Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 13)

Templum N.R. – Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1 – Review

Artist: Templum N.R.
Album: Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1
Release date: May 2018
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. Bowels of the White Rose
02. Through the Liquid Mirror
03. The Unseen Tailor
04. The Towering Wall
05. Black Dust Enfolding
06. Hymn Two, Seven, Three

Aural Hypnox is one of the greatest hidden gems of the dark ambient world. To those in the know, collector’s editions sell out in a matter of days. It seems that most everyone from the dark ambient community that stumbles across Aural Hypnox quickly finds something to love here. One of the most concrete and noticeable attributes of Aural Hypnox is their focus on ritual ambient, as well as the attention to detail on their physical productions. Through acts like the legendary Arktau Eos and Halo Manash, among others, Aural Hypnox has built a solid fan-base, from their remote home-base of Oulu, Finland. For those unfamiliar with the northern Scandinavian region, Oulu is pretty far north. In fact, aside from Murmansk and Norilsk in Russia, Oulu is the most northerly city on Earth. Further adding to the intrigue of Oulu is their community-wide experiments with new technology, called a “living lab”. With its founding going back to 1605, Oulu seems to have some intense conflicting extremes.

For this strange, unique, and esoteric project I think it is best that Templum N.R. explain their goals and the meaning of the project’s name for themselves:
“Templum N.R. is a temple dedicated to Nightside Revelations and in this temple other worlds, parallel universes and realities are present both in sound and vision. The repertoire of the group consists of telepathic resonances received while travelling in the Spheres of Otherness and is presented through obscure electronics, eternal & eerie melodies and droning, swallowing textures. The material of the Temple will travel deep inside the listeners subconsciousness and foster the understanding of a Formless Sacrifice. The Otherness is unleashed in the surroundings inhabited by the group’s output.”

The releases of Templum N.R. show the intersections between technology and ancient traditions in a most glaring way. Their first two releases Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio and T.o.V. Improvisations XCII-XCIII show a side of Templum N.R. which is more in line with the rest of the Aural Hypnox roster. A sort of droning ritual ambient. But, Spectrum DCXCIII: Poison Portals started showing a more experimental side of Templum N.R. Especially on the track “I Am His Sacrifice”, Templum N.R. introduced the use of unusual vocal sections. “I Am His Sacrifice” took us on a journey to a remote cabin which has more to it than it would seem. This odd vocal style has been made even more prominent on Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1. Templum N.R. have also added a new element into the mix with all the vocals for this release being contributed by “Madame Eternally Nameless”.

You can hear on the music video for “The Unseen Tailor” how these various elements come together to create quite a unique experience. The cassette comes with a fold-out insert which gives us all the lyrics for the release. There is a nice combination of foreboding, poetic beauty, futurism, numerology and darkness here, all blended into this short but potent release. While the album only totals about twenty minutes play length, it is nonetheless a rewarding twenty minutes. As should be expected of Aural Hypnox, this cassette comes in a beautiful packaging, created by Aural Hypnox sister company Primeval Vision.

For those that have purchased any Templum N.R. merchandise over the past year or two, you will already know that Templum N.R. prefer to keep their distance from the digital world, and they have devised a subscription system for receiving newsletters and exclusive content via snail mail at intervals throughout the year. I recently joined this list and was graced with the c40 cassette, The Chasm of Desiccated Beings. This drone heavy release features an original track “Meditation I” on Side A and an “Inorganic Twin” remix of it on Side B. For those that are eager for more from them, this is certainly a way of finding it. Here is the official statement on their Discogs about this:
“There will be no official presence of Templum N.R. in the global system of interconnected computer networks. If you would like to receive traditional paper newsletters, unique artworks & exclusive audio tapes of the group, please join the official Templum N.R. subscription list. Contact via email for details.”
(Note: I don’t have their e-mail, so maybe it’s best to wait for the paper subscription form, which should come with any of the new Templum N.R. releases.)

As with just about everything I’ve encountered from Aural Hypnox, I highly recommend Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. I. It may be a short release, but every minute is valuable here and listeners will likely feel as content as I have with it, as a whole. Concurrent with this release, Aural Hypnox re-released all three of Templum N.R.‘s previous albums on CD, each with a bit of extra content. It is always interesting to see where Templum N.R. will take us next, and this is once again a journey worth remembering.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ruptured World – Exoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Exoplanetary
Release date: 7 August 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Bright Communion of Primal Energies
02. The Sunken Valleys
03. Future Cries of No Tomorrow
04. The Twilight Hours
05. A Time Without Saviours
06. The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces
07. The Voyage of Tarknassus
08. Closing Theme

Exoplanetary follows the story of a scientifically based exploration of the planet Proxima Centauri B. Ruptured World is a sci-fi cinematic dark ambient release created by weird fantasy and horror fiction author Alistair Rennie. Exoplanetary takes Rennie’s knack for writing fiction into new territory, giving us something that feels familiar, and yet new. Most tracks feature spoken-word, which is all performed by Rennie himself. Along with the booklet, this gives the album a lot of material for listeners to absorb, making multiple listens a must. Thankfully those multiple listens have been equally as enjoyable as the first.

The mission plan refers to “select members of the human species”, leading me to wonder about the class warfare that must be happening simultaneously (though this theme is not explored on Exoplanetary). As the 99.9% realize that they are going no where, and Earth will soon double as their grave marker, drifting through infinite space.

