Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 7)

Medhelan – Ticinum Insubria – Review

Artist: Medhelan
Album: Ticinum Insubria
Release date: 25 February 2015, Re-release 2017 on Cassette
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. Il Viaggio Di Belloveso (Bellovesus’ Journey)
02. Il Ramo Delle Streghe (the Witches’ Marsh)
03. La Luna E Il Fiume (The Moon and the River)
05. Nemeton
05. Epona
06. Oltre il Cerchio del Tempo (Beyond the Circle of Time)
07. Alba Insubre
08. Belisama
09. Terra Di Nebbia (Land of Mists)
10. Gli Spiriti Del Bosco (Spirits of the Woods)
11. An Thon
12. Samonios
13. Ticinum Insubria
Note: Track 06 is only available on the cassette version.

Matteo Brusa, the man behind Medhelan, has been slowly solidifying himself as a force within the dungeon synth and dark ambient genres over the last few years. While Brusa’s first release only came about in 2015, we shall see that the lead up to these releases have been years in the making. Medhelan is, at this point, most well known for his strictly dungeon synth albums. But, what first attracted me to his sounds was the combination, on several albums, of dungeon synth with dark ambient. Medhelan seems to have quite a good grasp on the spirit and formulae behind both of these genres, and his ability to casually meander between the two is noteworthy.

Ticinum Insubria, the album in question for today’s review, was actually the first full length effort by Medhelan, releasing in early 2015. Ticinum Insubria would be the first of his pairings of dark ambient and dungeon synth. That year would also see the release of his EP, The Minstrel’s Fireplace Tales, which is strictly dungeon synth. Later that year, he released Nocturnal Wanderings, as the title makes obvious, its an album that is perfect for those late-night hours of insomnia, when the mind is floating between the realms of consciousness and slumber. By October of 2015, Medhelan released A Crown of Ice and Stone, a split with winter synth master Elador. This was my introduction to Medhelan, as I’m a huge Elador fan. Though these releases were well enough received, 2016 would be the year that brought the name Medhelan to the “mainstream” of the dungeon synth genre. In July of 2016 Brusa released the album Fall of the Horned Serpent on Deivlforst Records. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the present dungeon synth scene should be very familiar with Deivlforst Records. This album took his work in the dungeon synth genre to the next level, finding universal praise for his efforts among the dungeon synth scene, and quickly selling out the digipak version of the release.

The cassette release of Ticinum Insubria, in 2017, gives us reason to travel back to the roots of Brusa’s musical compositions. Ticinum Insubria was actually written and recorded in 2007-2008, but it wouldn’t find its way to the public for almost a decade. This release is a brilliant example of how the genres of dark ambient and dungeon synth can mingle in perfect harmony, given the correct artist at the helm.

While the album certainly leans more in the direction of dungeon synth than it does dark ambient, there are enough cross-over elements to warrant labeling it as both. Even if the dark ambient elements often lie dormant in the background, I truly believe this is the sort of album, if there ever were one, that could attract a number of dark ambient followers to the cause of dungeon synth.

The opening track “Il Viaggio di Belloveso” (Bellovesus’ Journey) begins with field recordings of what sounds like a distant storm or maybe an incoming army. The synth slowly enters the mix in the form of a gentle drone. As the track unfolds percussion leads us into a combination of synth and guitar arrangements that give the feel of an adventure just beginning, which is portraying the start of the journey of Bellovesus. Bellovesus was a legendary Gallic king. Bellovesus, around the time of 600 BCE, invaded northern Italia during the reign of Tarquinius Priscus (616BCE-579BCE), the 5th king of the original Roman kingdom, which would soon afterward fall, being replaced by the Roman Republic, that legendary political order which would survival until its ultimate demise at the hands of Julius Caesar and his heir Octavianus (Augustus).

This opening track gives us a very specific time and place, we know exactly what, where and when to have in mind as the rest of the album proceeds. After this first track, most of what follows focuses more on the depiction of moods and landscapes rather than continuing with any specific narrative. We are able to imagine the places encountered by Bellovesus and his army as he makes his way south into the Italian peninsula. We can feel the emotional effects of his journey, some times serene and reflective, other times nefarious and bellicose.

“La Luna e il Fiume” (The Moon and the River) is a track that brilliantly showcases the dark ambient/dungeon synth crossover capabilities of Medhelan. A great rumbling field recording sets the foundation and mood, while various synth sounds are used to build a narrative atop this base. Again, the track is most definitely dungeon synth, but the use of dark ambient elements, by way of the field recording and a slowly moving violin-like synth/drone element, deliberately work together with the other synths to form a track which is full-bodied and highly atmospheric as well as entertaining.

“Oltre il Cerchio del Tempo” (Beyond the Circle of Time), the track exclusive to the cassette release, is one of the more relaxing and reserved compositions on the album. It features subtle percussion and a repetitive synth arrangement which come together to give the listener the feeling of relaxing in a deep lush forest, watching the birds soar above, as a babbling brook meanders through the thick of the forest. The track title gives us the idea that Medhelan may intend for this to be a time for thinking of more lofty concepts, the greater meaning of life, our place and role within the galaxy, etc.

