Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 12)

Lesa Listvy – Way Home – Review

Artist: Lesa Listvy
Album: Way Home
Release date: 22 May 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Sunny Side
02. Reflection
03. Evening by the Lake
04. The Hedge
05. Obelisk
06. Swarm
07. Lost Compass
08. Way Home
09. Mechanism

In 2013, Cryo Chamber made a running start in the dark ambient world with the releases of new works by Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, Halgrath, and a compilation, Behind the Canvas of Time featuring many of the top artists in the genre. They continued to solidify their presence over the next few years with multiple releases by artists which would become label veterans, like Alphaxone, Ugasanie, Randal Collier-Ford, and Flowers For Bodysnatchers, to name a few. But, now about five years into their existence, Cryo Chamber is really starting to dabble in new territory. Releases like WordclockHeralds, the Miles To Midnight collaboration, and now Lesa ListvyWay Home, all incorporate elements which lean more in the direction of more active musical genres. While staying true to the themes and general atmosphere of the label, the introduction of drums, saxophone and bass guitar, to name a few, opens the label up to a new group of listeners, while introducing their current fan-base to yet more novelty.

Lesa Listvy, or Леса Листвы, is a Moscow-based quartet, as Cryo Chamber puts it. But this is the only information I can discern, thus far, about the musicians behind the music. It would be interesting to know who plays what, but its likely that everyone does a little bit of everything. Along with the four members: Daniil Sheremet, Ryazantsev Dmitriy, Armenak Voskanyan, and Stanislav Smirnov, they implement the use of contributing artists: Max Tsibizov, Boro, and Ilya Orange (also without specific duties indicated). But this isn’t really a hindrance to enjoyment of the release. In fact, for me it’s done a bit of the opposite. I have found a bit of added entertainment in trying to discern what is live instrumentation, modular/digital synth or field recording. Though, in the end, I’ve found that this ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on my feelings about the album.

Way Home is an incredibly entertaining release. The closest comparison I could make to it would be Atrium Carceri, though this still doesn’t really do the trick. It is true that tracks like “The Hedge”, “Obelisk”, and “Swarm” all have significant stylistic similarities to some of Atrium Carceri‘s more percussion-heavy tracks. But, then something like “Evening by the Lake” moves off drastically from the trademark Atrium Carceri sound, that sort of industrial-infused cinematic ambient which almost seems to have a swagger about it at times. (A point I don’t know if I’ve previously mentioned about my particular enjoyment of Atrium Carceri; I would like to go into some more detail on that in the near future.)

“The Hedge” slowly builds momentum over its first two and a half minutes, before bursting into an energetic industrial percussion-laden second half. There are numerous intriguing sounds to follow throughout this second half, including some quite well inserted piano parts. “Obelisk”, again, holds many stylistic similarities to Atrium Carceri, this one starting active and holding its intensity throughout, though, in general, it is less energetic than “The Hedge”.

This brings me to “Swarm”. My personal favorite track on the release. And one that I was not surprised to see Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, mastered Way Home), mention he keeps coming back to it for repeated listening sessions. This one has a thick atmosphere, as if one is deep in some catacomb or abandoned factory, but on Way Home this sentiment seems to be more representative of some dank heavily-forested swamp lands, as is certainly the case for the album’s cover-art. Taking the track titles and general feel of the album into account, I get a sense of “Swarm” representing the arrival of some non-human antagonist into the story. I almost get a Starcraft Zerg feeling from the music.

Technicalities and possible plot references aside, Way Home is a deeply enjoyable album. It can become incredibly active at times, as mentioned above, but it can also be reserved and beautiful, like on my other favorite, “Evening by the Lake”. This opens Lesa Listvy to a potentially large audience, having something attractive for the die-hard dark ambient fans, as well as those most interested in sonic discovery and adventure. It also makes for quite nice background soundscapes, as it never becomes overly invasive during its most intense moments. I’m pleased to see Cryo Chamber testing new territory; and Lesa Listvy should give listeners enough reason to feel comfortable discovering whatever is to come next.

Written by: Michael Barnett

156 – Memento Mori – Review

Artist: 156
Album: Memento Mori
Release date: 22 September 2016
Label: Feast Of Hate And Fear

Tracklist: (Original Version @ 45 rpms) (Thunderdrone Version @ 33.3 rpms)
01. Kokoro
02. A Swarm of Butterflies
03. Demeter and Persephone Run From Hades
04. Winds of Vāyu
05. Me-Olam, Ad-Olam
06. Dance of the Ophites
07. Starlit Mire [Zero Kama cover]
08. To My Sons and Daughters
09. Chödpa

Adel Souto, originating from Miami and now living in Brooklyn, NY, must be a name familiar to those who knew the Feast Of Hate And Fear zine, of which he was the main editor, and Antibothis occultural anthologies series, to which he has been a noteworthy contributor of the first issue ; his new zine is titled Musica Obscura, and besides, he keeps publishing one-off zines, books, articles on esoteric and occultural subject matters, and compilations of “throwaway poems, that are said to be “unedited stream-of-conscious scraps, which purposefully have to fit 8.5 x 5.5″ pieces of cardstock ; handwritten, using a marker. Called “throwaways” due to being almost immediately left behind on mass transit, or in heavily trafficked areas. To date, over 1000 have been written (with only about 200 documented), and abandoned around Miami, Philadelphia and New York City“. Those throwaway poems, not unlike Tristan Tzara‘s dadaist writings, are signed using the pseudonym Adel 156. With such extensive activities as a writer, I wasn’t even aware of the musical side of his outputs – until now.

