Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 15)

Ugasanie & Dronny Darko – Arctic Gates – Review

Artist: Ugasanie & Dronny Darko
Album: Arctic Gates
Release date: 12 February 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Behind the North Wind
02. Wreck
03. An Object
04. 80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E
05. In the Polar Sea
06. Absorbed by Ice
07. Isolation Pit

“Two weeks you’ve been scouring the Arctic Sea. No sun since you reached the North, the dark water a constant fractured mirror that meets the universe above and pulls you into its black fold. Everything points to “it” resting beneath the ice, in a slumber of centuries.

Three weeks, now on land, you’re getting close. Down here beneath the ice you feel disconnected from the world, like you are leaving the present as you spelunk into the past. You snap another glow stick and throw it down the ice shaft, the light strobes off crystalline walls as it reveals an ancient structure below. The Arctic Gates.”

After Northaunt, Ugasanie (Угасание, which my Belarussian friend has told me is pronounced Ew-Gah-Shay-Nee-Yuh, and which means something like ‘fading away’ in English) was the second “polar ambient” artist with which I fell in love. Pavel Malyshkin of Vitebsk, Belarus has been creating music since around 2010 under this name, with a few solid early albums before he was discovered by Cryo Chamber in 2013 and released the classic White Silence. Since then, Ugasanie has become one of the most well known polar ambient artists within the greater dark ambient genre. He also runs two side-projects: Polterngeist and Silent Universe.

Oleg Puzan of Kiev, Ukraine also came to prominence with his first Cryo Chamber release as Dronny Darko, Outer Tehom, in 2014. Since then, he’s created a vast catalog of albums covering a multitude of styles within the dark ambient genre. He also mentored his now wife and mother of his child, Sasha Puzan aka protoU, who has released a number of solo albums on Cryo Chamber as well as excellent collaborations with Dronny Darko and others. He also has a few side projects of which I particularly enjoy Cryogenic Weekend and Hivetribe.

With Dronny Darko known for his attention to detail using drones and field recordings to create exquisitely nuanced soundscapes, and Ugasanie‘s mastery of the far northern landscapes/soundscapes, we should expect something extra special here! If the amount of times I’ve played this album on repeat over the last few days is any indication, this one is a gem!

The theme takes us to the far north, into the Arctic Ocean, not far north of Svalbard (Spitsbergen), the massive archipelago which has been under Norwegian sovereignty since 1920. The album blurb tells us that there are people searching this region of the Arctic for “it”, which has apparently been slumbering beneath the ice for centuries. This scenario seems to hint at something like a Cthulhu type entity for which the explorers search. It seems that they find signs of what they seek around the GPS coordinates given as the title of the fourth track, “80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E”. I’ve shown these coordinates on the map below.

I’m having a hard time connecting the narrative in the song titles to the narrative in the album blurb. But it seems that the explorers are searching this area by boat in the middle of dark winter (that time of year in the polar regions when the sun sets and doesn’t rise again for weeks/months, depending on how far to the extreme north or south you are). At some point, the explorers wreck their vessel (likely into floating glacial breakaways or the solidifying sea itself). However they move on. They find their way into a shaft, beneath the ice, possibly beneath the frozen sea itself. Until they reach land and ‘The Arctic Gates’. Whatever great mysteries are revealed to them in these depths should be left to the listeners’ imagination.

From a technical perspective, Ugasanie provides brilliant field recordings, which are able to bring this treacherous and frigid northern climate to our headphones. We can feel the gusts of wind, the creaking glaciers, the flexing ice. But, there is much more to this journey than an unwelcoming frozen environment, there is also dark energy, possibly dark gods. Dronny Darko takes the helm on bringing the events and encounters to life within Ugasanie‘s world. The results are magnificent. Both artists show a perfection of their styles here, allowing me to close my eyes and bring this cinematic experience truly to life.

I’ve honestly felt the cinematic elements of Arctic Gates more intensely than most other albums in the last two or so years. Aside from Eximia‘s Visitors album, I haven’t had so much fun trying to piece together a plot since the last time I sat down with the Atrium Carceri discography for several days straight. This is cinematic dark ambient at its best, especially if you like the polar theme.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Abbildung – At the Gates of Ouln – Review

Artist: Abbildung
Album: At the Gates of Ouln
Release date: 25 January 2019
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Brejor
02. Feruni
03. Astrolatry
04. Hymni Zahir
05. Travellers of Eternal Spheres
06. Abyme

“They dream our darkest dreams. They are searching for the untold meaning of their own dreams. They are starting to conjure all manner of strange things; demons, fears and chaos in primeval rituals. The mysteries of their realm unveil themselves, as we descend through their mystical gate….”

Abbildung, meaning in German a ‘mapping’ or ‘depiction’, is the dark ambient project of the Transylvanian, Casian Stefan. Stefan has been creating music as Abbildung since circa 2005. But, he’s also, at least equally, known through the community as the owner of the Essentia Mundi record label. While Abbildung has released the majority of their albums through Essentia Mundi, the last two have been on the Winter-Light label. You can check out my 2015 review of the last album All Demons Are Horned here on Terra Relicta.