The 2017 cassette release of Ticinum Insubria was self-released by Medhelan. Yet, the craftsmanship of the release meets or exceeds that of most dark ambient and dungeon synth tape labels. The cassette itself is beautifully presented in white with a sticker on both sides which perfectly captures the Gallic elements of the release. The cover of the j-card features alternate artwork and a logo created by Dan Capp, an artist well-known and revered within the dungeon synth community for his work on the majority of the Deivlforst releases as well as many of the later releases of Burzum to name a few. The j-card folds-out to reveal a larger logo and the following text, which helps the listener to better understand the theme of the album.

Inspired by history, folklore and Celtic roots of the Ticino Valley, in northern Italy, “Ticinum Insubria” is meant as a journey through natural landscapes of woods, marshlands, rivers and plains, following trails of historical events, painting pictures of ancient times and legendary places, evoking pagan deities and forgotten rituals, or searching for the witches, tree spirits and mythical creatures of old folk tales.

As I’ve already mentioned, this is the perfect release for dark ambient fans that have been looking for a good introduction to the quickly growing genre of dungeon-synth. There are many branches of the genre that deviate from those introduced by Mortiis back in the early 90s. This is but one of those branches, yet it is surely a highlight amongst its peers.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Hoor-Paar-Kraat – The Place of the Crossing – Review

Arist: Hoor-Paar-Kraat
Album: The Place of the Crossing
Release date: 14 January 2017
Label: Chthonic Streams

Tracklist:
01. Part One
02. Part Two

Hoor-Paar-Kraat is one of the musical projects of surrealist painter Anthony Mangicapra. He’s been releasing music for over 15 years on various labels. However, my first encounter with this musician was through this latest release, The Place of the Crossing, on Chthonic Streams.

The sounds of Hoor-Paar-Kraat fall somewhere between the realms of experimental, ambient, dark ambient, noise and neo-classical among probably several other potential tags. Needless to say, with this wide range of genre associations the music is quite interesting throughout the 22-minutes of this cassette release.

There are only two tracks on this album, which are unnamed. The only cue of a separation between the two tracks is the segregation between two sides of the cassette. The music on Part 1 is a gradually progressing aural experience. The sounds incorporated seem to be almost too numerous to fully document. The track starts off in a complete silence that slowly introduces some field recordings of various sounds which amount to maybe something shuffling around on a table. From there is presumably an acoustic guitar which is heavily treated with delay, subtle drones fade in and out of the mix, and a plethora of other natural and/or synthetic instruments come and go. There seem to be tape-loops making up at least some portion of the foundation of this track, though the experimental nature of the track makes it hard to fully settle on any one concrete conclusion. There is a bit of a lull in the middle of the track, before it gradually picks up intensity in the second half; harsher drones becoming the dominant element.

Part 2 starts off abruptly with the sounds of classical music being heavily manipulated, likely by means of manually spinning a record, forward, backward, slowly and then much faster and back again. These manipulated classical sounds continue on for several minutes, at times feeling like something that could be comparable to the vinyl manipulations of The Caretaker. By the time we reach the middle of the track, these classical manipulations have faded and been replaced by something much more electronically/digitally oriented. Strange noises, likely originating from some sort of synthesizer effects provide a base for the soundscapes with vocals being played in reverse just beneath the surface of the mix. Like the previous track, as we move toward the end the sounds become harsher before slowly fading back into silence.

While it is necessary to use words like harsh and noise to describe some of this music, these elements never move into a territory which would become overwhelming. The beauty of The Place of the Crossing is its ability to be at once heavily experimental and occasionally noisy without ever taking it too far. Restraint is used perfectly to keep the sounds right on this threshold without ever going too far into the harsh noise or chaotically experimental territories. Though these elements create the entirety of the album, it still feels like an often relaxing and always interesting musical experience.

The physical release of this album is presented beautifully by Chthonic Streams in the form of a simplistic yet elegant looking cassette accompanied by an autographed art print and single sheet of high quality paper which presents the albums credits. These are all delivered in a black portfolio box.

The cassette seems to be the perfect format for an at times noisy and experimental release of this sort. The manipulations of the soundscapes presented by Hoor-Paar-Kraat will quite likely leave the listener a bit concerned on the first play-through as there are sections where the music literally sounds like the tape is being eaten by the tape player. I find this to be a clever and entertaining element of the product. Its as if the musician is breaking through that fourth wall, giving them the ability to further mess with the mind of the listener.

As my first foray into the works of the Chthonic Stream label, I find this release to be a pleasant listen. It has enough diversity of sounds to keep the listener thoroughly entertained on an active listen, while simultaneously never pushing the boundaries so far as to be a complete disruption on a more passive listening session. The physical release is well thought-out and seems to be masterfully prepared. I would certainly recommend this to listeners who dabble in experimental music. The album is just experimental enough to be a novel experience, without ever going so far as to sound chaotic, a balance which is often missed on these sorts of endeavors.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Rafael Anton Irisarri – The Shameless Years – Review

Artist: Rafael Anton Irisarri
Album: The Shameless Years
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Umor Rex

Tracklist:
01. Indefinite Fields
02. RH Negative
03. Bastion
04. Sky Burial
05. Karma Krama
06. The Faithless

Rafael Anton Irisarri releases a monolithic exploration of hominin calamity.

