Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 6)

Cadabra Records – No Ordinary Fairy by Roland Topor

Artists:
Laurence R. Harvey (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
Roland Topor (Artwork)
Album: No Ordinary Fairy by Roland Topor
Release date: 13 February 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

Side A: No Ordinary Fairy
Side B: Laying the Queen

We likely live in one of the greatest times throughout history, if only for dreamers. We have instantaneous access to the works of artists, great and small, which span literally thousands of years. An attempt to absorb even 1/4 of the “must experience” artists throughout history becomes nearly impossible, even for someone with nothing but time. My first encounter with Cadabra Records came in the form of H.P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model. I made the discovery thanks to a night of browsing the Theologian discography. Since that portentous first encounter I have fallen madly in love with the works of Cadabra Records. Not only because of their well-above average physical productions (Pickman’s Model remains the most physically impressive vinyl release I’ve ever seen), but because of their choices in material to cover.

My first new discovery by way of Cadabra Records was Clark Ashton Smith, on their release of The Muse of Hyperborea, read by S.T. Joshi, the leading scholar on Lovecraft, and the music again performed by Theologian. A name that often cropped up in my reading of Lovecraft’s biographical coverage, I hadn’t actually delved into his works. Though, once introduced, I’ve been rabidly consuming all his poetry and weird fiction that I can manage.

Roland Topor is yet another name that I had only encountered in passing. Though I quickly found out that he was responsible for the novel, The Tenant, which would, a decade later, be brought to the big-screen by Roman Polanski, one of my very favorite film directors. Roland Topor was one of the leading visionaries of the mid-20th century. He, alongside others such as Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal, worked within a version of surrealism that aimed to retake the movement from the mainstream, watered-down version that it had become on account of its increasing popularity and exposure. Topor’s works are dark, shocking, often crude.

The No Ordinary Fairy LP brings out a slightly different side of Topor than many would guess. The vinyl contains two short stories: No Ordinary Fairy and Laying the Queen. They complement one another perfectly in their dark humor and crude nature. No Ordinary Fairy is a tale of an encounter with a real-life fairy, three wishes and all, going sour. Laying the Queen, true to its title, documents the journey of one deranged fellow with the solitary goal in his existence of having sex with a queen, any queen. In both these tales absurdity is pushed to the max making for quite a hilarious scenario. But there is still a dark shadow looming over each of these tales, especially No Ordinary Fairy, a tale which takes place directly following a bout of horrific domestic abuse.

Theologian, at this point one of the top contributors to the Cadabra Records soundscapes, again delivers top quality dark ambient music to complement the story as well as its diction by Laurence R. Harvey. We move from broodingly dark moments through more whimsical sections of sounds. From claustrophobic frenzy into vast vistas of solemnity. Theologian takes a grasp on the story content and always manages to heighten the appropriate emotions as the story moves among them. It is no wonder that Cadabra Records keeps returning to him as the musician for so many of its projects.

Actor Laurence R. Harvey makes his first appearance on a Cadabra Records release with the No Ordinary Fairy LP. Harvey is best known for his parts in The Human Centipede II and III, as well as The Editor and Rats, among others. His performance here is, like Theologian‘s, a perfect fit for this release. His vocal diction is creepy, to say the least. Not in a horror sense, but in a “maybe I’ll sit on the other side of the bus” sense. He takes the concepts behind these absurdly dark comical stories to brilliant new heights with his various inflections. In particular, toward the end of Laying the Queen, his performance of the narrative is stunningly appropriate to the story.

Cadabra Records pride themselves on the physical manifestations of these releases just as much as the aural content. No Ordinary Fairy does not break from this tradition. The cover-art is the work of Roland Topor himself. The 150 gram opaque purple vinyl comes in a deluxe tip-on jacket with liner notes by Heidi Lovejoy, giving us a bit of history of Topor’s legacy. The packaging is sturdy and attention to detail is paramount. The vinyl is in the 30 cm 45 rpm format.

If you are a fan of Topor’s works, enjoy the music of Theologian, or just love to collect unique and high-quality vinyl releases, the No Ordinary Fairy LP should be right up your alley. Cadabra Records have quickly solidified themselves in the vanguard of the spoken arts. I really can’t recommend the works of this label enough, and No Ordinary Fairy is a perfectly suitable place to start.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bonini Bulga – Sealed – Review

Artist: Bonini Bulga
Album: Sealed
Release date: 21 June 2017
Label: Hypnagoga Press

Tracklist:
01. Each Named
02. By A Higher Thought
03. Each With Six Wings
04. Becoming
05. Sealed As One

Bonini Bulga is the latest manifestation from the enigmatic mind of Pär Boström. While the symbolism of the album seems to draw allegories to both himself and his sister Åsa, the music was solely created by Pär. Bonini Bulga is the most subtle project yet from Pär Boström, the man behind the lauded project Kammarheit as well as Cities Last Broadcast and his other recent output, Altarmang, along with Kenneth Hansson. We also can not forget to mention the brilliant launch album on Hypnagoga Press, Orgelhuset by Hymnambulae, the collaboration with his sister and equal in Hypnagoga Press.

If this introduction to the works of Pär Boström seems a bit dizzying, it is understandable, as he has literally exploded with creativity over the last few years. But for those of us that are huge fans of his sparse but fantastic output over the last 15+/- years, this new spurt of energy and output is nothing short of a revelation.

Bonini Bulga is a hypnotic experience. A subdued collection of tracks which rely heavily on various hardware to create their strange, otherworldly soundscapes. Tape loops make up much of its foundation. The loops having been connected to various equipment, like effects foot pedals and other machinery, take on a dark and mystical quality. The darkness of the album predominately comes in the form of this odd, mystical structure. Yet, there is a pronounced darkness which occasionally rears its daemonic head. “Becoming”, which is my favorite track from the album, seems to be the climax, it brings whatever has been lurking in the shadows out into the open.

