Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 9)

Sky Burial – Chapel Image – Review

Artist: Sky Burial
Album: Chapel Image
Release date: 1 October 2017
Label: Wrotycz Records

01. Chapel Image


It’s been a while since the last time I reviewed a Sky Burial album. But it’s one of these projects which are difficult to forget about, even when it is quiet about them for a longer period of time, because each release by Mike Page is like an epic journey, like watching the Earth from the perspective of the stratosphere, when you get the bigger picture. Literally and metaphorically.

This time we get only one monumental track lasting 45 minutes. “Chapel Image” came out through the effort of Wrotycz Records from Poznan, Poland. Iwona and Szymon produce about 2-3 releases a year, yet you can always be sure of the high quality and – what’s perhaps the most important – their honest and unconditional love of each and every record they work on.

And what’s not to love about “Chapel Image”? Maybe the cover as I really find this picture rather ugly. As for the music though, once again we get an epic ambient form in equal proportions deriving from the dark branch of the genre, the ethereal and the noisy/experimental one. The music is waving, slowly changing shapes and atmospheres, you don’t even notice when the turbulent “earthly” noise transforms into a spectral journey into the unknown. It pulsates slowly like the cosmos combining the massive drones with the multitude of different sounds and effects, natural and digital.

You may think of dozens of expressions to describe Sky Burial music, but “intimate” or “austere” definitely are not one of these. Michael Page surely knows how to overwhelm the listener with his vision and this album proves it once again.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

Danny Mulhern – Reflections on a Dead Sea – Review

Artist: Danny Mulhern and London Contemporary Orchestra
Album: Reflections on a Dead Sea
Release date: 10 November 2017
Label: 1631 Recordings

01. Ganfuda
02. Captive
03. Night
04. Libya
05. Clandestine
06. Undercurrents
07. In the Hands of Strangers
08. The Dead Sea
09. My Child’s Name is Hope
10. Libya (Instrumental)

The cross-pollination of classical and ambient music is nothing new, as exemplified by more minimalist strains of the former coincided with the latter’s atmospheric entrenchment. Their shared evocative nature also gave them common ground in film scores, which Danny Mulhern’s newest outing proves as the London-based contemporary composer blurs the lines between modern classical and dark ambient to a magnificent effect.

Originally conceived as the score for a short film released last year called The Dead Sea, which follows the story of Libyan refugees caught trying to enter Europe, Reflections on a Dead Sea is the product of Mulhern’s collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Two violinists, a violist, a cellist, a harpist and a pianist join ranks and wash over the listener with arresting austerity.

The longest and most formed track on Reflections, “Libya” demonstrates Mulhern’s concern for modernized production within his orchestral pieces. Over a ritualistic chant, the song’s swaying lines find support from a sampled bass pulse and intentional use of white noise. This combination between traditional and synthetic sounds captivates with its gushing crescendos, yet remains intimate in its lurking dread. In fact, the album’s conclusion reprises this instrumental maze, proving its re-playability while emphasizing its instrumental strength.

Though certainly minimal, Reflections diverts from ambient conventions with its relative brevity. Five of these songs fall short of two-minute mark, none rise above five minutes and the album itself clocks in at 27. While those looking for something to soak in might find this underwhelming, Mulhern proves that length isn’t the only means of effectively transporting listeners out of a state of mind. Mulhern’s ensemble gives every track a unique stamp of musicality, pulling the album out of nebulous gloom and molding it into something undeniably memorable.

Whether it be the immense soundscape created by Oliver Coates’ cello and Vicky Lester’s harp in “Night” — along with piano interplay between Katherine Tinker and Mulhern — or the subterranean swells and thuds in “Clandestine,” these shorter cuts create their own vibes while bolstering the emotional weight of longer ones. Time limits certainly don’t stop “Undercurrents” and the title track from finding their respective footing in purposeful atonality, tremolo trills, and gargantuan drones (“My Child’s Name Is Hope” even pulls off a convincing arrival point in just over a minute). Of course, it goes without saying that the longer cuts allow Mulhern to truly shift reality for the listener.

Amorphous phrasing and chords envelop the listener in “Ganfuda” as the tonality of each instrument gushes through speakers and pulverizes the senses, while densely arranged cuts like “Captive” submerge the listener in monolithic textures. As it consistently avoids convention, the core of Reflections remains one of stark darkness.

“In The Hands Of Strangers” represents the most uplifting point of the record, but it still features an overarching sense of melancholy. The movie it bolsters certainly imparts beauty within suffering, and this song embodies this quality spectacularly. Harp and piano provide a melodic and modulative nucleus from which the other musicians blossom into heart-rending progressions. Though the tale he tells is marred with tragedy, Mulhern’s music still finds room to impart aspiration to the listener.

