Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 9)

Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Asylum Beyond – Review

Artist: Flowers For Bodysnatchers
Album: Asylum Beyond
Release date: 28 November 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Red Ballerina (Oksana’s Theme)
02. Midnight My Dearest Midnight
03. Ravenfield
04. Phantasma
05. Mechanical Pictures
06. Dear Ernest, You’re Dead
07. A Darker Rebirth
08. Black Catechism
09. White Ballerina (Polina’s Theme)

Asylum Beyond marks a moment in dark ambient which I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time. In a genre like dark ambient, one would expect to find “horror ambient” music around every turn. But the truth is, most dark ambient artists stray quite far from this style. Their sounds usually harnessing something more akin to melancholy, despair or the phenomena of the natural world. We get views into the horror infused world only intermittently. Artists like Atrium Carceri, Svartsinn and Apocryphos have spent time in this area, but few others have fully dedicated themselves to producing utter darkness, in a skin-tingling fashion.

Duncan Ritchie seems like the perfect person to join the small but potent group of musicians that have delved into the horror style. His first project, The Rosenshoul, has always worked in a soundtrack-like fashion; building soundscapes for imagined horrors. But with The Rosenshoul, the focus was never on the cinematic, only the pure musicality of the sounds. Flowers For Bodysnatchers, from its inception, has been a channel for Ritchie to create intricate and often intimate cinematic experiences which actually seek to tell a story. His first two releases on Cryo Chamber, Aokigahara and Love Like Blood, told a story of a broken man, riddled with guilt and heartbreak, who takes a trip to the great sea of trees in Japan, the Aokigahara forest, the most popular suicide destination in the world. On the four artists collaboration, Locus Arcadia, Flowers for Bodysnatchers joined Randal Collier-Ford, Council of Nine and God Body Disconnect to tell a sort of side-story from the Sabled Sun mythos, another product from the mind of Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri/Sabled Sun).

Ritchie puts to the test his experience in story-telling with Asylum Beyond. This album takes all the lessons Ritchie has learned over the years and hones them in on the story of a deranged, and possibly even evil, antique store owner from 1968 in Massachusetts. Ernest Semenov was admitted to Ravenfield Asylum for the murder of his wife and children. Numerous elements on the scene pointed to ritual dismemberment and slaughter. Not long after his admission to Ravenfield, the asylum burns to the ground, killing everyone on the premise aside from Semenov and his doctor, which have both disappeared.

The focus on old burnt-out asylums, ritual murders, secret occult knowledge and the hideous truth that lies somewhere just beyond reach all make for the perfect late-night exercise in the imaginings of the macabre and deranged. The surgical execution of Ritchie in his aural story telling reaches its climax with Asylum Beyond. The album is a perfect example of horror ambient, because it sits on the boundaries between the real and the imagined, the historic truth and the supernatural lore. The listener is given just enough textual information and aural clues to follow Ritchie’s plot, while simultaneously creating one’s own narrative.

From a physical standpoint, Asylum Beyond is also quite unique. On the Cryo Chamber label, almost all albums are mastered by Simon Heath. He has also created most of the cover-art for these albums. On Asylum Beyond, Duncan Ritchie is given full reign over his project. He was responsible for all parts of the creation process: mixing, mastering, photography, and so forth. Asylum Beyond also comes with a 16-page booklet filled with more clues and images to enrich the story, another oddity for the Cryo Chamber discography. So, it’s clear that Heath also sees the infinite talents of Ritchie, and trusts in his judgment.

Asylum Beyond serves as a perfect template for the dark ambient community. It shows how one may focus on themes that could be considered unworthy to the more philosophically driven artists of the genre; and how these themes are still absolutely worthy of our attention. When undertaken from the right perspective, horror ambient can be as entertaining as the best of horror movies. Even more so in many ways, since “seeing the evil” ultimately brings about disbelief and sometimes even humor in horror films. Horror ambient is able to bring us face to face with these horrors without ever removing the fragile veil from the listener’s imagination.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Arktau Eos – Catacomb Resonator – Review

Artist: Arktau Eos
Album: Catacomb Resonator
Release date: 29 September 2017
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. Catacomb Resonator

Arktau Eos return with another brilliant ritual ambient piece. Since their debut Mirorrion, Arktau Eos have been defining leaders in the ritual ambient scene. There music takes listeners on a spiritual journey, leading to ends which can’t be defined.

Aural Hypnox has taken pride, over the last decade, in creating output which connects on a very personal level with their followers. The soundscapes are first and foremost ritualistic. Each project on the label has their own unique way of creating this atmosphere. While a project like Lingua Fungi comes close to a more musical framework, Arktau Eos has often shown the most primal elements of the ritual ambient genre.

