Category: Reviews (Page 3 of 16)

Shinkiro – Archive: Volumes I-III – Review

Artist: Shinkiro
Album: Archive: Volumes I-III
Release date: 15 June 2018
Label: Old Captain

Tracklist:
CD 1 Archive: Volumes I – II
01. I.A.D. – Day 1
02. I.A.D. – Day 2
03. I.A.D. – Day 3
04. I.A.D. – Day 4
05. I.A.D. – Day 5
06. I.A.D. – Day 6
07. I.A.D. – Day 7
08. I.A.D. – Day 8
09. I.A.D. – Day 9
10. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – First Stage
11. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Second Stage
12. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Third Stage
13. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Fourth Stage
14. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Fifth Stage

CD 2 Archive: Volumes II – III
01. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Sixth Stage
02. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Seventh Stage
03. Reflections Of Her Deepest Fears – Final Stage
04. One – Part I
05. One – Part II
06. One – Part III
07. One – Part IV
08. One – Part V
09. One – Part VI

Shinkiro is another project to give the public access to its archives, give the opportunity to look into the past and watch how its style took shape over the years. More and more, such releases are out these days, old recordings, reissues, “extended versions” of debut albums and so, and so… I have an ambivalent attitude towards them, I mean it’s nice to have the easy possibility to get the discographies of complete projects, especially when many of these ‘archive’ albums aesthetically look even better than the originals (and the case of Shinkiro there is no exception – it’s a nice 2CD 4-panel gloss-laminated digipack). But, sometimes I think that in this world of easy access to everything, it’s good to have something to look for, the hard to find rarities, the music people heard of but didn’t actually experience.

Of course, the status of Shinkiro, even in the dark ambient micro-scale is not as significant as the legends of the genre. But, it has its own style which captured some souls around the world, including myself. Easy to guess that, since it’s called Volumes I-III, then it must be split into three segments. The first one is called I.A.D., nine tracks, formally from the pre-Shinkiro era. They have never been released, this is the first time they see the light of day. And it’s not that Shinkiro you know from the other albums, these compositions are far more claustrophobic. They make you feel as if you are closed in some sort of boiler room where it is as dark as it is hot. This first section is from that time when Manabu was experimenting with harsher, more industrial sound attributes. But, he eventually realized that it’s not the path he wanted to follow. To be fair, I.A.D. also includes more rhythmic and melodic parts than the studio albums from early era Shinkiro.

The second segment is Reflection Of Her Deepest Fears, the previously unreleased album recorded simultaneously with the official debut, Deep Blue. Shinkiro calls it “the factual 2nd album”. It’s two steps closer to the essential dark ambient form, although still quite distant from his most majestic moments of deep organic space. More like a horror soundtrack, Reflection Of Her Deepest Fears becomes better and better with each consecutive piece, reaching the climax in two last “Stages”, intense and captivating.

The final segment of this epic compendium is One, made by assembling selected materials from 2003-2007 and adapting them to today’s Shinkiro vision of music. And, this is beauty. The kind of ambient to drown in. Deep drones of the opening composition make me feel so alone in space. It’s a pleasant feeling. Later he blends them with ritual parts and the oriental touch, always subtle, yet so charming.

So, with this release my Shinkiro collection seems complete, but… a couple of days ago I’ve read information somewhere that Manabu is re-working another set of old recordings, so apparently there’s still at least one section in his sound library that hasn’t been open to the public yet.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

Manifesto – Hive – Review

Artist: Manifesto
Album: Hive
Release date: 17 August 2018
Label: Reverse Alignment

Tracklist:
01. Hive
02. Dog Country
03. First Rain
04. Surge
05. Tempest
06. Last Transmission

Manifesto is the post-industrial project of Uppsala, Sweden’s Magnus Zetterberg. Before venturing into the dark ambient world, Zetterberg earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sound and Music Production.  The project has now been active for well over a decade, but the last few years have seemed to see a bit of shift in the work of Manifesto. We’ve also seen the artist settle into the Reverse Alignment label with this another release through them, becoming one of the most talented artists on their roster.