Whereas All Demons Are Horned took an active and varied direction, diverging greatly in style from track-to-track, At the Gates of Ouln is a much more uniform release. This isn’t to say that it is any less interesting, but the tracks seem to progress in a smoother fashion. When choral male vocals fade into “Astrolatry” it does so almost effortlessly. When there are moments of percussion, again, they manage to stealthily fade into and back out of the mix.

As an active listen, these smooth transitions give you a reason to pay extra attention throughout the album, lest you miss something. For those incorporating this into  their passive listening, during reading, meditation or yoga, you will find the album can be placed perfectly in the background. Able to build a full and reverent atmosphere without sacrificing one’s concentration on the task at hand.

I use the word reverent because there is certainly a religious undertone which flows through the album. While the choral vocals being used are likely from a Christian choir, there is no reason to believe that this album should be considered a Christian experience. In fact, any hopes of something like that would be quickly dashed, as the beauty of “Astrolatry” shifts into the much darker and more primal “Hymni Zahir”.

In “Travellers of Eternal Spheres” we again return to the choral vocals, but this time they are obscured at a great distance. It is almost as if they become part of the shimmering drones which flow around and through them. The darkness of “Hymni Zahir” seems to have corrupted the beauty of the previous track, and “Travellers of Eternal Spheres” is then rendered a twisted combination of the two atmospheres. As “Travellers” draws to its close, after the 10 minute mark, we are moving toward a stiller darkness. We are left with some subtle field recordings and an ominous set of notes that corrupt and become the silent darkness.

“Abyme” truly represents the abyss here. Those dark and lonely notes from the previous track return, giving us a continuation of that motif. The field recordings become more subterranean and pronounced. The drones are almost non-existent. As the track proceeds through this dark soundscape, an unsettling high-pitched noise slowly begins to invade the track, gradually increasing in intensity (mind you the note/noise is nowhere near on par with something like death industrial or power electronics or noise ambient, this is a harsher but thoroughly dark ambient experience, and nothing I would really need to warn a sensitive ear against). Once this sort of demon has been abated by the 10 minute mark, we are again lost in the depths of an all-encompassing darkness which fades into total stillness.

I really enjoyed the last Abbildung album in 2015, and it was my first experience with the artist at the time. However, I found that there were only certain times when I could listen to the album and really allow it to shine. At the Gates of Ouln is a much more versatile album for me, and in the short time I’ve owned the CD it has been played at least several times a day, and never once was it found to be out of place, whatever I may have been doing at the time. I, therefore, very highly recommend this one. This is the perfect introduction to Abbildung if you aren’t previously familiar. For those of us familiar with his past works, this could likely be the best yet. Add a beautiful digi-pak presentation from Winter-Light, and there is really no excuse not to pick this one up!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Aindulmedir – The Lunar Lexicon – Review

Artist: Aindulmedir
Album: The Lunar Lexicon
Release date: 21 January 2019
Label: Hypnagoga Press

Tracklist:
01. Wind-Bitten
02. Book of Towers
03. The Librarian
04. Winter and Slumber
05. The Lunar Lexicon
06. Snow Above Blue Fire
07. Sleep-Form

Aindulmedir is the latest project from Pär Boström, known to most in the dark ambient community for his work as Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast. Following in the aesthetic the label often presents, mixtures of solitude, mysticism, northern landscapes and nostalgia draw the listener once again into the esoteric worlds presented on Hypnagoga Press.

For this release we will quickly notice a new side of Pär Boström being unveiled. While he often focuses on northern and/or dream landscapes and mysticism in his works, Aindulmedir takes these concepts a little bit outside the confines of the dark ambient genre. Aindulmedir adds a healthy dose of dungeon synth vibes to the mix. But this will not be your standard dungeon synth. Comparisons to someone like Mortiis wouldn’t make much sense here. The sounds of Aindulmedir more closely align with something like Grimrik‘s debut Eisreich. The solitary northern vibes outweigh the fantasy elements here, allowing for a subtlety which is often sorely lacking in the vast majority of dungeon synth releases I hear.

Though I mention a lesser reliance on the fantasy motifs, Aindulmedir actually does bring its fair share of fantasy into the mix. However, this is more noticeable in the album art and theme than the music itself. (Though there are some great fantasy moments, like the track “Winter and Slumber” with its more jubilant vibe.) We can see, through album art and titles, that The Lunar Lexicon transports us to some lonely tower on a remote mountain pass. This tower must be filled with the slowly decomposing grimoires of centuries passed. In the middle of the tower sits the old wrinkled hermit, his white beard falling carelessly across his old robes. In his lap sits some book of knowledge and power, while blue flames dance and leap from within the stone hearth. This is a place I never want to leave…

The Lunar Lexicon is stated to have some connection to a novel Pär is currently in the process of writing. Now, we can all begin to obsessively wonder what mysteries might be in store for us within the pages of this novel. As far as I’ve seen, this is the only public mention of such a work, so we can be sure that frigid climates and magickal books (and maybe even a wizard?) will be part of this narrative. But as the album description says that the music is “crossing the borderlands of a novel Pär is writing”, we are left probably with more questions than answers. I, for one, am incredibly excited about this news.