The album offers us hints at its meanings in a variety of ways. For example, each of the track titles can be read together to form one coherent statement: Each named by a higher thought, each with six wings, becoming sealed as one. The mythical and religious elements presented are clearly intended to build the foundation for the work. We can also read the passage that accompanies the album to understand more of its purpose:

”Beyond theophany and behind revelation, they arrived. Bonini and Bulga. An unlikely manifestation, of being and unbeing.

They stood there. They bowed and they bent the room they had entered.

Behind the Hierophant’s mask, Bonini, with the power to know, to shift and to unveil. The paths of hidden light and eclipses turning inward. A cowled head, overlooking thought.

Behind the mask of the Other, Bulga, with the power to create, to root and to merge. All shapes there to inhabit, all geometries there to unfold. A crowned head, overlooking process.

And they sang. Sealed as one.”

I interpret this as connecting Pär to Bonini, his work often coming in spurts of creative productivity. Much of his inspiration and direction coming from the dream world. To connect it to literature, I see him as someone like Randolph Carter from H.P. Lovecraft‘s Dream Cycle. He visits these strange beings and places in these furtive dream worlds and brings them back to us, puts thought to vision and sound, often depicting strange creatures and mystical dilapidated vaults, underworld kingdoms of ancient beauty.

Åsa Boström corresponds with Bulga. She is the mediator. Taking the so-called “geometry” and making sense of it, giving it form, purpose and direction. Restoring the ruins of ancient peoples to life, more directly a second life, a rebirth. She “roots” the meaning out of the complex visions, “merges” the uninhabited dream kingdoms with the real world. In so far as Hypnagoga Press is concerned, we have still only seen hints of the potential that she brings to the label. As the months and years progress, we will surely see much more of her direct input and influence surfacing in upcoming projects.

This is part of why The Solar Zine no.3 is so important and interesting. It literally draws a map of the future endeavors of these two visionaries. We know Kammarheit “the city, the catacombs, the mountains”, Hymnambulae “the desert and the organ house” as well as several of these other locations on the map. But, we are also given the opportunity to guess at the other upcoming works and visions of the siblings. What lies ahead for The Seafarer “the lighthouse”, or The Astronomer’s Garden “the observatory”. Then we have locations like Kalsamenen and Insomniska which give us no real hints at their purpose or how they will manifest themselves.

It seems that the coming years will be ripe with output from Hypnagoga Press. Whether this will continue to be the sole production base for the siblings, Pär and Åsa, or if some of these other locations hold introductions to new partnerships and collaborative output is anybody’s guess. But, if we consider what we have already seen as an indicator, we are in for one hell of a collection of works.

Written by: Michael Barnett
D

Council of Nine – Trinity – Review

Artist: Council of Nine
Album: Trinity
Release date: 11 July 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. 527
02. Memory
03. Bargaining
04. January 3rd
05. I No Longer Hear You
06. Silent Dawn
07. Trinity

“This is my catharsis. The many stages of grief and the acceptance of loss, deeply personal, unforgiving, cold and painful. This is the story of the greatest loss I have suffered, the death of my mother. This marks the end of a chapter and the closure I was desperately seeking.”

Council of Nine first appeared on the dark ambient scene with Tomb of Empires, the collaborative compilation between four artists using the theme of fallen civilizations as the basis. Since then he has released three full-length albums on Cryo Chamber as well as a follow-up collaboration in Tomb of Seers, and we also cannot forget about the massive Locus Arcadia album, which was the first time that Simon Heath allowed his Sabled Sun cycle to expand outside of his own work and into the hands of his label-mates.

On each of these releases Council of Nine has shown us his adaptability, attention to subtlety and his evolution as an artist. Trinity will follow most closely to Diagnosis, his last full length album. Diagnosis seemed, as its name would imply, to be the realization that there was a problem with his mother’s health. It was a look inside his mind as this news had its chance to sink in, and the artist had a chance to unload some of his emotional baggage into his music. Trinity moves forward in that narrative to the final period of her life. As the man behind Council of Nine attempts to cope with what is likely the greatest emotional roller coaster of his existence, the physical world moves forward, and the earlier diagnosis manifests itself in the physical form, bringing a demise to one life and a brush with the edges of sanity to the other.

So we can see that the narrative of this album is probably one of the most fitting imaginable for the inspiration of a dark ambient album. It is also quite unusual in terms of the common narratives covered in this genre. So often artists prefer to tell an abstract story, something of horror or science fiction or the occult. Actually diving into such a personal landscape of events must be a heart-wrenching experience for the artist, and thus it is often pushed aside in favor of more palatable and superficial topics.

The “darkness” in Trinity is overwhelming. It is crushing in its execution. On “January 3rd” we are confronted by actual recordings of his mother’s voice. She is literally present within the album. This must make the listening experience for the artist all the more emotional. While there is a hopeful beauty to some of the songs by Council of Nine, particularly those on Tomb of Seers, we hear none of that side of the artist manifest itself on Trinity. Council of Nine downplays the crushing bass drones on this one. He allows the lighter elements of his sound to come to the forefront, without actually allowing the mood of the tracks to be uplifting. These kinds of things allow the overwhelmingly somber subject matter of the album to expose itself fully without becoming overbearing on the listener.

The subtlety and nuance on Trinity is only possible for an artist that has been fine-tuning his craft nonstop over the last few years. Council of Nine has had little downtime since his first appearance on Tomb of Empires. He has become a master at pulling the emotions of the listener in any direction he chooses, all the while delivering top-notch musical output.