156 is a collective project, that Adel Souto conducts, featuring occasional or regular contributors. Presented as blending Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Z’ev and Crash Worship – with such references, I must admit that expectations were high. Thus, I downloaded (free downloads) the albums 1.5.6 (2011) and Steel Rarely Stands Alone (2015) in order to get more familiar with 156 and explore other soundscapes prior to immersing myself in the discovery of Memento Mori. Concrete sounds, almost field recordings, okay, but not the boring type of easily recorded and mannered artsy random material that several modern composers supplied us hundreds of hours with, rather tones of intimistic memories with quite a ritual and atmospheric edge. Minimal found objects manipulations. Flirting with both softness and rawness. Crash Worship and Z’ev, yes, definitely, and Test Dept. too, but more in the vein of their earlier recordings, rather than their later developments. Same with Einstuerzende Neubauten, back to those glorious days of caving under highway bridges, and before the departure of FM Einheit. There is even a cover version of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s “Cycle on the Radio” as last track of Steel Rarely Stands Alone. The qualities of the recordings matter a lot with such sound works, no disturbing white noise hiss in here, and indeed, the environment where those recordings were done is crucial ; the self introduction of 156 mentions that it is “often being described as a drum circle in a rusty junkyard” : exactly. Rhythmic escalations are inducted in parts, whereas other moments are more floating. Further on, the self presentation of 156 also states : “having tribal elements, the music can often be used in shamanistic practices, as it comes from the soul, and is meditation music for metalheads“. Having more punk and minimal electro roots myself, i cannot say what’s up for the metalheads, but it is indeed appealing and meditative, leaving deeply marked reminiscences after listening. And as far as coming from the soul and being used in shamanistic practices, this is where Memento Mori enters the stage.

Recording sessions initiated in 2012, up until 2016. All the music on this release was made using exclusively human bones, or breath passing through human bones, which include skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and kangling (Tibetan thighbone trumpets). Zero Kama or Metgumbnerbone (rather Drëun than Ligeliahorn, by the way) immediately come to mind – which is obviously legit, as there is a cover version of Zero Kama‘s “Starlit Mire” on the B side of the 10″. “Starlit Mire” was maybe the highlight on Zero Kama‘s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. album cassette on Nekrophile Records (released in 1984 on Nekrophile Rekords, then reissued by French label Permis De Construire as a vinyl LP in 1988 and as a CD in 1991, and finally reissued by French label Athanor as both LP and CD in 2014), this album, itself, being a masterpiece and a milestone in contemporary ritual/tribal music. Thus, the challenge is rather hazardous, perilous, risky, to refer to such a revered piece of worship. Others have tried before and eventually failed, there has even been some homage compilation, with good and bad moments. Okay. At the risk of sounding pompous, what may I propose? To my perceptions, Memento Mori by 156 must be the most achieved and prominent companion to The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. to date. Away from paying homage or imitating, it rather feels like a furtherance of it. Not a continuation, furtherance. Keeping in mind that Zero Kama had been conceived and executed in the context of Vienna, Austria, early 80s, whereas these recordings from 156 emanate from New York City in the 2010s.

Also, keep in mind that in such specific areas of musical expression, ritualization of the process and intents are even more important than the results themselves. This day and age is fully indoctrinated, perverted by rationalism and hygienism. Although most would pretend the opposite, death still is somehow a taboo. Involving human bones in whichever creative process is still perceived as an heresy. Even illegal in some countries. Remember that you will die : whichever the way, trying to be consequent or not, human condition and the hedonism inherent to it is rendering oneself submissive or dominant, dull or enlightened, destructive or protective, whatsoever, in the end we all die, and that is the most essential remembrance to anyone’s lifetime probably. What kind of inner state is likely to be attained, or obtained, once one’s reaching the ultimate step in life? The temptation to quote Brian Eno is now high : “Just relax, you’re always at the beginning of something“. Woops. And when the Memento Mori 10″ has reached its end, just relax. You just have to play it again. At 33rpm instead of 45rpm. Such is the way of dancing with the Ophians under the auspices of Naas. Enjoyers of the Bandcamp downloads won’t be left out, as “Thunderdrone Versions” of the tracks are featured, those being, the 33rpm versions of the original 45rpm recordings – with intact ceremonial qualities.

The physical vinyl edition comes bone-colored and we are grateful. Mastered by James Plotkin for both the vinyl and the digital release. That James Plotkin of O.L.D., Scorn, Namanax, and Khanate fame, who collaborated with K.K.Null, Sunn O))), Earth and several others? Yes, that James Plotkin. Only a few copies of the Memento Mori 10″ are left, $20 postpaid within USA and $30 elsewhere. A much recommended ritual release that should find its way next to some cult classics of a non-forgotten past.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

Music videos from Memento Mori, created by Adel Souto.

Eximia – Visitors – Review

Artist: Eximia
Album: Visitors
Release date: 3 April 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Day One
02. First Contact
03. Prepare
04. Abyss (feat. Lukas Tvrdon)
05. Extinction
06. World Without Man

Eximia is an album by sound design engineer Dominik Ragančík of Slovakia. While this is his first release as Eximia, Ragančík has done sound work on Mass Effect and Call of Duty trailers, as well as Lamborghini and Mercedes commercials. In 2015 he won in the category of “Best Sound” award at FAMU festival for his sound design in the movie Leshy [Lesapán – 2017]. So, we are looking at a musician that has a bit more thorough an understanding of sound design than many that enter the dark ambient genre. His talents in this sphere become glaringly evident within seconds of beginning Visitors.