The album is also said to be “winter music for bibliophiles and hermits”. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, that makes now the perfect time for enjoying such a work. As our world slowly shifts we’ve been seeing vast accumulations of snow across various and often random sections of the world. There is no better time to sit down with a great book, a cup of hot tea or coffee, and Aindulmedir on repeat in the background.

I continue to be surprised by the ability of Pär Boström to continue expanding his musical output into new projects, while also moving forward with the others. I get a bit of a Kammarheit vibe from “Sleep-Form” but really this album sounds nothing like any of the other releases I’ve heard from Boström (of course, not all his works are solo, some like Hymnambulae include his sister Åsa, and Altarmang includes Kenneth Hansson). It will be increasingly interesting over the years to come, as we see how these various projects will all advance and morph.

The album was released digitally as well as in 30 limited edition cassettes. The cassettes were sold-out in something like two hours, so it looks like the community is certainly keeping an eye on these limited edition releases. From their past statements, it seems we can expect to see more of these sorts of ultra-limited edition releases in the future. However, other releases like the Hymnambulae debut, Orgelhuset, were pressed in a much larger quantity, so I guess there will continue to be a bit of each.

Since I first discovered the genre of dark ambient, Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast have both been incredibly important to me. It’s great a few years later to see Pär Boström taking his work in new and varied directions, while still staying faithful to his original projects. The Lunar Lexicon by Aindulmedir is yet another utterly magnificent release to add to that already impressive list.

Written by: Michael Barnett

VRNA – La Vecchia Madre – Review

Artist: VRNA
Album: La Vecchia Madre
Release date: November 2018
Label: Old Europa Cafe

Tracklist:
01. Of Great Silence
02. Ritual of Self-Burial
03. Empty
04. Cenere
05. Campi di Polvere
06. La Vecchia Madre – Ritual of Awakening

La Vecchia Madre is not streaming online,
but you can hear some other music by VRNA below:

VRNA (Urn/Ossuary), occasionally labeled as Urna, is the industrial/ritual/dark ambient project of Gianluca Martucci. Martucci has been creating music under this guise out of Italy since 1998. Starting his career with releases on Slaughter Productions, VRNA has been a solid, but under-the-radar, project which has caught the attention of those with discerning ears for two decades. Tattoo artist by trade, Martucci uses VRNA as his bridge into more mystical realms. Referring to the music as “…reflect[ing] the vacuous psychedelia of an ancient mind casting spells in a modern world” we can see that the sounds created here are intended to work on a higher level than that of a passive-listening ambient release.

The album is incredibly dynamic, at moments slowing to a meditative lull and others reaching moments of utter chaos and frenzy. The overall quality of the production seems to deteriorate at moments, writhing in raw energies before returning to a perfectly balanced state. Percussive elements range from dispersed single beats to fully realized tribal dance rhythms to droning silences. As a ritual ambient piece, it takes the listener through a full experience, seemingly able to direct states of consciousness in strange ways, if one were to properly open themselves to it.

“Of Great Silence” starts with a mid-high range oscillating airy drone. Male chants enter the mix after a few moments. The chants slowly fade into a distorted oscillation, mimicking the dronework. “Ritual of Self-Burial” is simultaneously unnerving and serene. It seems to convey a sense of destructive action with perfectly calm intent. This feeling is certainly reinforced by the track title. This is quite an amazing track in comparison to other similar attempts at this style. It really showcases Martucci’s natural grasp of ritual, industrial and ambient music and how they can all converge in the hands of the right aural alchemists.

After the chaos of the previous track, we move into “Empty”, another highlight of the album, which keeps a subdued level of energy. We are able to envision ourselves in some dark catacomb, witnessing an ancient rite. Wind whirls through the chambers as the chants and incantations echo off the dank stone walls. One can almost smell the combination of torch fuel and frankincense wafting through the chamber, burning their nostrils. As the track moves toward it’s close a clean piano piece enters the mix as the surrounding sounds all descend back into distorted chaos. The moment is reminiscent of some of my favorites in the works of Dahlia’s Tear, but the theme, setting, and therefore also the effect are quite different.

“Cenere” descends the furthest into chaos. The track mainly consists of a repeated vocal chant which is highly distorted along with an array of drones which create a sort of sonic assault upon the senses. Deep reverberations seem to usher in a powerful and malign force.

