Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 16)

Council of Nine – Davidian – Review

Artist: Council of Nine
Album: Davidian
Release date: 13 August 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber
Reviewer: James Gardner

Tracklist:
01. Mt. Carmel
02. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
03. Blood on your Hands
04. Revelator
05. Day 51
06. Davidian
07. The 7 Seals

 

On February 28th, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to raid the Mount Carmel Center ranch in Axtell, Texas, which was home to the Branch Davidians (a sect of the Shepherd’s Rod/Davidians who are themselves an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church) as they believed that the cult were stockpiling weapons and modifying them to have automatic fire capability. Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died during the initial raid. What followed was a 51-day siege which ended in the deaths of 76 members of the cult, including the leader, David Koresh, and several children. The compound burned to the ground after fires were started by Branch Davidians in three separate places. It is interesting to note that the grounds on which US Attorney General Janet Reno urged President Bill Clinton to allow her to raid the compound were that Koresh was sexually abusing children. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team later said that there was no evidence of child abuse discovered; either during the standoff or subsequently.

After stand-off at Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on 19 April 1993 .

As a British person, I find the all-too-frequent instances of mass-shootings and gun-related atrocities across the pond equally heart-wrenching and fascinating. The victims are almost always those who never handle guns in the first place – in the Waco Siege, these included children and the (presumably) peaceful majority of Branch Davidians who had been brainwashed by Koresh and his associates. I could get very political here, and rant and rave about how the positive correlation between gun ownership and innocent people getting shot is blindingly obvious, but I will refrain from doing so. I will, however, point out that on March 13th, 1996, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School near Stirling in Scotland before taking his own life. Within a year, the government had passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, severely restricting gun ownership in the United Kingdom; these laws were further tightened later the same year. Since then, there has been one single mass shooting (in Cumbria, the county immediately north of the one in which I live); the gunman was from an isolated rural area, which is where the majority of firearms ownership exists due to the genuine needs of agricultural communities. We have, on average, 2.3 gun-related deaths a year per million citizens (the US has 122.1) and it is hardly a stretch to suggest that ‘people not owning guns’ and ‘fewer people dying in tragedies such as this’ might just be linked.

But I digress. Interestingly enough, there are plenty of cults here too. I am inclined to believe that all humans are fairly similar and therefore, as long as contextual factors are also similar, will behave in similar ways; consequently, the actual idea of an isolated, extremist religious community is far more familiar to me than lots of people getting shot. Plus, they are really interesting; without true crime and weird cults, we probably would not have YouTube documentaries or podcasts. At least not the ones I like. So, with that in mind, I pre-ordered Council of Nine’s Davidian, keen to experience something that sound-tracked the human need to belong to something at almost any cost, and feasted my ears on the two pre-release tracks until the whole thing dropped.

Council of Nine sits just on the inside-edge of my dark ambient preferences. Whilst they are by no means space ambient, in the same way as Alphaxone or Sabled Sun’s Signals albums, there is certainly an astral, otherworldly element that is not present in more Gothic, dystopian-future, occult or nature-focused projects. This makes it something that I probably would not have bothered with, were it not for the fact that Cryo Chamber released it; indeed, it was only down to a sale that I picked up Exit Earth and realised on what I had been missing out.

This is the second of Maximillian Olivier’s cult-centric works. The aforementioned Exit Earth, which focused on the Heaven’s Gate gnostic sci-fi millenarianist cult, and his previous output, including hefty contributions to the excellent Tomb series and a stand-out track on 2016’s Locus Arcadia collaboration with fellow Cryo Chamber luminaries Randal Collier-Ford, Flowers for Bodysnatchers and God Body Disconnect, is definitely worth listening to. I would heartily recommend all of it. If you are new to Council of Nine or dark ambient as a whole, Davidian makes for a good starting point. It is classic dark ambient stuff – big on drones, ominous sub-bass and soaring pads that create a fully immersive experience. Not only is it classic dark ambient, it is also a classic Cryo Chamber album in that it is truly cinematic. The story of the Waco Siege is well known (and if you are not familiar with it, there is always Google) so, unlike ‘fictional’ albums, there was already a story here. All it needed was a score. For even attempting this, Olivier should be respected; multiple bands and artists I otherwise enjoy attempt to tackle sensitive and controversial topics and end up looking crass or irreverent. Not so here.

Unlike the sadness of wanting to leave an unkind world that flows through Exit Earth, the ghosts represented in Davidian’s seven tracks are full of anger. The Waco siege made people angry (none more so than Timothy McVeigh, who later carried out the Oklahoma City bombing) due to the inconsistencies in the testimonies of ATF and FBI agents, amongst other things, and this is evident throughout. I do not know whose hands are being referred to in track 3 (‘Blood on Your Hands’) but the rumbles underneath the airy drones are not pleasant sounds; to me, they are the sounds of people who truly believe that they have the answers, that a hitherto hidden truth has been revealed to them, and that the world is at fault for ignoring or ridiculing them.