Trinity is obviously the last part of a three album sequence. It is a closure to everything that Council of Nine has done within his three solo releases. This leaves a big question mark for listeners as to what will come next. Trinity being the most personal of these three releases it seems quite possible that we will now move into some territory that is much less connected to the artist’s personal life and more aligned with his external interests. Trinity can be seen as the closure to his period as a new artist. What comes next will come from a musician that has honed their skills for several years, and is prepared to deliver their craft with a purpose and mastery that can only come from a veteran artist. For now we have plenty of great Council of Nine music to keep us entertained, and we can patiently wait to see where this artist will direct his attention next.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Shibalba – Psychostasis-Death of Khat – Review

Artist: Shibalba
Album: Psychostasis – Death of Khat
Release date: 16 February 2017
Label: Agonia Records

Tracklist:
01. Psychostasis – Death of Khat
02. Ihag Mthong
03. Kaoshiiki Mahayana
04. Aether Ananda Aiwss
05. Naljorpa
06. Reanimation of Akh
07. Five Points of Desire
08. Orgasmic Inebriation
09. Opening The Shadow Box
10. Svarna Khecari Mudra

Shibalba are a ritual dark ambient act out of Greece. They quickly caught on in the scene, releasing splits with the likes of Phurpa, Alone In The Hollow Garden and Emme Ya. But even before these splits, Shibalba hit the ground running with their debut Memphitic Invocations which was originally released on Night Birds Records.

Memphitic Invocations showed a side of ritual dark ambient music a bit different from the style of many artists under that banner. Where many artists seek to use elaborate droning textures to invoke a ritualistic atmosphere and alter the thought processes of the listener, Shibalba took a more literal approach to the art form. Using ritualistic drums and vocal incantations Shibalba delivered what amounted to an actual ritual in real-time.

Shibalba, taking their sound on the road, proved to have a noteworthy live performance. Frontman Acherontas V Priest was already an adept at the live show, through his more well known black metal project Acherontas. So with each performance, Shibalba further spread their message and their brand to an expanding orbit of listeners. By 2015 this growing popularity lead them to release their sophomore effort, Samsara, on the venerated Malignant Records.

Samsara showed an evolution in the sounds of Shibalba. Yet, the album did not break the mold of Memphitic Invocations. It was more a honing of their talents, a condensing of what worked for them. This made Samsara yet another success for the group. Not long after that release, they were already pushing a vinyl version, a format which Shibalba seems to favor.

Even more live performances and the consumption of Samsara brought Shibalba to their current home, on Agonia Records. At the first announcement of their joining Agonia, I’ll have to say I was a bit perplexed. Agonia Records deals in the styles of rock and metal, so imagining a ritual dark ambient group’s placement in these circles seemed a bit out of the ordinary. Of course, that was only until I heard their new album Psychostasis – Death of Khat.

Psychostasis – Death of Khat takes Shibalba into a wholly different place, the album is considerably more ambitious than any of their previous works. The opening title-track seems to shed the dark ambient aspect of their sound almost completely. If there could be any comparison of this style to another dark ambient project, I would only be able to point toward several tracks by Herbst9, though to be clear, I do not consider this to be a copy of the Herbst9 style at all, I merely mention them as a means of illustrating the direction the some of the sounds of Shibalba have taken.

Acherontas V. Priest uses spoken word as well as ritual chanting much more frequently than in the past. Ritual drums become more prominent. In general, the tracks take on more of a traditional song structure. However, when I said before that the dark ambient elements seemed to be completely shed, that (thankfully for me) proves to not be the case. We need look no further than the second track on the album to hear these dark ambient elements come back into play. “Ihag Mthong”, much like many tracks on Samsara, has that hollow rushing windy atmosphere, which makes the listener imagine Shibalba performing their rites in some deep cavern of a dormant volcanic mountain. The chimes ring out reverberating off the walls, the deep bassy ritual drums echo and rumble the floors. It all seems to be building up toward a climax which won’t be reached until the following track “Kaoshiiki Mahayana” kicks in.

“Kaoshiiki Mahayana” is a highly active track. There are a plethora of sounds overlapping one another here. Acherontas V. Priest bellows his chanting vocals as drums beat, chimes ring out, bass rumbles the floors, drones woosh in and out. By two and a half minutes into the track, there seems to be the feeling that some extraordinary spirit has been successfully conjured from its slumber. Following this climax the second half of the track begins to have a sort of mind-altering feel. Bringing the listener along to experience the same ecstasy felt by the attendees of the rite.

On a track like “Aether Ananda Aiwss” we again get that vibe that was present on the opener. This track feels quite musical in comparison to much of Shibalba‘s work. There is a pronounced drum beat, guitars and bass that have an eastern religious feel. Yet, just as these melodies and beats start to sink in many of these elements evaporate. As Acherontas V. Priest makes another invocation the atmosphere begins to warp and swirl again as he makes contact with the gods.

Psychostasis – Death of Khat clearly shifts from much of the previous Shibalba catalog into totally new territory. Their move to a label focusing on rock and metal acts seems to fit their shift in style. Yet, they still manage to retain the energy and mysticism that made Memphitic Invocations and Samsara so successful. They will surely attract a whole new crowd of listeners to their sounds. While, from my perspective, they shouldn’t alienate their oldest and most dedicated supporters that followed Shibalba from its birth. I would recommend Psychostasis – Death of Khat to any previous fans of Shibalba. I also think there is a big enough shift in their sound to attract readers whom may not have previously found Shibalba to be their thing. Whether they will stay the course with this new style, return to their previous frameworks or evolve yet again into something wholly new for their next release will be any one’s guess. In the meantime, Psychostasis – Death of Khat should give us plenty to enjoy for the foreseeable future.

