material from the last decade. He decided to polish and release those tracks while waiting on the release of this third part of the Istid series, a proper full album of new material.

Northaunt, as many of you may know at this point, has been one of my favorite dark ambient artists since I first discovered the genre. I have a profound love for northern landscapes and, for me, this music most closely defines that in a dark ambient format. Through the various albums we’ve heard a variety of different themes which all fall under the banner of this northern climate and landscape. Though recently, it has been in a more defined form than in the past. With Istid now moving into its third chapter, Hærleif Langås is giving us an extended look at this particular theme.

In the liner notes for Istid I-II, Northaunt tells us of previous ice ages and how quickly they may have came and went, swallowing continents in their wake. This theory has been played out in great detail recently by various scientists and researchers. Particularly to my knowledge, Graham Hancock & Randall Carlson speak of the evidence of previous Ice Age progressions and recessions that were devastating to life on all parts of Earth. The Istid series gives us snapshots of various points in time during these cyclical events.

Especially in the beginning, Northaunt had a style of polar ambient which seemed closer to human emotion. However, as Horizons and Istid I-II came along, humanity was less involved in the vision. But with Istid III, we are starting to hear the return of humanity through various samples of people speaking, mostly in a language I don’t speak, so I can’t comment on that part. But whether it is the woman in “Part II” or the old man in “Part IV” it adds a hazy look at human emotion in a way reminiscent of early Northaunt and also Langås’ newer album Silent Heart by The Human Voice.

Going into the final track there is a thick frigid wind billowing prominently in the background behind some of the best guitar work present in Langås’ repertoire. It sets us in these dark frozen landscapes, gazing across a glaciated horizon with flecks of ice burning our cheeks in a way that many of us rarely or never will experience. This has always been the beauty of Northaunt, the music transports us to these places and shows us their best and their worst aspects.

As I said earlier about Alchymeia by raison d’être (in a recent review here), this is a tour-de-force by Northaunt. Langås has been working these various aspects of his Northaunt sound since the late 90s. Istid III brings the old together with the new in a unique way giving us the best of both worlds. This release is also a step outside the ordinary, as it’s been released through Glacial Movements, a label out of Italy that specializes in various types of polar ambient soundscapes. This should hopefully bring a new group of listeners to the Northaunt sound, as all the die-hard listeners will certainly find their way to his work regardless. My only regret is that I would love to have the Istid III vinyl sitting on my shelf beside the Istid I-II set. But, maybe the release could still find its way to Cyclic Law in the future for a vinyl release, or maybe Glacial Movements will start to head in that direction too, as many labels have opted to in recent years.

Of course, this should be highly recommended to any lovers of dark ambient. Northaunt has had a pretty broad and consistent following since the debut years ago and Istid III is only going to reinforce listeners’ feelings about his music.

Written by: Michael Barnett

nota bene: You can also read a recent interview we conducted with Langås of Northaunt here.

Martyria – Self-titled – Review

Artist: Martyria
Album: Martyria
Release date: 8 January 2018
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. Logos
02. Pneuma
03. Nekros
04. Nyx
05. Eschaton

Ambient music often carves out paths to enlightenment by providing head-spaces for spiritual and emotional self-discovery. In this way, the style connects back to the origins of musical expression as a whole, in which ancient peoples used chants and rhythms to facilitate reconciliations with their place in the universe. This cross-section of ambient and traditional world music is where Martyria find themselves. Using tribal instruments and ancient eschatological texts as their basis, Martyria scour the vanguard of ritualistic music at the very foundation with their debut LP.

Martyria don’t treat their instrumentation like a crutch. George Zafiriadis (didgeridoo, synth and ozark harp) and Lena Merkouri (Percussion and Wind Instruments) effortlessly evoke both the sonic and numinal qualities of apocalyptic mythologies. Their synthesis of ritual ambient and atmospheric world music carries a purpose far beyond a spooky aura — as exemplified by the ominous bell cadence, archaic drum pulse and droning throat singing of opening track “Logos.” Both musicians employ their sarcophagic vocal serenades, plunging the listener into malignant prophecies. Rustic synths fill in the sonic space, making an already expansive soundscape completely massive.