On “The Sunken Valleys”, Rennie speaks in his sort of 50s sci-fi movie style voice, explaining the characteristics of the landscape. But, there is even further detail committed to this topic in the 16 page “Executive Mission Summary” booklet, which accompanies both the digital and physical versions of Exoplanetary.

“The Twilight Hours” begins by explaining a bit about the Krivren species, which appears to be a deadly, intelligent race of creatures that populate Proxima Centauri B. Again, here, the booklet goes into even greater detail about this alien race, giving us enough information to start forming images of these creatures in our minds, as well as hearing their communications throughout the track. “A Time Without Saviours” picks back up on this dialogue, this time going into more detail about the routines and actions of this race, and their possible understanding of humanity’s arrival.

“A Time Without Saviours” is likely my favorite track on the album. It slowly builds until we hear some dialogue I mentioned above, then the track turns musical, allowing a slow almost glitchy melody to become the new focus for the remainder of the track. This section is highly evocative of some of my favorite Sabled Sun melodic sections. In fact, probably my favorite thing about this album, as a whole, is its similarities to the Sabled Sun 21XX series. But, here we are more focused on conveying the story through actual dialogue and through the accompanying booklet. Whereas with Sabled Sun there is much more left to the imagination, in terms of specific greater plot details, and the focus is instead on real-time soundscape cinematics (i.e. electronics bleeping, footsteps, doors opening). I wouldn’t commit to liking one or the other style better. I think it’s great to see these themes covered from varied angles.

“The Voyage of Tarknassus” brings together all the elements of Exoplanetary in a concise fashion. We hear a radio tuning into a station, finding a beautiful piano arrangement. This soon shifts to a transmission of the voice of Dr. Hector Macrae, which eventually trails off into a slow droning section. This seems to give listeners time to contemplate the words we’ve just heard and the greater plot of the album, going on for eleven minutes as the longest track. Exoplanetary ends on peaceful note, being another of the more musical tracks. A number of different elements come together here, built upon a peaceful drone and a prominent bass line.

Cryo Chamber continues making their bold moves into varying fringes of the dark ambient genre. Yet again, it seems they’ve made a successful gamble, bringing an artist into the fray with some highly detailed visions for his work. Alongside Simon Heath, this is likely to be a highly fruitful endeavor in the future, just as we’ve already seen here on Exoplanetary, as well as in similar circumstances with God Body Disconnect. Ruptured World must be the best project I could recommend for lovers of Sabled Sun and other cinematic sci-fi ambient releases. There is a little here of everything that makes that sub-genre so compelling. The beautiful cover-art, booklet and layout of Exoplanetary make it all the more attractive. I wouldn’t recommend this as background music, there are plenty of dark ambient albums out there that will blend nicely into your evening. Ruptured World asks more of their listeners, but the reward is worth the effort. Highly Recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Moss Covered Technology – And His Many Seas – Review

Artist: Moss Covered Technology
Album: And His Many Seas
Release date: 30 April 2018
Label: Facture / Fluid Audio

Tracklist:
01. – 08. Sea #1-8

Moss Covered Technology is an ambient project out of the United Kingdom. There really doesn’t appear to be too much more information available about specifics of the man behind the music. We can gather a bit of personal information, and a window into the intent of this album from the album’s blurb on their Bandcamp, which reads: “And His Many Seas is a personal voyage, as the artist’s father was suffering from cancer at the time of the album being written. A well-traveled man, And His Many Seas sets sail to quietly conquer and navigate another unexplored, painful continent: the frightening landmass of coming to terms with his father’s illness, steering through the trials of life as well as acting as a dedication to his father’s love of traveling. The illness itself heralded the beginnings of a new journey. Recalling the feel of the Arctic Ocean.”

So, And His Many Seas is an ode to the musician’s father, and an attempt to recreate the sort of awe and wonder of the voyages he took throughout his lifetime. But, I was drawn to this release, aside from its physical splendor, by the melancholia and chilling darkness which seems to be hiding just beneath the surface. Masked by the glory of nautical explorations, the region in which this imaginary journey embarks toward is just as important. Heading into a cold and unforgiving arctic climate, Moss Covered Technology connects with us on a more troubling level. This can be seen as a sort of allusion to the bittersweet journey of the miracle of life always moving toward a bleak and inevitable death.

From a technical perspective, And His Many Seas can initially seem like a pretty straightforward drone ambient release. But the multiple play-throughs keep bringing out new and interesting elements that I hadn’t previously experienced. This, to me, is always a sign of a great passive ambient release. Something that I can listen to multiple times, even in a single day, without feeling a deep disgust for repetition and monotony tearing at me. Tracks like “Sea #5” have a bit more active elements, bringing the senses of courage and exploration to the forefront, while tracks like “Sea #1” linger in more subtle territory. “Sea #8”, the album’s finale, takes us into some very peaceful and introspective soundscapes. The drones are light and shimmering, while we are treated to a pleasant undercurrent of field recordings.