On Mirrorion, Arktau Eos covered a lot of ground. Each track on the album tapped into the ritual ambient sound from a different perspective. While Scorpion Milk, it’s other half of sorts, was much more minimal and focused on a specific sound. Their sixth and latest release, Catacomb Resonator, is most closely comparable to Scorpion Milk. There is all the attention to detail that would be expected of an Aural Hypnox artist, but Catacomb Resonator, like the aforementioned Scorpion Milk, is one of the most minimal releases in the label’s history.

The main instrument used on Catacomb Resonator seems to be the human voice. There is a sort of rhythm to it, as the music slowly climbs to a peak and then returns to silence just as gently. The rest of the soundscapes are constructed of what appear to be predominately synthetic elements, minimal dronework that rises and falls in synch with the vocals. The use of light drones adds another layer to its subliminal depth. The contrast of human vocals to synthesized drones gives the perfect balance between nature and the machine.

When devoting full attention to the release, in a sort of meditation, it was easy for me to feel my breathing synchronize with the fluctuations in the music. In fact, Catacomb Resonator could likely be the most successful Aural Hypnox release to date, in regards to its usefulness as a meditation tool. The sounds of the album are quite subdued, giving the listener the ability to fully drift from the physical world, allowing the mind’s eye to take the lead.

Catacomb Resonator is the second Aural Hypnox release to be offered in the vinyl format. As with the recent Aeoga release Obsidian Outlander (which was reviewed here), Catacomb Resonator is presented on black vinyl with packaging that highlights the Aural Hypnox do-it-yourself aesthetic, with emphasis on originality and simple yet elegant designs. The CD version uses a very old paper stock, which was discovered in storage by the label, giving the CD format its own unique charm. The album was also released in a special collector’s edition which included both vinyl and CD as well as a cassette with additional content. Unfortunately for anyone interested, this edition sold-out almost immediately and extreme mark-ups should be expected on any available second-hand.

As is always the case with Aural Hypnox, readers will not find the album in any of the usual online music services like Spotify, Bandcamp or iTunes. While this can clearly present a problem for potential new listeners, veteran fans of the Aural Hypnox label will have already learned that previewing a new release is rarely necessary, as their quality of output is so consistent.

Veteran listeners of the Aural Hypnox label will find nothing unusual with Catacomb Resonator. It is a welcome addition to an already impressive catalog of releases. For newcomers to the label, Catacomb Resonator should prove to be a perfect album to introduce to listeners. The ritual elements are strong, but the energy levels are more subdued than will be found on many Aural Hypnox releases. I can safely recommend this release to any fans of the ritual ambient genre. Arktau Eos are tried and true leaders of the genre, and Catacomb Resonator serves perfectly to reinforce this claim.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Trepaneringsritualen – Kainskult – Review

Artist: Trepaneringsritualen
Album: Kainskult
Release date: 1 October 2017
Label: Tesco Organization

Tracklist:
01. Death & Ecstasy
02. Maðr Malformed
03. All Flesh Has Corrupted
04. ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ
05. Feral Me
06. Serpent Seed
07. An Immaculate Body of Water
08. ∴
09. V ∴ V ∴ V

Injecting catchiness into styles as unfriendly as death industrial or ritual industrial might seem about as logical as trying to teach anteaters how to read, but that’s exactly what Swedish experimental artist Thomas Martin Ekelund has done with his newest release under the alias Trepaneringsritualen (TxRxP for short. You’re welcome.). Though thematically and aesthetically up to the standard this death industrial heavyweight set for mechanical dementia, Kainskult remains as infectious as it is caustic.

In comparison to the grinding ritualism of 2014’s Perfection & Permanence, this LP’s approach sports pervading accessibility in the midst of its harsh overtones. “Death & Ecstasy” starts Kainskult off familiarly enough with growls cadencing clanking thuds and tribal grunts, but incomes quasi-melodic vocalizations evoking the most disconcerting affectations of Michael Gira and Attila Csihar’s most atmospheric tendencies. This juxtaposition of hair-raising terror and penetrating emotion derails expectations while enhancing the impact of Kainskult tenfold, which only becomes more apparent when “Death & Ecstasy” collapses into “Maðr Malformed.”

This track and the following “All Flesh Has Corrupted” sear their grooves onto eardrums like a branding iron. The former’s driving tribal percussion and subterraneanly heavy synth lines provide the perfect backdrop for demonic chants, standing in contrast to the plodding tom-tom hits and echoing back-beat of the latter. Though intimate delivery pails before bestial brutality, these songs transcend genre norms as they embody a maniacal occultist dance while pummeling listeners to smithereens.