Martyria use the most resonant and monolithic qualities of their instruments to create their unique aura. Zafiriadis’s didgeridoo and ozark harp hardly function as exotic relics, taking the reigns of “Pneuma” and deepening the roots of its terminative tale. Echoes of rhythm linger and overlap in the song’s arrangement, which in this case function more to vectorize the song’s atmosphere rather than to confine it to a rigid structure. This unconscious movement allows Merkouri’s stirring byzantine melodies to find footholds rather than aimlessly drift, evidencing the project’s primeval elements, while allowing them to express their own inner dialogues.

“Nekros” divulges into less world music tendencies, allowing synth and processed samples and vocalizations to drive its amorphous labyrinth. The song’s emotional crescendo reveals some of the most fearful passages in the record, encapsulating the forlorn dread coinciding with fatal premonitions. While similar armageddon-centered music often evokes the terror of its subject matter as they imagine it occurring, Martyria hovers spectrally through the ashes of crumbled civilizations and bears witness to humanity’s end. With their aboriginal substratum intact, Zafiriadis and Merkouri confront the ultimate finality of existence and presents a unique vantage point from which to explore universal destiny.

Though the aforementioned track makes more overt use of modern synthesizers, this album’s seamless integration of the modern and the prehistoric allows it to remain entirely unified in its vision. “Nyx” remains perfectly balanced in this regard, with its distant chants and thudding percussion seemingly echoing off catacomb walls. Even the electronic drones hark back to a time long past, bolstering a ghostly flute melody as they illuminate mysterious sacraments. Additional voices and soundscapes trickle into the mix, filling the atmosphere so tactfully that one might not realize their submergence until the song releases its grip on the senses.

Howling winds begin the last and longest track “Eschaton,” as Merkouri’s spellbinding laments beckon listeners into the shaman’s cave for one last rite of passage. She and Zafiriadis create a cyclopean choral, free-flowing from hair-raising shrieks to oceanic swells. Their ability to simultaneously build tension to a breaking point while assuaging the listener into a trance, imparting a state of mental limbo between paranoia and prayerful tranquility. This particular track’s use of field recordings emphasize the transportive qualities of this record.

Martyria aren’t interested in simply recording interesting textures, instead taking listeners to the source through their authentically mystical expression. From its opening bell toll until its last notes fade into the annals of time, this tremendous debut succeeds not only as an incredible amalgamation of ritual ambient and world music, but an exercise in eschatological internalization.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

raison d’être – Alchymeia – Review

Artist: raison d’être
Album: Alchymeia
Release date: 31 January 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Nigredo
02. Albedo
03. Citrinitas
04. Rubedo

raison d’être has been one of the most beloved and recognizable names in the genre of dark ambient for over 20 years. His early work on the Cold Meat Industry label would be inspiration for numerous artists that came after him. His style of dark industrial soundscapes blended with contorted chants is immediately recognizable and often imitated, but never duplicated.

It’s crazy how much can change over a few years. For many young dark ambient listeners, raison d’être may not even be a familiar name. While he made huge waves in the late 90s through early 00s, recent output by raison d’être has been less frequent and less impactful on the scene. Meanwhile, veteran listeners are still playing their old copies of The Empty Hollow Unfolds or Within the Depths of Silence and Phormations like they are hearing them for the first time.

Photo by: Mia Vaattovaara 2008

Alchymeia struck me immediately as a so-called return-to-form. Veteran listeners should find everything they love about raison d’être in this release. The samples of a thousand clattering bells, chimes and random metallic objects are present through every track. The drones are sometimes crushing and sometimes light as a feather. But the thing that will likely be the most welcome is the frequency of chants.

The recurring complaint I’ve heard from dark ambient fans over the last few years was that there has been too much of the harsh industrial elements and not enough of the sort of dark beauty which raison d’être is so masterful at weaving. Albums like metamorphyses and Mise en Abyme were perfectly hypnotic and showcased the work of a veteran musician. But they didn’t have that heart-melting impact of some of the earlier classics. Alchymeia finds a perfect balance between the new and the old. The industrial elements are still bold and mixed prominently into the tracks, but those other elements, the delicate play on chants which create a sort of perverse beauty, have added just the right amount of emotion to the album.