The final three tracks are a tour de force. The sounds that build and swirl are (almost) choral in nature; hinting at, but in no way lifting from, raison d’être at his finest. I am well aware that this is something of a lofty comparison, but I think that it is deserved. To check that I was not just hyperbolically gushing, I switched from Davidian to Enthralled by the Wind of Loneliness by the aforementioned Swedish trailblazer and I stand by what I have written; this is very good indeed. Whether we will still be playing it in 25 years, I do not know, but I do know that if the genre continues to evolve as it has done in the last quarter of a century, we will be listening to something that still sounds fresh and exciting.

So, again, Cryo Chamber and Council of Nine knock it for six/out of the park (or choose your own geographically-appropriate idiom) with an album that fans of all different aspects of the genre can unite around and use to convert others who ask “what are those weird spooky noises you listen to instead of music?” Once you have done that, start a sweepstakes on which bunch of extremist fanatics Olivier is going to tackle next. You will have people hooked in no time.

Written by James Gardner

Ruptured World – Archeoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Archeoplanetary
Release date: 2 July 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber
Reviewer: Michael Barnett

Tracklist:
01. Rituals of Attainment Through Time
02. The Revelations of the Cipher – Deciphering the Pictish Ogham
03. The Haven
04. Passages of Exposition
05. The Grim Repasts of Cullen Shores
06. The Enigma of St. John’s
07. The Aura of Drostan’s Well
08. Descent into the Underworld
09. The Portents of Crovie

Alistair Rennie, the man behind Ruptured World, was first introduced to the dark ambient community by Cryo Chamber with his debut album, Exoplanetary. He has now returned with the follow up, Archeoplanetary, which should be considered a prequel, in terms of the story’s time-line.

If you would like to find out more about Ruptured World and Alistair Rennie,  I highly recommend you check out our interview with him and our review of his previous album, Exoplanetary.

As on Exoplanetary, Rennie takes us back into his story of horrifying alien visitors to Earth. We follow Dr. Marcrae and the now-missing Dr. Tarknassus through their journey to discover the buried and forgotten secrets of Earth and the galaxy beyond. Borrowing heavily from the sort of cosmic horror present in the works of 1930s weird authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton-Smith, Rennie hints at unspeakable cosmic horrors, alien races from far-flung corners of the galaxy, and the ancient texts of the ‘Pictish Ogham’ (in true weird fashion, creating his own sort of demonic text, similar to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon or Smith’s Book of Eibon).

Rennie illuminates the details of his story for us, through the use of found audio-tape recordings. These recordings are detailed documentation of Dr. Marian Tarknassus’ research from 5 years previous, before his untimely disappearance. As such, we experience Archeoplanetary through the vessel of Dr. Archibald Macrae, as he begins to piece together the story of his mentor’s disappearance, and the horrifying realities Tarknassus had uncovered.

Gentle drones and atmospheric soundscapes, along with the occasional melancholic piano, gently transport us from tape-recording to tape-recording. Along the way we are able to be instilled with a sense of awe, fear and general insignificance. Much in the same fashion of God Body Disconnect, Ruptured World is able to use the dark ambient soundscapes to perfectly sculpt the emotions of the listener. As we move from one narrative into the next, we are naturally transitioning between emotions.

Upon discovery of each tape, we are given a beautifully crafted moment. We can hear Dr. Marcrae pressing play, rewinding back to re-listen. We can feel his hopelessness as he progresses, likely realizing he’ll never see his mentor again. But also realizing, that we are far from alone in this universe, and possibly even on this planet. While it’s certainly not so, I like to think of albums like this one as side-stories to the stuff of Sabled Sun, as if this were yet another story, of another survivor, on another world. And, while the dark ambient soundscapes themselves might not be quite on the level of Simon Heath’s Sabled Sun (not to say they aren’t great, just not on par with the master!), the “found tape recordings” are dark ambient gold. The way Alistair Rennie conjures this voice and delivery-style feels like it’s straight out of a classic (1950s-’60s) horror/sci-fi film.

For me, Ruptured World is the sort of artist you want to share with your “normal” friends. While they may not immediately dig an hour of drones, they might be more inclined to sit down to a narrated story with first-class voice acting. For more seasoned dark ambient listeners, you’ll likely find the attention to detail on these recordings to be as utterly exquisite as I have. The music itself is above average, at the very least.

I would recommend picking up a physical copy of this one, if you have the means. Or even better, the 2 CD bundle, which also includes Exoplanetary. The reason being that both albums are connected in theme/story. But more so, because there is such attention to detail on these albums, one deserves to get the full experience, which includes the booklets from both albums that are full of images and information about these beings and places described by Rennie.

Excerpt from Archeoplanetary booklet.

Ruptured World is one of my favorite projects on Cryo Chamber in recent years. I have found myself returning to both these albums quite frequently, especially Archeoplanetary. If you are a fan of the Lovecraftian series through Cryo Chamber or weird fiction / cosmic horror, in general, I think you will love this project as much as I do. I will be waiting patiently to see if Rennie will continue to reveal more details about this story-line, or if he will travel into uncharted territory on his next release. In the meantime, we have a gem!

Don’t forget to check out our interview with Alistair!