When I first found this album it immediately jumped out at me and was begging me to get a physical copy. A label that I haven’t often crossed, Facture / Fluid Audio, brings this album by Moss Covered Technology to a magnificently crafted physical release. Every aspect of And His Many Seas preparation was considered and crafted with the utmost attention to detail. The CD is housed in a hand made book-bound cover, lined with paper from Florence Italy. The CD also comes with vintage nautical Nories tables from around the 1920s, vintage Elisha Kane Arctic Exploration inserts (ca. 1869), nine double sided A6 prints, and dried flowers. All this is placed in a hand-cut envelope which is individually stamped and numbered. That’s a lot of stuff to talk about for one release! Of course, opening the package was about as exciting to me as the music itself. I spent a good thirty minutes looking through all the inserts and reading all the explorer cards while listening to the CD for the first time.

I would highly recommend And His Many Seas to fans of the more subtle forms of ambient / dark ambient. This release will certainly fall into ambient territory, but there really is enough melancholy here to warrant a dark ambient zine’s coverage. If the exquisite attention to detail on this physical release isn’t enough to draw you in, the album is also available as digital only, but I really recommend seeking out a copy of the physical release. There are at least a few left available direct from Moss Covered Technology, but I doubt they’ll have time to gather dust. Moss Covered Technology is a great example of the versatility of these genres we cover, and an excellent introduction to the Facture / Fluid Audio discography.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution – Review

Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Album: Diminution
Release date: 13 April 2018
Label: Malignant Records / Cloister Recordings / Black Horizons

Tracklist:
01. Diminution
02. Life Leaving
03. Causeway
04. Abjure
05. Wayward
06. Self-Recognition (For Pauline Oliveros)
07. Hindsight
08. Light Rising

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-talented musician out of the San Fransisco bay area. She’s contributed to a rather large number of musical projects, including: Hammers of Misfortune, Saros and Vastum to name a few. Through these projects she’s delved into a wide range of music from doom and folk metal in Hammers of Misfortune to post-industrial in Ionophore. But, on her solo albums, as Leila Abdul-Rauf, we have heard much calmer and more atmospheric music.

Leila Abdul-Rauf creates her dark ambient(ish) music in a way that delivers a more musical, song-based result than much of what you will see covered here. The trumpet and vocals play a major part in this difference. Her haunting yet beautiful vocals lend themselves to some of those Blue Velvet vibes. It is easy to envision that dark club where Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) first witnesses a performance by Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) over an ice-cold Heineken. Of course, the trumpet certainly helps produce this vibe. The connection can also be made by the way Leila Abdul-Rauf is creating music that is thoroughly dark, without ever feeling too languid or depressing. This is likely part of the reason the album is being promoted as early morning solitude music; a nod to the interplay between light and dark that flows through the album.

Leila Abdul-Rauf does a great job of building these visuals into the sounds. Unlike some releases we cover, Diminution doesn’t appear to follow any set narrative. It’s not supposed to tell us one specific story. Instead, we are given a sort of mood-enhancer. Diminution plays best at those late-night hours, after much of the world has retired for the day, or in those early morning moments, dew still glistening on the leaves, as the sun begins to peak out upon the horizon. This is a sort of midnight music. A sound that isn’t particularly depressing, but is certainly not happy. The track titles and lyrical content of the album, as well as the cover-art, all feed into this mood. Titles like “Life Leaving”, “Self-Recognition”, and “Hindsight” all lend to a feeling of reflection and contemplation, of the acceptance of loss and death. But, this isn’t a brooding lament, instead it seems to look at these concepts from a more constructive perspective. For instance, the opening track, “Diminution”, uses the combination of trumpet and piano in a way that draws equal parts serene contemplation and sorrowful despair. This formula emerges for me throughout the album, making it something I love using for lazy driving music. Following a dark highway home at night, or cruising aimlessly through some national park, Diminution is able to enhance the vibe, bringing out a well of divergent emotions.

Photo by: Allan I. Young

“Light Rising” – Paradoxically seems like one of the darkest tracks on the album. The thing that puts it into this context for me is the doom-laden repetitive sound, which gives a sort of black metal or dungeon synth vibe to the track. The track begins and ends with this isolated sound, but throughout “Light Rising” Abdul-Rauf uses her voice and trumpet to give it that lighter contrast. The vocals on this one give me the greatest reminder of something we would hear in Twin Peaks, that dark synth-pop vibe which Lynch has helped to cultivate over the years. Though, of course, here we get a much slower pace and a significantly more atmospheric vibe. For me, this balance between some more active genres, like synth-pop or jazz, with the more subtle sounds of dark ambient and neo-classical comes together perfectly on Diminution. We get the closest we can to the experience surrounding a Lynchian film, with the visual elements melting into the soundscapes to create a dark and cinematic atmosphere where sound can replace visuals altogether.

“Self Recognition (for Pauline Oliveros)” is, as one may guess, an ode to the highly influential musician Pauline Oliveros. I have not personally spent a lot of time with Oliveros’ music. But, shortly after her death in 2016, I read a rather thorough article about her impact on the music world. There are obviously a great number of reasons for Leila Abdul-Rauf to find inspiration in the work of Pauline Oliveros. Her presence was felt heavily in Leila Abdul-Rauf’s San Fransisco bay area, particularly through the San Fransisco Tape Music Center, founded in the ’60s. But her work in the, at the time, untrodden frontier of experimental electronic music would be one of her most notable lifetime contributions. “Self-Recognition” provides a thoroughly enjoyable “deep listening” experience which would likely make Oliveros proud.