The importance of vocals on Kainskult needs to be stressed. In many ways they’re the nucleus for the album’s memorability. On top of expanding his range, Ekelund also collaborates with several other throat-masters this time around, allowing his lyrics to take center stage on multiple occasions through multiple filters, accentuating ceremonial auras while embedding his words into the souls of listeners. The factory-esque military percussion and bass pulse on “Feral Me,” while punishing enough in its own right, brutalizes to a tremendous effect through fiery gutturals. TxRxP is no longer just about scaring, but decimating.

As its title might have already clarified, Kainskult centers around the biblical character Kain, known to Judeo-Christianity as the first murderer, and to Ekelund as the “Original Heresiarch.” His explorations of both the metaphysical divergency and visceral malice at play in Kain’s story, when coupled with paranoia-inducing drone-scapes and dirgey percussion, produce some of the most haunting music in the genre. The depth charge percussive blasts and glacial sound collages in ambient tracks like “ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ” delve into the depths of Kain’s outlook, while more structured cuts harness his archaic infamy to drive their auditory destruction.

“Serpent Seed” and “An Immaculate Body of Water” respectively encapsulate Kainskult’s undeniable groove and atmospheric rites within impregnable harshness. The former employs triplet-based vocal patterns almost bordering on rap over a bludgeoning beat, while the latter’s ominous synth lead piles layers of filthy distortion and disembodied voices comparing to West Europe’s Stalaggh/Gulaggh in aural excruciation. With the exception of the 29-second interlude “∴,” which serves only to transition from the aforementioned track into the concluding “V ∴ V ∴ V,” these tracks conjure believable vibes while energizing TxRxP‘s overall sound.

In the final song, Ekelund showcases his ability to balance accessible forays with the cavernous terror he has become known for. A hypnotic industrial beat slowly gains more complexity, while cleverly-placed descending synth lines provide the perfect foundation for Ekelund’s one-to-100 vocal jumps. The atmosphere remains intact thanks to unique auras produced by grating gutturals and brooding mutterings, keeping listeners guessing until the album closes with dynamic leaps.

TxRxP has broken new ground for the death industrial sound while paying proper respect to the style’s inaccessible nature, something Ekelund’s contemporaries often struggle to accomplish. Many projects embrace outside influences as they try to push beyond their template, but this album remains firmly rooted in brain-bashing claustrophobia. Trepaneringsritualen produces something hardcore fans of this music will adore, but also provides enough glimmers of approachability for those lost in the sonic fray — making Kainskult one of the most potent death industrial releases to drop in recent years.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Wordclock – Heralds – Review

Artist: Wordclock
Album title: Heralds
Release date: 12 December 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Bell Ringing I
02. Bell Ringing II
03. Bell Ringing III
04. Beatrice’s Euphoria
05. St. George
06. Where Mercy Lives
07. Thames Does Flow
08. Heralds

At the youthful age of twenty-two, the Portuguese musician Pedro Pimentel has quickly solidified his position as a monumental force in the realms of dark ambient. It’s not only praise from the Cryo Chamber fan-base or label-mates that has proven Pimentel’s strengths as a musician. He’s also worked closely with Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails on the soundtrack for the videogame Noct. All this being accomplished before most musicians have come close to finding their true calling, it’s hard to tell what Pimentel will have accomplished ten years from now.

In my opinion, his first major accomplishment has just been actualized. Heralds is the third release by Wordclock on Cryo Chamber. All the brilliant techniques Pimentel has shown over his last few albums have come to an utter climax on Heralds. This album finds itself on the fringes of the dark ambient genre, and yet it couldn’t be more in line with the goals of the genre, and particularly the Cryo Chamber label.

It’s not exactly the originality of Heralds which makes it work so well. Many of its various elements can be heard in the music of other artists such as raison d’etre, Enmarta, Phonothek and Elegi. But it’s the seemingly effortless blending of these different elements which makes Heralds praiseworthy.

The opening track brings us our first taste of this marriage of styles and techniques. Wordclock has used the piano and bass guitar previously to successful ends, but the introduction of the cello into his music has taken it to new heights. The cello, I’m convinced, is one of the best live instruments to be incorporated into dark ambient music. Each instance I’ve heard this combination throughout the last few years has been gloriously successful. For the task, Pimentel has brought back Norwegian classically trained cellist Amund Ulvestad. His skills could also be heard on the previous Wordclock album, Self Destruction Themes.