“Campi di Polvere” starts calmly, a lonely guitar riff plays over an airy drone. It feels like a nice meditative calm amidst the intensity of the surrounding tracks. “La Vecchia Madre – Ritual of Awakening” returns to the oscillating high-pitched industrial drones. There are words spoken over the drones using heavy distortion and delay to create a demonic sort of sound which intensifies into screams and growls over a slowly pounding drum. As the track progresses toward its close, it descends further into a distorted chaos. In seeming conclusion to the entire ritual/album the sound fades out, being replaced by a more primal style of tribal music. A single chanting voice prepares the scene for the aforementioned tribal dance rhythms which are joined by a number of other chants, male and female included here.

This won’t be an album for passive listening. One should really dedicate themselves to the experience of this one in order to fully and properly appreciate it. Released on Old Europa Cafe, La Vecchia Madre comes in an almost cloth or leatheresque textured digipak. As it’s a good album to put your focus toward, I would definitely recommend the physical for taking on driving excursions and the like.

VRNA has been involved in a number of noteworthy releases over the last few months, a few of which include their split with Holotrop, Enkoimesis, and the brilliant compilation Sons of an Older Cosmos. Both of these were through Qualia. There are certainly a number of other previous releases from this artist that are well worth discovery. If you are a fan of ritual ambient that isn’t afraid to take things into intense aural territory, you should find a lot to love on La Vecchia Madre. Those that prefer their ritual ambient subdued and meditative will have a harder time with this one, but could still catch a few of you pleasantly by surprise, as it did with me.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Med Gen – Brittleroots – Review

Artist: Med Gen
Album: Brittleroots
Release date: 22 September 2018
Label: ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ

Tracklist:
01. Peat Accumulation
02. Thallophyta
03. Nelumbo
04. Man From the Bog
05. Silt
06. Oxalis Poisoning
07. Typha

“The quiet humming of the earth and high-pitched bird calls, reflections of the autumn sun in the bog puddles… Silent steps on the path well-hidden in the thickets. No winds here. Just mesmerizing swaying of branches. Maybe they’re giving you signs not to partake in this journey, maybe better turn back and go home while you can… Yet this smell, these colors, those mysterious rustles in the deepness of the woods. One step after another and the story begins to unfold. What lies beneath these murky waters, between the layers of peat and on these oddly colored tussocks? Sun is approaching the horizon, so don’t hesitate, breathe in this night.”

Med Gen is the dark drone ambient project by Russia’s Michael Selitsky. Med Gen sounds often contain vast amounts of rich field recordings, often overlayed with subtle dronework. Though his first release only dates back to 2014, Med Gen has been one of my go-to musicians for contemplative dark ambient music for a few years.

To date, Med Gen has eight full length releases. While his initial releases were either self-released or through the Minus Silence label, recently Med Gen has been releasing his content through the magnificent, but highly under-recognized, ambient label ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ, run by Tim Six (known for his work as Creation VI). ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ have been making their name in the ambient scene with releases which are often quite colorful and artistic, with some bigger name artists working with the label along the way that include: Ugasanie, SiJ, Astral&Shit, Strom Noir and Endless Melancholy among others.

Med Gen says of their creative process and style: “The keeper of the med gen derives its sound from nature worlds and processes, after a long stay in solitude or wandering through nature places, then relays all senses into a sound stream.” This is a great description of the project for me, as the sounds truly do feel like they’ve been pulled directly from someone’s wanderings through nature.

The focus on field recordings and subtle drones makes Brittleroots a highly versatile release. Listeners can incorporate Brittleroots into practices like meditation and yoga, as the sounds provide a rich background, but never move far enough into the active that they become distracting in any way. This also makes the album perfect for background music while reading, or a rich soundscape to usher one into the dreamworld.

While much of the album is more or less uneventful, in the sense that things never really heat up or seem to present an overarching story-line, there are moments of true beauty which emerge from the depths of Brittleroots. “Thallophyta”, for instance, moves effortlessly through its first roughly eight minutes before the background sounds drop out and a lonely synth-line comes to the surface. Subtle field recordings continue to linger in the background. The combination achieves a feel that I would compare to some of my favorite moments in the Northaunt Istid series. Fleeting glimmers of beauty and musicality emerging from the drones, only to sink back into the nothingness moments later.

I would recommend Brittleroots to any lovers of rich field recordings and subtle dronework. If this album is to your liking, you will certainly find a treasure trove of previous works on the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label, as well as within Med Gen‘s personal discography to provide many hours of contemplation and serenity.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Desiderii Marginis – Vita Arkivet – Review

Artist: Desiderii Marginis
Album: Vita Arkivet
Release date: 22 October 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Capsule
02. The Scattering
03. Passing Bell
04. Vertigo
05. Eulogy

“Long awaited new material by one of Sweden’s most revered dark ambient acts. ‘Vita Arkivet’ translates from Swedish as ‘The White Archive’ and is an official document detailing ones funeral arrangements. In death our existence is whitewashed, the slate wiped clean. We start all over and we bring nothing with us where we go. We lose the agency of our own memory and leave it for those left behind to attend to, to continue our story, to write our eulogy. Vita is also the Latin word for Life, so the meaning could also be ‘The Life Archive’. White is the colour of the casket lining, the plaster death masks and the walls of the chapel, it is the colour of the first and last pages. What is kept in between the covers of our life archives? This record is a personal reflection and manifestation of that process, the loss and the great detachment from life, from others, and from ourselves.”