Ambient music falls under a distinct spectrum of effect. Some artists evoke alternate mental spaces, others provide a space for listeners to reconcile themselves to the present world, and many accomplish a bit of both. New York’s post-minimalist composer Rafael Anton Irisarri has traversed several ends of this spectrum, but his latest effort comes as an austere acknowledgement of the human experience in all of its dismal magnitude. The Shameless Years stands as one of Irisarri’s most honest and passionate releases to date.

It’s hard to avoid falling into despair when looking at the world’s current state of affairs, but Irisarri has no intention of denying any unhappy realities. Through gargantuan dream symphonies, The Shameless Years imparts a coming-to-terms story over-arched by lamentations about mankind’s regression into an audacious era.

These six tracks remain shrouded in murky soundscapes, non-linear structures and dynamic plateaus. However, “Indefinite Fields” is immediately the modulative might of The Shameless Years. Spellbinding refrains navigate through a maze of oceanic white noise, gently pushing along synthetic hypnotism and seismic chord changes. The following “RH Negative” further front-loads the album’s melodic qualities, capturing the desolation left in the wake of intolerant outlooks. Irisarri stacks layer upon layer of rumbling sub-bass and distorted guitar strains on a cinematic lead as clanking percussion pushes it to an overwhelming climax of melancholic splendour.

Though the meat of The Shameless Years revels in nebulous gloom, Irisarri still wears his heart on his sleeve as he grapples with his finality. “Bastion” heralds the album’s descent into droning immensity, simultaneously pulverizing and assuaging the senses with its blend of refined arrangement and aural oblivion.

Irisarri’s vast orchestrations partly spring from the recognition that he has now outlived his father at only 40 years of age, the resulting textural cushion allows listeners to ride a transcendent crescendo towards profound acceptance of their limitations within a chaotic universe. “Sky Burial” returns to melody as quasi-choral inflections soar above suffusive meanderings, but Irisarri stays true to form by never fully locking into a form. His amorphous notation gives a cosmic perspective on existential turmoil.

The Shameless Years arguably reaches its most impactful territory with two collaborative pieces with Iranian ambient storyteller Siavash Amini. Though contrasted in their approaches, these songs raise an overpass linking two countries separated by violence, war and fear. Amani and Isarri are united by their middle-eastern heritage, yet the path between Iran and New York has become marred by horrific adversity. Their tandem effort shines a light of dismay and empathy into a wounded world — embodying the groans of the afflicted and the ache of those who would intercede.

“Karma Krama” juxtaposes angelic swells over cavernous feedback walls and abrasive static undertones, spotlighting the plight of the disenfranchised and the negligence of the privileged like a train-wreck happening in slow motion. Every layer forms a more detailed portrait of the struggle to preserve innocence, and its culmination signals the full realization of pandemic sorrow in a time where nothing is sacred and life is cheap.

Massive upsurges acquire a softer touch during the final and longest track. A fragile melody ushers “The Faithless” in, and out of its 13 minutes, offers the most vulnerable cut on the record. Distant noise-scapes and eerie bass gradually give this moving line buoyancy within its subterranean atmosphere. The song surfaces from the depths with deliberate grace via inconspicuously added drones, suspending itself over a foundation of shimmering arpeggiations and murmuring sound collages. After the final percussive clicks echo out, listeners are left to ponder their sonic journey.

The Shameless Years feels endless until it’s over, mirroring the harrowing dichotomy between alarming rapidity and agonizing sluggishness that defines the human experience. Glorious arrival points last forever until they fade in the same way the slowburn of reticent ruminations seems indefinite until unforeseen escalation whisks it away… and it all ends before one has time to truly comprehend what they just experienced.

Multiple listens and a continuous internal dialogue about the subject matter are required to fully appreciate the calamitous odyssey this album harbors within its sprawling sound collages. Its exploration of mankind’s frailty and failures compasses astride a conciliate raft of abstract sublimity. The Shameless Years is not only a bulwark of post-minimalist music, but a stunning account of the deepest insecurities of Rafael Anton Irisarri and his most lofty appraisals of stricken generations.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Randal Collier-Ford – Promethean – Review

Artist: Randal Collier-Ford
Album: Promethean
Release date: 8 August 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Breach
02. Watching Eden Burn
03. Flesh Reconstitution
04. Apotheosis (feat. Northumbria)
05. Arc of Thralls
06. Reverence of Wounds (feat. Simon Heath)
07. The Fruitless Lands Pt II (Live Excerpt Redux)
08. And Hell Followed
09. Rebirth Through Fire

On his third release with Cryo Chamber, Randal Collier-Ford closes his apocalyptic series. Promethean follows in the footsteps of Remnants and The Architects before it, bringing listeners into a futuristic version of our world which has seen itself torn apart. But this dying planet clearly has achieved many more technological advances than are present in our current age. This gives us a futuristic story which is simultaneously bleak and imaginative, progressive in its advancements of science and robotics, but degenerative in its social stability.

We are told in the album blurb for Promethean that this final chapter of the story takes place years after the events depicted in The Architects. If The Architects was the time of great advancements, Remnants was the time of their decline, and it would seem that Promethean is the time of a renewal or a wiping of the board, a clean start for whatever remains of humanity.