Ulvestad was first brought to my attention in 2014 as part of the Northaunt/Svartsinn split, The Borrowed World, which I still highly recommend to any readers that haven’t yet experienced it. Soon afterward, I saw him live when he toured the United States east coast performing as a duo with Svartsinn. His contributions to Heralds can’t be overstated, whenever his craft is featured the album all the better for it.

Yet, Ulvestad is far from being the only addition of note to this Wordclock release. Pimentel brings in the talents of Nuno Craveiro on the Scandinavian instrument Nyckelharpa. An instrument which has gotten some mainstream recognition recently, being used by the atmospheric black metal / Nordic folk artist Myrkur. The third addition to Heralds is George Shmanauri on trumpet. We’ve heard his trumpet work add an intriguing dark jazz flavor to his two recent albums as half of the duo Phonothek, also residing on Cryo Chamber.

When all these musicians come together, the outcome is blissful perfection. The track “Where Mercy Lives” is the crowning glory of Heralds. Pimentel brings together all of his previous experience as a solo artist and blends it with the works of these three guest musicians. Add to that some samples of choir vocals, and what we have is probably my favorite dark ambient track of the year, if not of recent years. The combination of these artists gives us a hint of what an all out dark jazz project would sound like, if they were all so inclined to create one. The music has so many noteworthy layers, that it could warrant a full review treatment itself. Suffice to say, readers must give this track their full attention, preferably through the best audio deliver system on hand, in order to appreciate the extent of its accomplishment.

It is said in the album blurb that Pimentel traveled far and wide, through Porto, London and Berlin, in order to collect the acoustic instrument sounds and field recordings necessary for completing this opus. It’s as if not only the sounds collected, but the travel itself is harnessed on Heralds. Pimentel gives us a completed album which could traverse the boundaries of dark ambient, finding praise from followers of multiple genres, including but not limited to, dark jazz, neo-classical, ambient and northern European folk.

It has been apparent since his debut, Endless, that Pimentel was a musician to keep an eye on. That sentiment has never been more apparent than now. With the release of Heralds, Pimentel shows the staggering extent of his ambition and skill as a musician and a studio technician. I simply can’t overstate the magnitude to which this album has moved me, and I strongly suspect that it will have the same effect on many, if not most, readers of this review.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Stuzha – Siberian Sketches II – Review

Artist: Stuzha
Album title: Siberian Sketches II
Release date: 15 November 2017
Label: Ksenza Records / Infinite Fog Productions

Tracklist:
01. Into the Blizzard
02. Transsiberian
03. Winter Forest (Awakening)
04. Winter Forest
05. Here is no Life without a Fire
06. Winter Forest (Into Slumber)
07. Lost in the Catacombs
08. A Night in the Village

Stuzha first caught my attention at the beginning of 2017 during my brief stint with Heathen Harvest, when they sent me his album, Butugichag, to review. I was immediately enraptured by the depths of his frigid polar ambient style and his take on the cinematic side of dark ambient music. As the man behind the project is native to the Siberian expanses of Russia, it is no surprise that he is able to convey this style so well. Siberian Sketches II is the follow-up to his first major release Siberian Sketches, all of which were released by Ksenza Records and distributed by Infinite Fog Productions.

There is actually quite a huge difference between the styles of the two Siberian Sketches releases and Butugichag. Butugichag was an incredibly subtle release, with slowly evolving drone-work and field recordings which lingered in the background. The Siberian Sketches albums are more active album in almost every respect. In fact, the latest release takes these differences much further than  did Siberian Sketches I. There are a ton of field recordings incorporated into this release, making it the most cinematic work of Stuzha to date. While Siberian Sketches I incorporated some guitar, the guitar on Siberian Sketches II is also great increased, being used on most of the tracks here. This time there are even subtle vocals added to the mix. These are not the style of dark ambient infused vocals of something like a Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio sort of project (which honestly is a stretch to even be called dark ambient), but more in line with the vocals on some tracks by Taphephobia; a deep, brooding voice which is barely audible on sub-par speakers and blends gently into the rest of the mix.

Siberian Sketches II starts with a door swinging open and someone stepping out into the icy snows of a raging blizzard, on the aptly titled “Into the Blizzard”. As they step back indoors we can still hear the storm raging just outside the threshold, a fire roaring in the stove and a dog barking nearby. The music on this track is composed almost entirely of field recordings and a guitar that sounds to be acoustic with some light effects, with the later addition of an electric guitar and soft vocals. Subtly in the background, we can hear the low roar of a passing train, a dynamic which will be fully explored on the following track, “Transsiberian”.

“Transsiberian”, beginning with an intercom system and distorted electric guitar ups the tempo of the album. Yet, this guitar is incorporated in a way that doesn’t compromise the dark ambient nature in the slightest. By the close of the track, the album’s protagonist is well on their way, journeying to some unknown, yet equally frigid, destination.