 

Photo by: Nathan A. Verrill

The success of 2015’s Insomnia, her sophomore release, through Malignant Antibody, was due in large part to the musical content. But, there was also no shortage of praise for the cover-art, a painting by Mark Thompson. This time around, Matthew Jaffe contributes some of his beautiful artwork to the project. This painting of buildings in background, fronted by a thick fog which enshrouds trees and what could be either gravestones or shrouded figures, make for a brilliantly atmospheric cover-art. This artwork is given further justice through the vinyl variants; one of which is solid black and the other is gold with black swirl.

Art by Matthew Jaffe – featured on vinyl insert

Leila Abdul-Rauf brings back everything we loved about the highly-praised Insomnia. But, this time around the music seems even further refined. I would recommend Diminution to any fans of dark ambient with more active elements such as vocals and trumpet. This one will not be particularly jarring to the passive-preferring listeners either. With near universal praise again this time, it seems we can be expecting a good many more years of musical output from this highly talented individual. Not to mention all her other musical projects. Highly recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Taphephobia – Ghostwood – Review

Artist: Taphephobia
Album: Ghostwood
Release date: 10 April 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Ghostwood
02. Watching the Storm Crows
03. Transformed Through Alienation
04. Ghost of Him
05. Hospital Ward
06. Unwanted Visitors
07. Thunder Over The Boardwalk
08. The Other World Doesn’t Exist – Part 1
09. A Bitter Alternative
10. Fragility, Secrets and Revelations

Ghostwood is the 7th full length solo release from Taphephobia, the one man dark ambient project out of Trondheim, Norway, created by Ketil Søraker. Søraker has been creating music as Taphephobia since around 2004, after he split from Northaunt. To this day, Ketil Søraker and Hærleif Langås are still friends and worked together on a project in 2009, entitled Mulm, along with fellow Norwegian Avsky. Langås has also contributed album art for several Taphephobia releases. In other noteworthy news, concurrent with the release of Ghostwood, Taphephobia released a split, also through Cyclic Law, with Kave, a dark ambient project by Bram Gollin out of the Netherlands. (Read our review of that split here.) Yet another recent release by Taphephobia worth mention is the re-issue of his long sold-out debut House of Memories, which found its new home on Reverse Alignment. So, it’s quite obvious that Ketil Søraker has been staying very busy recently.

Ketil Søraker said in a recent interview on Terra Relicta that he’s been working on this new release Ghostwood from 2012-2015. So, it should be immediately obvious that this gentleman is not one to hastily toss any half-baked idea onto Bandcamp, saturating his discography with filler. Instead, Søraker puts quality over quantity and makes sure that each Taphephobia release we hear will be something special. Something to treasure for years to come.

Followers of previous works by Taphephobia should, by this point, expect an album that is heavily focused on the use of guitar to create these droning soundscapes. While Ghostwood holds to that formula, and even increases on it in ways, there is a new element here in his use of flute. Adding these processed flute sections to the release gives it a bit more natural vibe, the wind instrument adding a nice complexity to the usual string based arrangements. It also helps add to the theme, as some of these flute sections can remind the listener of birds chirping, deep in this lonely forest.

There are sections with more synthetic sounding dark ambient elements. But several tracks on Ghostwood take Søraker’s use of guitar to a bold new level. We can most notably hear this element on “Transformed Through Alienation” which allows a clean guitar sound to rest atop the droning elements which built the foundation of the track. These slowly strummed guitar chords add wonderfully to the elements of sadness and solitude, which are always so prevalent in Taphephobia. Though it might also be mentioned that this clean guitar-work could have a potential negative, as I’ve found it can be a bit jarring if I’m falling asleep with Ghostwood playing. This is, however, a minor issue for me, as I don’t expect any dark ambient artist to create an album with a constant focus on keeping it “slumber-friendly”, unless a sleep-themed album is the primary goal.

Another track of particular note is “Hospital Ward”, which many have pointed out has a more positive tone than the majority of Søraker’s previous work. The clean and clear guitar sounds, mentioned above, are also present on this one. The chord progressions used, as well as the sort of higher-pitched and faster-paced backing drones give the track an undeniable sense of light and hope. But, it doesn’t come close to pushing into “happy” territory, there is still plenty of melancholia drenching every second of Ghostwood.

Søraker’s voice is used sparingly but is certainly noticeable throughout Ghostwood. We hear him softly speaking various phrases through “Unwanted Visitors”. “Thunder Over The Boardwalk” might be my favorite track on the album. We have Søraker singing here, in a half-whisper, like we’ve heard occasionally throughout his career. This track seems to sort of pull together all the great elements of Ghostwood. As mentioned, the vocals are present, and they are one of the most successful uses of vocals in Taphephobia I’ve heard to-date. But there is also a very clear guitar element present. These two elements blend beautifully atop the serene-yet-melancholic droning undercurrents. One can almost feel themselves on a lazy afternoon stroll, alone, down some long-forgotten boardwalk, watching as the clouds slowly condense and darken, preparing for a violent storm.