Parallels can be drawn between this trilogy by Randal Collier-Ford and the stories of Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, both by Cryo Chamber label-head, Simon Heath. The story seems to be linear in its telling across this trilogy, moving toward a definite end, like that of Sabled Sun. But, like Atrium Carceri, the storyline is often blurred and not necessarily following a single protagonist through this series of events. It would seem that each album in this trilogy contains its own mini-story, all three of which connect to form the full scope of the trilogy. But, pinpointing this as a formula still won’t necessarily bring a lot of clarity. It doesn’t seem feasible to pull the whole story together in this review, though I tried hard to connect the dots. Much like the stories by Simon Heath, the hints given by Randal Collier-Ford will take time, effort and a bit of imagination to fully reveal themselves. The guessing is half the fun and each listener is likely to draw their own conclusions.

The opening track, “The Breach” is certainly the most straightforward attempt to let listeners in on some of the secrets. We hear the voice of the album’s protagonist, but it is distorted, troubled and frankly hard to understand. But, with repeated listens on a good set of headphones, the passage will definitely start to come together. The story seems to pick up on Day 252 of the protagonist’s journey, or at least their documentation. We are told that there has been a possible overdose on some drug, but that this will not hold them back from continuing with their mission, whatever it may be.

As we move through the album, along with the protagonist, we encounter the recurrence of crackling fires, footsteps and strong rains, usually accompanied by thunder. Within this journey across this scarred landscape we encounter a plethora of futuristic mechanical sounds. Sometimes it seems that we are moving into some industrial complex, other times we may come across some demonic robot, maybe of the sort that we were introduced to so long ago in “Construction of a Demon” on The Architects. Then late in the album on “And Hell Followed” we experience deep rumbling bass and industrial noises of some heavy machinery. Which may or may not represent the place visited during “Hellgate”, also from The Architects. The protagonist, most often seems to be making a solitary journey, devoid of other human life, but there are instances like “Arc of Thralls” which seems to be a potential point of encountering slave laborers in some industrial complex, or maybe these are just more machines.

All these futuristic, industrial and robotic sounds on Promethean seem to have connections to The Architects. But, there is an equal portion of the album that pulls at a more emotional element, which makes an equally potent connection to Remnants. The setting of lonely campfires and what seems to be perpetual thunderstorms help set the emotional aspect of Promethean. Furthering adding to these elements are the contributions of Simon Heath on “Reverence of Wounds” and Northumbria on “Apotheosis”.

“Reverence of Wounds” seems to be the perfect clashing of the two different elements of futuristic technology and a solitary depression. The track starts off giving vivid details of footsteps inside a building, robotic whirs and bleeps as if the protagonist is working hard in some robotics laboratory, but the track takes a dramatic turn midway through, as if the protagonist is stepping outside of this area, gazing over the scorched abandoned landscapes. The piano draws on emotions of longing and despair. We can almost imagine the dark heavy clouds hovering over a dilapidated cityscape, crumbling streets, abandoned homes and vehicles. The protagonist, reminiscing on memories of times and events that will never return, or that he may never have even been able to experience in the first place. This sentiment seems to continue as the album proceeds into “The Fruitless Lands”, another track filled with thunder, rains, contemplative drone-work and a spattering of these futuristic robotic noises which return toward the end of the track.

Ending on “Rebirth Through Fire” the album takes a more positive turn. Plucked harmonics, a catchy piano tune and the continued exposure to the futuristic noises which almost melt into a proper beat provided by electronic percussion lead us to an ending that truly seems to depict a rebirth. Whether the protagonist has actually died and been reborn, has transferred their mind into an artificial vessel or just found a new ray of hope for the future is hard to tell.

What is most important is the emotions evoked on this journey, the experience of the listener as they travel through the varied landscapes created by Randal Collier-Ford. After years of experimenting with just about every angle of the dark ambient genre, Randal Collier-Ford has learned exactly how to move our minds in the way he intends. The story is meant to be elusive and cryptic. But the emotions are real, the experience is authentic. Whether any of us listeners will one day crack the code, and figure out exactly what the hell is happening on this trilogy is secondary to the experience of enjoying it for what it is, a work of aural art. Highly cinematic at times and down-right musical at others, Promethean is a pleasure to experience in its entirety.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Asath Reon – Buried Visions – Review

Artist: Asath Reon
Album: Buried Visions
Release date: 10 August 2017
Label: Black Mara Records

Tracklist:
01. Aka Manah
02. Dark Waters
03. The Timeless Self
04. Soul Stealing
05. Lone Weaver
06. Rise of the Forked-Tongued
07. The Damned
08. Tower of Silence

I’ve been following the musical career path of the artist behind Asath Reon for several years now. Back around early 2015 I found his old project Morvranh. I quickly fell in love with sounds of his music. The darkness was heavy, the sounds were subtle, perfect for increasing that dark augmentation to my surrounding atmosphere. Over the next few years, Morvranh continued to gather the releases. As a solo artist his albums found their way to labels such as Forest Path, where his first album, Mysterium had a digipak release. His work with Ruairi O’Baoighill in the form of Order of the Black Dawn released their first collaboration through Noctivagant Records.

Early 2017 saw a change of direction for Michal Polgár, from Handlová, Slovakia. Starting with a fresh slate, Asath Reon was born. This project would go on to record the debut, Buried Visions, which has been released through Black Mara Records, out of Novosibirsk, the Siberian city in south-central Russia. True to form, when it comes to Black Mara, the release was given an impressive production. The album is available in an exclusive limited-edition, on a CD that comes with a red leather hard-bound book, themed photos, poems and quotes, as well as a hand-made wooden pendant. There is also a themed t-shirt coinciding with the release.