Written by: Michael Barnett

In Quantum – Memory 417 – Review

Artist: In Quantum
Album: Memory 417
Release date: 23 July 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber
Reviewer: James Gardner

 

Here is a list: Ruptured World, a Dronny Darko collaboration with RNGMNN (who, it turns out, has been knocking out music for nearly two decades under various monikers), God Body Disconnect, Sphäre Sechs, Alphaxone, Metatron Omega, Ager Sonus, Flowers for Bodysnatchers, a collaboration between Ugasanie and Dronny Darko (again), Mount Shrine, Tomb of Ordeals and Dead Melodies.

What is it? It is a list of releases Cryo Chamber has put out in 2019 alone, alongside its annual ‘Dark Ambient of…’ installment for the previous year. The sheer range of styles is impressive too; compare Alphaxone and Metatron Omega, or any other two artists from the list above, and then make the oft-uttered claim that dark ambient is repetitive. The point I am making is that Cryo Chamber is probably the single most important label in the dark ambient universe. Certainly, the frequency and regularity of releases is surprising, but even more so when you consider the exceptional quality control and attention to detail for which label boss Simon Heath is famous.

On to this album then – Memory 417 by In Quantum. This is something of a rarity in that it appears to be the work of a brand new, hitherto unknown artist: one Eric Peterson. There are multiple Eric Petersons listed on Discogs, probably the most famous of whom is the founder of thrash metallers Testament. I doubt this is the same guy, but it would be very cool if it was. A new artist on the label is always intriguing because of the unknown quantity they represent; therefore, my ritual of pre-ordering and listening to the pre-release tracks was even more exciting than usual. The Cryo Chamber blurb was enticing too:

From the website:

This Cyberpunk Ambient album from In Quantum takes you to the mega cities of the future.

“Early Spring 2074
Some say the old days were different. Before cybernetics and the transhumanist revolution. Before the megacorps bought us and our nations, our hopes and our dreams. People back then did not live, work, eat and sleep their lives away within the towering megacorp arcologies. These days only the lucky do so.

Before the megacorps developed the semantic networks, there were us – soulless prototypes with imprinted memories and so cybernetically enhanced that we verge ever on cyber-psychosis. Due to our post-human DNA, programmed for resilience, we work and live in areas where Humans cannot – like Sector 417. A quarantined and irradiated zone where we protect and maintain the filtration, power and sewage systems of the Mega-City. The nuclear fallout from the conflicts of the 50’s is mostly cleaned up thanks to us, though you would never know it.

Water is scarce, and the first war over it is already brewing. We see, but lack the capacity to care. The word Humanity now feels on the tongue like some long-lost dream. A vision of freedom and serenity, turned to coarse sand on our pallets.

We see the riots from up here, red smoke and gunfire as anti-transhumanist chants peal through the city. Humans that are disenfranchised, without value in a new world where semantic networks connect the soulless, making them smarter and more effective. What is a single brain compared to thousands? Sometime recently we diverged from the evolutionary path of the many, and now seem land-locked into evolving into a single mind. A single mind at war with itself and all of creation. A single mind ready to disembowel itself to cut the cancer out.

To cut us out.”

Warm analogue bass, textural soundspaces and cinematic build ups combine for a unique look into the future of mankind.

However, this could be as interesting as it likes and it would not get read again, were the music not also really, really interesting. Luckily it is. The first track, ‘Anno MMLXXIV’, opens with a horrible groan and a distorted drone reminiscent of Dronny Darko’s terrifying Cryo Chamber debut, Outer Tehom. From then on in, the listener is treated to a lot – soaring synths, increasingly desperate spoken word passages, sub-bass, dark beats, weird arpeggios, sonic booms and the general sense that this is not the work of an inexperienced, new composer. It is assured and confident and refuses to stay safely within the confines of one sub-genre. It has the experimental nature of someone with enough behind them to take risks and also the expertise to pull it off in a way that makes you think ‘what was that!?’ at the same time as feeling that it all fits together seamlessly.

There are still some familiarities to hang on to – the aforementioned Dronny Darko and Sabled Sun to name a couple, but this is, more than anything else, a work that is absolutely bursting at the seams with originality. It is not background music; it requires concentration and repeated listening in order to be fully appreciated. It also reflects the story promised by the description above. The beginning is full of anticipation and it moves to a frantic middle before dropping into a despondent, moribund ending. It is, in short, fantastic.

I have bought all of Cryo Chamber’s releases so far this year and this is the best of the bunch, in my humble opinion. It is varied, wholly original and, what is more, would serve as a perfect introduction to the genre for the uninitiated. It also seems to be representative of Cryo Chamber in 2019 – varied and ultimately ready to break new ground whilst remaining true to its roots. More from In Quantum would be warmly welcomed – I suspect Eric Peterson is only just getting started.