Minimalism and atmosphere are nothing new to contemporary composers like  Danny Mulhern, but Reflections on a Dead Sea bridges the gap between dark ambient and modern classical in ways not often heard on either ends of the spectrum. Rich compositional potential commingles with introspective sonic platitudes, yielding a profoundly stimulating experience.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Aeoga – Obsidian Outlander – Review

Artist: Aeoga
Album: Obsidian Outlander
Release date: 18 May 2017
Label: Aural Hypnox

01. Initiatory Boil
02. Rot-Magnetism
03. The Black Loom
04. Obsidian Towering
05. Outer Observatory
06. The Sublime Canvas

(Note: I would usually place an embed link to the music here. Aural Hypnox doesn’t sell their albums in digital versions and thus there are no online players which I can use. The album can be found un-officially on Youtube, but I would urge readers, especially those new to Aural Hypnox, to give this album a try in its physical version as intended by the label and artists.)

Aeoga is a solo project by Antii Haapapuro, one of the founding members of the Aural Hypnox label. He is also part of other Aural Hypnox projects including Arktau Eos, Halo Manash and I.Corax. Beginning in 2004, Aural Hypnox entered the dark ambient / ritual ambient industry of music. Surrounded by labels like Cyclic Law, Malignant Records and Cold Meat Industry, Aural Hypnox made a name for themselves with their uncompromising attention to uniqueness and detail as well as a rigorous do-it-yourself attitude.

Beginning with their debut, Coav: AH02, Aeoga set about on their mission “To exhaust mind and body in order to obtain a condition of non-consciousness and thus receive, realize and create material based on both primal and absent vision”. Over the following decade Aeoga would continue to adhere to their primary goal and simultaneously improve upon their musical performance. Now with their latest release, Obsidian Outlander, Aeoga break new ground as the first project on the label to release an album in the vinyl format.

It should be little surprise that this vinyl release is beautifully realized and given all the care and attention expected of an Aural Hypnox release. The vinyl edition comes in two variants: gold or the more limited silver variant. The album, in its vinyl or CD versions, comes with three art prints with text about the album on their reverse sides.

The album opens with “Initiatory Boil” which incorporates rattling chains, ominous pads and a variety of other field recordings to set the tone and atmosphere for the album. “Rot-Magnetism” follows with manipulated loops that create a dream-like atmosphere, which bring to mind the works of Kammarheit. These loops are built upon with field-recordings of strange mechanical noises which give the track a duality of super-natural and industrial influence. Treated voices are heard emerging from the background, as if lost souls are calling from just beyond the void, reaching out to the musician as the lines of his craft are blurred, between the creation of music and the strong ritual presence, which drenches all releases on the Aural Hypnox label.

“The Black Loom” and “Obsidian Towering” take a more traditional ritual ambient role than the rest of the album, using chants and tribal drums to build their foundations. Whereas we were previously winding through mystical realms residing outside the laws of space and time, these two tracks ground us in our earthly haunts. The minimal nature of these tracks do not take away from their potency. They work as a captivating bridge between the two halves of the release.

“Outer Observatory” is one of the highlights of the album. Gently morphing synth, melts into distorted dronework and minimalistic field recordings to create an atmosphere that could be considered the most straight-forward dark ambient on Obsidian Outlander. The shifts in intensity take it from subdued soundscapes into harsher territories reminiscent of Yen Pox. The beauty is in the masterful handling of these dynamics, moving between two opposing elements, without any clashes in atmospherics.

While Aural Hypnox has long been known for the quality and craftsmanship of their CD and cassette releases, Obsidian Outlander gives us the first taste of what to expect for the future of Aural Hypnox. The enthusiasm in the market for vinyl releases has made it possible for many of these smaller but well-established and respected labels to take the plunge into this format. The Obsidian Outlander vinyl comes in a beautiful and unique package and I can only imagine what Aural Hypnox will come up with for coming releases to keep delivering on their mission to create premium physical releases in this medium.

For those familiar with the previous works of Aural Hypnox, and Aeoga in particular, there should be little motivation needed to purchase this release. For those, likely many, dark ambient fans that have not experienced the music from this label, Obsidian Outlander is a great starting point. It showcases some of their more stripped down ritual ambient style, while other parts of the album move into that more subtle and hypnotic territory, which I find to be such a draw to these projects.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Svartsinn – Mørkets Variabler – Review

Artist: Svartsinn
Album: Mørkets Variabler
Release date: 31 October 2017
Label: Cyclic Law

01. And In This Cloak Of Darkness I Cast My Shadow Short (Ghost Boy)
02. Doubt As Sin (Nietzsce’s Lament)
03. Echoes Of Silent Cries (Among The Sea Of Trees)
04. In The Wake Of Azathoth (A Lovecraftian Epilogue)
05. Yearning Part 2 (Å Kjenne På Ensomheten)
06. Where No Other Can Follow (Demon Stalker)
07. Vemod (Cello Mix)

Svartsinn has long been lauded as one of the foremost names in the dark ambient genre. He is one of a number of renowned Scandinavian dark ambient musicians that have left their mark on dark ambient since the earliest parts of its second wave. Where Svartsinn differs from his fellow countrymen is in the general themes of his music. Svartsinn, more so than almost any other musician in the genre, conjures images of pure darkness like a true master. This is the sort of darkness we can expect from horror films, not in its execution, not like a horror soundtrack, but in its ability to invoke a pure crushing sense of darkness. The darkness of shadows, dark sorcery and the depths of a demented murderer’s mind.