Written by: Michael Barnett 
Photos courtesy of: Elena Vasilaki

Bleach for the Stars – The Time for Silver Flowers – Review

Artist: Bleach for the Stars
Album: The Time for Silver Flowers
Release date: 12 June 2017
Label: Cromlech Records

Tracklist:
01. Ashen Light
02. The Wild Vine
03. Eight Eleven
04. Husk Marant

Bleach for the Stars is a project by Benjamin Power of The United Kingdom. Active in dark ambient and related genres for the last few years, he has built up a varied collection of releases. Tapping into different aspects of his psyche, Power feeds into Bleach For The Stars his love of various aspects of the post-industrial scene as well as his troubled and painful past.

It seems that Benjamin Power has been through quite a bit of turmoil in his life. His albums reflect an inner pain that is undeniable. Often his works lean heavily in the directions of death industrial, power electronics and other heavier forms of post-industrial music. Using his vocals as a weapon, his music easily portrays this inner pain, taking something that can at times seem hateful and resent-filled, yet turning these emotions into a conduit for healthy release. In the process, fans of his music can turn to these albums to help cope with their own struggles with the world, as many of us often find reality to be a bleak and fickle concept.

The Time For Silver Flowers does not dial back on the emotional elements. But in terms of musical execution the sounds will be much more reserved than previous fare by Bleach For The Stars. The Time For Silver Flowers is able to fit more squarely into the dark ambient framework than much of his work. Yet, even with this said, the version of dark ambient that you will find here is still super-charged with emotion, the sounds are gritty, reminding that there is still no abatement to the inner pain of the composer.

The vocals are used in a haunting manner. Especially on tracks like the closer, “Husk Marant”, we can hear the laments of someone hopelessly pain-stricken. Whether this is a purely emotional pain, or also showing physical manifestations, the foundation of the message seems clear, the suffering shall never end. The vocal input, presumably all created by Power, appears takes on the voice of more than one character. At some points it seems as if there are numerous souls all crying out in agony. At other times, the vocals take on a deep and distorted nature, they sound of the heavy wails and cackles of a demoniac source. As these tortured screams reverberate throughout the track, it becomes almost plausible that the track is taking place within the infernal fires of the underworld. As if the sounds come directly from the mouth of the lord of darkness, Lucifer himself.

The vocals may be the most unique aspect of the album, but they are not necessarily the primary focus until later, especially during the final track, “Husk Marant”. There is a slow build up toward that final climactic closure. The opener, “Ashen Light” starts in a subdued fashion, with what seems to be the sound manipulations of some analog synth source. The industrial elements are always present, though it should be noted that I use the term industrial here to portray a sense of setting or location not necessarily to speak of that particular genre of music.

As each track progresses, they all build upon their foundations, starting in a more reserved fashion and then adding layers of sound, building toward a cacophonous climax later in each track. The gently expanding and receding format makes it much easier for the casual listener to enjoy this experience. There is not a constant onslaught of aural terror tactics. The occasional lulls give us the needed down-time to appreciate each subsequent climax all the more fully.

This is the fourth release on Cromlech Records, which is helmed by Arne Weinberg of Valanx and Solemn Embrace. For listeners familiar with the previous three releases there should not be too much surprise here. The music sticks to a predominately analog format. But, The Time For Silver Flowers does seem a bit unique in its uses of vocals and personal subject matter. The album comes in similar packaging to the label’s debut, a 4-panel CD card wallet with relatively abstract two-tone cover-art. Benjamin Power has included in this release a poem, printed upon a high quality card insert. As expected, the content of the poem is bleak. It helps listeners to appreciate an extra dimension of Power’s vision for the album. I have left the overview of that poem out from the review. I find with poetry that each reader should come to their own conclusion before discussing any of a poem’s qualities.

The Time For Silver Flowers is a highly enjoyable album, which can be returned to time and again. The analog elements do not seem as mechanical and lifeless herein as is so often the case with albums fully dedicated to this format. This is a perfect place to start for those unfamiliar with Cromlech Records. For those already familiar with the label, there should be minimal criticism of this latest release to be found. In sound execution as well as packaging, Cromlech Records have done justice to the vision of Benjamin Power. I will certainly be paying attention to whatever comes next for Cromlech and/or Bleach for The Stars.

Written by: Michael Barnett

IMPERIVM LVCIFERI – Self Titled – Review

Artist: IMPERIVM LVCIFERI
Album: IMPERIVM LVCIFERI
Release date: 1 July 2017
Label: Deivlforst Records

Tracklist:
01. Lvcifer’s Fall
02. Regency of Chaos

IMPERIVM LVCIFERI is the latest release on Deivlforst Records. IMPERIVM LVCIFERI is a bit of an oddity because the identities of the album’s creators have been concealed, it is only said that they are both already on Deivlforst. So the music is forced to speak for itself, without any preconceived notions about the musicians’ history or progression being considered. The second odd thing about this release is that it falls firmly into the style of old-school analog dark/drone ambient. While the majority of releases on Deivlforst are squarely rooted in dungeon synth, IMPERIVM LVCIFERI paves a wholly different path for the label. We have previously seen Die Mauern Der Nacht by Grimrik and Songs from the Fyrgen by Wolcensmen, both of which veered from the path of dungeon synth. This is the third out of some 28 releases to diverge from the dungeon synth (and black metal in the case of Arath) roots. Maybe this is a hint at the future direction of the label, expanding further into other genres.

The mention of black metal above does give us a bit of direction in comparing this with the other releases on Deivlforst, as well as other releases in the history of these related genres. Most dungeon synth music can find its roots in black metal and in a round-about way, this latest release by IMPERIVM LVCIFERI also finds some connections to those black metal roots. IMPERIVM LVCIFERI have taken a lot of inspiration from the two decades old releases by Neptune Towers on Moonfog Productions, back in 1994 and 1995. Neptune Towers was the side-project of Fenriz of Darkthrone and Isengard fame. These two releases, Caravans To Empire Algol and Transmissions From Empire Algol, took Neptune Towers into some deep space astral synth territory. The music had its occasional hints of something like dungeon synth arising during certain moments. There were also some hints of their black metal roots in some of the distorted guitar based drones used on the albums. But the main focus of Neptune Towers was on their analog drone-work which slowly morphed and evolved over the roughly 40 minute length of each album.