The opening track “Nigredo” gives us an introduction to the theme of the album. Alychymeia is a look at the various elements of alchemy, from its dark mystical conjurations to its more practical uses. The topic seems fitting for an album with such a bold blend of the religious with industrial. A sort of melding of emotion and science. “Nigredo” in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. Many alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone, all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. So, too, this opening track can be viewed as an entryway to the greater product.

“Albedo” takes a more reserved approach. It may give listeners a bit of a nostalgic feeling as it has some similarities to some older favorites like “The Mournful Wounds” from the Collected Works compilation of compilation tracks release, originally on Perception Multiplied… released in 2003 on CMI. Again, the title has a strong connection to alchemy. We can see in the following definition that all four of these track titles have a specific significance in alchemy. “In alchemy, albedo is one of the four major stages of the magnum opus; along with nigredo, citrinitas and rubedo. It is a Latinicized term meaning “whiteness”. Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo.”¹

Photo by: Roger Karmanik 2015

“Albedo” really brings the idea to fruition of a washing away of impurities. That deep dark male chant which dominated the beginning of the track gently fades away and is later replaced by a female choir chanting a piece which is incredibly beautiful. It seems to radiate a sense of hope and levity which is in total opposition to anything we’ve previously heard on the album.

“Citrinitas” and “Rubedo” continue to move on in this fashion. Each track of the album working with the themes of each of the four alchemical stages. These four stages are all preparation of the magnum opus in alchemy. The magnum opus being the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It is not hard to imagine Alchymeia as the magnum opus of raison d’être. A return to form after years, Alchymeia is sure to delight and fully enrapture listeners. It is the perfect modern connection to the older works of raison d’être. If Peter Andersson will see this as his defining and final work, we will all likely hope for otherwise. But it is undoubtedly defining. It takes all the elements Andersson has been perfecting over two decades (closing in on three decades) of music creation and puts them to perfect use. The darkness is as dark as anywhere else in his discography, and the light is soul-gripping, heart-rendingly beautiful. Alchymeia is, in my humble opinion, the album we’ve all been waiting for from raison d’être. Truly a magnum opus in every sense.

Written by: Michael Barnett

1. R. van den Broek, Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times. SUNY Press. 1998. p.158-159

 

Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal – Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri & Herbst9
Album: Ur Djupan Dal
Release date: 23 January 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Mot Främmande Land
02. Sov Ej Hos Kvinna, Som Är Kunnig I Trolldom
03. Österländska Tempel
04. Ur Evighetens Pipa
05. Vida Jättars Väg
06. Blott Den Vet Som Vida Reser
07. Drakhuvud
08. Händer Skola Hålla Hårda Yxor
09. Den Döda Trollkvinnan

The protagonist comes from the far north, but has awoken in the lands of the middle east during the earliest times of human civilization. Ur Djupan Dal takes place in the fertile crescent of ancient Mesopotamia. During this period, the “Cradle of Civilization”, humans began to create magnificent cities like the fabled Eridu, Uruk, and Ur of Sumer (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait), some origins of which go back further than 5000 BCE.

Longtime fans of Herbst9 will be very familiar with this setting. Over the last two decades, Herbst9 have been utilizing the medium of dark ritual ambient to take listeners on a journey into the ancient past. Their destination of preference has always been the fertile crescent, looking at the ancient Akkadian and Sumerian civilizations, especially in the Mesopotamian trilogy which includes: Buried Under Time and Sand, The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon, and the masterpiece Ušumgal Kalamma, a double disc which closes the series.

Herbst9, as well as Atrium Carceri, are no strangers to collaboration. They recently released their magnificent collaboration with Penjaga Insaf on their own Shortwave Transmission label. Fans will also fondly remember their decade-old collaboration with Z’EV, who has unfortunately passed on this year. But, a noteworthy difference here might be pointed out; Ur Djupan Dal is the first of the Herbst9 collaborations to use the connector “&” instead of “vs”. This gives me the impression that they might have collaborated a little more closely with Atrium Carceri than on these previous endeavors, which may have been more akin to one artist sending a fully realized product to a second artist and having them present their work “against” the original, instead of “alongside” the original. However, without actually asking the artists, guessing may be pointless and fruitless.