*A quick note on the Sabled Sun connection – the story as detailed on the website suggests a possible link to Sabled Sun’s 21xx universe. This is uncannily similar to the link between Dronny Darko (yet again!) and protoU’s superb collaboration album Earth Songs and the aforementioned creation of Simon Heath. If so, this album would sit, rather interestingly, between tracks 6 and 7 (‘Singularity [2045 AD]’ and ‘Leaving Earth [2135 AD]’) of that Earth Songs album. This is borne out by the date given for this album, being “Early Spring 2074”. I’ll just leave that there…

Written by: James Gardner

Old Sorcery – Strange and Eternal – Review

Artist: Old Sorcery
Album: Strange and Eternal
Release date: 19 April 2019
Label: Garavluth Records
Reviewer: Matteo Brusa

Tracklist:
01. The Crystal Funeral
02. Fimbrethil
03. A Moss Covered Grimoire
04. Tears of a Dying Star
05. Tulessa Uinuva Kuningas

You put a spell on me

Hailing from Finland, Old Sorcery is a well known name in the current dungeon synth scene; its acclaimed debut Realms of Magickal Sorrow, an album which combined an old school approach with retro electronic music, drawing influences from the Berlin School, early ambient and trance (not the first of its kind – think of Grimrik‘s Die Mauern der Nacht – but still played out in a personal and engaging style), came out of nowhere in late 2017 and has since been released on tape, vinyl and CD by Garavluth Records, becoming a modern classic. After moving on towards a split with fellow Finnish act Haxan Dreams and an EP, both subtly adding ingredients to the formula, Old Sorcery seems to reach true mastery of spells with its sophomore full-length Strange and eternal.

Besides the extremely scarce liner notes, the first impression about the album comes from the monochrome, almost naively styled cover art by Sadist Stalker, depicting a castle in a vale. Fortunately, this is the only cliché Vechi Vrăjitor, the man behind Old Sorcery, chooses to indulge in, as the 11 minute long opener “The Crystal Funeral” immediately sets the bar pretty high: it is a masterfully written cinematic piece of music carrying an ambient, almost new-age-like feel, slowly evolving towards an epic buildup and finale, which wouldn’t sound out of place in Jim Kirkwood’s (maybe even in David Arkenstone’s) catalog. This stellar introduction is followed by the much shorter and concise “Fimbrethil”; based on a catchy keyboard riff and a simple structure, it showcases a more song-oriented side of Old Sorcery’s style. A trait which immediately catches the ear is the amount of care put in small details; the sound is built over layers of lush pads, dreamy synthetic leads, arpeggiated plucks and classic sampled orchestral instruments, each taking a carefully fleshed out role in the arrangement, never getting too dense and never over-playing each other; electronic music elements are subtly and tastefully employed to enhance the overall feel of the music, as shown on both the aforementioned first track and the hauntingly beautiful, evocative “A moss covered grimoire”, blooming with ambient flourishes over gorgeously deep pads and pulsating synths. The 15 minutes long final piece “Tulessa Uinuva Kuningas” (“The king sleeping in fire”) begins with a synthetic windy soundscape before turning into a dark, atmospheric and arcane sounding take on old school dungeon synth. While there are almost unintelligible vocals buried in the mix throughout the album, this specific track stands out among others because it features a very clean and forward-mixed recording of a poem written and recited with emphasis by Visa “Sikagowitch” Tikka, which perfectly complements the music, giving off a strongly epic and ritualistic feel.

“Strange and eternal” is a pretty fitting description to this album; the music is consistently excellent, written in the spirit of old school masters but with a creative flair, and it has an eerie, otherworldly and timeless quality, characters which sit well along with the genre’s tradition. This is a highly recommended listen; be sure to grab a tape or Digipack-CD copy from Garavluth before they run out.

Written by: Matteo Brusa

Bellkeeper – The First Flame of Lordran – Review

Editor’s note: As I continue to fight my way out of an unexpected and heavy depression, we luckily have Matteo keeping things rolling!  Here is his latest dungeon synth review! Enjoy and expect me (Michael) to be back to normal soon!

Artist: Bellkeeper
Album: The First Flame of Lordran
Release date: 6 February 2019
Label: Dungeons Deep Records

Not quite the first, but still hot

“In the Age of Ancients, the world was unformed, shrouded by fog. A land of grey crags, archtrees, and everlasting dragons. But then there was Fire and with Fire came Disparity. Heat and cold, life and death, and of course… Light and Dark. Then, from the Dark, They came and found the Souls of Lords within the flame. Nito, the first of the dead. The Witch of Izalith, and her daughters of chaos. Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, and his faithful knights. And the furtive pygmy, so easily forgotten. With the Strength of Lords, they challenged the dragons. Gwyn’s mighty bolts peeled apart their stone scales. The witches weaved great firestorms. Nito unleashed a miasma of death and disease. And Seath the Scaleless betrayed his own, and the dragons were no more. Thus began the Age of Fire. But soon, the flames will fade, and only Dark will remain. Even now, there are only embers, and man sees not light, but only endless nights. And amongst the living are seen, carriers of the accursed Darksign.”