Desiderii Marginis has been one of the leading names in the dark ambient genre for the last two decades. In 1997 their debut release, Songs Over Ruins, took listeners deeper into a territory which had been recently traversed by raison d’être. A style which included a serene, yet troubling, combination of industrial field recordings, choir/chant vocals and various ritual instruments including bells. This combination of sounds gave listeners a different idea of how to look at religious works through dark ambient. Where previous artists like Ain Soph, Zos Kia and Korpses Katatonik often included ritual elements like bells and bone-instruments, particularly Desiderii Marginis and raison d’être took this concept into a new and more refined direction.

Early albums like Songs Over Ruins and Deadbeat held this sort of ‘sacral ambient’ focus, but by the mid 2000’s Desiderii Marginis was delving into different sorts of soundscapes. My two personal favorites, That Which Is Tragic And Timeless and Seven Sorrows, were fully incorporating the use of guitar (often acoustic) as one of the main elements of the project. The sacral fell to the wayside, with a focus more on sadness and isolation. Procession and Hypnosis seemed to be a nice blend of the original sacral style combined with the newer depressive guitar works.

Vita Arkivet is a return to that original sacral style, which Desiderii Marginis initially became so well known for using. The opening track “Capsule” is quintessential Desiderii Marginis, the industrially tinged drones sweep across a sort of quasi-religious, post-apocalyptic soundscape. Following the logic of the album’s theme, this track could be a sort of ‘time capsule’ into the history of this musician. We get a feeling of his previous works returning to the surface. “The Scattering” and “Passing Bell” are reasonably relaxing tracks, which unfold into more complex works as they progress. “Vertigo” has a darker feel to it, there is a greater sense of death and the confusion that might arise during it’s onset.

“Eulogy” starts with the chiming of a bell or singing bowl. It seems to indicate the beginning of something more ritualistic and less personal than the previous tracks. This track is also quite peaceful, but maintains some of that darker vibe from “Vertigo”. I get the sense here that this could be the artist’s preferred actual eulogy. A marking of the end of a life which is filled with equal parts light and darkness. A life concerned with the encroaching industrialized world upon nature. A call for peace, understanding and serenity in a confusing and destructive world.

Desiderii Marginis quietly unveiled this album digitally on their Bandcamp page a few months before the official release. Cyclic Law later would give the album its proper launch. There is a CD version as well as two vinyl variants, black or clear-and-black splatter. I have a copy of the clear/black splatter and it is gorgeous, I highly recommend getting ahold of one of them before that 100 copy edition is sold-out.

I was quickly impressed with Vita Arkivet, it encompasses all the things I love about the entire discography of Desiderii Marginis’ works. Sometimes when an artist has been in the business two decades and they release something like a “Eulogy” album, I get scared thinking this might be their ‘swan-song and departure’. I hope that isn’t the case here, Desiderii Marginis hasn’t become one of the most well known and highly respected artists in the dark ambient genre for nothing. They have decades worth of fantastic releases and live performances to keep followers quite content, but I’m sure there will be plenty more fantastic soundscapes for this artist to visit in the future.

As usual with Desiderii Marginis works, I consider Vita Arkivet to be a must-have for dark ambient listeners. This is a well-honed release by a veteran of the genre. The fact that Frederic Arbour of Cyclic Law decided to give the album a 2-variant vinyl release is a testament to the trust and esteem the community has for this artist. If you haven’t previously browsed their works, I highly recommend you start now with Vita Arkivet and then work your way backward through the hours and hours of wonderful music Desiderii Marginis has shared with us over the years.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Otavan Veret – Syvys – Review

Artist: Otavan Veret
Album: Syvys
Release date: 21 December 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. I
02. II
03. III
04. IV

Otavan Veret is a dark/ritual ambient project out of Finland. Syvys is the second album by the project, which is led by Kaarna (Tervahäät, Slave’s Mask, Anima Artica Label etc..) and Kivelä. There first self-titled album was released back in 2014, also on Cyclic Law.

While there is plenty of reference to stellar space in the description of the album as well as the cover-art, this feels to me more like the soundscapes of a person standing upon the Earth, staring into the vast depths of limitless space. Not an astronaut touring the galaxies. Rather a psychonaut, the mind filling with an eruption of understanding as the cosmos unveil themselves to a mystic hermit, as he gazes from some far northern campsite into the depths of space. The mind becoming fully enraptured and enlightened along the way.