Svartsinn first caught the attention of the dark ambient world in 2000 with his debut, Devouring Consciousness on Eibon Records. Following this release, he was part of the seminal release Nord Ambient Alliance. Along with his fellow Scandinavian dark ambient artists Northaunt and Kammarheit, Svartsinn would go on to become one of the most recognizable acts on the Cyclic Law label, a label to which he still calls home to this day. Yet in this time, we have only seen four previous full-length releases, Mørkets Variabler being the fifth.

While many artists become prolific in their release of new material, Svartsinn broods over his releases for years on end. He makes sure to create something that will easily stand the test of time, each becoming an integral element of his discography. Though his last proper full-length release was way back in 2009, its opener track “Vemod” can still be seen as a perfect example of how truly dark, dark ambient can sound.

As mentioned previously, “Vemod” has arguably become the most familiar and favored track of Svartsinn‘s career. One of the main changes in his style of sound can be perfectly reflected in the rendition of this track on Mørkets Variabler. The closer of Mørkets Variabler, “Vemod (Cello Mix)”, showcases the talents of Svartsinn‘s recent partner in darkness. Amund Ulvestad has been traveling with Svartsinn for the last few years. They have conducted Svartsinn live performances as a duo, with Jan Roger Pettersen as the dark ambient maestro and Amund Ulvestad applying his cello work atop the soundscapes. Amund Ulvestad has now been brought into the studio alongside Pettersen to contribute his cello talents to a great portion of Mørkets Variabler. Though we know he is on a portion of the album, the specific tracks are not named, so we can keep our ears and minds open to those subtle cello sounds, permeating much of the release.

Speaking of subtleties, Svartsinn, in my mind, has always been one of the more subtle of dark ambient artists in his execution of soundscapes. Much of his catalog of songs is steeped in eerie sounds which linger in the background, building up a nuanced but potent atmosphere. Mørkets Variabler deviates a good bit from this template. Much, if not all, of this album is bold and thick with atmospherics. The most direct example of this is in the use of vocal samples through a portion of the album. There are Gregorian chants, which fit perfectly into the background of “Doubt As Sin (Nietzsce’s Lament)”. The same track closes with haunting female whispers. I will leave it to the listeners to discover her exact words. “Echoes of Silent Cries (Among The Sea Of Trees)”, possibly the darkest and most unsettling track on the album, features samples of the screams and cries of some tortured souls, as if the track had captured field recordings straight from the fiery depths of hell. In general, the entire album seems to be awash with numerous thick layers of sound, building each track into a monumental amalgamation of horrifying soundscapes.

Svartsinn isn’t known to focus on any one sense of darkness or thematics throughout an album, instead his music touches on various elements of darkness in any one of its incarnations from track to track. In this habit Mørkets Variabler does not differ. Some tracks seem to take on a personal tone, while others like “In The Wake Of Azathoth (A Lovecraftian Epilogue)” or “Doubt As Sin (Nietzsce’s Lament)” focus on literary or philosophical themes. While, for some, this could be seen as a downside, it is what Svartsinn has always done, and he has found praise and recognition throughout his career because of, not in spite of, this point. Svartsinn attracts the listener with many and varied mini-stories and themes throughout his albums, taking listeners throughout a tour of deviant, lamented and horrific domains.

There is no question that Frederic Arbour, owner of Cyclic Law, sees Svartsinn as one of his most prized artists on the label to this day. One need only look at the regal manner in which this release has been conducted. The cover art benefits greatly from the brilliant dark arts of Dehn Sora, who has contributed one of his most potent images to date. This artwork is given a greater chance to be appreciated through the 2LP version of the album. The vinyl edition also is of note because it houses an exclusive extra track, a remix of “Echoes Of Silent Cries” by Kammarheit. This brings the total running time of the vinyl edition to 72 minutes of pure darkness. For the CD, we are offered a well-crafted 4 panel hardcover digibook which includes a 16 page inner-booklet. The release is further accompanied by a new t-shirt donning the Svartsinn white bird logo.

Mørkets Variabler is an absolute success and well worth the long wait since the last proper full-length release. Svartsinn proves that he is still at the very top of his game on this one. Each will have their own opinions, but to me this is the apex of his work. The further addition of Amund Ulvestad’s cello and the bolder format of the majority of the album give Mørkets Variabler a character of its own, allowing it to distinctly stand out from the rest of the Svartsinn discography. If you are looking for pure and utter darkness, one need look no further than Mørkets Variabler. This is darkness in its purest form.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Jarl – Hypnosis Colour – Review

Artist: Jarl
Album: Hypnosis Colour
Release date: 16 July 2017
Label: Reverse Alignment

01. Hypnosis Colour

Jarl is the dark/drone ambient project of Erik Jarl of Norrköping, Sweden. Erik Jarl might be better known for his role in the power electronics project IRM, in which he collaborates with Martin Bladh and Mikael Oretoft. But Jarl is certainly his more active project, having released roughly two dozen albums since he started the project back in 2001. These albums have been released on a number of renowned labels including Malignant Records, Annihilvs Power Electronics and Autarkeia. But most recently, Jarl has been releasing the most consistently through Reverse Alignment, and that is where today’s album in question is released.