Visitors is an album that follows the reasonably worn sci-fi theme of aliens contacting/attacking Earth. While this is far from a new theme, Eximia manages to conjure one of the most vivid and awe-inducing reactions from me, every time I listen to Visitors. The main point of attraction, for me, is the atmosphere itself. As the album progresses, various other sound sources come into play, but those moments when nothing is actually happening, the soundscapes shine as much or more than any other example I could show someone. It’s this atmosphere that makes the album so incredibly alluring.

As the album begins with “Day One”, listeners will get a sense of what I mean about this atmosphere. Well into the second minute of the track, basically nothing has happened yet, but I’m nonetheless enthralled. Gentle winds blow in the distance. We start to feel that deep rumbling bass creep up on us, before we hear these alien beings for the first time. Whether it is the creatures themselves, their spaceships, or some other technology making these unearthly sounds, the effect is the same, especially with a good set of headphones, one can close their eyes and fall into this world/scenario, can look around this landscape as the visitors begin to make their entrance into our atmosphere. One can imagine black clouds parting, as we hear a blisteringly potent crack of thunder, lightning crisscrosses the sky, tearing the atmosphere itself open, the visitors have arrived.

“First Contact” is, again, cinematic dark ambient bliss. The winds continue howling, the visitors continue making their futuristic noises, then we hear an air-raid siren, presumably warning residents of the area that the shit has official hit the fan. The thunderstorm becomes more intense as the creatures continue to make their arrival known. I’d like to mention here, that I immediately noticed a stylistic connection between the sound design of this album and that of the movie Arrival (2016). This is high praise, as I found the sound in that film to be one of the most compelling representations in film of alien technology at work. Near the 5:30 minute mark, in “First Contact” something happens. There is a sound as if something has teleported or shifted, as if the laws of nature themselves were being broken. I can’t help but think what comes next is the sounds of these visitors laughing. It should be noted that there are no more “Earth-based sounds” present in the track after this occurrence.

“Prepare” begins with more strange noises, which presumably are emanating from the visitors themselves, not necessarily their technology this time. Shortly into this track we can hear human footsteps, among other earthly sounds, though they are consistently mixed with those of the aliens. Following the track titles is incredibly helpful to supplement the soundscapes themselves. There is most certainly a story being told here, and I’m not one to go flailing around grasping for explanations, so I’ll say that the main plot, as the album progresses forward seems be an attempt by the humans to stop this force, and their immediate failure, and ultimately the collapse and extinction of the human race.

For those that love cinematic dark ambient, this album is a must-have. Cryo Chamber is the label fans most often turn to when searching for a fully immersing cinematic experience, and I can say Visitors by Eximia may well be at the very top of this list. While there may not be as many minute details as with projects like Sabled Sun or Atrium Carceri, the ability to visualize these sounds is certainly on par. Eximia is part of a phenomenon that hasn’t happened as much as I would expect, where movie sound design artists will find their way into the dark ambient genre, and the dark ambient genre will find its way into movie sound design. I would like to see a good bit more of both happening, personally. Visitors is a glaring example of why this recipe for success is so attractive. I will be patiently waiting for their next release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Salò Salon – The Scent of Voluntarism – Review

Artist: Salò Salon
Album: The Scent of Voluntarism
Release date: 11 February 2018
Label: White Ashes

Tracklist:
01. Mind-Body-Problem
02. Primat des Willens
03. Kampf ums Dasein
04. Decadenza
05. Beyond Affirmation and Negation
06. La Volonté Aveugle
07. Alienated Vitalism
08. Urnichtung
09 Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness

“Beauty is but the cloak of happiness. Where joy tarries, there also is beauty.” Ludwig Klages

You maybe know the feeling : an immense wave of joy captures you, but at the very same time, that voice on the radio, those people on the TV screen, the charming, fascinating attraction that is submerging you, despite it all, an inner voice is telling you that what is going on is probably wrong – nonetheless you can’t help but drowning in the collective enthusiasm. This is exactly what the instantly grabbing “Mind-Body-Problem” is likely to arise. With such intro and opening track, Salò Salon immediately sets a very high standard. The rest of the album, The Scent Of Voluntarism keeps up to the promises and never diminishes in strength. Crushing death industrial, wide amplitudes of frequencies, with no place to hide – any little corner will be invaded by the forceful atmospheric noise. My initial reaction at first listen has been: “A diamond”.

Not a newcomer at all – prior to The Scent Of Voluntarism, Salò Salon has issued Execution Tourism (The Dialectic Of Violence) (CDR album limited to 120 copies) on the British label 412Recordings (that released stuff by Slut Kull, Bagman, Steel Hook Prostheses, among other delicacies) in December 2015, followed by Agonal Pessimism (cassette mini album limited to 50 copies) on German Obsessive Fundamental Realism (a label maintaining a “crude DIY approach, (with) no interest in humanistic values and unauthentic artists, (…)rooted in the idea of Post-Industrial being a means of transportation for brutal and antisocial world-views, urges and mindsets”). The rather limited editions should not at all be a measure of disregarding these releases, as they are milestones in an ongoing rise of one of the most promising projects in this field of musical expression, likely to reach cult status in a not too distant future – and all these recordings are available as digital downloads at Salò Salon‘s Bandcamp anyway.

This new release is a factory pressed CD limited to 100 copies on the German label White Ashes, mastered by Sven Bussler (White Ashes‘ owner, and mastermind behind the martial industrial almighty Wappenbund, also a collaborator with Anna Gardeck and Wiener Aktivisten). Handmade box sealed and wax-closed with the logo of Salò Salon. Inner cover artwork by Quadreria Romantico Seriale from Italy, introducing themselves as “ethics, esthetics, genetics – esthetical and political deviance – autonomous and radical action – a mise en scene – an entity that acts among eugenics forms and terminal beauties – a misanthropic showgirl and disciplined daughter of the disaster ruling in the void, enemy of the Five M Order : Multiculturalism, Mundialism, Modernity, Mundanity, Materialism – an antinomian in the Great Civilizing Persuasion : here and now the verities are only moments of the fake, where every destiny succumbs to dissolution and every concept is subjected to oblivion – a cardiac wave, its organs are vital where others would die”. Needless to say, Salò Salon has gathered a bunch of allies of caliber for this album, which should be re-released as vinyl LP later on this year. And in the pipeline is a collaboration with UK legend Satori.