Does anything of this sound familiar? Readers who are into role-playing videogames will instantly recognize it as the prologue of Dark Souls, one of the most acclaimed games of recent years, which constitutes the setting and premise for Bellkeeper‘s The First Flame of Lordran. I’m usually a bit wary in approaching RPG-based Dungeon Synth, which too often ends up coming off as a cheap soundtrack to shallow concepts, but what we have here is a far more inspired and charming affair. Within its short 28 minutes of length, Bellkeeper‘s debut manages to capture the spirit and feel of classic Dungeon Synth with enough variety and skill to avoid sounding like a mere imitation. While the sonic department is built upon rather usual fare, with the ubiquitous mix of synthetic and sampled orchestral sounds dominating the music (a very nice sounding pipe organ and bells being the most welcomed exceptions), the quality of compositions is top notch: through a skillful combination of repetition, layering and dynamics, each track succeeds in engaging the listener by recreating the atmosphere and moods of its source material, ranging from sinister and ominous to dark and majestic to decadently epic, evoking vivid imagery and creating a strong feeling of motion, which could connect with the protagonist’s quest. There is no real standout track or well-rounded album structure; the music finishes as abruptly as it kicks in in the beginning, more like painting a picture rather than telling a story; this sort of rawness, while perfectly adequate for the genre, makes the album, as a whole, sound a bit unfinished and lacking a proper closure, a minor flaw which doesn’t detract too much from the immersive listening experience, though.

To sum it up, The First Flame of Lordran is a powerful debut which can hold its own among peers in the scene, and will surely appeal to fans of raw sounding, yet well composed and imaginative old school Dungeon Synth. There is still plenty of material in the Dark Souls saga for Bellkeeper to write about, so we can only wait in excitement until the next chapter.

Written by: Matteo Brusa

Isegrimm – Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen – Review

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to share with you the second review from the talented Matteo Brusa!  If you want to be notified of all our posts, be sure to sign up for email notifications, found in the right panel of the webpage (just scroll down and look to your right). Facebook is worthless for promotion these days and there aren’t a lot of other alternatives, so please consider signing up!

Artist: Isegrimm
Album: Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen
Release date: 18 January 2019
Label: Dark Age Productions
Reviewer: Matteo Brusa


This is what I heard, and it will blow you away

In the vast and mostly featureless landscape of contemporary Dungeon Synth, Isegrimm stands like a massive, towering fortress, one where travelers who dare to cross its path can always be sure to find a safe haven. Now reaching its third installment (plus a split with Irish fellow dungeoneer Argonath), Max Berger’s project has established itself as one of the most engaging and recognizable acts in the current scene, and Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen further consolidates its status.

As titles suggest, the album draws its inspiration from the poem Hildebrandslied, the only surviving written example of High German winileod (epic “folk song”) from the early Middle Ages. For those unfamiliar with the subject matter, the “Song of Hildebrand” (“Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen” being the first verse, roughly meaning “This is what I heard”) narrates of a father and son destined to fight each other to death, a recurring theme in Indo-European mythology: in the war between Theoderic king of the Ostrogoths and Odoacer king of Italy, two champions, named Hildebrand and Hadubrand, meet on the battlefield to engage in duel; Hildebrand, the eldest, soon realizes he is facing his long lost son and tries to reconcile with him, being rebuffed by Hadubrand. Bound by the ancient Germanic warrior code, he can’t reject the duel, so they begin to fight, Hildebrand lamenting his sorrowful fate. The manuscript ends here, but likely, as occurring in all other examples of the trope in European literature, the original poem would finish with Hildebrand prevailing and killing his own son, an outcome accordingly stated in the album’s final song “Hadubrantes Todliod” (“The death song of Hadubrand”).

With the aid of a number of guests, including Matt Seeb of the acclaimed Hedge Wizard, Daithí O’Mathúna of Argonath and Italian singers Paolo Ferrante and Chiara Gangemi from the experimental vocal act The Voices, Max Berger manages to create an outstandingly evocative and engaging soundtrack to such an epic and tragic tale. “Medieval ambient” could be the perfect description for the sound and feel of Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen: a sustained note introduces the listener to a masterful sonic representation of early Middle Ages Europe, which slowly unfolds through a variety of different atmospheres and moods, providing for an astonishingly immersive experience, greatly enhanced by Alex Crispin’s crisp (no pun intended) and polished mastering work. Arrangements are rich and dynamic, ranging from dense synthetic orchestral passages to quieter and sparser ambient sections; there is tribal chanting and drumming, full-on sampled horns heroically blowing, synthetic pads delicately weaving backdrops for piano and sampled woodwinds flourishes, and more. While the compositional style is mainly based on repetition and layering as is common in Dungeon Synth tradition, the use of vocals and percussions throughout makes this album really stand out: the vocals specifically are a highlight, adding a strong human presence and often taking the lead with choirs and chanting, giving off at times a distinct ethnic feel, at times evoking sacrality. Track number six, “Wettu Irmingot” (“God the Excellent testify”) is perhaps the most brilliant example: through juxtaposition of obsessive percussions with skillfully written, arranged and performed intertwining vocal parts, it manages to sound like a Gothic (literally) version of Enigma, yet in a way not so far removed from certain neoclassical darkwave (early Weltenbrand also comes to mind). Almost each song could stand as well on its own, but in the album’s context, they seamlessly fit together and complement each other, creating a very cohesive and tight opus. Even the closing track, which is kind of an oddball, being a slow atmospheric metal song with guitar, bass and drums, doesn’t sound out of place at all: on the contrary, it perfectly sits within the flow of the album, concluding it with a captivating change of pace.