Hypnosis Colour is a successor to Amygdala Colours – Hemisphere Rotation from 2016. That album was described in its liner notes as: Electronic and acoustic sounds for the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. For the right and left side of Amygdala”. So we see, it was not really directed as a musical experience, so much as a psychological manipulation. Jarl started work on the next installment right after that album’s release.

His latest release, Hypnosis Colour, plays with this section of the brain in a different way. The amygdala is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. Recent research¹ has shown that hypnosis makes it possible for the amygdala to be controlled. So Hypnosis Colour is still focused on that section of the brain which was initially explored in Amygdala Colours. Under hypnosis, the amygdala is able to be turned off, thereby stopping the mind and body from having emotional reactions, giving it time to heal any mental or even physical wounds more efficiently.

So we can see that Jarl is not simply delivering us music for casual listening. Hypnosis Colour is able to serve a specific purpose. If allowed, Hypnosis Colour could likely have profound effects on the brain. This stands to reason that the listening of this album should be given full attention. The listener should absolutely be wearing headphones, in order to correctly experience the panning of sounds between the left and right speakers. Furthermore, it should be experienced in a dark, quiet setting, where the listener is not likely to be disturbed by any external elements. If these conditions are adhered to, the listener will be able to fully appreciate the effect that Jarl is trying to achieve.

From a technical standpoint, Hypnosis Colour will exhibit many of the same sorts of sounds and techniques used on previous Jarl albums. The sounds are extremely nuanced. The album works in a steady progression, slowly building up layers upon layers of acoustic and electronic sounds, while the volume also steadily increases to its maximum. There is the same level of harshness to the release which would be expected by any seasoned fan of the Jarl sound. But, as is usual with Jarl, somehow he manages to take this harshness to a place that is mind-altering, but never overbearing or anxiety inducing. The feat is likely achieved with the help of Peter Andersson of raison d’être, who has mastered the majority of Erik Jarl’s releases as well as those by IRM over the years. For added effect, he has also used artwork created by Karolina Urbaniak, another long-time collaborator. Her cover art is a beautiful combination of light greens and blues swirling upon a black backdrop. The visuals could be called psychedelic, without any of the usual hippy connotations that often weigh this word down.

Long-time fans of Jarl will have every reason to love Hypnosis Colour. It takes his sound into a direction that makes the most sense yet in his career, the building of layers in order to create an actual mind-shift in the listener. Readers that are new to the sounds of Jarl should be warned that this isn’t light listening. You will have to approach this album in a different way than you would with the usual dark ambient release. It is meant to be an active listening experience and headphones are mandatory. With that said, Hypnosis Colour as well as it’s predecessor Amygdala Colours are two of the most technically and thematically successful releases of Erik Jarl’s to date, and both should be perfect entry points for beginners. It will be interesting to see if Jarl will continue on this path with his next release or if he has plans to switch gears into a different direction.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Northaunt – Night Paths – Review

Artist: Northaunt
Album: Night Paths
Release date: 15 October 2017
Label: The Last Bleak Days

It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point to anyone following This Is Darkness that Hærleif Langås is one of my very favorite dark ambient musicians. Just as it is with Pär Boström or Simon Heath, Hærleif’s music is rarely not included in any of my mixes and his albums, whether Northaunt, The Human Voice or Therradaemon his albums are in constant rotation in my CD player. Hærleif seems to have a natural talent for this kind of music, and that fact seems to be proven further and further with each of his releases.

Night Paths is the first Northaunt release since Istid I-II in January 2015. But luckily in between these two releases we had the brilliant Silent Heart, by his project The Human Voice, which I might consider my favorite album of his to date, and the best album of 2016. To my great pleasure, the opener on Night Paths has a lot of similarities to a few of the tracks on Silent Heart. But it seems even more so to harken back to roughly a decade ago when Northaunt released their sophomore album Barren Land. The field recordings are bold and crushing, the instrumentation is straight forward and nothing like the subtlety we heard on Istid I-II. There is even a vocal sample incorporated into the track, reminding me of something like “Hopeless dreams” one of the bonus tracks from the Barren Land digibook reissue.

Hærleif Langås mentioned, about a month before the release of this album, by way of a Facebook post, that these were unreleased tracks, a bit darker than the previous albums. While there is no real evidence to prove this, it sounds as if the album is laid out in chronological order. There is a slow progression across the length of the album from the harsher, bolder tracks from Barren Land and Horizons days, into something more like what we heard on The Borrowed World or Istid I-II. Though, right or wrong, this really doesn’t matter, it only shows that the album does have a sort of progression of sounds, whatever the reason.

“Skjelletering”, the second track on Night Paths, is another one which is brutally dark and crushing. The drones are thick and chilly, the field recordings and samples adding even more depth to this darkness. “Blood Trail” becomes a much lighter affair following these two crushing openers. But the malign nature and abysmal darkness may have gone to an even more intense level.

“Beneath the Ice”, a track that was introduced last month on our very own dark ambient compilation, becomes even more subtle. We get the sensations of a diver, searching some lost ancient shipwreck, beneath a thick layer of ice, which has kept the wreck sealed away from prying eyes for many years. This one is incredibly serene, and probably one of the least overtly dark tracks on the album.