Getting into the specifics of the IMPERIVM LVCIFERI project, we can find music that honors those old Neptune Towers albums. The self-titled debut IMPERIVM LVCIFERI takes that basis of deep space astral synth and molds it into a more terrestrial creation. The sounds take on the feel of ritualistic ambient, while the actual sound sculpting itself mainly comes from a single KORG MS-20 mini analog synthesizer – the instrument was sent across Europe to be used by both artists. These ritual sounds, as the project’s name would imply, are focused on invoking the spirit and visions of the dark lord Himself, Lucifer. Since the music is only prepared with an analog synthesizer, we must allow the imagery, track titles and a bit of creativity to help us understand the thematics. There aren’t vocals or field recordings present to spoon-feed listeners the story of the fall and underworldly reign of Lucifer.

The album is exactly forty minutes in length and it is split evenly into two tracks: “Lvcifer’s Fall” and “Regency of Chaos”. While as a whole the album is highly secretive, and specifically avoids naming its actual creators, we are given a few small hints about the origins. “Lvcifer’s Fall” was recorded by The Left Hand Path in Germany with the assistance of an analog Roland TB-303 clone and “Regency of Chaos” was recorded by The Observing Eye in Italy with the assistance of various noise generators. Any further information about the project’s origins has been withheld. Maybe they will be revealed in time, or maybe Deivlforst will opt to keep this musical collaboration enshrouded in its current level of secrecy.

“Lvcifer’s Fall” is quite lively in its execution. It immediately delves into some high tempo and high attack synth which slowly evolves over the first eight minutes. If we are using the theme of the fall of Lucifer as the basis for these sounds, this section seems to be part of that initial confrontation which would lead to the removal of Lucifer from heaven. By the nine minute mark, the sounds slow considerably. As if the confrontation has ended and Lucifer is now facing the prospect of His descent from the heavens. The intensity gently increases as we move toward the end of the track, which seems to symbolize the actual fall itself.

The second half of the album, “Regency of Chaos” starts off much more subtely than “Lvcifer’s Fall”. The atmosphere begins in a quiet, somber setting. The synthesizer moves at a slow tempo, allowing the sounds to gently increase in their intensity as the track progresses. By ten minutes into “Regency of Chaos” the music has risen to its high-mark. That same gentle bassy foundation is still present, but other sounds have come into the fold. This progression seems to symbolize Lucifer’s first moments in the underworld, when His kingdom was not yet fully realized. But as the track progresses, so too does Lucifer’s vision of His new kingdom. By the close of the album, there are disturbing sounds, which almost seem to represent those infernal depths, soundscapes wrought in the bowels of Hell itself.

As is usually the case with Deivlforst releases, the packaging (6-panel digipack CD) is sure to be of the highest quality. Grimrik has mixed and mastered the album, as well as edited the artist photos. As any fan of Deivlforst knows, Grimrik never disappoints when it comes to his (post-)production standards and execution. The talented artist Will Helm contributes the simple yet gorgeous cover art, depicting the pentagram behind a snake coiled around a sword, which is adorned with a crown, surely representing the rule of Lucifer. The package is arranged into its ultimate layout by none other than Dan Capp, renowned for his previous Deivlforst work as well as his work with black metal legend Burzum, among others. As the album will be manufactured in an ultra-limited edition of only fifty copies, die-hard Deivlforst fans should move very quickly to secure their copy. The release will likely sell-out in a very short time-frame.

IMPERIVM LVCIFERI is, unsurprisingly, another brilliant success for Deivlforst Records. Yet one more solid piece of work to add to their already illustrious catalog of releases. In just a few years they have solidified their position at the forefront among dungeon synth labels and they seem to subtly underline continuously that they are not limited to this genre alone, but instead occasionally make side-steps to other genres, while picking only very interesting albums for these. With IMPERIVM LVCIFERI Deivlforst again continue to slowly expand outside the confines of dungeon synth. Their fan-base is likely to grow even further with this release. As the label continues progressing into another year of existence, divining what will come next proves ever more complicated, but definitely makes us eager to hear.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Vladimír Hirsch – Scripta Soli – Review

Artist: Vladimír Hirsch
Album: Scripta Soli
Release date: 25 May 2017
Label: Old Captain

Tracklist:
01. Indictum
02. Omen
03. Impressiones
04. Exanima
05. Camera Delusionis
06. Erebeum
07. Centuria
08. Fuga / Acquiesce
09. Dacryon
10. Amorphes
11. Guttae Vltimae
12. Consummatum

Vladimír Hirsch is a Czech contemporary avant-garde composer, instrumentalist and sound alchemist. He has been producing and releasing music since back in 1987. He works within a wide range of musical styles including contemporary classical, industrial and dark ambient just to name a few. Starting out as a pianist Hirsch quickly became enamored in the more manipulative nature of electronics. Through any number of combinations of various styles and techniques of music, Hirsch exudes a mastery of his trade. He is a man who has thoroughly studied and recorded within any number of musical styles. He seems to have a genuine love for taking genres and instruments into directions unexplored.

Scripta Soli is the latest release in the genre of dark ambient by Vladimír Hirsch. While on a number of his previous releases he incorporated style that would spill into classical and experimental territory, Scripta Soli feels like a dark ambient album in its purest form.