By combining old school Dungeon Synth with progressive elements, Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen undoubtedly turns out to be Isegrimm‘s masterpiece, an album deserving widespread praise and recognition in the scene as an example of keeping things fresh while maintaining a strong connection with the genre’s roots and spirit.

Written by: Matteo Brusa

KORMORG – Dungeon Myths – Review

For this review, I’m proud to share with you the writings of a new associate of ours, Matteo Brusa, known to the dark ambient and dungeon synth communities for his work as Medhelan and La Tredicesima Luna. I’ve reviewed albums of his by both projects and I’ve also interviewed him. I know he has a much more thorough understanding of the dungeon synth genre than me, and therefore more authority to call a release good or bad. For this reason, among others, I hope he’ll be returning soon with more reviews for us of whatever albums he sees fit. Enjoy!

Artist: KORMORG
Album: Dungeon Myths
Release date: 14 March 2019
Label: Heimat der Katastrophe

Making Dungeon Synth great again

If you are into obscure dark and atmospheric music genres in 2019 and you’ve never heard of Dungeon Synth, you’ve been living under a rock. Since its inception as an offshoot of the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the early ’90s, the genre has gone through several phases, from its experimental beginnings in pure Black Metal spirit to its revival in the 2010s and subsequent growth, eventually gaining its current status of underground popularity, supported by an ever expanding international online community. This momentum, coupled with the relative ease of recreating a certain sound and aesthetic quality (albeit not necessarily the spirit), has produced in recent years an endless flood of mostly copycat Dungeon Synth projects, making it very difficult, with the notable exception of a few household names, to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Released in cassette format by the Italian experimental label Heimat der Katastrophe and instantly sold out, KORMORG‘s apparently unassuming debut Dungeon Myths first catches the eye thanks to its lusciously evocative hand-drawn artwork, courtesy of veteran artist David Thiérrée; a quick glance to liner notes on Bandcamp reveals some more interesting details: first, we are told KORMORG is a new project by an unnamed well-known artist in the current scene; moreover, the album incorporates samples from several established acts (including my own work), suggesting a rather uncommon sample-based approach to composition. The most astonishing part of it, though, turns out to be the music itself: opening track “Awakening the orcs” sounds gorgeously deep, crisp and clean, showing off a painstaking care for detail and sound architecture which is way more common in pure electronic ambient music rather than Dungeon Synth; most of the sounds appear to be crafted by heavily editing various kinds of samples, a technique especially evident in background soundscaping, drones and percussion parts. The ambient-rooted, sample-based compositional style shines even more brightly in the following track “Preparing for battle”, which builds up an epic, heroic soundscape over a simple drone-like structure, and in the highly atmospheric closing track “Crystal lights in haunted caverns”. “The lonely maiden at a distant shore” is the closest this album gets to electronic down-tempo music, with its lonesome and mystical feel somehow reminiscent of early Delerium, while “Return of a warrior” shows a distinctly cinematic edge juxtaposed with electronic beats (a recurring stylistic choice throughout the album).

What really makes KORMORG‘s music unique compared to its peers is how, while clearly being professionally produced and composed with an electronic musician’s mindset, it still feels very much like Dungeon Synth, evoking the same kind of spirit and imagery found in the genre’s milestones. Dungeon Myths is probably the greatest thing happening lately to the scene: by combining a skillfully original approach to a deep knowledge of Dungeon Synth’s tropes and themes, while maintaining a respectful attitude towards its roots, it comes off as incredibly fresh, engaging and brimming with spirit, a much needed infusion of novelty in a genre quickly becoming stale. Highly recommended and definitely a highlight of this year. Rumor has there will be a re-issue, so be sure not to miss it again.

Written by Matteo Brusa of Medhelan and La Tredicesima Luna

Flowers for Bodysnatchers – Alive with Scars – Review

Artist: Flowers for Bodysnatchers
Album: Alive with Scars
Release date: 5 March 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber

Flowers for Bodysnatchers is back with Alive with Scars. Duncan Ritchie’s project has quickly become one of the most well-known in the dark ambient genre and a front-runner on the Cryo Chamber label, which he’s called home since the masterpiece Aokigahara in 2015.

His first two releases on Cryo Chamber showed a dark and personal side of Duncan Ritchie. Aokigahara took us on a journey into the forest of its namesake in Japan. This forest has become notorious and recognizable to many around the world in recent years, due to the more widespread reach of social media and news websites. It’s being featured in movies like A24‘s The Sea of Trees has only further solidified it in our minds. We knew that this was a sort of “potential suicide voyage” and the fact that Ritchie collected field recordings directly from Tokyo and the forest itself could lead us to believe that he may have taken this journey very seriously.

Love Like Blood, the follow-up to Aokigahara, added more pieces to the puzzle for us. We found out that, at least part of, this trip was due to a lost love and the emotional reverberations felt because of it. The picture was undeniably a personal one for Ritchie at this point. Not just a theme for an album, but a saddening memoir.

Alive with Scars takes us even deeper into the personal life of Ritchie. We are given a key to one of the underlying causes behind that eerie trip to Aokigahara. We find that the situation was not only one of personal incompatibilities and emotionally charged laments. Ritchie now shows us that a huge part of the puzzle comes from his struggles with MS. Here it is best to allow Ritchie’s words to speak for themselves, as he explains MS and his struggles in dealing with it.