The self-titled debut took the artists on a similar path as their latest Syvys. But, there is a noticeable difference in the sounds. Percussion was used more often in the first album, and has little inclusion on Syvys, where they use more rhythmic patterns with the synths to create a similar effect, but still contain a bit of subtle tribal percussion. There was also a sort of monotony to both releases, which a reviewer of their previous album considered a downside. But, for most fans of dark ambient and similar genres, we appreciate soundscapes that stretch on for 10+ minutes and gradually shift from one emotion into another, bringing the listener along for a beautiful journey, if only they are patient enough to take the ride. Syvys seems to put this ‘monotony’ to better use (probably a bad word for it as this is really nothing like the so-called monotony of a drone ambient release). The soundscapes quickly pull the listener into their grasp, opening us to feelings of awe, oneness and respite. The long track lengths, instead of making the album boring, turn it into a highly meditative medium, one that I’ve incorporated into yoga, and one which is also quite perfect for drifting off to sleep.

The style of the music fits in line nicely with another set of musicians, also hailing from Finland, that blend this feeling of interstellar travel with a simultaneous sense of earthly grounding. That is, of course, the Aural Hypnox label. Otavan Veret excels in the subtle inclusion of ritual elements, in particular chanting, which draw ties to the sounds of Arktau Eos or Halo Manash. Yet, there is also a more electronic feel and a musicality that lean toward a project like Lingua Fungi. Cyclic Law has been doing a splendid job over the last few years of working with artists that are outside the Aural Hypnox label, but share many of the same elements, including projects like Bonini Bulga, Altarmang (both side-projects of Kammarheit), Common Eider, King Eider, and Phurpa.

“I” starts with a piercing high note, which lingers for the first three minutes of the track before slowly fading into a sacral sort of feel, which vaguely hints at the feel of early work from raison d’être or Desiderii Marginis. “II” contains lingering elements of “I” which forms a noticeable continuity between the tracks, though this one is a bit less active. There is a real depth to the layers of sound on “II” I could make fleeting comparisons here to some of the sound design used by Atrium Carceri.

“III” is the highlight of the album for me. For anyone impatient, wanting to find the gem within the release, you should skip to this one and then check out the rest of the album. Though, I greatly prefer hearing it in its proper order. There is a simplicity here that can be deceiving. This takes us closest to the Aural Hypnox comparison. There are definite ritual overtones, but this ritualistic earthly nature seems to melt into the distant cosmos here. The mind of the listener opens and this primal energy pours in. “IV” starts with a high level of almost chaotic energy, reeling off the energies from the preceding track, but as it progresses we are taken into soundscapes that highlight a deep sense of peacefulness and solitude. Here, I get the feeling that we’ve been lying upon the snows of the far north, in some forest clearing gazing upon the stars above. But as we become further enraptured by the sounds, we are slowly losing life, fading off into a deep dark and frigid nothingness. As all fades out, we are left with an almost winter synth sort of outro, which really seems like the perfect ending to this epic journey through the mind, the north, and the cosmos.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – The Call of Cthulhu – Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)

Album: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: Spring 2018
Label: Cadabra Records

Cadabra Records has effectively carved out a niche for themselves with their H.P. Lovecraft vinyl series. It might seem strange to essentially buy an audiobook without the convenience, but their pressing of Lovecraft’s 1929/1930 work Fungi From Yuggoth takes the story’s effect to unimaginable heights. These projects aren’t mere reading. They’re gripping, haunting works of art in and of themselves.

Andrew Leman’s utterance of Lovecraft’s words is harrowing enough in and of itself, but the inclusion of post-industrial legends Theologian was a true stroke of genius. Their nebulous soundscapes embody Lovecraft’s fear of the unknown to a degree no other artist could hope to reach. Given how great Fungi turned out, it only made sense of Cadabra to unite the same artists once more to tackle Lovecraft’s magnum opus—The Call of Cthulhu.

A palpable aura sets into place right when the needle hits the wax, and only tightens its grip on the listener’s senses. Listening to this thing in the dark at high volumes is profoundly nightmarish, as the speaker and the musicians work to magnify the dreadful feeling The Call of Cthulhu elicits. The chemistry between Leman and Theologian is unprecedented in this type of media. Their respect for the source material is evident, as each sound and word resonates at the core of Lovecraft’s chilling narrative.

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While Theologian’s input on this release doesn’t stray far from amorphous noisescapes, their sonic tides rise and fall in synchronization with the story’s emotional crescendos. As Leman gets more impassioned, the soundscape acquires more layers of paranoid sound. The result gives a dumbfounding fervor to protagonist Francis Wayland Thurston’s descent into madness. Lovecraft always made a point to detail the mental fallout experienced by his protagonists after beholding the Great Old Ones, which this recording mirrors as Leman’s tone of voice gets increasingly agitated.

Leman and Theologian’s respective contributions were obviously made to be mutually exclusive, but this project keeps both the reading and the music compelling. Leman’s reading would be captivating without Theologian backing him up, just like Theologian’s finely-crafted ambiance could transfix by itself.