“Winter Forest (Awakening)” brings another dynamic into play. Still here, there is no discernible drone-work to be found. The track is constructed of passive field recordings which create the background atmosphere, bass guitar which also helps to solidify that foundation, and several guitars; one of which undertakes some interesting and quite delightful tremolo-picking which reminds me of the guitar español – style, but this could be do to my lack of knowledge when it comes to guitar playing styles native to Siberia.

“Here is no Life without a Fire” could be the closest to a more traditional dark ambient track, as it is one of only two on the album that seem to incorporate any use of drone-work. It is also likely the oldest track on the album, being a reinterpretation of a track from the self-released Through the Snowfield.

Given all these dynamics at play on Siberian Sketches II, one may rightly be a bit bewildered as to how this could be considered dark ambient at all. But, I firmly believe that the album falls solidly into this category. There is a ton of activity happening, but it is all done with the careful reserve of a seasoned dark ambient musician. The overall cinematic element also can’t be overemphasized. One may close their eyes and find themselves lost in the whiteout of these bleak far-northern lands. The various styles and effects of the acoustic and electric guitars also aid the field recordings magnificently in the numerous shifts between indoor/outdoor cinematics.

Stuzha once again proves their talents with Siberian Sketches II, this time taking what they learned from Siberian Sketches I as well as Butugichag, and crafting an album that is incredibly relaxing. It could be the sole companion to a lonely evening by the fire during these upcoming winter months. It could also be allowed to fall into the background during any reading, study or writing sessions. Between the combined albums of all his projects: Stuzha, Algol and Black Wanderer, Daniil Kazantsev proves himself to be an incredibly capable force in the genre of dark ambient, and one which I hope will become more well-recognized by the community as time passes.

Written by: Michael Barnett

A Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Yog-Sothoth – Review

Artist: A Cryo Chamber Collaboration
Album: Yog-Sothoth
Release date: 7 November 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Yog-Sothoth 1 – 1:01:08
02. Yog-Sothoth 2 – 56:49

Full roster of contributing artists:
ProtoU
Sjellos
Alphaxone
Gydja
Kristoffer Oustad
Aegri Somnia
Kammarheit
Darkrad
Atrium Carceri
Randal Collier-Ford
Neizvestija
Council of Nine
Dronny Darko
Flowers for Bodysnatchers
God Body Disconnect
Keosz
Kolhoosi 13
Northumbria
Sij
Ugasanie

Cryo Chamber are continuing to push the limits of what fans can expect from them. The label has been incredibly successful over the last few years in bringing a new generation of listeners to the genre of dark ambient. Through a heavy presence on Youtube and Spotify, Cryo Chamber prove that the use of these free channels of listening can and will result in increased overall exposure and the slow but steady recruitment of die-hard followers that will ultimately support the label for years to come. We have recently seen the first vinyl release from Cryo Chamber on Black Corner Den by Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast. Now we see another first for the label in this beautiful digibook physical edition, which houses some incredibly unique artwork. The music, as we’ve grown to expect over the last three Lovecraftian releases by the label, is also of top-notch quality, and provides the perfect soundscapes for extended reading sessions of H.P. Lovecraft‘s weird fiction.

Yog-Sothoth, as with the previous Lovecraft inspired albums from Cryo Chamber, focuses on one specific deity in the mythos H.P. Lovecraft created almost a century ago. Yog-Sothoth, while maybe not the most recognized in pop-culture, is probably the most frequently referred to of Lovecraft’s gods within his own tales. Yog-Sothoth, albeit indirectly, played a huge part in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as well as The Dunwich Horror. In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written in early 1927, Yog-Sothoth is mentioned for the first time. His name is part of an incantation which Ward finds in writings of his ancestor Joseph Curwen.

Y’AI ‘NG’NGAH,
YOG-SOTHOTH
H’EE–L’GEB
F’AI THRODOG
UAAAH

As Ward reads more of these texts he begins to learn many of the ancient secrets which Curwen discovered and manipulated for his own purposes. Through the storyline of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Lovecraft gives readers a rare glimpse into some of the real mechanics behind this particular god. So often in his stories, we are left to imagine most of the specifics. I will not go into these specifics here, as uncovering the details is a huge part of the suspense of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and it’s my personal favorite of Lovecraft’s works. So I highly recommend anyone that hasn’t already read the story to give it a try! You will find this Cryo Chamber release to be the perfect background music for reading that particular novella.