That has been the formal section. Going further: a very prominent aspect of the work of Salò Salon is cultural pessimism, as envisioned and investigated by German thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Klages, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Johann Caspar Schmidt aka ‘Max Stirner’, and the impact that such psychic explorers have had on the historical march of humanity. Delusional rationality… and indeed, not to be confused with any ideological positioning. Question everything – no restriction – no taboo – never take anything for granted. For the sake of the reviewer’s credibility, if I would have to propose some sort of a comparison, then I would maybe succumb to citing Anenzephalia. No less. But to the extent of the mindset / attitude context, not the sound. Salò Salon doesn’t have the very prominent use of speech that is a distinctive trait of Anenzephalia. Rather drowning the listener in a forceful exhilaration, than submitting to the crowds. Somewhere between death industrial and heavy electronics, between contemplation and brute force, blending hypnotic sample loops, fanfare tones, massive atmospheric, rash textures and noisy backgrounds. An album that is impossible not to play one track after the other in succession : once the wine is pulled, it must be drunk, drink the chalice until the dregs. An instant classic.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

Darkness Descends: A Post-Industrial Compilation – Review

Artist: Various Artists
Album: Darkness Descends: A Post-Industrial Compilation
Release date: 16 June 2018
Label: Live Bait Recording Foundation
Reviewer: Nicolas Dupont, debut review on This Is Darkness!

Tracklist:
01. Murderous Vision – “The Final Enemy”
02. Cunting Daughters – “Awaken The Beneath”
03. Abjection Ritual – “Tiny Atrocities”
04. Shock Frontier – “Your Cross Is Not Illuminated”
05. Vitriol Gauge – “No Calm”
06. Compactor – “Ultimatum”
07. Gnawed – “The Harrowing Dark”
08. Steel Hook Prostheses – “Orbitoclast”
09. The Vomit Arsonist – “Dispirited”
10. Theologian – “I Shed Your Corpse”

The undead thrasher may feel hunger when thinking they’ve spotted some review of Dark Angel‘s second album from 1986, but the mistake is certain (homage is not), as this Darkness Descends does not belong to Combat Records catalog, rather to Live Bait Recording Foundation, referenced LBRF 051 ; subtitled A Post-Industrial Compilation, be sure that black prophecies and merciless audio death are anyway to be expected, and that in the sonic process of the burning of sonic landscapes, the listener might as well perish in flames.

The compilation opens like a mechanical procession towards the Styx with “The Final Enemy” by Murderous Vision, long going project of Stephen Petrus, owner of Live Bait Recording Foundation, confirming again the faultless majesty of dark atmospheric procedures and deep explorations of unhealthy corners with which he has established himself. Processed vocals and a pounding final section mark the beginning of a journey requiring assistance – ladies and gentlemen, this way please.

Cunting Daughters drowns you in stagnant, noxious swamps with “Awaken the Beneath”. Rise up and try to escape those liquid textures, as if coming back to life through metempsychic rebirth, the wet begins to dry with caution. Death ambient, industrial, atmospheric. A project formerly known for a very limited release (55 copies) in 2011, seemingly oriented on post-mortem evocations.

Abjection Ritual furthers the awakening with “Tiny Atrocities”. A, maybe, more electro-acoustic affair involving violin, ropes slippage above the intimistic power rumblings that are present throughout. Tension in the air, human order still prevails in the environment of rebirth, this new existence is not going to be peaceful. From a project introducing itself as “influenced by mental illness, disease, self-hatred, shame, failure and disgust for humanity”, the weight of the karma has to be borne.

Shock Frontier – Tumult

Shock Frontier continues the anamnesis of apprehending this world. “Your Cross Is Not Illuminated” convokes religious orders, spiritual coercion. The death industrial is profound. Flowing, somber drones, bit by bit, arise to a more crushing structure. Hearing this, I wonder what their previous two CD albums, Tumors 64 & 110 on Malignant Records, could have been like – must check those.
[Editor’s Note: You can read our review of Shock FrontierTumult here.]

Vitriol Gauge, a project emanating from one half of United Front, and who has recently issued a new excellently thick-frequencies-ridden opus, entitled Routines on the label Concrete//Contrôle, pursues the topology of being coerced : “Are you real, or are you just in my mind?” – “Doesn’t matter at all…” Harsher, due to the heavily-processed vocals, noisier, although the atmospheric, death-industrial tone is kept. Outbursts of resistance among a (post?)apocalyptic haze, “No Calm” indicates the persistence of will, despite the blurry consensus.

COMPACTOR photo by Stephen Petrus in Vantaa, Finland 11.06.17

The unleashing follows with Compactor – “Ultimatum”. Pounding powerful craft with titillating bleeps, stomping the contained rage. A project by Derek Rush, also responsible for the artwork on the compilation, and long go’er known from Dream Into Dust, labels The Order Of The Suffering Clown and Chthonic Streams, as well as involvement in Loretta’s Doll and The Sword Volcano Complex.