Scripta Soli incorporates a vast amount of techniques and instruments to bring Hirsch’s vision to life. In the liner notes of the album he is credited as using synthesizers, electronic keyboards, piano, field recordings, electro-acoustic analog and digital techniques and vocals. The vocals include guest appearances by Dominika Karcovsk and Nadya Feir. The mention of this wide variety of elements should begin to bring into perspective the breadth of ground this album covers. Tracks like “Impressiones” can bring together most of these elements within a single track. We are confronted with string instruments which give the track a bit of a neo-classical feel, without ever truly crossing over into that territory. There are field recordings that paint a picture of a derelict industrial complex haunted by the ghosts of its long deceased workforce.

The following track, “Exanima” takes us even deeper into the industrial landscapes, with a gently executed screeching noise blaring over a foundation of slowly evolving and morphing synthesizer drones. The track is reasonably short in comparison to “Impressiones” which came in at 6+ minutes, so “Ex Anima” serves as a sort of interlude.

The next track “Camera Delusionis” begins as a more subtle but no less brooding affair. There are deep rumbling drones beneath the surface, complemented by a sound that serves as a drum beat, yet doesn’t particularly seem to be a drum. A more ominous synth track sits on top of the mix, giving the composition a sort of horror film aesthetic. It’s tracks like this one that really display the brilliance and depth of Hirsch’s grasp on dark ambient.

The rest of the album similarly moves forward in the way described of these three consecutive tracks. We are taken on a journey, deep into the depths of forgotten industrial complexes, into places that seem to still be alive with the malevolent ghosts of their seedy pasts. The plethora of sound sculpting techniques used on Scripta Soli means that the album never grows stale. Throughout its 60+ minutes the soundscapes are constantly shifting and morphing, bringing out an intricate array of emotions, giving us numerous images of forgotten landscapes to imagine.

Vladimír Hirsch is certainly a man of many hats. His musical interests and ventures are almost too many to count. Yet, when he sets his mind to focus strictly upon dark ambient, he proves to be one of the greats. Scripta Soli is able to stand confidently along side some of the most memorable albums of the genre. His array of techniques and styles make Scripta Soli an attractive release for those just discovering the genre as well as those whom followed it for decades. Any discerning fan of the genre certainly needs to experience this release, there should be very few fans to view this release in a negative light.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Encounters – Beneath the Forces of Contradiction

Artist: Encounters
Album: Beneath the Forces of Contradiction
Release date: Early 2017
Label: Primitive Temples

Tracklist:
01. Untitled 1
02. Untitled 2
03. Untitled 3
04. Untitled 4
05. Untitled 5

Encounters has been around since 2013 when they released their debut, Houses, through Neon Doom Records. Beneath the Forces of Contradiction is their first release on Primitive Temples. This is only the second release on the fledgling label. Todd Watson, maybe best known for his work as Husere Grav (I reviewed their latest album here) is one of the faces behind the Encounters collective. He is also the owner of the Primitive Temples label.

While the label itself, as well as Encounters and Husere Grav may all be reasonably new names to readers, the man behind the mastering of the album, John Stillings of Steel Hook Prostheses and resident mastering tech for Malignant Records, should not be new to many. There are some people in the various parts of the music industry whom lend credence to a project, they give it an air of legitimacy, just by being associated with the project, no matter how great or minor the form. A comparison in similar genres could be made to Peter Andersson of raison d’etre. Peter’s name frequently arises as the mastering tech behind certain albums, and whenever his name is attached there is always a very good chance that I will love the music, regardless of genre.

Encounters is made up of four musicians: the aforementioned T. Watson is accompanied by Rajj Bhatt, Jason Pool and Brian Slaughter on this musical excursion. Beneath the Forces of Contradiction, true to its name, uses “encounters” as the basis for their musical vision. Encounters with the dead, to be precise. The album seeks to recreate or at least draw similar emotions in relation to encountering the dead, as they continue to traverse the Earth, awaiting their final rest. In the press release Encounters uses a quote from the 19th Century author E. Bulwer-Lytton, known among other things for his writing of The Last Days of Pompeii, documenting the destruction of the ancient Roman town by the carnage of the volcanic eruption on Mount Vesuvius.

“There may be intermediate beings of mixed nature, not deliberately evil nor steadily benevolent, capricious, uncertain, and only able to get at imperfect rapport with humanity.”

They also draw inspiration from the pet project of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was heavily invested in collecting spiritualist photography. He was enamored with the idea of supernatural beings making encounters with humanity. His collection of photos are a sort of proof of these encounters, seeming to show the actual visitation of supernatural beings to the living.

While some of the album moves into heavily distorted death industrial territory, other tracks take on a much lighter and more dark ambient leaning sound. These variations in style seek to symbolize the differences in the ghostly apparitions. Some will be malevolent beings, angered by the circumstances of their passing or by their inability to make the full transition into the afterlife. Others will float through this sort of purgatory in a more somber or depressed emotional state. When the apparitions are angry, the music will soar to devastating heights, an onslaught upon the senses. Yet, the other, less aggravated, entities will exude an air of patience, the soundscapes taking on a hollow and at times almost meditative droning.

Beneath the Forces of Contradiction will be best suited to listeners whom enjoy their dark ambient with a harsher edge. Anyone familiar with the works of John Stillings should know this sort of balance of which I speak. The music never turns into that dreaded harsh noise wall format, it manages to lightly balance itself between dark ambient and death industrial. It has enough subtlety to keep the discerning dark ambient fan interested and at relative ease of mind, while it has enough aggression to satiate the demands of the death industrial crowd. Both communities should surely take a look at this well prepared and intricately detailed release.