Ghostwood is, to me, the full embodiment of Ketil Søraker’s vision of Taphephobia. What started as him looking for his own sound, with House of Memories, has slowly progressed into what is now referred to as “the Taphephobia sound” describing his combination of synthetic and guitar drone, matched with sparse, somber vocals, and a deep, sometimes overwhelming, sense of melancholia. Taphephobia should be one of the leading dark ambient artists for listeners looking for active yet peaceful dark soundscapes. The guitar and vocal elements make for a nice familiarity factor for those less versed in the styles of dark ambient. Creating an album which is inviting to the newly initiated, but also solid enough to attract praise from the most die-hard genre fans is a feat worth congratulating. With all this said, I would recommend Ghostwood to dark ambient fans, old and new, that find more active, yet still relatively reserved forms of dark ambient to their liking. This one should be considered a milestone in the career of Taphephobia, and an indicator that Søraker still has plenty of new ideas to share with the world.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Mount Shrine – Winter Restlessness – Review

Artist: Mount Shrine
Album: Winter Restlessness
Release date: 24 July 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Mount Shrine is a dark(ish) ambient project from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From the tidbits of info I’ve gathered, they seem to be one of the younger artists to join the Cryo Chamber label. While Mount Shrine has only been creating music under this moniker for several years, they seem to have an impressive mastery of the more field recording driven side of the dark ambient genre. Many previous Mount Shrine releases contain long tracks, some reaching 15+ minutes. With the majority of the tracks on Winter Restlessness following this longer format it is possible for the sounds to take the listener on deep journeys into their subconscious. It can be perfect meditation, reading, and sleep music because of its slowly evolving elements, peaceful rain field recordings and just enough additional sounds (often more field recordings, but also musical elements too) to keep the soundscapes interesting and engaging.

We can hear Mount Shrine honing their sound on previous releases like Forbidden Temple. But, it is worth mentioning that Mount Shrine has said on their social media that Winter Restlessness should be considered their official debut. So, I guess we can consider all these older releases to be demos and preparation for the project’s real introduction to the world. While they obviously aren’t as polished as a Cryo Chamber release, they are definitely interesting and deserving of a listen if you find Winter Restlessness so good that you must have more.

There are a few releases on Cryo Chamber which could be reasonably compared to Winter Restlessness. The first that came to my mind was SiJ & Textere OrisReflections Under The Sky. Though after a good many replays of Winter Restlessness, I’m finding the theme here to be better represented, personally. Another comparison that came to mind was EnmartaThe Hermit, though only in theme, as Enmarta allows his viola to add a very specific sort of sound to his tracks, a highly active style of sound in comparison to the subtleties of Mount Shrine.

The subtleties are certainly the most appealing elements of this sound. Mount Shrine makes music which is truly perfect for augmenting reality. It is never aggressive in its delivery. Sounds of a staticy radio transmitting unintelligible voices could be jarring to the experience, but they melt beautifully into the tapestry of Winter Restlessness, sometimes only even recognizable through headphones with added attention. This leads to one of my favorite claims to make about a dark ambient album, and one I make often in the releases I selectively choose to cover: Winter Restlessness is a perfect release for active or passive listening. In the background, the slowly evolving drones, rains and transmissions all come together forming a wonderfully complex texture, which never becomes a distraction from deep thought. In an active listening session listeners can begin to take note of all the varied field recordings, which do so much in creating the cinematic experience. This formula is the perfect dichotomy for a sleep album as well. The listener can find enough activity to keep their mind from wandering into territory which could be detrimental to the onset of sleep. However, once the darkness takes hold, one can gently drift off, never being abruptly pulled back to reality. Even at quite high volumes, I’ve personally been able to fall asleep with Winter Restlessness on repeat and was never once awakened before the morning.

The subtleties as well as the theme make Winter Restlessness a particularly potent tool for aiding meditation. For all the reasons stated above in regards to sleep, using Winter Restlessness for meditation is particularly convenient. As a whole, the album is incredibly relaxing and conducive to focus. But the story isn’t all positive, nor are the soundscapes. While the protagonist sits full lotus inside their shrine, the scent of sandalwood wafting passed their nose, they are at once in the most beautiful place on Earth, in tune with nature, but also totally disconnected from the usual reality of daily human contact. This sort of separation can form a sense of a serene contentment, but also the ugly head of loneliness constantly leers from the shadows, always attempting to pull the meditator into a dark void. This darker side to the album presents itself most noticeably in the use of drones. While the gentle texture of a million raindrops falling can be incredibly relaxing, inducing a sense of serenity, the drones can often move into the darker territory. This is not so much a malign or violent darkness. Instead, it is more akin to the restlessness one finds close to the end of a mediation session. When you know the timer or Tibetan singing bowl is just about to chime, but doesn’t for minute after yet another minute. The serenity really never leaves, but the restlessness can become almost overwhelming at times. But of course, wrestling these emotions/urges is what makes meditation such a powerful tool for mental wellness.

From a technical standpoint this is one glorious release. Every element of Winter Restlessness seems to be perfectly honed. Painstaking attention to detail makes every rain drop, every staticy transmission, every evolving drone as crisp and pristine as one could imagine. Reading a post on the personal social media of the man behind this album, a quote worth mentioning is “This album was produced through February-June this year, with me and Simon working A LOT together giving the final touches on it.” Knowing that Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri/Sabled Sun had some direct input on this release (outside his usual mastering role), whether that was simply through advice or through hands-on manipulation doesn’t necessarily seem relevant to me. The important part is pointing out this close relationship and familial setting cultivated by Cryo Chamber. One could argue that the added input takes away from our understanding of Mount Shrine, but I find this unnecessarily pessimistic. When talented musicians are in contact with one another, and one has well over a decade of intense personal experience within the given genre, it seems like a win/win for the audience. We are sure to get the absolute best version of an album in the end. Improvement is improvement, no matter how achieved, and the final product should always be the most important factor.