While The Case of Charles Dexter Ward referred to Yog-Sothoth in the context of ancient knowledge, The Dunwich Horror gives the deity a more central role. Through a ritual performed by Old Man Whateley, Yog-Sothoth is able to father Whateley’s grandson, Wilbur Whateley. As the story progresses Lovecraft reveals the secrets kept in the Whateley household, and the tale ends in a brilliant climax which directly relates to Yog-Sothoth. Again, revealing much more of the plot would take all the fun out of it for readers that haven’t yet read The Dunwich Horror, so I will recommend that you also give this one a read!

Yog-Sothoth is the first Cryo Chamber album to be presented in a digibook format. This particular format gives Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun), who is responsible for the layout and artwork included, the opportunity to make a sort of recreation of an old tome like the one Ward discovers in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Heath has included in the booklet some excellent passages pulled directly from various works of H.P. Lovecraft, most prominently The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the short but brilliant tale “The Other Gods”. The booklet is all the more impressive for Heath’s use of his own imagination in creating various diagrams, symbolic charts, and other tidbits of data which would likely have been found in Joseph Curwen’s ancient tomes.

From my first encounter with the latest Lovecraftian mega-collaboration, Yog-Sothoth, I felt a sense that things were a bit different this time around. I’ve had several shifts in my overall opinion of the album over the last few weeks as I’ve played and replayed Yog-Sothoth upwards of twenty times. The first thing that stands out is its seeming to lean in a lighter direction than the previous installments. There are ritual elements here, and nature driven field recordings which both add to the darker atmospheres of the release, but there are also a number of sections where the dronework seems to have a light-hearted, hopeful sort of feel to it. How these various elements are interpreted will likely be different for everyone, and others may find the same sense of discovery and rediscovery that I’ve found over many deep-listening sessions.

There are subtle clues throughout the two hours of soundscapes that point toward instances of Yog-Sothoth appearing in various Lovecraft tales. These subtle uses could easily be overlooked, which gives a tangible purpose for listening to the album multiple times before casting any definitive judgments. As a die-hard fan of dark ambient music, I’ve found over the years that my favorite releases tend to be the ones that take a little extra time to fully appreciate. Those that boldly present their full depth in the first listen, often give little reward for going back and re-listening time and time again.

Yog-Sothoth was created in a similar fashion to its predecessors: Cthulhu, Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. It is a collaboration of incredible depth. The process is done by each of the twenty artists presenting layers of sound, which are then used by other artists which edit and manipulate these original layers. In this way, it becomes basically impossible to say that any particular part of the album was done by a specific artist. One might hear an element which seems to clearly be sourced from Ugasanie, but the element in question would likely be one of many layers, sourced from a number of different artists, which are all then used by another artist before returning to Simon Heath where there would potentially be even more editing. Nevertheless, it can be fun to try and pinpoint various elements provided by specific artists and seeing how they fit into the grander scheme of the release. With all that said, this seems to be a very unique production process which I would say has likely not been used before by another set of artists. These Lovecraftian albums by Cryo Chamber really do fit into a category of their own.

As I stated earlier, this album has a bit of a different feel to it than the previous three releases in the Lovecraft series. Many of its deeper characteristics will take multiple listens before any concrete judgment could be made about the album. That in itself is a positive to me. The digibook adds another new element to the series. I highly recommend picking up the physical version of this release to have a hands-on experience of browsing through these selected passages from Lovecraft’s texts as well as admiring the brilliant artwork created by Simon Heath. Cryo Chamber continues, with Yog-Sothoth, to push the boundaries of their genre and the industry standards of dark ambient. The music is incredibly thought-provoking and the visuals are in a class of their own. I, for one, will be pleased to see this series continuing for years to come, Lovecraft’s mythos and the pool of talent at Cryo Chamber are both fertile for many more iterations of this sort of release.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – Fungi from Yuggoth by H.P. Lovecraft – Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
Jason Barnett (Art)
Album: Fungi from Yuggoth by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: September 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

Cadabra Records has, by this point, solidified themselves as the forerunners in the genre of spoken word arts. Not that they have a ton of competition in this field, but even if that were the case, the works that they have been creating could only be described as premium in every element. Each chosen theme is given the absolute best presentation one could hope to find. Original album artwork, professional well-rehearsed readings and soundscapes that give the perfect atmosphere to each reading all come together in a packaging that is itself top-notch.

For myself, as well as for readers of This Is Darkness, the selections by H.P. Lovecraft have been the most appropriate to cover. The connections between H.P. Lovecraft’s works and the dark ambient scene run incredibly deep, with inspiration from his works going far back in the history of the genre. Though currently, more so than ever before Lovecraft is a prime inspiration for the dark ambient musicians and their albums. I could give a pretty lengthy list of all the tracks and/or albums of the last few years which have been inspired by Lovecraft or one of his weird contemporaries.