Theologian made a good call to avoid trying too hard to evoke each plot-point as it happens. The musician instead supports the overall atmosphere, working tirelessly to up the ante as the chilling narrative takes its course. There are a few nuanced additions to drive some of the most terrifying moments home. When police official John Raymond hears the ritual drums that lead him to the Cthulhu cult’s terrifying procession, a very quiet, but deliberate rhythmic pulse creeps into the aura.

Instead of trying too hard to musically interpret the story, Theologian intuitively creates a head-space for the listener. It almost works like subliminal messaging, preparing the ears and mind for Lovecraft’s words. This release forces listeners to contend with monsters beyond comprehension after being whisked away to Lovecraft’s macabre world.

For vinyl lovers who haven’t read Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, this is the perfect introduction. For anyone already familiar with The Call of Cthulhu, this provides a re-experience like no other. This album’s immersive ambiance and expressive reading is nothing short of spectacular. It takes nothing from the source material, only adding to its impact as a seminal work of horror and weird fiction. Cadabra may well have outdone themselves with this project.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Senketsu No Night Club – Shikkoku – Review

Artist: Senketsu no Night Club
Album: Shikkoku
Release date: 25 September 2018
Label: Dark Jazz Records (Aquarellist)/ Toten Schwan Records

Tracklist:
01. 衝動の契
02. 漆黒
03. Nothingness
04. Pleasure Can
05. Nikutai No Gakko
06. 愛の渇き
07. Shikkoku
08. Aokigahara Jukai

I really want to stress the point from the start that this album should be a revelation to followers of Bohren und der Club of Gore. I’ve been a massive fan of that project for years, and I have desperately hoped that there would be more projects of this style to follow. There certainly are, in a sense. But, the combination of melancholic jazz, dark ambient, and an ear for subtlety and restraint is one that has proven elusive to many of the albums I’ve heard in this corner of musical oddities. Recently, there have been some sparks of interest in this area that I have found more aligned with the sound palette for which I’m searching. But, Shikkoku is consistently committed to combining these elements to a perfection for an entire album.

Speaking of recent releases which come close to this dark jazz perfection, but only for brief moments. The final track on Shikkoku, “Aokigahara Jukai”, reminds me of a combination of Cryo Chamber releases. Flowers for Bodysnatchers and Atrium Carceri certainly come to mind in the piano, while Phonothek and Wordclock elements stand out on the jazz side, with light saxophone elements fading in and out in a ghostly transition, bass gently plucking away. There is a dark and yet fascinating atmosphere created by this music which is truly on par, in my opinion, with the aforementioned projects on Cryo Chamber. It’s easy to make the connection, based on relevant themes. But, the truly impressive part of the connection is on the technical side. “Aokigahara Jukai”, like the entirety of Shikkoku, truly has an atmospheric depth that is magical when heard.

Senketsu no Night Club is comprised of Adriano Vincenti (Zoloft Evra, Macelleria Mobile Di Mezzanotte, Cronaca Nera, Detour Doom Project), Ian Ferguson (The Sarto Klyn V, L’assassinat), Giovanni Leonardi, and Furachi Life. Stated inspiration from material such as “the erotic lyricism of Mishima’s novel Nikutai No Gakko, 愛の渇き, and the eternal clash of Eros and Thanatos by G. Bataille”, shows that Senketsu no Night Club comes at this dark jazz style with a depth and love for their topics which gives them added emphasis. They are truly interested in exploring this Eastern/Western dynamic in a more profound way through dark jazz music. Furachi Life, a Japanese filmmaker as well as sound and performance artist, is considered to be the defining motivating spark behind this project. That she doesn’t contribute musically on Shikkoku, shows how important her influence must be over the structural creativity of the project. Through ideas conveyed to the musicians and through visual artworks conveyed to the audience, Furachi Life is sort of the director of this project, at least from a creative perspective.

Shikkoku has moved much further from the noise roots that were often prevalent on the debut. I am not one for noise music, there are times I will delve into it, but in general it’s a bit too much for me. While Senketsu no Night Club never descended into the chaotic end of that genre for more than brief periods on their previous S/T album, it did make the digestion of their debut album a bit harder for someone preferring a lighter touch. We’ve certainly gotten that lighter touch on Shikkoku. Particularly looking at a track like the closer, “Aokigahara Jukai”, there is a great deal of restraint here. This restraint seems crucial to the combining of all these elements into an entertaining and coherent whole, which will be magnificent to many genre aficionados, but it will also turn the heads of many newcomers. This is music that could be taken on a jazz club tour circuit and find an audience.

I am more attracted to this dark jazz genre by aesthetics and not technique, so I can’t speak to the jazz technicalities of the album. But, I can certainly say that it hits that perfect spot for me. Comparisons to Bohren und der Club of Gore are obviously inescapable, and warranted. To me, this could be one of their albums. There are images of dark smoky rooms. It might be a proper jazz club. It might be some city apartment overlooking Rome or Tokyo as the taxis drive past. It might be the imperceptible depths of Club Silencio. It could be a troubled detective hunting their killer through the haze of the early morning hours. There are a lot of images to conjure and a lot of things to love about the dark jazz genre.