“The Harrowing Dark” by Gnawedthen, steps into power-electronics territories, due to determined, yet jaded vocals ; flanged vocals is the leading element in power-electronics? – yes madam, ‘cos as you can hear, even when the soundscapes are layers of death-industrial undertones and slow pounding, the commanding vocals crowning it all renders it power-electronics. The unleash remains uncertain, too many past lives, too many sticking memories, crusades failed, thus all has corroded. Gnawed is for me a very pleasant discovery here, I will for sure keep an eye on this project, which already has an imposing discography.
[Editor’s Note: Grant Richardson of Gnawed also runs the dark ambient project Atrox Pestis, whose debut EP we reviewed, and debut full-length we premiered.]

Steel Hook Prostheses next. Woops! Gnawed has been a fair warning? Okay… Drones are sumptuous and wide, almost orchestral, which does not prevent distortion and sepulchral shriekings from interfering. “Orbitoclast” sets a nauseating crawl, despite the beauty that may surface. Full blown heavy electronics with always the death-industrial measure that accompanies the trip. Since Steel Hook Audio Mastering has been in charge of the entire treatment of the compilation, you know which crushing efficiency to expect.

Are the visitors having enough? The journey is relentless. The Vomit Arsonist keeps reminding you that you are “Dispirited”, an avalanche of frequencies that is somehow closing the circle which Shock Frontier had initiated. You tried, you lost. Again.

Theologian concludes with structured awesome potency. “I Shed Your Corpse” sounds vibrant, poignant buried vocals and again an almost orchestral tone, culminating in rhythmic military reshaping that appears almost hopeful. So, this is the very texture of the darkness that we all have to deal with? Indeed – therefore you have been enlightened. Be merry.

Although a various artists compilation, it could almost sound as an entire album by  the same artist in that the tones are so unified. Not one weak track, not one filler, all almighty and powerful. Blending, both older and more recent, projects in a constant progression that creates the feeling of chapters within a book. A psychotopography, detailing specific aspects of an inner meltdown. The physical version of it will be a professionally printed CDR in a digi-sleeve limited to 200 copies, which will be available at the Darkness Descends Festival held in Cleveland, Ohio on June 16th, 2018.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

Simon Šerc – Bora Scura – Review

Artist: Simon Šerc
Album: Bora Scura
Release date: 22 April 2018
Label: Pharmafabrik Recordings

Tracklist:
1 – 10: Action I – Action X
Runtime: 1.2 hours

When I first received the message about this new Simon Šerc album, I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed with the first sentence: “The album is composed exclusively of recordings of extreme Bora wind blowing in Ajdovščina, Slovenia.” I generally am less fond of the idea of untouched field recordings, and similarly, improvised jam-session-turn-albums. I just have a bit of a bias that attending to details for months after creating a foundation inherently makes an album better. But, there are always exceptions to my prejudices. In this case, Bora Scura is an exception! So, getting that out of the way for myself, and hopefully for you readers as well, I’ll get into the specifics here.

This album was recorded on the 5th of February in 2015. In this town of Ajdovščina, Simon Šerc captured this glorious anomaly of nature known as Bora. In the Vipava Valley of Slovenia, for an average of 42 days per year, there are incredibly strong gusts of wind, which can reach 200km/h (124 mph) and in 2010 managed to hit 295 km/h (183 mph). This seems insane to me! These are winds with the force of a full scale hurricane/typhoon, and the people in this region just accept it at part of the weather, presenting itself particularly during the cold season.

Listening to this album, one can’t help but close their eyes and feel like they are right in the midst of this incredible anomaly. I came to dark ambient music for the immersion, and that is why artists like Northaunt and Ugasanie have had such impact on me. Because I love these cold regions with frigid gusts of wind tearing at the trees and houses. That sentiment is very much present when I’m listening to this release. While there is none of the actual “music”, these winds are just so intense that they manage to hold my attention, as well as pull me into the experience.

There are other interesting things to listen for in the album, too. The recordings were not captured in a barren field, with nothing to impede their travels. Quite the opposite. One can hear a variety of sounds here. At one point I picked out bells tolling in the distance. A church? Or a warning signal for the locals? At another point we can hear very clearly doors opening and closing, footsteps on a wooden floor, possibly a barn? There are animals calling out in distress, barely audible. These aren’t the sounds of Atrium Carceri, where we are hearing pieces of a puzzle, potentially key elements to a vast story. But that didn’t take away from the experience for me. I still enjoyed picking out these various sounds. Each play-through finding something new, piecing together in my mind the landscapes of these soundscapes.

While attempting to peice it all together, I began to find it hard to believe that all these different variations of this storm were captured in a single day/night. So, I contacted Šerc to verify that it was all captured on 5 February 2015. He responded:

Yes, all in one day, with two different recorders. The wind gusts exceeded 200 km/h on that day, the next day it was only 150 km/h. But, the hard work started then in the studio, cleaning the recordings…it was a lot of useless/overloaded material…

One can only imagine, when recording 200 km/h winds, how hard it must be to capture almost any usable material. To which his response was:

One day is enough. It’s not easy to record audio outside in that wind. It’s essential to find natural covers to protect the microphones, and myself.