Nota bene: While there is no sample of this release online, the digipak is selling for a mere $3 here. I have a copy and it’s just as well crafted as anything else in my collection. You really can’t go wrong with giving it a try.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – The Muse of Hyperborea – Review

Artists:
S.T. Joshi (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)
C.M. Kosemen (Art)
Album: The Muse of Hyperborea by Clark Ashton Smith
Release date: 13 February 2017
Label: Cadabra Records

List of Poems:
Side A
The Harlot of the World
Nyctalops
Ode to the Abyss
A Dream of Lethe
The Tears of Lilith
Nero
From the Crypts of Memory
The Sorcerer Departs
The Touch-Stone
Side B
The Litany of the Seven Kisses
To The Daemon
The Nightmare Tarn
Memnon at Midnight
The Muse of Hyperborea
The Memnons of the Night
The Mortuary
The Traveller
Love Malevolent

Clark Ashton Smith was born and lived the entirety of his life on the west coast of the United States. In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range Smith never ventured far from Auburn, California. Residing near San Fransisco, Smith found himself in a circle of poets that would be the center of the west coast’s literary scene for generations to come. Born in 1893, Smith was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and a pupil of sorts to George Sterling. Sharing with Lovecraft an early discovery and love for The Arabian Nights as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, by the 1920s the two men would become close pen pals.

Clark Ashton Smith dedicated much of his early life to poetry. His first collection of poems, Odes and Sonnets was an immediate hit on the west coast, and while it wasn’t particularly well known outside the region, it drew the highest praise from many of the foremost poets of the period living in the region. He was drawn into the “Bohemian Club”, a group of respectable writers, by George Sterling. But upon contracting Tuberculosis and with little financial stability, Smith would never allow himself to become a frequent member of this circle.

Much like H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith would gain most of his broader popularity posthumously. As most of his works were only published in limited edition at local presses, the works of Smith would take many more years to fully spread his legacy around the western world. While, in particular, “The Hashish-Eater” found a broader audience and garnered wide-spread acclaim, by the time of Smith’s death in 1961 he was barely remembered and thus the even of his death went wholly unnoticed.

From the drastically increased popularity of H.P. Lovecraft over the last thirty odd years, the name Clark Ashton Smith has arisen more and more often. Smith and Lovecraft both frequently contributed to Weird Tales throughout the 1920s – 1930s. The two writers were in communication often through this period, which is evident in the number of times that they borrowed from each other’s mythologies.

Cadabra Records have taken the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft very seriously and have already released two beautiful albums of spoken art. With Andrew Leman reading the stories and Theologian creating custom soundscapes to fill out the atmosphere, both these works are delightfully well executed. On The Muse of Hyperborea, Cadabra Records moves into a bit different territory, yet continues to pluck at similar emotional chords.

The Muse of Hyperborea is a collection of Clark Ashton Smith‘s poetry. Equally distributed between metered poetry and prose poetry listeners are given a thoroughly diverse image of Smith’s styles and execution.

None other than S.T. Joshi, the man behind pretty much every leading treatise on H.P. Lovecraft, has this time recited the poetry of Clark Ashton Smith. His delivery is quite different from that of Andrew Leman, yet the eerie elements are quite pronounced. Joshi uses his deeper tone voice to his benefit and slowly delivers each poem in a way that best fits the format of each individual piece. The metered poems are delivered almost musically as he is easily able to translate the rhythm of the individual lines into the perfect aural space. The second poem on side A, “Nyctalops” is a perfect example of this almost musical delivery. In this way Joshi is able to fully immerse listeners in his readings.

The other half of the poems curated for this release are in the prose-poetry format. In which the poems are crafted much like a short story, but still manage to retain the literary depths and beauty of his metered poetry. On these poems, Joshi often takes on a more eerie style than on the metered. His words are each delivered with a trained precision that brings the stories to life in a way many audio-book authors could only dream. This is quite understandable, as Joshi has dedicated a good deal of his time to a thorough understanding of the life and works of Clark Ashton Smith, as he was such an integral element in the life of H.P. Lovecraft, the subject of Joshi’s ultimate scholarly focus.

The subject matter of the compiled poems is reasonably wide ranging. Yet, if there is a connecting theme running throughout, it is the dark and weird elements, which would later become part of Smith’s weird prose fiction that featured in the annals of the Weird Tales magazine. The following metered poem appears half way through Side A and is a brilliant example, in short, of Smith’s amalgamation of the romantic with weird and often occult themes.

The Tears of Lilith
O lovely demon, half-divine!
Hemlock and hydromel and gall,
Honey and aconite and wine
Mingle to make that mouth of thine—

Thy mouth I love: but most of all
It is thy tears that I desire—
Thy tears, like fountain-drops that fall
In gardens red, Satanical;

Or like the tears of mist and fire,
Wept by the moon, that wizards use
To secret runes when they require
Some silver philter, sweet and dire.

Side B delivers two fitting poems as opener and closer of this second half of the album. On “The Litany of the Seven Kisses”, a prose poem, Smith delivers a piece which is certainly the most romantic of these compiled works. As a stark contrast to the opener, “Love Malevolent” closes the album with the description of a love enshrouded in the macabre, invoking the imagery of graveyards and opiates, vipers and poisoned kisses.

Theologian proves once again that his dark ambient talents are a perfect match for the Cadabra Records template. Knowing Theologian best from his harsher industrial elements and his previous project Navicon Torture Technologies, it would be a surprise to find that he is able to also craft such toned-down soundscapes. Yet, anyone who has followed Theologian closely over the years will likely have expected his talents to run into such wide-ranging areas. Running the Annihilvs Power Electronix label, the man behind Theologian knows how to work with a broad variety of styles and even genres. His ability to find diamonds-in-the-rough is quite well known to his more intimate followers.