Looking at the collaborations of Atrium Carceri, we can begin to enter an exhaustive rundown of everything from close one-on-one collaboration, to other artists borrowing from his lore, to the massive 20+ artist collaborations that are the Cryo Chamber Lovecraft series. While the list may be exhaustive, the content has been consistently memorable, with some of my favorite dark ambient releases, for instance Onyx with Apocryphos and Kammarheit, falling under this tag.

While the story seems to be independent of anything which has happened in the proper Atrium Carceri lore, there are certainly connections to be made. The Atrium Carceri lore was never based on just one individual. It has, instead, focused on multiple main characters over multiple locations and timelines. So, adding one more character and timeline to the list isn’t exactly unwarranted here. Taking some liberties: it seems like the story is based around a man from the Scandinavian region (timeframe uncertain), falling asleep by the sorcery of some enchantress and awakening in the distant past thousands of miles away in the fertile crescent, roughly the modern day Middle East. The character is immediately certain that there has been a vast change, but as he moves through the ancient city, he slowly realizes where he has gone, and takes in the beauty of this city in the ancient world, its architecture and its religion.

The story truly captivates me in the third track, “Österländska Tempel”. Here it is the easiest to close one’s eyes and imagine themselves in this ancient city. As the protagonist nears the temple, we are given suspenseful and contemplative dronework. The music sort of guides us through the opening of the doors to this great temple. As the doors open the protagonist becomes fully enraptured. The music builds to a wonderfully divine climax as the doors open. The protagonist is bombarded with the architecture, paintings, symbolisms, and rites of a long lost civilization. He becomes so totally enraptured that his head grows dizzy, he sways in place as a plume of frankincense burns his nostrils. This is a scenario that fully plays out in my mind each and every time I listen to “Österländska Tempel”.

The story seems to end by returning to the enchantress from the previous time and place on the track “Den Döda Trollkvinnan”. Roughly translated to English as “The Dead Sorceress”, this track seems to be a reflection on the events that have just come to pass, as the protagonist stands by the funeral pyre of the enchantress or sorceress whom seems to have been a sort of antagonist for the tale. These three above defined scenarios are the only ones that I would be willing to give my opinion on. As always in the cinematic dark ambient style, listeners will be encouraged to fill in the blanks on their own, with their own ideas and narratives.

From a technical standpoint, the album is quite successful in finding a harmonious unity among the three artists involved. Frank Merten and Henry Emich of Herbst9, as well as Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri, have all created music which could be easily recognizable along side this collaboration. Meaning, they are not breaking the wheel on this release. We will not find some brand new sort of sound here which we could have never imagined would come from these two projects. When listening to Ur Djupan Dal, fans of both projects will constantly hear familiar sounds and techniques which have been perfected by their creators over the not-so-short histories of both projects. For example, Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 have both included a fair share of percussion in their previous works. So here, we will not be surprised to hear a lot of well-placed tribalistic percussion sections on numerous tracks.

Another shared feature of both projects, which particularly stands out on Ur Djupan Dal, is the delivery of vocal passages. In these we should be able to glean some further knowledge about the storyline. In the voice modulation which is often used in his Atrium Carceri project, Simon Heath recites several passages throughout the album. Some of these passages seem to be his own work, while others can be traced back to various H.P. Lovecraft works. On “Vida Jättars Väg” Simon recites two passages from H.P. Lovecraft. The first,

“I have seen the dark universe yawning where the black planets roll without aim. Where they roll within their horror unheeded. Without knowledge or lustre or name.”

is from the poem “Nemesis”. While the second passage,

“The most merciful thing in the world, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

comes from story “The Call of Cthulhu”. The addition of Lovecraftian lore into the equation really begins to uncover the connections Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 are making between their seemingly divergent sets of lore and themes. The idea of time-travel and obnoxious gods reeking havoc on humanity fits squarely within the Atrium Carceri framework. Meanwhile, Herbst9 are masters of the ancient world. So, in connecting the two ideas and the two masters of these ideas, listeners are dealt the best possible outcome of a connection between these times and worlds.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Cryo Chamber decided to give this release the vinyl option. Now the third vinyl release on Cryo Chamber, we have yet again a title which showcases the recent collaborations of Atrium Carceri. Just as on the first two, Black Corner Den with Cities Last Broadcast, and Miles To Midnight with Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect, Simon Heath has opted to take releases in this direction which are sure to bring in a large crowd, a prudent tactic for any label opting to branch into untraversed territory.