There are really so many great tracks here to talk about. The album seems to have spanned the career, or at least the second half of the music career of Hærleif Langås. There have been few, but incredibly great, albums from Northaunt over the years and it should be a real blessing to any fan of Northaunt, that we are able to take a step back and hear these outtakes which are anything but dispensable.

Hærleif Langås decided to try something different with this album and released it himself, through his label, The Last Bleak Days. After so many years of releasing albums through various labels it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for him to do this one himself. But, dedicated fans should take note that this is a limited edition release of only 150 physical copies in a 6-panel digipak. So if you are interested in the physical release, don’t hesitate, they might not be around for long!

Night Paths is an absolutely worthy album to be added to the Northaunt discography. While it might not have the same stylistic and thematic consistency that we would hear on a proper full length, it’s full of great tracks, each one I am very pleased to have a chance to enjoy. We get a little something from all the different periods of the Northaunt sound, giving us a sort of time capsule back in time. For any fans of the older Northaunt music in particular, this is a must have. For newer fans, this is a way to get an idea of what Hærleif Langås has done in the past, a perfect introduction to his previous styles. Knowing that Istid III is right around the corner as well, we should all be quite content this winter, with plenty of fresh Northaunt music to act as a soundtrack to these upcoming cold, dark months.

Written by: Michael Barnett

TeHÔM – Live Assault – Review

Artist: TeHÔM
Album: Live Assault & Extra Assault
Release date: 22 August 2017
Labels: Cyclic Law – CD Digipak / La Esencia – LP+bonus disc

Disc 1 or LP: Live Assault
(Continous Playback, No Track Separations)
01. A1 Intro (Theos Agnotos)
02. A2 Darkness Cosmogony of Myths
03. A3 Perilous Depth
04. A4 Abyss
05. B1 Amorphous Structure
06. B2 The World Ended
07. B3 Modality of Cosmic Matter

Disc 2: Extra Assault
(Only available with the vinyl edition)
01. The Realm of Dark Senses
02. Our Place In The Stars
03. Kolaps

TeHÔM is a name that has been around the dark ambient scene for the last two decades. But, the volume of output would not lead one to believe it is so. This is on account of the tragic loss of the founding member of TeHÔM, Siniša Očuršćak who died in 1997, leaving the project in the hands of Miljenko Rajaković. The first two albums Despiritualization of Nature and Theriomorphic Spirits released in 1996 and 2000 respectively. It wouldn’t be until 2014 before Rajaković would release the third offering, Lacrimae Mundi. An album, which was the first to be created solely by Rajaković.

Yet, Lacrimae Mundi released on Cyclic Law to nearly universal praise by the dark ambient scene. Miljenko Rajaković had successfully revived the project and took his new album out on the concert network of the European continent over the following years. Live Assault is the result of a recording from one such concert date on 12 August 2016 at the Brutal Assault Festival in Czech Republic.

The live recording of this release is quite impressive. The engineers used several microphones placed on angles which would capture sounds, not only from the artist, but also from the crowd. There are different points throughout the release where we will hear the crowd, but it never overwhelms the mood of the music and is only particularly noticeable at the end of the performance when they clap and cheer. There is an overwhelming three-dimensional feel to this release, which I recommend to enjoy at the highest volume acceptable, in order to really feel the performance as it would have been felt by the crowd. The highs are crisp and the bass is crushing.

Miljenko Rajaković vied to execute this performance at a slower speed/tempo than on the original versions of the tracks. This slowing makes their darkness even more abysmal and menacing. On “Darkness Cosmogony of Myths” the vocal recitation of some potent words by Edgar Allen Poe with this slowed down effect is brilliantly realized. As a listener, you might not immediately recognize the difference in the speed of playback, but if you really start to pay attention, you’ll notice the difference, and likely appreciate the performance all-the-more for it. This potency is also noticeable on “Amorphous Structure” during the vocal samples, which take on an even more unsettling effect than on the regular album edition.

“The World Ended” was my first encounter with TeHÔM, and the reason for which I quickly fell in love with the music of this artist. Its rendition on Live Assault is a powerhouse of deep rumbling bass. It is indeed a sonic assault on the senses. If you have this one cranked up, your not only going to hear it, but you are going to feel its reverberations throughout your body. Again, the slowed down version of this track adds an increased effect of dread and despair to its already chilling subject matter.

Bursting into “Modality of Cosmic Matter” following “The World Ended” keeps the momentum going. This track is again, one of my favorites and its rendition on Live Assault is as good as, if not better than, the original version. The sampled vocal passages continue to take on that eerie haunting effect that they have produced repeatedly throughout the performance, seemingly each more potent than its predecessor.

The first two tracks on Extra Assault appear to be outtakes from Lacrimae Mundi. Fans most familiar with that release will not find anything too unusual about these tracks, if you loved Lacrimae Mundi, you will love these. They follow the pattern laid out, which would include deep rumbling bass, haunting vocal samples with overt religious symbolisms and a reserved use of tribal-like percussion sections. The one main feature that stands out is “Our Place In The Stars”, a track that originally surfaced on Eudoxus by the Kalpamantra label, with a vocal sample which seems to come from a different source than the majority of others used by TeHÔM. Yet, it is still masterfully incorporated into the music.