Asath Reon takes Michal Polgár into some of the darkest territory we have yet witnessed from him, arguably darker even than much of the Black Mara discography! Its foundation lies directly in the ritual ambient sub-genre with a full array of sounds drawing it to this placement. One need look no further than the opening track, “Aka Manah”, to find so much of what makes this project truly dark. There are singing bowls, human chants, recitations from some malefic book in a deep guttural tonality. All these elements sit atop a layer of hollowed-out drone-work. By the end of the track, the ritual is underway and the listener is primed for the further plunge into these daemonic rites.

Much of the album more or less follows these patterns described in “Aka Manah”. The music could be compared to that of Shibalba. I use Shibalba as a reference to these sorts of albums quite often, but it really is the case. The one point that Asath Reon differs noticeably and may even surpass Shibalba is in the use of this guttural vocal element. The vocals produced by this artist are beyond malign and seem to arise directly from the fiery depths of the earth.

On “The Timeless Self” the vocals seem to come, not from some dark priest, but instead from some horrendous creature, some truly demonic aberration. The drones, chants, ritual instruments and field recordings come together in a cacophonous wall of sound that eats away at the sanity of the listener. This is not to mean that the sounds are unpleasant, everything works together as a seamless whole, that feels right, regardless of the depths of its darkness.

We should not be surprised to hear such a quality release. Black Mara have continued to prove that they are not going to back down from the realms of ritual dark ambient. They are slowly finding their niche, which diverges greatly from that of a label like Aural Hypnox, but finds an equally attractive balance and consistency in its form of ritual darkness. Michal Polgár has been honing his skills for years, and now more than ever he seems like he’s truly found his calling. I would highly recommend Buried Visions to any fan of ritual ambient music. Asath Reon could easily become one of the heavy weights in this genre.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Thangorodrim – Gil-Estel – Review

Artist: Thangorodrim
Album: Gil-Estel
Release date: 16 August 2017
Label: Deivlforst Records

Tracklist:
01. Into the Great Battle
02. Ancalagon
03. Vingilótë
04. By the Light of the Silmaril
05. Thangorodrim’s Ruin
06. Bonus: Gil-Estel (Seamless Mix – Whole Album)

The genre of dungeon synth has been steadily increasing in popularity over the last year or two. What started out in the early-mid 90s particularly with Mortiis, as well as a few other artists, many of whom came from the black metal scene, has in these recent years blossomed into a full-blown genre with a number of record labels dedicated to the style and many more solo artists self-releasing troves of lo-fi albums. From a listener’s perspective, entry to this genre at the moment can be quite dizzying and there have been more than a few articles from Bandcamp Daily, among others, that seek to give listeners an introduction to the genre.

As my interest in the genre has increased, I’ve found that the Deivlforst Records label stands out above the rest. The releases often come with limited edition physical media, cassettes and high quality digi-paks have been the norm, but they have recently delved into the vinyl format on their re-issue of Taur-nu-Fuin, also by Thangorodrim, which released simultaneously with this new album Gil-Estel.

Thangorodrim has been hailed as the best dungeon synth artist since Mortiis by more than a few fans and critics of the genre. I won’t make any definitive statement about this, but I can say that I enjoy his music as much as, if not more than, most other dungeon synth projects I’ve heard. I was quick to purchase a copy of that first vinyl, which I assume will sell out reasonably fast, even with it being released in an edition of 300 copies.

Gil-Estel is the fourth release by Thangorodrim since he entered the scene in 2016, and it is his second on Deivlforst Records. On all these releases Thangorodrim has strictly created music inspired by the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien. Each album has focused on a different topic, they are not to be seen as a succession of storyline, running continually from album to album. I will focus in this review only on the two recent releases on Deivlforst, because they are the two full-length releases. It seems worthwhile to cover a bit of Taur-nu-Fuin as it has just seen its vinyl release on the same day as the release of this new album Gil-Estel.

In the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien, Taur-nu-Fuin, a forest in Northern Dorthonion (or the whole of Dorthonion) was a dark and haunted place. It had been filled with horror after the defeated Sauron turned into a vampire and fled to these woods. For this reason, logically, the album Tuar-nu-Fuin had a significantly darker and more gloomy feel than Gil-Estel. The main exception to this being the final track, “Gwindor’s Rest” which had a greater sense of discovery and hope, due to the story surrounding Beleg meeting Gwindor who would help him to find Túrin. The music of Taur-nu-Fuin can be at times gloomy and atmospheric, at other times it can show the signs of conflict and adventure. Within the confines of dungeon synth, the album uses a decent variation of instrumentation from various synths to emulations of flutes, distant choral vocals and various types of drums.

Gil-Estel, in general, has a much more up-beat sound than Taur-nu-Fuin. There is often a sinister vibe to the music, but it rarely touches on those gloomy atmospherics that often arose throughout Taur-nu-Fuin. Considering the subject matter, this makes perfect sense, as Gil-Estel represents epic battles, the death of an enormous dragon and a journey on a marvelously crafted ship.