Sound quality seems to have improved significantly since earlier albums. There is much less low/mid-range noise, and less of the industrial percussive elements. Even so recently as their third full length, Rust, which appeared on Silken Tofu in 2012, Manifesto was still leaning heavily into that death-industrial territory, with comparisons made at the time to acts like Megapetra and Mental Destruction. In general, there is less of an industrial influence than in previous years, and Manifesto digs deep into their dark ambient repertoire to create a new sound which nods to their death-industrial past, but fits a framework much more aligned with the subtler elements of dark ambient.  Listeners will certainly still find many of these older elements present, but never in the bold/raw way presented previously. The opening track “Hive”, for instance, includes a subtle industrial beat along with indecipherable voice transmissions atop a droning soundscape to create a hauntingly dark atmosphere, while also holding the sense of solitude and fear which often are rather presented as claustrophobia and anxiety on many death-industrial releases. The track has a consistent abandoned industrial factory sort of feel, as if we are curled up beneath some steel staircase, eavesdropping on the conversation of some post-apocalyptic plague-doctor-looking-lunatic as he lords his newfound authority over some hapless victim.

While it is true that the dark ambient genre has exploded in output as well as popularity over the last few years, there is an unfortunate side-effect that some of the greatest releases will be completely ignored. I am guilty of this myself, having really enjoyed the previous release, Exit, by Manifesto, but watching as it fell further into the distance, as new releases continued pouring in for consideration. While I enjoyed Exit, I find Hive to truly capture the intricacies of the style Manifesto has been slowly perfecting over their career. The blending of death-industrial elements into a more traditional dark ambient structure is displayed most powerfully on this release and could be a strong benchmark for other musicians looking to make that combination of the harsher material with dark ambient more palatable.

Hive falls most specifically, I suppose, into a harsher sort of horror ambient framework. That feeling of being in an old factory, cowering in fear, never seems to let up. In this way there are certainly some similarities to earlier Atrium Carceri (a style which a reasonable number of fans would love to see resurface in the Atrium Carceri sound). The feelings of desperation, desolation, and despair all boil to the surface. To our horror (and/or delight) we feel ourselves in the midst of a very real place. But there is also the sense of something supernatural happening just beneath the surface. It is the sort of feeling one would get from those scenes in The Nightmare on Elm Street when the girls wander through the steamy recesses of some nightmarish factory, chains clanging, motors grinding gears, furnaces stoking a hell-fire inferno as molten metals boil just beyond our vision. Yet, something more may be lurking beyond this equipment. Something lurking in the shadows. Whether that something is a burnt-skinned, undead supervillain or the dread of tomorrow’s big presentation at the office, is for the listener to decide.

live at Verket, Umeå Sept. 2016. Photo by Marcus Norman.

Another element worth quick mention is the cover art. Hive features a sort of degraded photographic looking effect on an green and black image which depicts what appears to be some old dilapidated building. The moon slowly creeps into view behind the silhouette of a tree on the horizon. This cover art and design were created by the hand of the brilliant Axel Torvenius, who creates a plethora of products with a truly dark flavor. (Check out his store here.)

If your pleasure is that old-school dark ambient feel, a feel which captures these industrial and horror elements in equal doses. If you enjoyed the works of artists like old-Atrium Carceri, Atrox Pestis, Cryobiosis, or Phragments,  you are likely to find much to enjoy here. Reverse Alignment have unveiled a release which should be recognized by all relevant entities throughout the dark ambient community. The level of craftsmanship presented here can’t be understated, nor can the level of market noise. I would highly recommend long-time fans of the dark ambient genre to become acquainted with this new album by Manifesto. Many of the veteran listeners will immediately notice reasons for praise. Those newer to the genres within the post-industrial family will maybe find Hive to be a bit too raw. This isn’t Cryo Chamber style dark ambient, shined to a pristine glow. It is more in line with those releases we’d find on Malignant Records or Cold Meat Industry. Dark ambient for industrial folks. This being said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend that new-comers avoid Hive! Just be sure to go into it with slightly different expectations than you had for the latest protoU.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri – Codex – Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri
Album: Codex
Release date: 11 September 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Void
02. From Chasms Reborn
03. The Seer
04. A Memory Lost
05. The Empty Chapel
06. Path Of Fallen Gods
07. The Ancient City
08. Sacrifice to the Machine
09. The Maze
10. A Hunger Too Deep
11. The Citadel