“Kolaps” the third track on the Extra Assault disc is dated back to the origins of TeHÔM. We should be thankful that Miljenko has decided to include this one on the release because it’s a disquieting experience. It gives us a side of TeHÔM that most fans of only the Lacrimae Mundi release will not be familiar or expecting. There are deeply disquieting vocal samples that permeate this track entrenched in what feels like a sample from some battlefield, making for an exceedingly dark and daemonic end to the Extra Assault disc and the album as a whole.

Miljenko Rajakovic dedicated this release to the memory of the industrial pioneer John Russell Murphy (11 July 1959 – 11 October 2015). For those unfamiliar he was an Australian drummer, percussionist and multi-instrumental session musician who played in Australian and British post-punk, ambient and industrial music groups. Around the ambient/dark ambient/post-industrial scenes he would have been most well known for his work with SPK, Krank, Death In June and his industrial music trio Last Dominion Lost, among many other projects and collaborations.

Live Assault is one of the best live recordings I’ve heard. I really wouldn’t be able to notice that it was recorded in a live setting other than a few minor moments. The sounds are full and the music is precisely executed. The change in tempo makes the release have a totally different feel than the original album, which absolutely warrants its release as a separate entity. If you are a fan of TeHÔM, I would highly recommend this release to you. If you have never heard of the project, this is a great place to start!

Written by: Michael Barnett

La Tredicesima Luna – Il Sentiero degli Dei – Review

Artist: La Tredicesima Luna
Album title: Il Sentiero degli Dei
Release date: 13 October 2017
Label: Lighten Up Sounds

01. Parte I – Fuochi sotto le stelle /
Tra due mondi
02. Parte II- Energie ancestrali /
La luce dorata dell’aurora

Matteo Brusa, of the Lombardy region of Italy, has been putting in a lot of work over recent years, building up his name as a dungeon synth artist under the moniker Medhelan. His last major release, Fall of the Horned Serpent, on the Deivlforst label, brought him into the mainstream of the quickly growing dungeon synth community. Now Brusa takes his music in a different direction, and appropriately under a different name.

La Tredicesima Luna is his new project which creates music that falls under the dark ambient genre as opposed to his Medhelan releases which are a bit of a mix, but for the most part classified as dungeon synth. La Tredicesima Luna doesn’t necessarily follow the current trends of dark ambient. His sounds reach back to an older era, closer to the beginnings of the genre (even if this was a decade or so after the actual beginning of the genre). On Il Sentiero degli Dei, Brusa seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration from Burzum and the other early black metal acts, when they were first testing the waters of the dark ambient genre in short spurts on their otherwise black metal albums.

This connection to the black metal/dark ambient cross-overs seems the most obvious in the second track, “Parte II – Energie ancestrali / La luce dorata dell’aurora”. This track has significant similarities to the final track of the Filosofem album by Burzum, “Gebrechlichkeit II”. It follows a similar chord progression using a similar sounding synth sample. This shouldn’t be a surprise as many artists, particularly of the dungeon synth variety, are quick to point toward Burzum as one of their main influences. Furthermore, many well respected artists in that genre have gone so far as to include Burzum covers on their albums.

But, don’t get me wrong about this comparison. Brusa is certainly not looking to just reproduce something that Burzum did roughly 25 years ago. Instead he takes this style as a foundational element and builds onto it with his own ideas to create something that is arguably much more interesting and innovative than was done by Burzum or his black metal contemporaries.

Particularly the opening track of Il Sentiero degli Dei brings forth brilliant soundscapes of drones and meandering synth which are complemented by manipulated field recordings. “Parte I – Fuochi sotto le stelle / Tra due mondi” conjures aural images of deep dark forests, filled with all the creatures that one might manifest in a nightmare. There is a consistently dark otherworldly presence emanating from those most haunted and daemonic shadow regions of the Earth and its other conjoined realms.

The opener gives us a clear and distinct sense of our surroundings, while the other half, “Energie ancestrali / La luce dorata dell’aurora” gives us plenty of space to brood and meditate upon these dark wonders that we have previously conjured. While the track moves on in a rather static manner for its almost fifteen minute length, it is a testament to the skills and vision of Brusa, that it never manages to feel stagnant or redundant.

The release of this album in an ultra-limited edition of 50 professionally duplicated grey cassettes through the Lighten Up Sounds label/distro means that die-hard fans of Medhelan will likely sweep these copies up in a matter of hours/days. This edition will almost surely become a highly sought out physical release over the coming months/years.

Brusa has done what I’ve been hoping to see over the last few years since discovering Medhelan. He’s severed the tie of Medhelan between his dark ambient and dungeon synth output and created an entity for the sole purpose of dark ambient releases. As he moves further into the depths of this cataclysm it’s likely that an already polished sound will be even further refined on future releases. We might be seeing the beginnings here of a big deal within dark ambient circles. Brusa has already proven capable of this feat in the dungeon synth community.