So, Bora Scura may be even harder to consider “music” than the dark ambient many of us already defend as “music”. But, this album has really impressed me. I’ve went back to it over and over through the weeks since I first heard it. At first, I was almost positive I wouldn’t be covering it. But, the album quickly and decisively grew on me, so here we are! Of course, it won’t be recommended to people that prefer their ambient melodic or crisply polished. But for those of us that love to sink into an epic storm, allowing its energy to surge through our bodies, this one should make for quite a pleasing experience.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Skincage – Unimagined Space – Review

Artist: Skincage
Album: Unimagined Space
Release date: 10 October 2017
Label: Annihilvs Power Electronix (APEX)

Tracklist:
01. Lost Carcosa
02. From Beyond
03. For He Was An Old Dreamer
04. The Call of Cthulhu
05. Azathoth
06. The Whisperer in Darkness
07. Dreams in the Witch House
08. The Pallid Mask
09. With Strange Eons
10. The Colour Out of Space
11. Cool Air
12. The Monkey’s Paw
13. The Lurking Fear
14. The Music of Erich Zann

Skincage is a dark ambient project created by Jon Ray. The first album, Axon, was released back in 2000 on the sub-label, Malignant Antibody, of Malignant Records. Then in 2007 they released Things Fall Apart on the Belgian industrial label, Spectre. On Axon, Skincage was already showing their skill in sound design. Each track had a unique feel. Some with relaxing drones, others thick with instrumentation, vocal samples, and industrial carnage. Things Fall Apart brought Skincage closer in line with their latest release, having a bit more restraint and an overall darker atmosphere. Yet, after Things Fall Apart, Skincage would not release another full-length album for a decade.

In the intervening years dark ambient as grown into an exponentially larger genre. With the advent of Bandcamp, Youtube, Spotify, etc., and the greater access to digital workspaces, artists are able to realize their visions in a way and with a frequency never before imagined. In late 2017, Skincage stepped back into this world, releasing Unimagined Space.

On Unimagined Space, Skincage channels the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft, and to a lesser degree Robert W. Chambers and W.W. Jacobs, for inspiration. Each track on the album focuses on a different story. Skincage is certainly not the first to find inspiration in century-old weird fiction, nor will he be the last. But, he does manage to make his contribution to the “genre” stand-out, if for no reason other than its attention to detail, and top-notch production quality.

The opener “Lost Carcosa”, which is also my favorite track on the album, is an ode to The King In Yellow short-story collection by Robert W. Chambers. Originally published in 1895, The King In Yellow became an immediate success, quickly finding it’s way onto best seller lists around the western world. For those of us in this modern era that aren’t familiar with Chambers, this short story collection was re-invigorated after numerous mentions in season one of True Detective. On this opening track, we hear some truly exquisite sound design, what sounds like, possibly, heavily treated percussion in the background, with a repeating sample, sort of like a cross between a bass guitar and an alien race entering our atmosphere. As the track nears its close, we hear someone (possibly Jon Ray, himself?) recite one of the best (arguably) snippets from The King In Yellow, which was part of a fictitious song from a fictitious play, “Cassilda’s song” in Act1 Scene2 of “The King In Yellow”.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

The second Robert W. Chambers inspired track is “The Pallid Mask” which takes its inspiration specifically from the short story “The Mask” also in The King In Yellow collection. This one has a very light feel to it, much less cryptic than many of the other tracks on the album. It often reminds me of something from Blood Axis & Les Joyaux De La Princesse‘s Absinthe – La Folie Verte. Again, like with “Lost Carcosa”, toward the end of this track there is another part of the book recited, again from the fictitious play:

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: It’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

Many of the tracks inspired by H.P. Lovecraft will likely be a bit more familiar to readers, as these are inspired by many of his most popular stories including: The Call of Cthulhu and The Colour Out Of Space, for instance. One point to mention in general about these H.P. Lovecraft tracks, I found the music compellingly well crafted in association to the stories they conveyed. Many times I hear Lovecraft inspired tracks, which don’t necessarily seem to have any grounding in actual Lovecraft content. As if the track titles and themes were superimposed on the album at a later time. The tracks on Unimagined Space consistently allowed me to close my eyes and imagine scenery and narratives from these various stories. The two most glaring examples being the frigid, yet futuristic feel to “Cool Air” and the utter chaos of the album closer “The Music of Erich Zann”.

This will be one of the most straight forward examples of dark ambient that you could find on the Annihilvs Power Electronix label, run by Lee Bartow of Theologian / Navicon Torture Technologies. Bartow is no stranger to working with Lovecraftian soundscapes, as he has been the main go-to artist for the brilliant and beautiful spoken-art on the majority of Cadabra Records‘ Lovecraft related releases. Annihilvs released Unimagined Space in 4-panel CD digipak. There are plans, and pre-orders being taken currently for a bundle of the release, featuring a t-shirt, CD-R, 7″ lathe cut single featuring a new track, and a limited edition cassette version of the album.

Unimagined Space is a fantastic release. As I’ve stated previously, I’m really impressed with the production quality on this one. The weird fiction theme works out great, making it a wonderful companion to reading Lovecraft, Ligotti, or your favorite weird/horror author. The album art by Josh Yelle and André Coehlo is also quite impressive, which makes the t-shirt a great choice to accompany this release. I’ve been listening to this one a whole lot, since last fall and haven’t come close to getting tired of it yet. I’d recommend this to fans of dark ambient that is reserved, but still holds some activity and surprises, and also to anyone interested in Lovecraft related releases, this one is certainly top-notch.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Sonologyst – Apocalypse – Review

Artist: Sonologyst
Album: Apocalypse
Release date: 15 September 2017
Label: Eighth Tower Records

Tracklist:
01. Hypnosis
02. Sulphurous rain
03. Abandoned city
04. Stay in your homes!
05. Global threat
06. Dying Oceans
07. System collapse
08. Towers of sand
09. Prayers from nowhere

In a few short years, Sonologyst has managed to place himself in the collective consciousness of many that follow the dark ambient as well as experimental ambient genres. Raffaele Pezzella of Napoli, Italia, got his musical career up and running in 2011 with his proper debut, Ipotesi del continuo. He used the momentum from this to secure follow-up releases through labels such as: Petroglyph Music, Gravity’s Rainbow Tapes, Attenuation Circuit, and Cold Spring Records over the next few years. Meanwhile, his own label, Unexplained Sounds Group (USG), began to take shape and started a progressive release schedule which is still keeping its momentum. Then, in 2017, Pezzella started a sub-label of USG, named Eighth Tower Records.