I would highly recommend Winter Restlessness to fans of a more laid-back dark ambient. The drones and field recordings are used in almost equal proportions throughout the album, so I could see fans of both or either of these elements to find something they love here. Mount Shrine appears to be a young musician with an abundance of talent and creativity. I will be very pleased to see his relationship with Cryo Chamber continue, and his delves into serene environments expand, furthering the concept of Winter Restlessness, or dropping us into a totally new setting.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Teahouse Radio – Her Quiet Garden – Review

Artist: Teahouse Radio
Album: Her Quiet Garden
Release date: 24 April 2018
Label: Hypnagoga Press

Tracklist:
01. A low-toned meadow
02. Snow falling on black water
03. Death would find my halls and flood them
04. Unable
05. Urn
06. Dreaming splendid spaces
07. If I were a garden
08. Underwater sleep orchestra
09. Her tiny ears and paws
10. Resembling a ruin
11. The elsewhere sleep

Read our recent interview with Teahouse Radio/Hypnagoga Press.

Teahouse Radio is the latest project by Pär Boström. Boström has seen a veritable whirlwind of creativity over the last few years. As far as the quality of this burst of creativity is concerned, the music speaks for itself each and every time. We’ve seen new Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast since 2015, both albums well worth the considerable wait since their predecessors. But the most interesting aspect of Boström’s “reawakening” has been in the new projects he’s launched.

We’ve now seen the quality-over-quantity ideology of his young label Hypnagoga Press, with beautifully crafted releases by Hymnambulae (with sister, Åsa), Altarmang (with Kenneth Hansson), and Bonini Bulga. But, this latest release must be the most ambitious of Pär Boström’s attempts (successful attempts I might add!) to create something that is both deeply personal as well as novel to the dark ambient community. From cover-art to acoustic instrument choices to general atmosphere, Teahouse Radio is indeed a quite interesting and unique release.

This isn’t a cinematic dark ambient release in the same sense as we would hear from Cryo Chamber, (ex. Cities Last BroadcastThe Humming Tapes). Instead, Her Quiet Garden hones in on atmospherics and emotion. There are massive amounts of cathartic and lethargic emotion flowing through every moment of Her Quiet Garden. The music itself has a sort of lazy summer afternoon vibe. It begs to be heard while reading a book beneath the shade of an old gnarled tree, or while lying in bed on a hot summer night, too close to sleep to be productive, but too far to be fully relaxed. Tracks like “Death would find my halls and flood them” and “Snow falling on black water” have an incredibly sluggish and depressive feel.

While the album is undoubtedly steeped in lethargy and a generalized sense of depression, there are absolutely beautiful moments shimmering through the haze. “Unable” is a nice combination of the two sides co-mingling. The underlying drone/atmospherics are quite dark, giving a very ominous vibe to the track. But the piano section which sort of sits atop the track is more light-hearted. The two sides combine giving us a sense of that respite from depression, those beautiful moments between memories of loss, and yet even in those moments, we still cling to the worst, even if only subconsciously.

Relaxing and positive elements show through occasionally on Her Quiet Garden. On “Dreaming splendid spaces”, Boström incorporates several light-hearted piano elements giving the track a very nice warm feeling. Boström hums along in the background, quietly and effortlessly fading into the mix. This all serves as a respite from the otherwise bleak nature of Her Quiet Garden. But this is the point. The imagined garden in Boström’s vision is a place to visit those lost loved ones which are still held so dear. Deeply negative emotions are sure to surface, but memories of happiness and contentment are also sure to help exert a balance, and maybe find a personal understanding, a path to move forward.

Her Quiet Garden is not about finding an escape from one’s sorrow, loss, depression. It is about seeing it as it is, all the hard saddening memories combined with all those wonderful days and nights spent in a youthfully ignorant contentment. The loss of any true loved one, or even a past home or acquaintances, all come with their share of good and bad. Her Quiet Garden lets all these emotions melt into one another, giving listeners a deeply moving album, which will likely make a much greater personal connection with each listener than the majority of the music coming out of the post-industrial scene. This is what has kept listeners returning to Boström’s music over the years; his ability to tap directly into the mind of the listener, playing our memories and emotions like yet another instrument in his collection.

Her Quiet Garden was release on Hypnagoga Press in a CD edition of 100 copies (only about a dozen remain). The album is also, of course, available online. You’ll find in the album’s artwork some very unique elements. Boström used a very different technique in it’s creation, which can be seen and explained in better detail through the videos he’s posted online about the process. There has been talk of Her Quiet Garden being the best release yet by Pär Boström. I would rather not make that judgment, I love far too much of his previous work to downgrade its importance in any way. But, with that said, this is one incredibly powerful release, from the technical side as well as the emotional. It also doesn’t hurt, on the technical side, that Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, Cryo Chamber) did the final editing and mastering of the release.