(Taken from the album blurb on Cryo Chamber)
Alive With Scars is an album that explores the life long struggle of living with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue, in the case of MS, the healthy tissue is myelin, the protein that insulates the nerves in the spinal cord, brain and optic nerve gradually destroying the myelin that coats the central nervous system. Your body slowly beings wasting from the inside out by the subversion of its own central nervous system. A body that with the passing of time will waste and wither to its own unique sonnet of pain and torment.

I personally have lived with MS for almost 10 years and, this album has been an on again, off again affair for almost as long. Did I even want to do this? Will people understand it? It has been a difficult subject to approach and express musically. Yet I found I had been subconsciously doing it all along. From the formidably depressing album Aokigahara to the melancholic spitefulness of Love Like Blood. The narratives represented in these albums were backed by the way my MS affected me and the people around me. It’s a long journey and Alive With Scars continues both the physical and emotional process of living life, trying to keep one step ahead of it and, trying to say sorry for the times I got things terribly wrong. – Duncan

This all makes a lot of sense when listening to the album, especially if you are familiar with Ritchie’s previous work. There are certain sections, like the piano on the opening track, which harken back to previous works by Ritchie. The fact that he’s been working through the material of this album for almost this full ten year period explains how some of the tracks will seem like things unusual to the Flowers For Bodysnatchers repertoire, while others will feel like they were taken directly from the sessions for Aokigahara and Love Like Blood. Some could be older pieces from styles which Ritchie has since distanced himself, while others could be glimmers of the future of the project.

From a technical standpoint, Alive with Scars is very much an active listen, more so than maybe any of his previous releases. This is particularly so because of the vast number of styles incorporated, as well as the several in-your-face uses of electronic percussion. It is also interesting to try to pieces together what elements may be time-capsules from several years ago, and which other ones seemed to be created/recorded over the last year, in preparation for the final album.

I see no point in going into detail here on a track-by-track analysis. I rarely read them myself when digesting someone else’s review. The reviewers feelings about a track aren’t what’s important, yours (the listener) are. Suffice to say, I highly enjoyed each track on the album, and there is quite a bit of variation present in style, flow and emotion. Which is all to be expected when documenting the journey through physical (and so often as a result, also emotional) pain.

Unlike most releases on Cryo Chamber, but par for the course with Flowers for Bodysnatchers, the album was 100% created and realized by Duncan Ritchie. From field recordings and synths to artwork and mastering, this is from the heart of Ritchie himself. I always consider that a real testament to his talents, when such a skilled person as Simon Heath is usually the one behind the artwork and mastering. Heath is absolutely ruthless when it comes to details and final product, so there is no way he would allow an album to be released on Cryo Chamber that wasn’t mastered by himself unless he really trusted and respected the work of Ritchie.

I can highly recommend this release. But, don’t expect it to be one that you just put on in the background while reading. It won’t do the album justice, and it will likely distract you if you are studying or reading. Give this one an hour in the dark with a nice set of headphones. It will be an hour well spent, and one sure to be followed by many more visits with this episode in the story behind Flowers for Bodysnatchers.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Skeldos – Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning – Review

Artist: Skeldos
Album: Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning
Release date: 5 April 2019
Label: The Epicurean

Tracklist:
01. Melas – A Lie
02. Ilges – Caretakers of Yearning
03. Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens

It is with immense pleasure that I am able to bring you an (heavily) updated version of my previous Skeldos review. As I lamented in the final paragraph, Skeldos is a brilliant musician and one that was deserving of much more exposure than previously realized. While my review, at the time, may have helped a few extra people find their way to and purchase this beautiful album, it was still sadly left under-the-radar. Now, finally, Skeldos has found a proper label, The Epicurean, one that is well-respected within the post-industrial community, which will likely bring his music to the attention of a much larger audience. As it so greatly deserves.

For this re-release Skeldos has added a third track to the album “Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens” and the album has been renamed Ilges – Caretakers of Yearning. It has also been mastered by Hunter Barr, and is now available as a CD. But, more on the physical aspects later.

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

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

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

The third track, “Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens”, is the new addition to the album, as mentioned above. I’m not sure if this was an out-take from the original sessions or if it was created exclusively for the re-release. But, it fits perfectly with the first two tracks. The soundscapes follow a similar pattern to those of the previous track and we are again graced with another short but beautiful vocal section. The inclusion of this new track brings the total album length to a more satisfying 45 minutes.

The inspiration for this album was taken from the poem “melas” or “A Lie” by Lithuanian writer Antanas Škėma. As with the previous version, the poem/lyrics have been included in the digifile, in their original Lithuanian as well as in English translation. While the poetry of the first track was written by Antanas Škėma, the second two tracks have lyrics/poetry composed by Skeldos himself.

The cover-art for this version has been updated, but is still very similar to the original. The CD is housed in a beautiful 6-panel digifile made with high-quality natural paper. The special edition, which is limited to 25 copies, takes this “natural” element one step further. It includes the same digifile as the standard version, along with: Tibetan prayer flags, incense, refuge ribbon & a certificate for donation on joss paper.