Eighth Tower Records is where the career of Pezzella truly makes its collision with This Is Darkness. While experimental ambient releases are certainly fair game for us, specifically dark themed experimental (though thus-far less experimental than much of the material on USG) ambient releases are even more in line with our preferred sound palette. While about half of their releases so far have been compilations (with some great talent always involved, though not always with exclusive tracks), the other half focuses on some great up & coming or under-the-radar talent, including: Aseptic Void, Urs Wild and Hezaliel, to name a few.

Apocalypse is the most recent release by Sonologyst, on Eighth Tower Records. This album focuses on the apocalypse, not necessarily through any single event, but through snippets of events, landscapes through soundscape, and mental states. I will say, immediately, this album feels less experimental and more in line with the range of sounds we would hear on a more traditional dark ambient release. There are, however, moments throughout the album where Pezzella’s fondness for the experimental certainly still shines through. When it does, it has a stronger and more benign effect on me than would otherwise be the case.

I’ve been considering Apocalypse for a good while. Since it’s release, it’s been in steady rotation here. What started as my favorite release yet by Sonologyst, has turned into one of my favorite releases of 2017. So many tracks on this album are quite memorable and are able to evoke a great deal of emotion from the listener, as we are taken along on the ride through this apocalyptic soundscape. Tracks like “Sulphurous rain” and “Dying oceans” are incredibly relaxing, minimal in design, but incredibly rich in emotion. Particularly on “Dying oceans” there is a sound, that may or may not be a dolphin, which seems to be crying out in abject terror, as the oceans of Earth lose their last life sustaining properties, a mass extinction of their inhabitants.

“Hypnosis” is another favorite for me on Apocalypse. It sounds much like something that would be released through the ritual ambient label, Aural Hypnox. A gentle and relaxing loop runs throughout the track. A calm male voice, echoed by a female counterpart, repeats a phrase throughout “Hypnosis”. Topping off the track is a high pitched frequency which lingers atop the mix, making slight shifts. The combination of all these elements is a wonderfully hypnotic track. Starting the album in this way is quite clever, as it seeks to pull the listener into its trance, before the full experience can properly begin.

Then there are a few tracks, like “Stay in your homes!” and “Global Threat”, that incorporate snippets of sound from old films which focused on these end-time themes. All these elements from the different tracks together form an ebb and flow throughout the album, giving the listener all the right cues and periods of time to contemplate the greater experience, to meditate on our own versions of these stories.

Apocalypse is my favorite Sonologyst release to date, no question. This album was crafted using all the same principles and techniques that I am looking for in a well-rounded dark ambient album. The themes, flow, and technical prowess are all working in coordination toward the perfect end-product. I would recommend Apocalypse to any fans of experimental ambient, but also to fans of the more common forms of contemporary dark ambient. Apocalypse really does have a little something here for everyone across the spectrum and it’s presented in a way that shouldn’t alienate those who may like one element here less than the others. Though there are only a few years of releases behind Sonologyst, he again proves why he’s been taken so seriously in this scene of music that can often eat musicians alive, without ever a word of explanation.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Further reading:
Raffaele Pezzella recently contributed his knowledge of music studios to our massive article Dark Ambient 101, you can check it out here.

Melankolia – Vividarium Intervigilium Viator – Review

Artist: Melankolia
Album: Vividarium Intervigilium Viator
Release date: 12 December 2017
Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records

Tracklist:
01. Ambrosia
02. Nyctophilia
03. The Crowning of Autumn
04. Between Heaven and Hell
05. In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger
06. Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)
07. Requiem
08. Melankolia
09. The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow)
10. Annie, Light in a Dying World

Melankolia is the dark ambient / neo-classical project of Mike O’Brien, also known for his work as Appalachian Winter, Veiled Monk and Ritual in Ash. Since the founding of his project in 2009, O’Brien has released three full length album, the last of which, III, came out in 2012 on Quartier23. Melankolia, true to the name, seeks to engulf the listener in a melancholic atmosphere. The strongest, most consistent tool in his repertoire is the piano. Often just a little field recordings and piano work is all that is needed for Melankolia to create a dark, lonely sort of atmosphere.

On their fourth release, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator, Melankolia paid painstaking attention to detail, allowing the creation process to run several years longer than on any of their previous releases. The album was picked up by Hypnotic Dirge Records, a label that specializes in a variety of music, which they call “An auditory palette for the estranged and eclectic”. Unlike on previous releases, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is completely done by O’Brien himself, with no guest musicians.

Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is a diverse release. There are a number of different styles of music and mood being created here. These albums take a bit more consideration than the standard dark ambient fare, thus I’m reviewing this one six months after release, though I have been enjoying it since December. What makes this release hard to describe for a reviewer, ironically, should be just what would make listeners enjoy it. Tracks like “In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger” have sections that sound like they came right off something like Prospectus I by raison d’etre. Then, moments later on “Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)”, we hear an intricate texture of darker background soundscape, while synth, piano and choral voices give the track a more fantastical, ethereal feel. Then, on “The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow), Melankolia starts with a billowing wind and a guitar, before the piano takes over and O’Brien begins to recite an interesting passage, I assume of his own creation, which talks of the woes and disappointments of human existence.