Ur Djupan Dal should be a welcome release for any listeners that have been following the “second wave of dark ambient”. Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 have both been performing at the top of their game for over a decade each. Ur Djupan Dal is a perfect example of how artists can come together to create not only sounds which delight, but storylines which have direct connections to each of their past works. I would recommend this album to any dark ambient listeners who enjoy the perfect blend of ritual, cinematic and traditional dark ambient music.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea – Review

Artist: Bridge To Imla
Album: The Radiant Sea
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Prologue: The Kuroshio Current
02. Tsushima Basin
03. Shatsky Rise
04. The Aleutian Current
05. Hikurangi Plateau
06. Mariana Trench
07. Louisville Ridge
08. The California Current
09. Richards Deep
10. Raukumara Plain
11. Emerald Fracture Zone
12. Fobos-Grunt
13. The Humboldt Current
14. Galathea Depth
15. Epilogue: Ring of Fire

Bridge to Imla is the new ambient / Berlin School project by artists Hans-Dieter Schmidt and Michael Brückner. Both artists are veterans of the wider ambient music genres and have been releasing music under various projects for decades. The Radiant Sea is their first collaboration.

The Radiant Sea is an ode to the Pacific Ocean. The theme of the album is two-fold. It partially is a telling of the Fukushima Disaster in Japan, and a warning against allowing these sorts of disasters to happen in the future. But it is also a love-song to the Pacific, a look not only at its majesty, but also at its ability to heal the planet. Our oceans help greatly in keeping the atmosphere clean, absorbing much of the toxins we create and discard. So, it is, in some instances, the only thing holding us back from fully disrupting our planet’s fragile eco-systems.

The music on the album is quite diverse. There are elements of many different sub-genres within the greater ambient spectrum. Fans of the Berlin School sound will find much to love here. It is also telling that they sought the mastering skills of Robert Rich, as much of the album fits nicely with his tastes and skill-sets. There are certainly elements of dark ambient which rise and fall throughout the album, particularly on the opening track, “Prologue: The Kuroshio Current”, we can hear some deep, menacing dronework which brings to mind the Northaunt opus, Horizons. Throughout the album, as well, we can hear drones which greatly relax the mind and lull the listener toward a sleepy half-aware state of consciousness. Yet, as a whole, the album is less routed in dark ambient than readers will find on most of the releases we cover. However, that isn’t to say that this should be ignored by those listeners which only are interested in that crushing darkness, it touches the genre in many ways throughout its entirety and will have plenty of things for dark ambient lovers to enjoy along the way.

The drones are well crafted and give the album that particularly dreamy feeling, but they aren’t always at the forefront. Much of the album is filled with field recordings, voice samples and instrumentation, which all come together to keep it incredibly entertaining, easily enjoyable as the primary point of focus for listeners. “The Humboldt Current” is a great example of this, with crystalline drones backing a beautiful wind instrument section, which give it a wonderful sort of meditative Eastern feel.

Then there are tracks like “Louisville Ridge” which lean heavily into the Berlin School / electronica side of the spectrum. The track is filled with synthesizer sections which give the listener an almost psychedelic feeling. This psychedelic element crops up often throughout the album, without becoming comical or overused. Often the subtle ways in which drones shift can play with the mind of the listener, especially if they are listening to this as they prepare to fall asleep.

The album becomes an all around success with the help of Robert Rich and the Winter-Light label. Robert Rich was brought in to master the release. Putting his decades of experience in the ambient genre to work, polishing the album to a pristine perfection. Once handed off to the Winter-Light label, The Radiant Sea was given beautiful cover-art, as well as a high quality 6-panel digipak, making the physical release as enticing as its stripped down digital-only alternative.

Bridge To Imla delivered a strong debut. An album which could have only been created by artists with a lifetime’s experience in the field of ambient soundscapes. The album is equally as delightful when given full undivided attention as it is when played in the background, as an augmentation to some other activity. After this strong debut, we can hope to see more albums like this in the coming years from these two gentlemen. Until then, there should be many hours of enjoyment as one floats along on The Radiant Sea!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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