As stated on The Epicurean‘s Bandcamp page, in regard to the special edition:
“€3 is going direcly to the German association ”Bridge of Friendship e.V.”. Their aim is to support the ”Karma Leksheyling” – an intermediate English-Tibetan school for girls and boys from low-income families from the Himalayan region, who are denied access to other forms of education. Its purpose is to provide Buddhist training and qualified general education for young nuns and monks in order to empower them to assume their responsibility for the protection and preservation of Buddhist teachings in the future.”

As many of us are coming to realize in this brave new world, an increase in Buddhist teachings would likely do the planet some good, as a whole. It is heart-warming to see a “dark music” label focusing on outreach to such an altruistic cause. It is also a testament to the fact that while we love dark music, we are not bad people. We just often see the world from a darker more pessimistic lens than most…

Skeldos is a true gem to the post-industrial community. There is an air of the ancient and folk, and a feeling of melancholy which many dark ambient and drone artists can only dream to achieve. Each time I listen to Skeldos I am reinvigorated by the wonders present in his soundscapes. I am beyond pleased to be returning to this wonderful release with its additional track, new mastering, and beautiful new physical presentations. I highly recommend this album, HIGHLY!

I will hopefully have an interview with Vytenis to share with you all in the near future. I’m very much looking forward to picking his brain!

Written by: Michael Barnett

øjeRum – Nattesne – Review

Nattesne quickly merges with the subconscious. As the listener falls into the pattern of the album, the music becomes a meditation of its own.

Artist: øjeRum
Album: Nattesne
Release date: 3 March 2019
Label: Eilean Records

Eilean Rec. says of øjeRum:
“øjeRum is Copenhagen based musician and collage artist Paw Grabowski. Since 2014 he has put out releases on various labels such as A Giant Fern, Cabin Floor Esoterica, Eilean Rec., Phinery, Scissor Tail Editions and Vaald. øjeRum is all about the attempt to capture and convey emotions, moods and memories. two years and a half after his first release on eilean rec. we’re glad to host øjeRum for a second time on the map with the wonderful work: Nattesne.”

Before I heard this release, I was immediately captivated by the beautiful and evocative album art. The girl appears to be wearing a niqab and sitting in prayer or meditation. She is enveloped by a dull grey room, with sprigs of plants peaking out from behind. There is a halo behind her head (represented by the white circle). Her chest is an image of a snowy wooded landscape with the full moon peaking out from behind the trees. Her lower face scarf is a dark starry sky. So many narratives and emotions begin to immediately arise as I ponder the meaning of this artwork. This is the collage work of Paw Grabowski, the man behind øjeRum.

 

The album stays very true to the initial impressions I had of the artwork. There is a deep feeling of peace and meditative bliss present here. I don’t think I would call the music dark ambient, but it is pertinent to our sensibilities as listeners of that genre. There is a fleeting sadness, loneliness and isolation present throughout this release. These feelings reach an early climax on “V” with the help of vocalist Siri Anna Flensburg. Her voice draws all these feelings from meditation to loneliness to pure bliss into the six and a half minute track. Her voice melts into the tapestry of sounds, which on this track include a drone, which recurs throughout the album, accompanied by a dreamy and melancholic piano arrangement. This is the only time on the album that vocals or piano surface.

The majority of the album, aside from the aforementioned track “V”, has a recurring set of motifs. The guitar drone (not sure if it’s a guitar, it could be synth, but that’s not really pertinent) recurs through tracks I, III, V, VII, IX, XI, XIII, XV. You might notice that this is every odd track. Each time the album steers away from this template it is always certain to find its way back. The tracks filling in the even numbers alternate between two more templates.  A slowly strummed acoustic guitar allows its chords to resonate into the stillness. The remaining tracks feature another acoustic guitar but this time with picking progressions instead of strumming. The recurring nature of these elements drives the listener deep into a state of meditation, nostalgia, melancholy or some combination of the three.

Nattesne quickly merges with the subconscious. As the listener falls into the pattern of the album, the music becomes a meditation of its own. A spiraling staircase which one must ascend, only to find a brick wall at the top before the inevitable returning descent.

As alluded to by the imagery of the cover, the sounds of the album have a sort of “eastern feel” to them. The picked guitar sections could be a harp, the droning sections could be a flute, the strummed sections could be a sitar. And alternatively, the middle-eastern woman in prayer could be me, sitting in my American apartment in a deep meditation. Everything is cyclical and one, part of an inescapable whole.

As I’ve come to expect, Eilean Records has presented us with another beautiful release. Likely the last of their winter series before the course shifts to spring motifs. The limited edition CD of Nattesne quickly sold-out, as expected. Though there may still be a few copies floating around for sale outside the label. I always find Eilean Rec. releases to be perfect for the dark ambient sensibilities while only treading on the outer boundaries of it. Of course, dark ambient isn’t what they are going for, I only mention it because it’s the focus of our site! However, I doubt there will be many listeners questioning its appeal to our tastes.

I highly recommend Nattesne, and I equally recommend listeners explore the back-catalogs of øjeRum, as well as Eilean Records. There are many treasures still to be discovered for readers that dig this release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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