In all these different sorts of tracks, Melankolia keeps the theme and mood directed consistently toward his goals. The heavy use of field recordings throughout the album adds greatly to its contemplative, melancholic nature. The piano parts all hold an emotional edge, and are reasonably diverse, in opposition to so much of the neo-classical styled dark ambient we hear which incorporates the piano, but not in any skillful or complex sense, often allowing several notes to repeat throughout, never using any actual scales or chord progressions. Not that most of that is bad, I enjoy many of these sorts of tracks, but it feels more authentic with Melankolia than with many of the other examples I’ve heard over the years.

This music is perfect for long lonely nights, sitting by the window reading, watching as the seasons pass, time slipping irretrievably through our fingers. The name Melankolia really tells the tale of this artist’s style. He treads that ground between dark and “regular” ambient very lightly. The album evokes a sadness, but of an indirect variety. We aren’t left imagining lost childhoods or ended relationships. We are not given such a direct sensory nudge. Instead the music leaves me feeling  almost content in my solitude. It is that sort of calm darkness that one finds when all is pitch black, but a single burning candle or night-light. A sense that all the surrounding woes and hardships are fleeting, as are our own fragile lives.

I would highly recommend this release to anyone into the neo-classical side of the dark ambient spectrum. There will be quite active moments throughout the album, but they rarely if ever disrupted me when I am focusing on some other task. The heavy use of field recordings makes this a true pleasure as well, really adding a depth to the sounds of your environment, and their emotional pull on you. Hypnotic Dirge Records released the album in a beautiful 4 panel digipak with an eight page booklet of photography and thought provoking written passages. O’Brien really put together a polish gem with this one. We should definitely be keeping our eyes and ears open for whatever is to come next!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Visions & Phurpa – Monad – Review

Artist: Visions & Phurpa
Album: Monad
Release date: 25 April 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Ascendance
02. Fohat
03. Monad
04. Reminiscense

Visions and Phurpa have come together for a project I was not at all expecting! The two veteran producers behind these projects bring together two very different styles for something that sounds perfectly natural to both of them. Monad is a ritual ambient release, with a heavy dose of thick spacious drones. Phurpa provides the throat singing, which is immediately and most obvious at the opening of “Ascendance”, as well as incorporating sounds from their large collection of ritual bells, chimes, etc. Visions provides, what I assume to be, the rest of the soundscapes, including drone-work and the final mix and mastering.

Live at Phobos IX Festival, March 10 2018
Visuals by Karl Lemieux

Visions is the most active musical project of Frédéric Arbour, the man behind the Cyclic Law record label, one of the most revered labels in the dark ambient genre. Monad is the third release from Visions, who released their debut Lapse on Cyclic Law in 2005. After the 2010 sophomore release, Summoning the Void, Frédéric Arbour put the Visions project on hold indefinitely. During this time, among other things, Arbour moved his studio space and the whole Cyclic Law headquarters from Canada to Berlin, all the while keeping the label moving forward. So, the delay in output is certainly warranted.

Phurpa – Photo by: Elena Pinaeva

Phurpa is a much more enigmatic project. Phurpa was founded and led by Alexei Tegin, but also includes a number of other active members which often vary from performance to performance. Phurpa was founded with the idea of using Tegin’s knowledge of and dedication to the spiritual traditions of Bon and Dzogchen as a compass in the creation of their rituals. Phurpa use the Tibetan gyukye style of tantric overtone singing/chanting to create the foundation of their music. They add to this a variety of Tibetan ritual instruments, which again vary from album to album.

I’ve been following Phurpa for some years now, and heard a good many of their albums. But, I had yet to actually review one. Their music generally falls into a ritual ambient space that, I would say, is quite outside the realms of your usual dark ambient album. Though, the fan-bases of these types of music are so over-lapping that it makes sense to release their music on labels that are predominately dark ambient. I knew immediately on hearing the opening seconds of Monad that this release was different. “Ascendence” starts with the customary throat singing style of Phurpa, but within seconds a wall of dark ambient sound starts to form behind the vocals, and then intertwining with them, forming a dense yet earthly drone. The Tibetan ritual instruments begin to fall into place in the background. All this together evokes a deep primordial connection between the listener and the soundscapes.

“Fohat” takes us further into this hypnotic mélange of the ritual and the electronic. But, the drones here take on a more hollow, airy vibe, and the vocals become more submerged in the dronework. As the track progresses, everything seems to take focus, comes to a sort of crescendo, a moment of elightenment for the listener. At this point, I can’t help but feel that this track is going into territory that is similar to some of the very best works by raison d’etre. The technical prowess of Visions matched with the cosmic energy of Phurpa takes this particular sort of sacral/ritual ambient to truly impressive heights. I, also, can’t help but feel that their hearts are absolutely behind every second of this.

Starting Side B, “Monad” is a much more reserved and contemplative track than what we saw on either of the opening tracks. The drones and vocals are both calm, soothing, and again blend together impressively well, often leaving me forgetting that I’m hearing two totally different forms of “drone” at play. “Reminiscense” is more dynamic, but still incredibly calm, leaving this whole second half as perfect for background during meditation, study, etc.

Monad is the 100th Cycle on Cyclic Law. A true milestone for any label. Especially for Cyclic Law, to look back over these releases, there are so many gems of the genre here. Albums that were turning points for sub-sections of the genre, albums that have stood the test of time. If Monad is any indication of what we can expect for the next 100 Cycles, we are in for another great ride! Arbour decided on a vinyl option for this release, which works great, as the cover art is really fantastic and looks even better in the larger size, and the track lengths make for a good fit, not leaving a ton of dead space at the end of both sides. I would highly recommend this release to fans of ritual ambient, but the work by Visions done here totally warrants a listen for fans of the more traditional types of dark ambient. In the end, I could call this as much of a dark ambient release as ritual ambient. A must-hear regardless!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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