While Theologian doesn’t often tap into the energies of Lovecraft in his solo albums, he has become the face of the Lovecraft collection from Cadabra Records, contributing his brilliant and haunting soundscapes to most of the Lovecraft releases on the label. Fungi from Yuggoth is no exception in terms of energy or quality. Theologian again seeks to top his previous output on Fungi from Yuggoth and wholly succeeds in adding the perfect score to this beautiful collection of weird poems.

Fungi from Yuggoth is almost universally agreed to be the most successful collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s poetry. Where Lovecraft had previously written a large swathe of verse about everything from epic ancient Greek mythology to short and playful poems often included in greetings cards to his correspondents, Fungi from Yuggoth taps directly into Lovecraft’s knack for cosmic horror and weird fiction. We are given short fleeting glimpses of many of Lovecraft’s most recognizable components of his corpus of weird works.

Starting with “The Book”, we witness an account of someone taking a tome from some dusty shelves and hurrying it to their home. This singular act builds a backdrop for the rest of the poetry in the collection. We could take each poem as separate parts of a thematically similar whole, or we could see “The Book” as presenting the protagonist of the first few poems with a collection of dark tales, which unfold as he reads through the old tome, so as the protagonist and us, the modern reader/listener, become one and the same. The perfect start to the collection, “The Book” talks about an old tome from elder times, which holds some monstrous secret. Andrew Leman reads with perfect emotional emphasis, giving one particular line a whole life of its own that Lovecraft surely would have appreciated, when he says,

I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.

With an emphasis on the word “charmed” Leman gives extra attention to the fact that Lovecraft was a life-long bibliophile. When writing this poem, Lovecraft surely would have been day-dreaming of how wonderful it would feel to actually discover a collection of books, all but lost to history, which told of occult secrets and ancient forgotten aeons. He would have equally felt the same exhilaration when removing one of these dusty tomes from the collection and spiriting it off to his home for further investigation.

By the third poem, “The Key”, the protagonist has made it home with this book and is now able to greedily consume its ancient knowledge within the privacy of his own home. Again, Leman’s recital of this poem and the emphasis on certain sections bring the story to life, giving it a level of emotional depth which surely would have made Lovecraft smile. In the last two lines we hear the greed of the protagonist in successfully getting home with the book, but we also hear the fear that immediately sets in as he realizes he might not be alone after all.

The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.

Whereas the first few poems seem to build a sort of narrative, giving a foundation to the collection, later we are presented with snippets of plots which are further elaborated upon in Lovecraft’s prose. Two of these particular poems, “Azathoth” and “Nyarlathotep” give accounts of several of Lovecraft’s ‘Outer Gods’. The “Nyarlathotep” poem works in a similar way to its prose-poem counterpart of the same name. It gives an account of Nyarlathotep’s emergence from Egypt and the ensuing chaos which befalls humanity at his hands. Taking Nyarlathotep to be the messenger for Azathoth, as he has been described in several stories, the poem “Azathoth” seems to describe the narrator/protagonist of the Fungi from Yuggoth collection being taking into the depths of unimagined space by Nyarlathotep to witness his master, Azathoth. The poem ends interestingly with an elucidation of how these two gods interact with one another.

‘I am His Messenger’ the daemon said,
As in contempt he struck his Master’s head.

The artwork for this release was created by Jason Barnett (no relation). In the insert which accompanies the physical release Barnett tells of his immediate reaction to the thought of working on a Lovecraft concept,

When I was approached by Cadabra Records to illustrate H.P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth, a sequence of 36 sonnets, my mind was immediately flooded with fleeting and horrifying glimpses of Lovecraft’s universe. As if these denizens had been patiently waiting in my sub-consciousness to be summoned.

Barnett went on to create a beautifully realized landscape painting which would be included as a whole on the inner two panels of the package as well as on a large 24″x36″ promotional poster which comes with purchases of the album directly bought from the Cadabra Records online store. This landscape artwork is brilliantly detailed with images of many of the elements from the Fungi from Yuggoth collection, including among many other things, the statue of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep emerging from his tomb, Azathoth descending upon fog enshrouded mountains and the night-gaunts traversing the skies. While the outer-cover of the release is greatly darkened and subtle, the painting is certainly one of the best to-date from a Cadabra release.