I would highly recommend Her Quiet Garden to anyone that loves to hear various instruments boldly blended with dark ambient elements. But, also to anyone needing a helping hand in coping with loss. You are likely to find as much solace in these songs as Boström did. So get some headphones and take this album with you to your own quiet garden, where ever it may lie.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Skeldos – Ilgės – Review

Artist: Skeldos
Album: Ilgės
Release date: 21 June 2018
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. melas
02. ilgės

Skeldos is an “anxious electronic, industrial, ambient” project by Vytenis Eitminavičius of Lithuania. Ilgės is his third full length solo release. While his debut album, Įspaudai, was released on the Lithuanian label Terror, his last two solo releases, as well as his brilliant collaboration, Aviliai with fellow Lithuanian ambient/drone artist Daina Dieva, have all been independently released.

Skeldos focuses on a form of drone/dark ambient which at times can be incredibly relaxing and calm. But it can move into varied territories with little awareness from the listener. The sounds seem to morph effortlessly. While the music itself can sound a good bit different at times, the approach to these soundscapes seems quite reminiscent of Kammarheit, or some amalgamation of Kammarheit and Taphephobia, maybe. Or at their harshest of times (not present on this album) can come into territory more aligned with artists like Jarl or Yen Pox, creating textures which can seem chaotic and over-bearing, but are still able to totally draw the listener into their coils, taking us on a mental voyage to destinations unknown. An interesting caveat here is that it would appear Skeldos creates all his “drones” with real acoustic instruments, namely on this album: accordion, Lithuanian zither and guitar.

The first track on Ilgės, “melas”, falls somewhere in the middle of Skeldos‘ range of soundscapes. There is a slight harshness, but it is predominately a sort of trance-inducing dronescape, which has little variation, and yet has managed to keep my full attention over many, many replays. I could maybe lightly compare the style to something more reserved on Aural Hypnox. The second track, “ilgės”, takes us into calmer, more melancholic territory. The backing dronework has a sort of celestial/shimmering/peaceful quality to it, which is accentuated by its solitude within the track. As listeners begin to sink into this trance, Skeldos introduces, for the first time on Ilgės, what I think is his most defining characteristic. His vocals. Skeldos has a very relaxing mid-deep ranged vocal quality. His vocals sound as if they are a lullaby, cutting through the darkness of night, in a sort of singing whisper. As we reach the end of the track, the energy of the soundscapes, as well as Skeldos‘ vocals, pick up momentum for a more emotional finale.

The inspiration for this album was taken from the poem “melas” or “A Lie” by Lithuanian writer Antanas Škėma. In the physical cassette release of Ilgės, Skeldos features the poem in its original Lithuanian as well as in English translation. This poem is included on a beautiful tan paper adorned with artwork similar to that of the album cover. The ART edition (25 of the 100 copies) goes a step further, stitching this paper directly into the handcrafted cassette case, giving it a very personal ‘do-it-yourself’ sort of feel. Though I should say the end result, concerning the cases, looks like quite professional work. The cassette itself is blank aside from a white “I” or “II” painted in its center, which isn’t  “professional”, but avoids my greatest problem with unlabeled cassettes, which side is which? Also, the hand-painted numerals further add to the DIY aesthetic. In the end, I’d say this is one of the best looking handcrafted cassette releases I’ve seen so far. Proof that  overall quality doesn’t need to be sacrificed on account of the hand-crafted nature.

Skeldos is a little known artist, under-recognized much more so than under-rated, that should be seeing a good bit more attention, in my humble opinion. Since discovering his music recently, I’ve been returning to it very often, especially in that last hour before sleep, most frequently after the lights are out for the evening. Skeldos‘ style of drone-work along with his vocal contributions make for a wonderfully peaceful, if thoroughly melancholic, experience. I would highly recommend Ilgės to anyone that loves the calmer more introspective forms of dark ambient. Ilgės is certainly on par with many of the genre’s renowned artists.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Hezaliel – Paradise Lost – Review

Artist: Hezaliel
Album: Paradise Lost
Release date: 5 April 2018
Label: Eighth Tower Records

Tracklist:
01. The Pit of Hell
02. Altar of Demons
03. They Darkned the Land of Nile
04. Fallen Angels in a Distant Earth
05. The Snake’s Deception
06. Before and After the Human
07. Reflected in a Mirror of Sins
08. Paradise Lost

This will be my second review of an Eighth Tower Records studio album, the first being the latest Sonologyst offering Apocalypse (read the review here). Eighth Tower Records is a sub-label of the Unexplained Sounds Group, both run by Raffaele Pazzella (read our interview here). Eighth Tower focuses more on dark ambient leaning releases, and less on the experimental nature of USG. Their slogan being, “Superspectrum sounds from Ultraterrestrial dimensions.” Paradise Lost is the sixth proper full length release, but there are also a number of compilations (one reviewed here), which contain a combination of exclusive and previously released tracks, each focusing on a specific theme.

“I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

Hezaliel is a project out of Belgium by Steve Fabry, who is also known for his work in metal projects The Nightstalker and Sercati. His Hezaliel music, in general, could be described as a sort of tasteful horror ambient. Meaning there is darkness abound in this release, but it never pushes that feeling too far, never taking us into the more absurd territory of some other horror ambient albums.