“Into the Great Battle” unsurprisingly drops us right into the midst of an epic battle, with sounds representing all the guts and glory to be expected within such a foray on Middle Earth. “Ancalagon” is one of the darker songs on the album. The track is named after one of the largest dragons to ever live on Middle Earth. We hear field recordings of winds rushing passed our ears as the great dragon soars through the skies. The final track of the album, “Thangorodrim’s Ruin” depicts the clashing of Ancalagon with Eärendil, who manages to defeat the dragon, casting him down upon the volcanic mountains, named Thangorodrim, totally destroying them in the process.

I have little knowledge of the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien, though I have read The Hobbit and The Children of Húrin and have always had a deep appreciation for Tolkien’s world and mythos building. I have really enjoyed the music of Thangorodrim, even though I knew nothing about the connections to various aspects of Tolkien’s lore. For those well-versed in this mythos I imagine the connections made by Thangorodrim will bring an even greater appreciation for his music. But, they are not necessary to find enjoyment here.

The mastering by Grimrik and the high quality physical release formats of this album provide a great reason to delve into Gil-Estel, as opposed to so many other dungeon synth albums that have been released recently. Adding to this the talents of the man behind Thangorodrim (who is still quite the mystery, only showing his painted face and devoid of social media profiles) this is really a great place to make a first delve into the dungeon synth genre. The only draw-back for me is that I do prefer my dungeon synth to have a consistently dark atmosphere, if one is in agreement with me, I would recommend starting with his previous album, Taur-nu-Fuin. For those already aware of this genre, I imagine you will also find as much to love about Gil-Estel as I have. Whenever I’m in the mood for some dungeon synth, I really can’t go wrong with Deivlforst releases and this one is no exception.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Veiled Monk – The Acolyte’s Burden – Review

Artist: Veiled Monk
Album: The Acolyte’s Burden
Release date: 16 August 2017
Label: Cephalopagus Records

Tracklist:
01. Opening the Night Gate
02. Hall of the Wroth God
03. Subterra
04. The Acolyte’s Burden
05. Speak Death, and Enter

The Acolyte’s Burden is the debut album by Veiled Monk. The music falls somewhere in the realm of dark ambient between ritual and drone ambient styles. While this is his first project as Veiled Monk, the man behind the music has actually been creating music since 2007 under the Melankolia moniker. So the sounds presented on this album are not those of a amateur, the music is crafted with the precision of a master of his trade.

The music on The Acolyte’s Burden is quite varied in style. The opening track, “Opening The Night Gate” is an active form of ritual ambient, starting off quietly with a field recording of dripping water. The music slowly begins to build upon itself, adding further field recordings which paint a dark haunting atmosphere. A voice comes into the mix reciting a verse from some dark malevolent religious sect. Drones are present here but they are not the focus of the track.

The following track, “Hall of the Wroth God” takes us further down that path of ritual ambient. Drones burst through the silence in a bold manner and continue to rumble througout the track. Over the drones we have a variety of field recordings, some industrial noises others sounding like the whispers and gasps of demoniac entities. In the foreground is a chanting similar to some gregorian chants that we would here on raison d’etre or Metatron Omega albums.

The title track, “The Acolyte’s Burden” seems to be using an actual bass guitar to provide the rumbling foundations. Again, throughout the track we hear a plethora of disturbing sounds, seemingly all field recordings captured from some of the darkest and most cryptic places our world has to offer. The track is very subtle and forms a harsh, jarring contrast to the next and final track on the album.

“Speak Death, and Enter” could be described as a marriage between the sounds of Desiderii Marginis and Monocube. There are demoniac growls and chants, while simultaneously a horn like drone builds the background, giving it an almost peaceful feel, directly contrasted against the harsh field recorded sounds.

I don’t usually like to speak in detail on so many specific tracks of an album, and indeed I’ve covered all but one here. The track by track analysis seemed the best way to convey the vast differences and similarities playing off of one another on the album. The dark, haunting field recordings and demoniac voices are the main connectors across the album. Yet, aside from that, each track has a distinct character of its own. Needless to say, this will not be an album with which anyone should become bored. If you like ritual ambient, in any of its varied forms, be it Shibalba, Metatron Omega or those polar opposite types from the artists on Aural Hypnox label, there will be something here to catch your attention.

This is a well executed debut for the Veiled Monk project and a high point for the Cephalopagus label, run by the man behind Araphel. The album is released in the “name your price” format on Bandcamp, so there is really no excuse for not giving it a chance. I, for one, have listened to this album many, many times in the weeks preceding this review and haven’t even gotten close to being tired of it yet. While I’ve used the names of several other artists to convey the in words the sounds presented, I don’t feel that the music has really attempted to mimic, any of these other artists. It seems that Veiled Monk is onto something good here, and we can hope that they continue to stick to this path, of course, with the added refinement that comes in working in a similar format for an extended period of time.

Written by: Michael Barnett

The Rosenshoul – Darkly I Listen – Review

Artist: The Rosenshoul
Album: Darkly I Listen
Release date: 14 August 2017
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. Violence My Heart
02. In Her Blood
03. Revenge And A Black Dog

The Australian musician, Duncan Ritchie, will be best known to our readers from his other dark ambient project Flowers For Bodysnatchers. While he started creating dark ambient initially as The Rosenshoul, he had several highly acclaimed albums as Flowers For Bodysnatchers before he was brought into the Cryo Chamber family. Aside from Atrium Carceri, Flowers for Bodysnatchers has become one of the most successful and recognizable artists on Cryo Chamber, that is, if we are to gauge success by album sales and Facebook followers.