I took quite a bit of time allowing Codex to fully sink into my psyche before I even began to consider reviewing it. Some albums require but a matter of moments to understand the beauty of their content. Other works might take years to fully unveil their secrets to the listener. Atrium Carceri has always been one of the latter for me. It is impossible to fully appreciate these works by just putting them on as background music. I find that I must enjoy Atrium Carceri much like I do with works of David Lynch, repeatedly and under various mental states.

The first set of listens revealed an album which was much more musical than I was expecting.  Atrium Carceri has for a long time incorporated tracks which show much more resemblance to fully structured songs than most other artists in the genre. Yet, Codex still managed to surprise, from the opening tracks “The Void” and “From Chasms Reborn”, Atrium Carceri delivers tracks which take on a sort of glitchy off-time feel. This feeling of oddity sets a proper foundation for the rest of the release. Focusing on worlds beyond the veil, either deep in history, or a matter of footsteps away hidden in some dark realm, just beyond the fabric of reality.

Almost all the tracks on Codex will show this perfect combination of atmosphere and musicality. Some, like “The Maze” make it central to the track’s foundation, while others such as “Sacrifice to the Machine” use it as a tool for achieving an emotional climax within the story.  While the music of some tracks builds the atmosphere, other tracks hold religious connotations, such as “The Empty Chapel” and “The Citadel” which both incorporate treated choral elements. “The Empty Chapel” shows off some of the same elements which elicited such strong emotion on “Österländska Tempel” from his recent collaboration with Herbst9, Ur Djupan Dal (Reviewed here.). A sense of entering some old, decrepit chapel/cathedral, a relic from the height of some civilization’s religious fervor.

Codex gives us snippets of many places visited over previous Atrium Carceri albums. On the opening tracks, “The Void” and “From Chasms Reborn”, we seem to be taken to the places and events documented during Void and The Untold. “The Ancient City” takes us once again into that twisted metropolis which we have been able to explore considerably throughout the discography of Atrium Carceri, most notably on tracks like “A Stroll Through the Ancient City” from Kapnobatai or many tracks from Metropolis, including “Decrepit City”, “Industrial District”, “Heart of the Metropolis” and others. We seem to be re-visiting ‘The Warden’ or some similar character on several tracks from Codex. Particularly “Sacrifice to the Machine” and “The Maze” make these connections for me. On “Sacrifice to the Machine” we might actually hear that deep orcish sounding voice which has instilled terror in listeners since the project began.  Is this the warden or is this some other entity? Possibly the horrific entity, visually and textually detailed on an earlier track of the album, “The Seer”?

As I spent more and more time with Codex, I slowly began to make a realization. There doesn’t necessarily appear to be a whole lot of new revelations presented on Codex. The album seems to be giving us deeper understandings, through atmospheric soundscapes, but also through the focused use of imagery and text within the digibooklet. Within the Atrium Carceri discography there are albums like Cellblock and Void (really most of the discography) which seem to follow very specific story-lines (you can read my in-depth look at Cellblock here), and there are other albums like Archives I-II (read my old review on the Terra Relicta website) which capture fragments of different times and places. Codex seem to be part of this latter, but in a much more polished fashion, as Archives I-II was a piece-work compilation of old fragments from previous Atrium Carceri album sessions. This is not to say that there is nothing to be learned about the Atrium Carceri story, just that Codex focuses more on clarification of previously explored territory than on creation/unveiling of new territory.  Codex gives us added details and we must individually decide how to place these details within the greater context.