As Theologian explains in the liner notes, he had a totally different approach to The Muse of Hyperborea than he did on Pickman’s Model or The Lurking Fear. Especially with Pickman’s Model, the story was a direct narrative. It was literally delivered from the mouth of the protagonist to one of his fellow art enthusiasts. So Theologian had a need for creating a sort of soundscape to encompass the landscapes of the cafe in which the narration centers, or the cellar where one of the final scenes takes place. The Muse of Hyperborea, being a collection of totally separate and diverse poems, gave Theologian the freedom to focus wholly on atmosphere and emotion, and less on complementing a narrative. This often leads his sounds into eerie, other-worldly and down-right hypnotic territory. Some of the musical pieces will extend across several poems, slowly building and oscillating upon their foundations. Others will bring a specific mood to a given poem, taking its cues from the delivery of S.T. Joshi.

The Muse of Hyperborea is yet another absolute delight from Cadabra Records. It is quite inspiring to witness the product of a deep-seated love for the Spoken Arts medium. Cadabra Records cut no corners, leave no element of their product lacking. From the color variants of the vinyl itself, to the sturdy construction of the jacket, to the beautiful art of C.M. Kosemen commissioned specifically for this release, Cadabra Records give us another gem to add to our collections of their indispensable and steadily expanding catalog.

Written by: Michael Barnett

God Body Disconnect – Sleeper’s Fate – Review

Artist: God Body Disconnect
Album: Sleeper’s Fate
Release date: 27 June 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Sleeper’s Fate
02. Halls of Disintegration
03. Reservoir Dreamer
04. Lair of the Dormant Host
05. Flesh of a Ghost
06. Drowning with God
07. The Portals Evolve

Last year God Body Disconnect released their debut, Dredge Portals. Here was an artist, on their first delve into the world of dark ambient, taking everyone by storm. Musicians and listeners alike found Dredge Portals to be a riveting tale of a man trapped inside his own mind. Crisp field recordings, dreamy guitar drone and Hollywood worthy narration gave listeners a story in which they could become fully absorbed, if only for an hour of their time. As the weeks after release turned into months it became obvious that this experience extended well past the first listen. A year on and Dredge Portals is still drawing praise.

Sleeper’s Fate takes us back into the mind and narrative of Dredge Portals protagonist. We arrive on the scene just as the gun shot rings out. We hear the victim gasping for air as he chokes on his own blood. Police sirens are heard as they arrive on the scene. So we are getting a bit of a recap of the first album here in these first few minutes. Or, more so, a reminder of what went down that night on the streets of what I must imagine to be New York City. Bruce Moallem is back at it in full force. The narration is again, not only praiseworthy, but I can honestly say Hollywood worthy. As I described with Dredge Portals, his style of narrative and even his accent give a strong vibe of Good Fellas. With that being one of my favorite films of all time, the comparison does not come lightly. Nor does it really seem that he’s trying to directly mimic that style. It honestly sounds like this is the natural way for him to tell his tale.

While the theme and execution of Sleeper’s Fate are very similar to Dredge Portals, the biggest difference this time around seems to be in the depth of these field recordings. From the album blurb it seems that Moallem has either upgraded his field recording equipment, or just taken it into new territory. The promise of binaural field recordings is quickly proven to be noteworthy. While the first two tracks focus on drawing us into the narrative, “Reservoir Dreamer”, coming in at almost eight minutes length is the first track to fully absorb us. The brilliantly realized guitar drone-work is the perfect foundation for an impressive breadth of field recordings. The mind can truly run wild on this one. Faint voices echo off the walls, literally bouncing from ear to ear. Are we hearing children playing outside an open window of the hospital or are these the memories of our protagonist? The answer can be chosen by the individual listener, either direction taken proves to be part of a generally heartfelt and moving experience.

“Flesh of a Ghost” is another noteworthy track (among the many). We begin by hearing the beeps of a life monitor, which seems to be inside an elevator, before moving out into a crowded and noisy room. A hundred conversations happen at once, but the protagonist is a bystander, an observer from a distance. He might feel and hear the abundance of life in the room, but his part is only as the sleeper. Where this track really gets interesting is around the three minute mark when the post-rock influences show themselves more than at any other point before. The field recordings and sweeping bass drones never let up, but a pronounced drum beat comes front and center, with the guitars moving into their most traditional territory. With a post-rock delivery of this caliber, we should be thankful that Moallem is able to control his urges and bring us right back into the atmosphere of the rest of the album. A fully dedicated post-rock album with these sorts of moments would likely stand up as a worthy competitor to some of the best in that scene. But we are here for dark ambient, and to the dark ambient foundations “Flesh of a Ghost” returns as quickly and naturally as it departed.

“Drowning with God” features another moving vocal performance. Much like the closing chapters of Dredge Portals, “Drowning with God” gives us a sort of conclusion which still leaves plenty of room for individual interpretation. The sleeper thinks back to a lesson once learned from his father, having a bit of a somber revelation in the process. As we move into the last track, “The Portals Evolve” it seems that there could still be plenty of room to come back to this narrative once again, or it could be just as likely that this is the end of the story. The moment when the sleeper fully succumbs to his fate. As with any great cinematic dark ambient album, enough questions are answered to give us a well framed sense of direction, but there is still enough ambiguity to keep us second guessing our conclusions. Honestly, whether we believe we’ve discovered the truth to the narrative or not, there is enough musical talent here to draw us back into the mind of the sleeper many more times, if for nothing more than the atmosphere and precise execution.

God Body Disconnect proves once again that they are producing cinematic dark ambient of the highest order. There are really few narratives out there that hit the mark so profoundly in so many different ways. So now the narrative has doubled. The story has given us quite a bit more to experience and enjoy. Sleeper’s Fate takes none of the allure away from Dredge Portals, while simultaneously proving that another year within the dark ambient scene, meeting and learning from his fellow label-mates at Cryo Chamber, has driven his craft to new heights. By this time next year, its hard to tell what sort of masterpiece Moallem will have constructed.

Written by: Michael Barnett

 

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