Our first encounter with the theme comes in the cover art, which is a beautiful 1866 engraving done by Paul Gustave Doré for John Milton‘s epic poem Paradise Lost, which was first published in 1667. The poem, and so too the album, focus on the biblical story of the fall of man, namely Satan’s deceit of Adam and Eve, resulting in the end of paradise. So, while I’ve stated that this is a sort of horror ambient album, the themes are of a religious nature. But, with a theme such as the fall of paradise the religious and horrifying can come together quite easily.

The first half of the album focuses on Satan and the other rebel fallen angels, in their underworld. Thus the music is given liberty to be incredibly dark, as the soundscapes are basically recreating hell itself. Though, within this darkness there are moments of almost a dark bliss, such as on “Fallen Angels in a Distant Earth”, which includes what sounds to be field recordings of crashing waves, as if we are following the fallen angels on a walk along a prehistoric coastline.

Paul Gustave Doré – Engraving from Paradise Lost

The second half takes on more an air of sadness and regret. There are more likely to be fleeting melodies emerging from the background. The dense soundscapes give way to more peaceful qualities, as the storyline is generally pulling us toward a sad conclusion, which will play out over following millennia.

Hezaliel has crafted an album, in Paradise Lost, which is first and foremost an enjoyable listen. It has that perfect balance of active and passive qualities, giving it a higher level of replayability over an extended period of time. His techniques seem to have improved since his debut, In The World of the Anesthetist which came out on Kalpamantra in early 2017. Following the narrative of a tried and true classic, like Paradise Lost by John Milton, gives Hezaliel room to build a story with more details that are able to be understood immediately by the average listener.

Paradise Lost is one of my favorite yet on Eighth Tower Records. Hezaliel has shown that he is up to the task of creating dark ambient albums with depth and detail. The theme for this one seemed quite appropriate for a dark ambient album, and it also fit very nicely with the general aesthetic of Eighth Tower Records, keeping that focus on the “ultra-terrestrial” intact. I would recommend Paradise Lost to those that prefer there dark ambient to be a bit more active, but never abrupt or jarring. It makes for a nice reading companion, but it is also able to keep your attention during isolated listening sessions in a dark room with headphones.  With a heavy focus on theme and an ability to show reservation when creating such dark soundscapes, Hezaliel will certainly be an artist to watch over the coming years.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrox Pestis – Hewn by the Hands… – Review

Artist: Atrox Pestis
Album: Hewn by the Hands of the Damned
Release date: 20 January 2018
Label: Chryptus Records

Tracklist:
01. Hewn by the Hands of the Damned
02. With Seven Tongues, He Spoke
03. Choking on the Waters of the Firmament
04. They Will Reach from the Heavens (Cut off their hands)

Atrox Pestis is a new project by Grant Richardson. Richardson has been a powerful player in the death industrial scene as his main project, Gnawed. Since 2009, Richardson has been scavenging the depths of the Minneapolis underworld. Searching the dank tunnels beneath this city, Richardson found the voice for his music. Metal clanging and grinding, washes of reverberated drone, vocals distorted beyond recognition, these are the offspring of Gnawed.

Atrox Pestis gives Richardson’s immersion in post-industrial music a new outlet. For fans of Gnawed, you will find much of that same industrial/mechanical darkness. But the mood and execution have both been greatly subdued, in comparison to Gnawed. This is a proper dark ambient release. Devoid of any percussion or distorted vocals (though it does include some Gregorian style chants), Richardson focuses on a more introspective atmosphere. Where Gnawed shows the destruction of the world, Atrox Pestis shows the destruction of the mind, within this doomed biosphere.

Hewn by the Hands of the Damned takes on a religious element as well as one of societal/planetary collapse. On the release’s Bandcamp page, Chryptus added several Biblical passages which are worth sharing here:

Mark 9:43
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.

Genesis 1:6
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

These passages illuminate the album’s struggle with the current standing of mankind. Questions of what is evil, what is good, who are the enemy, who are the saviours? Should we deserve to be erased from history? Should we fight to correct our trajectory? How would that look? What laws would we impose, in order to bring about vast societal/planetary changes?

Hewn by the Hands of the Damned is Atrox Pestis first full-lenghth release. But, in 2016 and 2017 they released a self-titled C40 cassette on Maniacal Hatred (Richardson’s own label), and a split with Strigae on Phage Tapes. If you enjoy Hewn by the Hands of the Damned I would highly recommend going back to these older releases. Especially the split with Strigae, a project created by Leo Brochu, owner of Chryptus Records, another very promising new dark ambient artist, which I will be planning to cover more thoroughly in the near future.

While Atrox Pestis debut is going under the radar, a young project released on a young label, there has been no shortage of praise for this release from veteran dark ambient musicians. This is always a sign of a promising new project, as so many of the veteran producers from this genre will likely have a much more critical ear than the average listener. Hewn by the Hands of the Damned is the perfect release for listeners of the older industrialized dark ambient acts such as Svartsinn, Yen Pox, and others in this vein that are able to incorporate some harsher, more metallic sounds, while simultaneously keeping the album sounding smooth and polished. While you may find little in the way of new ideas on this release, you will find a producer creating at the top of his game. Let’s hope more listeners come along for the ride, as this project is not one to be overlooked!

Review by: Michael Barnett

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