As with most Cadabra releases, there are a number of different variants of Fungi from Yuggoth. The box-set edition, as usual, is the most impressive, with black swirls on clear vinyl making for an incredibly gorgeous album, probably one of the nicest variants of a vinyl I’ve seen to-date. To regular buyers, there are two options: the “Night-Gaunts” variant which is metallic silver and the “Nyarlathotep” variant which is a light blue and white opaque mix. The packaging is a thick sturdy cardboard which should withstand years (dare I say aeons) of storage without deterioration.

It seems with almost every Cadabra release I cover I must make this statement, and here again it is in order: this is one of my absolute favorite releases of the year, one of the best releases yet by Cadabra Records and absolutely worth the highest recommendation for fans of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Theologian or both. Cadabra continues to put quality at the forefront of their consideration when releasing albums and seem to have no intentions of letting up on this rigid adherence to detail above all else. A highly recommended release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Eislandschaft – Tales of the Frost – Review

Artist: Eislandschaft
Album: Tales of the Frost
Release date: 13 October 2017
Label: Lighten Up Sounds

Tracklist:
01. I Found Them Buried in the Ice
02. Demented and Lost in the White Plain
03. There’s Something Out There, In the Middle of the Winter Night
04. Ten Thousand Footsteps in the Snow
05. The Iced Plateau
06. The Tombstone Under the Aurora Borealis

Lighten Up Sounds‘ recent release, Tales of the Frost, is the latest by up and coming dungeon synth artist Friedrich Curwenius of Argentina. In March of this year, Lighten Up Sounds released Curwenius’ first album Tunnels Under the Forest, under the moniker of Goblintropp. Now his latest release, Tales of the Frost, takes his dungeon synth style into a totally different territory, often transcending that genre itself, with this polar ambient / winter synth amalgamation.

Tunnels Under the Forest was a proper dungeon synth release which showcased Curwenius’ ability to create a spectacular and enchanting atmosphere within the tried and true style of previous dungeon synth masters. The album nods to the sounds of artists like Murgrind, and of course the forefather of the genre Mortiis. On Tales of the Frost Curwenius goes by a different name, Eislandschaft, which can be roughly translated to mean ‘icy landscape’. This is an appropriate title for the new album which can find comparisons to works by Vinterriket, Northaunt, Elador and Foglord among others.

While comparisons to these aforementioned artists would be helpful in describing the general direction of Tales of the Frost, it only begins to cut the surface of this brilliantly realized and well-honed release. The album could easily fit into the confines of the polar ambient or winter synth styles, but where it really stands out from the crowd is in its use of straightforward piano sections. Indeed, the album is heavily laden with this neo-classical flavor. Looking no further than the opener, “I Found Them Buried in the Ice”, the piano work sounds and feels as if it is the real deal, not a synthesizer version of a grand piano. One can almost imagine Curwenius sitting behind a beautiful Steinway, in the midst of a deep winter whiteout, winds whipping the fine granules of snow into massive drifts against the window of a cabin, high in the mountains.

The piano work is certainly the highlight of this album for me, but there is still plenty more to be said for Tales of the Frost. When incorporating the more conventional droning synth styles of other winter synth artists, like on the second track “Demented and Lost in the White Plain”, Eislandschaft proves to be a worthy competitor with some of the greatest of the style. The synth notes find that perfect balance between mid-range and a shimmering high-pitched timbre.

By the third track, “There’s Something Out There, In the Middle of the Winter Night”, we are presented with the last element which makes Eislandschaft such a successful project. As the synths take on a more subtle drone style, there are equally subtle field recordings layered in the background. These field recordings, unlike those of many winter synth artists, are perfectly balanced with the track. There is no overbearing attitude forcing this wintry atmosphere upon us. The layers of drone and field recording commingle exquisitely, making for a track which is as incredibly relaxing as it is isolating.

The original release by Eislandschaft in August 2017 would have been the middle of winter for the southern hemisphere, so we need not think of this as a summer release. The October re-release on Lighten Up Sounds gives the physical album the perfect amount of time to find its way around the world, before the winter months of the north commence. The beautifully realized cassette version of this release by Lighten Up Sounds fits the soundscapes splendidly with the cassette, cover-art and Norelco case all in white and the lettering on the cassette itself in a shimmering silver.

Tales of the Frost is a combination of winter-synth, polar-ambient and neo-classical at its absolute finest. The album makes for the perfect background to a cold winter night, nestled in one’s favorite chair in front of a blazing fire. For me, this album will be getting plenty of play through the coming winter months of the northern hemisphere. I would highly recommend the release to anyone with a deep love and respect for the frigid months of winter. Tales of the Frost is close to a perfection of its musical equivalent.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Sky Burial – Chapel Image – Review

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

Tracklist:
01. Chapel Image

 

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

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

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

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

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

Danny Mulhern – Reflections on a Dead Sea – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

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