The many stories within the world of Atrium Carceri give listeners ample reason to keep returning to these albums. In this way, the music of Atrium Carceri is best appreciated in much the same way as the films of David Lynch. One must approach the content from various angles in order to fully understand its meanings and plots. One may listen more casually, focusing on moods and imagined landscapes. Later, one may return to the album, focusing much more specifically on the individual sounds, trying to place them in their proper contexts. One may celebrate the legalization of marijuana in parts of the U.S. with an especially elevated and/or distorted listening session.  One may ignore the whole story and focus only on the music, for the sake of enjoying the music. However one approaches Codex, as well as the previous Atrium Carceri releases, the listener seems to have a world of options available. There seems to be a whole universe within the content, one with history, scientific breakthroughs, and psychological/societal meltdowns. The realms of the holy and the apocalyptic are constantly brushing against one another. The question of the self, the ego, and their perceived impact on the political and social order can all be pondered indefinitely.

Codex is the first solo Atrium Carceri release to see a vinyl option. For fans of the vinyl renaissance, Codex will be a much anticipated and appreciated release. But, for those followers that are keen on fully understanding the intricacies of Atrium Carceri, the digibook CD version is recommended, as it includes a booklet with brilliant artwork and texts which add a much greater sense of depth to the Atrium Carceri story. Then of course there is the digital version, in 24-bit, which will be the go-to for audiophiles looking to find secrets in the vast tapestry of sounds for which Atrium Carceri is most known and revered. Also all artwork is present within the digital version, so the lacking art isn’t a deal-breaker on the vinyl.

Codex has not yet uncovered any great burning answers to my questions concerning the realms of Atrium Carceri. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t present on Codex, still awaiting my revelation. It also doesn’t make the album any less potent of a release from one of the most highly-recognized and well-respected names within the genre of dark ambient. Codex proves once again why Simon Heath has become the standard-bearer for the latest generation of dark ambient happenings. His auxiliary work on Cryo Chamber consistently fills the market with dark ambient albums worth the time and money they require to be fully enjoyed. Meanwhile, his work as Atrium Carceri, but also as Sabled Sun, continues to push the boundaries of what we, the dark ambient community, expect of our musicians.  What we expect of a ‘cinematic story’. What we expect of any artist worth their salt. We look to musicians in the dark ambient genre to take us out of our dull everyday lives, and transport us to a place both beautiful and horrifying. There is no artist better at achieving this goal than Simon Heath, Codex shows us, yet again, why this is indisputable.

Written by: Michael Barnett

False Mirror – SIGINT – Review

Artist: False Mirror
Album: SIGINT
Release date: July 2018
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. Perimeter
02. Transmission
03. Antenna
04. Trajectory
05. Fallout
06. Corona
07. Leviathan
08. Troposcatter
09. Aether
10. Message

False Mirror is the dark ambient project of Berlin’s Tobias Hornberger. He’s been creating music since 2007’s release of Chronostatic Scenes on dataObscura. But, he really made an impact on the dark ambient world with his third release, Derelict World, in 2010 on Malignant Records. Derelict World consisted of eight highly atmospheric tracks, filled to the brim with field recordings. The album was rounded out with some subtle dronework, but the field recordings really helped to create a dark and abandoned soundscape, which would draw many a dark ambient fan into its grasp.

Now, eight long years after the release of Derelict World, False Mirror has released a new album, SIGINT, again through Malignant Records. For fans of Derelict World, SIGINT will prove to be a relatively different experience. The use of field recordings is still quite heavy, but the album takes a more demanding stance. The dronework is much more pronounced and there is frequent use of choral vocal samples. And, of course, there are still plenty of field recordings throughout the album, helping to keep the visual (perceived) elements at the forefront.

The defining differences between SIGINT and Derelict World begin with the theme. Whereas, Derelict World let listeners gaze into an abandoned world, one that has been slowly decaying, possibly for centuries, the focus of SIGINT is much more technologically driven.

False Mirror is one of the unsung masters of field recording use within the dark ambient community, not only gathering the necessary source material from his fellow colleagues for his own albums, but also sharing his personal collection with other musicians, as in the case of Astral Unity by Phelios, among possible others. (I don’t doubt they exist but I’m unaware of any others.) While the field recordings on Derelict World were mostly of nature (plenty of water running and winds blowing), SIGINT uses much more unusual source material. Sources specifically mentioned in the digipak include: various electronic transmissions, encrypted messages of the German BND and Russian FSB, beacons, over-the-horizon radars, and troposcatter communications. And, like on Derelict World, he has once again acquired source material from Axel Baune, Dieter Trustedt, and Tarek Mansur.