The Rosenshoul has been on hold since the 2014 release of Hidden Field. With all the output coming from the Flowers for Bodysnatchers project, I was a bit surprised to see this new album by The Rosenshoul show up on Bandcamp. Surprised, but also delighted. The difference between the two projects can often be quite minuscule. The most noticeable difference between the two project can be seen in track lengths. While Flowers for Bodysnatchers tracks usually run between four and seven minutes length, The Rosenshoul always delivers long-form tracks. Often as long as twenty minutes in length and usually roughly three tracks per album. This long-form style of dark ambient makes for a more intimate and uniform approach to the music. The Rosenshoul tracks have a chance to slowly develop and they can often gently slide from one emotion or energy level to another within the same track.

Flowers For Bodysnatchers takes on a cinematic dark ambient style which incorporates the cinema into the tracks, building a story within itself. The Rosenshoul also has a cinematic approach, but it is less in the active sense; it leans more toward providing the role of a soundtrack. There is no shortage of field recordings, and there are stories being told, but these stories are much more subtle, allowing the listener to take a more imaginative approach to their interpretation.

Darkly I Listen is full of energy, emotion and intrigue. The album comes with a companion poem, which is helpful in conveying a full understanding of the material to the listener.

Darkly I Listen through the raven.
Darkly I Listen through the trees and
through the walls and the windows.
Darkly I Listen into your violent heart.

Now I will come to you.
Come to you as decay and death.
Come to you slowly.
Like the black dog in the blackest night.

And from the bloodiest of shadows I shall
show you the hell you brought unto me.

The only other descriptor we are given to understand the album is this sentence: “Darkly I Listen explores a Victorian era tale of murder and otherworldly revenge.” There is no point in me attempting to tell my personal interpretations of these tracks or how they fit together as a whole. The process should be personal to each listener, and Ritchie has clearly intended for that process to be an integral part of the experience listeners have with his album.

From a technical standpoint the music is a bit more musical than many other dark ambient artists, though this can also be said about Flowers For Bodysnatchers. Flowers for Bodysnatchers most often incorporates piano sections as the direct musical addition to the soundscapes. The musical elements of The Rosenshoul, specifically on this new album, seem to come in the form of string instruments. In all honesty, I’m not sure if these sections are synthesizer created or if they are the actual instruments being played, but my guess would lean more toward the former. The drone-work is quite active, with swiftly evolving drones coming in and out of the soundscapes, changing note and pattern frequently. The real foundation of this album lies in the field recordings. They have a constant presence throughout the album. They are best described as industrial, not the genre, but as in field recordings collected in an industrial district of a city. A picture comes to mind of a scene from Eraserhead, Henry (Jack Nance) wandering through a dark, rainy, gloomy atmosphere in the heart of the industrial district of some nondescript metropolis. This image fits nicely with the descriptor for the album, which describes this as taking place during the Victorian era, which was also centered amidst the industrial revolution of western civilization.

Darkly I Listen is the most ambitious effort yet from The Rosenshoul. This is the first album to be released under that moniker in the physical format. Darkly I Listen has been self-released by Duncan Ritchie and he’s taken the bold step of creating a digipak CD that appears to be quite professionally executed. The cover-art is beautifully dark, evoking just the right sort of imagery for sounds such as these. The gamble seems to have already paid off, as there are only 8 copies remaining for sale through his Bandcamp page as I write this review. So if you are thinking about purchasing a physical copy, you’d best move fast! I would highly recommend this album to just about any dark ambient fan. It should have no trouble with impressing fans of Duncan’s other project Flowers For Bodysnatchers. It is also a real treat for those fans that prefer the long-form style over short, concise tracks. In short, Darkly I Listen should be a welcome addition to the collection of any discerning dark ambient listener!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Altarmang – Void – Review

Artist: Altarmang
Album: Void
Release date: 21 December 2016
Vinyl release: Autarkeia
Digital release: Hypnagoga Press
CD release: Cyclic Law (Includes two bonus tracks exclusive to this edition)

In only its first year, Hypnagoga Press has shown itself to be a leading label within the dark/ritual ambient genre in terms of quality of packaging, innovation of sounds and breadth of focus. The young label is run by Pär and Åsa Boström, the two siblings from the central/northern realms of Sweden. The label has a multi-dimensional set of goals. So far they have delivered three musical releases and three ultra-high quality pamphlets/zines. In the second edition of The Solar Zine they introduced to us Altarmang, a new project between Pär Boström and fellow Umean, Kenneth Hansson; their debut release coming on a c40 cassette packaged exclusively with The Solar Zine vol.2.

Altarmang made quite an impression on label heads involved in the dark ambient music scene. It wasn’t long before the Altarmang debut was offered an irresistible proposition. Their debut was quickly adopted for a second pressing by the Lithuanian label Autarkeia. Autarkeia is already well known for its deluxe and highly unique re-releases and Void is no exception. Void is now available in a limited edition of 250 copies on heavy black vinyl. It comes beautifully packaged in a sleek black and white outer jacket with a full colour inner jacket which features images of Pär and Kenneth. As far as vinyl releases go, this is one of the more interesting and well prepared packages that I have seen. While the vinyl itself is solid black, with no variant color options, the packaging is quite beautiful, crafted of high-quality materials. It easily reflects the high standards that Pär and Åsa have set for their output.