Shikkoku is definitely a step in the right direction for Senketsu no Night Club. They need not abandon the noise elements. But an album where they are as minimally present as Shikkoku worked out well enough that they should not get too concerned with specifically conforming to their past work. With that said, I suppose their future could take them in any direction. We could see more like this, or more of the noise elements coming back to prominence. I would love to see some more input from Furachi Life, in terms of the sound end of the project. But, this is not a necessity by any means. I highly recommend Shikkoku to dark jazz fans, but I think it should find plenty of acclaim from most discerning dark music fans.

Written by: Michael Barnett

VelgeNaturlig – Kundalini – Review

Artist: VelgeNaturlig
Album: Kundalini
Release date: 21 September 2018
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Padmasana
02. On
03. Hold
04. Grey Sun
05. Secret Dialogue
06. Reflux
07. Indra
08. Matariki
09. Flow
10. Urur
11. Tara
12. Unboundedness

VelgeNaturlig is a dark ambient project out of Portugal. He’s been creating music in this genre for well over a decade, but he has only been submitting albums to major labels within the genre for a few years. So, after Opalescent Pust, last year’s album by Velgenaturlig (you can read our review here), he has returned again to Winter-Light for the release of his next album, Kundalini.

Kundalini (Sanskrit: कुण्डलिनी kuṇḍalinī,”coiled one”), in Hinduism refers to a form of primal energy, or shakti, said to be located at the base of the spine. Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism and Shaktism. So, we can see that this release has a very specific theme and focus on matters related to these ancient religious traditions.

The music, itself, will weave in and out of terrain which would be considered more or less dark ambient. What I should probably mention promptly, is that Kundalini doesn’t have that new age feel which would be such a negative for many of our readers. There are absolutely sections of the album which will flirt with this new age territory, something that is almost impossible to avoid when working with instruments and ritual elements related to Hinduism/Buddhism, yoga/meditation, etc. But, these sections on Kundalini serve to solidify the atmospherics of the album, while more often the soundscapes created are more in-line with the dark ambient aesthetics than yoga center soundtracks.

I happened to start focusing on this album at almost the same time I started practicing yoga, so the timing and setting were perfect for me to enjoy this release to its fullest. As with most things, I practice yoga in the solitude of my home, without the prying eye or direction of any outside forces. So, I really don’t know the “rules” on combining music with yoga/meditation practices (when doing them in a traditional/guided way). But, I will say that I have been using Kundalini as my background music with each morning’s yoga practice and I’ve found the combination very rewarding.

The album contains tracks which flow in a more ritual ambient direction like “Indra” and the album closer “Unboundedness” which use combinations of electro-acoustic loops to create atmospheres similar to those conjured by artists on Aural Hypnox. The opener, “Padmasana”, feels more in-line with more standard dark ambient, using drones and field recordings to initially draw us into the album. “Hold” is almost fully constructed of field recordings. There seems to be a combination of pristine nature sounds (crickets, wind, running water) which is in contrast to a prevalent mechanical sound, as if some vast engine is running off in the distance. “Grey Sun” and “Secret Dialogue” may take us the furthest into those ancient lands of south Asia, full of the history of such old and powerful religions. The field recordings blend with singing bowls, sitar, and drones to create first an atmosphere and then a mindset, a mindset perfect for the activities of meditation and/or yoga.

VelgeNaturlig seems to have tightened their reigns with Kundalini. While I greatly enjoyed Opalescent Pust, I find Kundalini to be a much more unified, as well as enjoyable, experience. Whereas, Opalescent Pust sort of left the themes and emotional responses to the listeners’ discretion, Kundalini has a much more rigged framework, and therefore seems to require a more direct guidance over the listening experience. This won’t do any favors for the fans that like to create their own narrative with a dark ambient album. But it is very helpful for us to know exactly what the artist had in mind when creating their works, and to know how best to appreciate these works. In my experience, these more directed approaches usually provide the most entertaining results. This is the case with Kundalini. I would still recommend Kundalini to those listeners that have no interest in religion/meditation/yoga, the album is certainly aimed toward those themes but the listener should have little trouble pushing this aside and enjoying their drive or a good book. For those looking to augment their yoga/meditation with dark ambient soundscapes, this will be a highly rewarding album to you in particular.

Editor’s Note: I was already planning on reviewing this release, but pushed it to the front because of hearing the sad news that this artist’s entire set of live equipment was stolen as he was headed for the airport to play Blasvart Aften Vol.10, an event curated by Svartsinn in Trondheim, Norway. Due to this sad situation VelgeNaturlig was forced to cancel. Sysselmann quickly stepped up to fill the slot, but that doesn’t help the fact that VelgeNaturlig has taken a massive financial hit. Many/most of us know how little money there is in music these days, especially in our beloved little sub-genres. Events like this can often prove fatal to the careers of musicians, because of finances and/or pessimism. So let’s do  what we can to show this artist our support during this less than optimal time.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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