The combination of these field recordings and theme with the previous styles False Mirror has explored creates a very interesting feel, which took me some time to fully grasp. Upon initially reading the album blurb on Malignant Records Bandcamp page, I was assuming this would be some kind of highly synthetic-feeling “spacey” sort of dark ambient, with little personality or emotion. I’m not too keen on the overly sci-fi/space-ambient releases, in general, and didn’t necessarily give SIGINT the attention it deserved in the first few months after the release. Luckily, I returned to the album, and really gave it a few thorough listens and the intricacies, detail, and emotion of the release revealed to me that I was quite mistaken in my first impressions.

The combination of cover-art, track titles, and general feel of the album have all lead me to find a better interpretation of what SIGINT is about. Interestingly, Derelict World was compared to The Canceled Earth by Cities Last Broadcast. But, I find that SIGINT is actually much more in-line with that album’s theme. For me, SIGINT is a window into the remnants of a dying or dead earth. Comparisons could also be made to the 214X series of albums by Sabled Sun, but SIGINT, like The Canceled Earth, focuses more on the atmospherics rather than the cinematics. All these transmissions and signal noises, combined with the drones, sparse piano sections and choral voices, gives us a feeling of reminiscence for a dead civilization. The technical field recordings give us the feeling of those old machines spitting out sounds as the last of their dying battery power fails. The more musical elements add a sorrow to the mix, a true feeling of emotion, which is often not present on sci-fi/space ambient releases, and thusly why I don’t enjoy those sorts of albums so much.

So, the technicalities of the release are all top-notch for me. But, further than this, there are some incredibly memorable tracks presented on SIGINT. This is a feat that wasn’t so well accomplished on Derelict World (maybe it was not intended, that would be fine too). “Corona” reminds me of the feeling I get from “District Delta” by Cisfinitum on their magnificent and highly underrated album, Landschaft. It has a glacially-paced build up, which one barely feels becoming more extreme, until the listener finds themselves fully enraptured by the utter beauty, but also power, which seems to emanate from the track. Likewise, “Troposcatter” manages to dig its talons into the listener’s mind, demanding our attention, but also our emotion, as if it is some sort of final mournful ode to humanity.

Derelict World had a beautiful physical presentation, vivid visual art combined with a mournful story filled the accompanying booklet, and the last few pages were a detailed log of the exact times, locations, and equipment used for creating each track. SIGINT takes a different, but no less impressive direction with its physical presentation. The cover-art is, in a word, spectacular. It doesn’t necessarily convey a stereotypical darkness, little of the album does. Instead it presents us with the remnants of some old scientific/technological facility. We may gaze out, through the torn cloth remnants which blow carelessly in the wind, at a distant horizon, with no signs of other human presence anywhere in between. The booklet is, in fact, a “Cryptographic Manual”, which explains in detail how to decipher an encrypted message. Interestingly, at the end of the booklet, we are told to “EXAMINE TRACK 10”, the track entitled “Message”, which ends the album. Just as I’ve seen in an old review of Derelict World, False Mirror invites listeners to actively take part in experiencing this album, studying this manual should allow the listener to decipher the encrypted message at the end of the album, leading to some hidden secret.

SIGINT is a tour-de-force return to the dark ambient scene for False Mirror. The subtleties of the album are only paralleled by the equally bold and emotionally-driven moments. Even more so than in the past, False Mirror has allowed all elements (drone, field recording, voice sample, etc.) to rise to the surface and hold their own amongst one another. The album is a beautiful soundscape to play in the background while reading, studying, or writing. But, when given full attention, its merits blossom and the listener can become fully enraptured in its depth. False Mirror reminds us, after far too long, why their name has had a lasting impression within the genre, while their output has been anything but frequent. Malignant Records also remind listeners, with this release, why they are one of the forefront labels in the dark ambient genre, even if their dark ambient output is less frequent than some of the other big dark ambient labels. SIGINT is a highly recommended release for any discerning fan of the dark ambient genre.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Sysselmann – Live at Mir – Review, Exclusive Full Album Stream!