The music of Altarmang, much like its members Pär and Kenneth, is eccentric, esoteric and crafted with the most unlikely of techniques. Each of its two tracks comes in at nearly 20 minutes, which makes it a perfect fit for a vinyl release. Over this forty minutes of music, listeners are urged to follow these artists into a deep trance-like state. The music is easily enjoyable in its own right, but it is an exceptional tool for meditation purposes. From what I have gathered, Pär and Kenneth spent as much time during the creation process honing their mindsets and opening their third-eyes as they did on the actual crafting of the sounds. With each track being approximately twenty minutes, one may choose either side of the LP to use as a tool for a meditation session.

In the creation process, Pär’s primary goal is the manipulation of sounds. Much of the album consists of guitar and synth drones which have been twisted and warped by various means. Kenneth brings his knowledge as a reel to reel tape enthusiast to the project. He is able to take the initial soundscapes that Pär has created and run them through these antique machines to change them into something that sounds quite hypnotic, and at times almost disturbing and even daemonic. Kenneth’s second contribution to the project comes in the form of his breadth of knowledge as an herbalist. Filling the studio space with clouds of smoke in varied combinations, Kenneth helped Pär to tap into a deep and primal state of mind, making the ritualistic creation of this meditative music have an ever more dense concentration of spiritual energy.

Side A, “Sulphur”, is the more active of the two tracks. It starts off calmly with what I assume to be heavily manipulated analog synthesizer sounds. As the track progresses an electric guitar is used in an increasingly bold manner. Focusing on these sounds during a deep state of meditation, the guitar helps to pull the listener into a deeper level of consciousness and meditation. I have been told that the artists used a blend of essential oils, The Oil of Abramelin, as a dot on their foreheads to help awaken the third eye, I have also mixed a batch of this for my meditative sessions and found it very beneficial.

Side B, “Aether”, is a more subtle and relaxed experience. The music is more heavily focused on the synthesizer elements and doesn’t come to a high energy climax in the same way as “Sulphur”. This track is more suitable for meditative sessions that focus of calmness and reflection.

Of course, the album is perfectly interesting on its own, sans meditation. The sounds, even on “Sulphur” never become so active as to distract the listener from some other primary goal, such as reading, gaming, studying, etc. But, just as the sounds lend themselves so well to meditation, listeners will also find that a traditional listening session can be quite fruitful and enjoyable. I would recommend this album to any fans of ritual ambient, especially those that lean toward the styles presented on the Aural Hypnox label. While the album is available for download through the Hypnagoga Press Bandcamp page, this latest release on vinyl through Autarkeia is really beautiful and well prepared. It will be a great addition to any fan’s record collection.

Written by: Michael Barnett

VelgeNaturlig – Opalescent Pust – Review

Artist: VelgeNaturlig
Album: Opalescent Pust
Release date: 12 May 2017
Label: Winter-Light

VelgeNaturlig is a project from Portugal, the country I always wanted to visit. Even though it is Western Europe, you may say it’s secluded, at least to a certain degree. It’s located on the edge of the continent, surrounded only by ocean and… well, Spain, it feels like it’s culture isn’t that influenced by popular trends like in the case of other nations. Not only mainstream, I would say, but also the underground has this individual face. I wouldn’t describe the Portuguese post-industrial scene as the most resilient, but those few artists I know, they all have their own character, and this fact is not that obvious these days.

One of these artists is Ivo Santos hiding under the VelgeNaturlig moniker, active on the scene for almost fifteen years, though he had some significant moments of silence during that time. Maybe it isn’t a name from the first line of dark ambient, but I suppose that it’s quite recognizable. Although maybe I’m wrong, but I have the feeling that Ivo’s project is more respected and has a high reputation rather than actually being liked and listened for pleasure, if you know what I mean. It may be the effect of a dual nature of the project. It combines organic bliss and electro-acoustic experimenting in an interesting yet not always easily approachable manner. Even the name itself, read it out loud: VelgeNaturlig, it has an organic beauty, but at the same time it’s mechanical and cold. And it describes the nature of the project perfectly.

Opalescent Pust is his first full length album in over ten years, not counting the gterma re-edition of Humus. And it is a very mature piece of dark ambient with all the attributes mentioned above, but mixed in a way that it doesn’t raise any confusion. The drones are dense, sometimes counterpointed by the natural sounds like tiny bells or water streams. It may not have single memorable moments, but it works as one monumental entity. The tracks don’t have beginning nor end, one transforms into another. That was the way Ivo initially constructed this CD, it was later divided into particular indexes. It’s one of these albums which you can place only in your own personal context, made by yourself as it’s floating outside the fourth dimension, you can’t place it in a specific time and space, but have to make up one of your own. For one listener Opalescent Pust may be dark and oppressive, while another will find it soothing and serene. Nothing is obvious here, everything is left for your own interpretation. Even the titles of the pieces are just, I don’t know, to put things in order. Personally, I don’t even care about them, I listen to this CD from the beginning to very last minute without paying attention when one fragment ends and another begins. It absorbs the environment (and the listener’s attention) pretty effectively. Not a bad work, Mr. Santos, not bad at all.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

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