Written by: Michael Barnett

A Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Tomb of Druids – Review

Artists: protoU, Aegri Somnia, Dead Melodies
Ager Sonus and Creation VI
Album title: Tomb of Druids
Release date: 17 October 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. protoU – Eyes of the Shaman
02. Aegri Somnia – Temple of Druids
03. Dead Melodies – Bryn Celli Ddu
04. Ager Sonus – Well of Knowledge
05. Creation VI – Birds Turning Stones

Just when I thought I had figured out the pattern and common elements of the Tombs Series by Cryo Chamber, Tomb of Druids came along and blew me away. There is no doubt for me that this is the best Tombs Series collaboration/compilation to-date. The extensive and bold use of field recordings throughout this album gives it a huge edge over the previous Tombs Series releases.

The use in the foreground of field recordings on this one gives the entirety of the album a smoothness and consistency that was only touched upon in the past. It feels like one neatly flowing experience for the 50+ minute duration of the album. Of course, each artist certainly brings their own flavor to the album. Each set of drones differs, each use of vocal elements, instrumentation or even the movement sounds (walking, placing items on a table) is a little different from the one before. But I get the feeling that some of these field recordings were all from a single source and shared amongst the musicians to help create this synchronization of sounds.

The cover art looks to depict a human sacrifice. Robed and laureled figures stand in the foreground, the bearded male carrying a knife and the stern but beautiful female gazing into the distance. Between and behind them lies their human victim, spread on a table, head dangling lifelessly over the edge. The sacrifice is complete and the druids look to the distant stormy skies for signs of the Gods’ acceptance of their offering.

protoU delivers the opening, and one of the longest tracks, on the album. From the very beginning we are overwhelmed with thick and intense uses of field recordings that protoU has hinted at in the past, but never used so boldly. The outcome is pure excellence. This is the sort of dark, stormy, cryptic field recording laden cinematic dark ambient for which I constantly am searching. The mastering by Simon Heath, the man behind Sabled Sun, surely helped to give these cinematics a full and proper edge, taking them even further toward her goal than she likely would have imagined. While their is plenty going on musically on “Eyes of the Shaman”, in terms of drones, these field recordings are rightly the main and focused element of the track. We can only hope for more of this sort of sound in the future for protoU.

On the following track, “Temple of Druids” by Aegri Somnia, the thunder storm field recordings continue from the protoU track, but enter later in this one. It initially begins with deep crushing drones, intricate field recordings of movements, ritual incantations, a haunted choral/drone section, and other oscillating drones which all combine to add a depth to the psychological effect on the listener, bringing us into the rituals. Distant chants, toward the end of the track, along with the thunder storm kicking in bring the whole experience to a new level of emotion.

Dead Melodies decided to name their track, “Bryn Celli Ddu” which means the mound in the dark grove, after a specific prehistoric site on the Welsh island of Anglesey, dating to the neolithic period, some 17,000 years ago. So we can have a hint from this title at the sort of extent to which this whole album depicts a scene that is long lost and forgotten, tombs that are slowly being erased from history by the constant movements and destruction of modern humanity. The track evokes strong vibes of this period with the use of what sounds at times like the clashing of rocks or wood tools and/or ritual paraphernalia, sounds that continue through later tracks along with the storms. Lush guitar drones build the foundation along with these field recordings of dripping waters as if the rains here had just ended. The drones continue to thicken and become more menacing as the track progresses.

Ager Sonus‘ track begins with campfire field recordings. Deep drones fade in and out of the mix, leaving only the fire as the foundation. A lonely flute-like instrument or synth, and later the ensemble of stringed instruments cut through the mix giving it a dreamy and melancholic sort of feel as the field recordings of movement, dripping waters and distant storms all come together making the experience vivid and highly enjoyable. This is not at all the Ager Sonus we know from their Cryo Chamber debut several months back, giving plenty of room for hope that their next album will be equally enjoyable in a totally different way. The track ends with the recurrence of the thundering storm moving to the foreground as the drones fade out.

Creation VI starts his track with some highly manipulated chanting, that quickly brings to mind old raison d’être, even more so than on the previous Metatron Omega releases in which I’ve made this sort of comparison. Something that sounds like a cross between muted picking of a guitar or tapping on a drum with heavy delay oscillates between speakers as a hollow airy drone starts to move into the background. These manipulated vocals slowly fade out or shift into another sound that continues to move in the background. As the drones become extremely thick and prominent, field recordings occasionally cut through the wall of sound, rocks bashing on rocks, also oscillating between speakers, as many elements of this album have done. Toward the end of the track the deep voiced incantations similar to those of the Aegri Somnia track resurface, adding what ends up being a chilling sort of vibe to the soundscape, even if it’s not intended as some shocking or haunting content.

Tomb of Druids is an absolute success. When I saw that it incorporated all new artist that had never participated in the series previously, with one track each, I was hesitant about how well it would work out. But after a number of listens, it’s absolutely clear that this album is worthy of the Tombs Series and, as I’ve previously mentioned, it is likely the most successful at extracting the correct psychological and perceptive responses from listeners. At this point the series could move in any direction. Taking it into these ritual grounds is certainly an interesting path and one that continuing to follow would likely bring about even more levels of success. Highly recommended for the cinematic and ritual ambient listeners.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Anemone Tube/Post Scriptvm – Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes – Review

Artist: Anemone Tube / Post Scriptvm
Album: Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes
Release date: 1 December 2016
Label: The Epicurean / La Escencia

01. Anemone Tube – Myth and the Relation to the World
02. Anemone Tube – Recueillement (Sa Propre Mort)
03. Anemone Tube – Irruption of the Whore
04. Post Scriptvm – Buried in Fabula
05. Post Scriptvm – Dark and Nameless Gods
06. Post Scriptvm – Laterne D’Horreur (Lantern of Horror)

Anemone Tube & Post Scriptvm are two well known and respected post-industrial projects which have been releasing music on various labels for well over a decade each. In 2012, The Epicurean label was formed, releasing many of the subsequent works by both of these musical projects. When listening to either Anemone Tube or Post Scriptvm, followers will usually expect deeply complex soundscapes which often fall on the harsher spectrum of the dark ambient, power electronics or death industrial genres. Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes will likely be a surprising release for many, as the sounds on this album are vastly subdued in comparison to the usual sonic intensity of either project.

As a fan of dark ambient that dabbles in death industrial and power electronics, I found Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes to be an exceedingly interesting album. The theme of this opus combined with the funereal dreary soundscapes immediately attracted my attention. Early on in my considering this release for review, I realized that the vinyl version would likely be the optimal listening format for such a work. Upon purchase of that vinyl, I can say that this theory has proven accurate, and I highly recommend any reader that enjoys the themes and/or sounds herein to consider purchasing a copy of the incredibly well-crafted vinyl version of this release. The album would be classified as a “split release”, but I urge listeners to think of this as one whole unified musical experience. The album progresses through the six tracks in a way that feels natural and brings the vision of both artist to fruition without a clash of interests or jarring shift in structure.

Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes takes its inspiration from a classical style of ritual music which, instead of inducing a positive euphoria in its Christian listeners, induced feelings of “dread, existential anxiety and feelings of death and decay”, as these musicians aptly describe it. Anemone Tube & Post Scriptvm decided to create their own ‘Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes’ or, in English, ‘Discordant Death Litanies’ as this seemed particularly appropriate for their musical tastes combined with our infatuation and mad-dash toward an apocalyptic end-time.

Anemone Tube takes the first half/side of the album. Their music, as alluded to previously, is extremely subdued in comparison to the works which I have come to recognize as representative of their trademark sound. The first track “Myth and the Relation to the World” is quite simplistic, consisting of the sounds of some distorted chants and haunted choirs backed by peaceful yet brooding drone-work. It is followed by the equally subdued “Recueillement (Sa Propre Mort)”, which translates to something like Contemplation (His/Her Own Death) in English. This track again features a slowly shifting drone-scape which seems to originate from some lonely-sounding horn. Both of these tracks leave ample room for the listener to become lost in thought, pondering the meaning of life… and death, or to simply meditate on the sounds.

“Irruption of the Whore” is the first move into the more anxiety driven, disturbed soundscapes, which will fully blossom on the Post Scriptvm half of the release. The track consists of bells which shift and distort, a hollow airy drone floating subtly in the background. As the intensity increases further into the track, we hear raspy noises and sounds akin to haunting voices. Chains seem to rattle in the background as other industrial noises combine to form what almost could be considered a percussive beat. This beat, as we move over to the second half, will translate into a beating heart, which provides a foundation for the first of the Post Scriptvm tracks.

Post Scriptvm will gradually build upon the intensity that was introduced in “Irruption of the Whore”. “Buried in Fabula” starts with a contorted passage which seems to have religious undertones. A heartbeat builds the foundation, before drones enter the fold, which blend miraculously well into the sounds of haunted choirs. Feedback and white-noise moves in and out of the mix adding a further sense of anxiety and dread. The sense of increasing anxiety bleeds into the following track, “Dark and Nameless Gods”. Spoken word continues as well from the previous track, with sparse words which are hard to separate from the mix, but give an added measure of darkness and dread to the composition.

The final track, “Laterne D’Horreur”, which translates to English as “Lantern of Horror”, is certainly the apex of Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes. This track continues to descend into darkness and apocalyptic despair. The sounds have an almost futuristic sort of sci-fi feel to them. Field recordings of what sounds like wolves howling cut unexpectedly into the mix. Contorted synths give an effect as if they are raspy gasps for air from some dæmoniac creature. The track slowly subdues and descends into a harsh noise, that never becomes prominent as it mingles with what sounds like cries and cats screaming in terror. This may all sound as if it has become absurd, like some 50s horror film, and indeed it does feel reminiscent of something akin to this, yet it manages to keep its intended atmosphere as well as its integrity throughout this strange experience.

Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes is clearly a triumph for these two veteran artists. The album succeeds in its attempts at creating an atmosphere of religious blasphemy, a kind of funeral music for the dark-minded and irreligious. For a veteran listener of dark ambient and other weird and “spooky” music, I’m delighted to say that Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes manages to instill an unsettling feeling of dread and anxiety in my soul, a feat that is not often achieved. Listen to Litaniæ Mortuorum Discordantes in the midnight hours, alone in the dark, incense burning and mind open to the dark entities of the night. Or, if it is possible, play this in a cathedralic setting, and witness the utter disgust and terror of some unsuspecting clergy, the effect should be a delight to witness.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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