Artist: Sysselmann
Album: Live at Mir
Release date: 31 October 2018
Label: Tipi Token Records

Tracklist:
01. Stormwatch
02. Transmigration
03. Sacred Calling
04. Juniper tree song
05. The Great Horn of the Mountain
06. Koncovka flute improv
07. Primal Spirit outro

Enjoy an exclusive full album stream of Live at Mir!

Sysselmann released his first album, The Northern Chronicles in October of 2016. Tipi Token Records had the foresight to recruit this promising new dark ambient project to their also new label. The physical copy quickly sold out. A beautiful piece of art in itself, using a “vinyl effect” CD, with inner & outer sleeves which also helped build this vinyl effect. That CD was re-issued in August 2018, and there are copies still available. I highly recommend the release. You can read my review of The Northern Chronicles here.

 

Now, Sysselmann and Tipi Token are back with Live at Mir, a live recording from Mir Café in Oslo, Norway on October 7, 2017. Being in the USA, I rarely (basically never) get to see any live dark ambient performances. I was unaware of this recorded event, but the following month Sysselmann took the stage at Blåsvart Aften in Trondheim, Norway, along with dark ambient giants Svartsinn, TeHÔM, New Risen Throne, and one other lesser known act, Tutfarangi. I would say these two events were quite helpful in getting the name Sysselmann around the Scandinavian region. Any dark ambient musician I’ve spoken to about Sysselmann has had nothing but positive words.

Live recordings can be a real gamble to release. If you aren’t Metallica or some huge rock band, drowning in profits, you are not likely to have the best resources available for recording and reproducing a live set. But, as with the recent Live Assault by TeHÔM, Sysselmann and his associates have managed to craft a live album which is well worth the listeners’ time. The recordings are clear and there is very little background noise to be discerned. The acoustic elements seem to stand out a bit more in the mix on this live set than they did on The Northern Chronicles. This is particularly great for a live performance, as listeners tend to be less inclined to stand in front of a musician who, to them, may seem to be doing very little. The added or accentuated acoustic instruments always provide a needed extra layer to dark ambient live performances, giving the crowd something to see as well as hear.

Photo shamelessly stolen from TeHÔM’s Facebook post. From left: TeHÔM, Svartsinn, Taphephobia, Sysselmann, Northaunt, New Risen Throne

With only one full length album released prior to Live at Mir, I wondered (upon first hearing about this release) exactly what Tipi Token and Sysselmann would see fit to include. I can happily say that it isn’t just a reproduction of The Northern Chronicles. Though just over half the tracks on Live at Mir were featured on the previous album, there are also three new tracks: “Sacred Calling”, “Koncovka flute improv” and “Primal Spirit outro”. These three tracks account for twenty minutes of previously unreleased music, and I’ve found them all quite enjoyable. While “Sacred Calling” falls in line with the tracks from The Northern Chronicles, “Koncovka flute improv” and “Primal Spirit outro” incorporate significantly less electronic elements and seem to rely almost entirely on live acoustic elements.

Live at Mir will be released October 31 as a digital album on Bandcamp. There will also be a limited edition cassette version made available at the same time. While I haven’t seen this cassette myself, it is described as a “pro duplicated cassette in a very limited run to celebrate this release”. So if you are interested in a copy, I recommend keeping an eye out for it on release day. I would highly recommend this album to fans of Sysselmann‘s previous work, and also to those dedicated followers of the Scandinavian branch of the dark ambient scene. Sysselmann exhibits many of those same qualities that make this region so well known in the post-industrial world.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Arktau Eos – Erēmos – Review

Artist: Arktau Eos
Album: Erēmos
Release date: 12 October 2018
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. The Liminal Pilgrim
02. Facing the Exarchs of Desolation
03. He Who Drinks the Light of the Stars
04. The Cells Beneath
05. Autochthon
06. Pacts of Stone and the Sun
07. In the Jaws of Basalt Lions
08. Column of Sky-Iron
09. Eden

Arktau Eos seem to have become the flagship project for the Aural Hypnox label. Since their debut, Mirrorion in 2006, Arktau Eos have quickly found a solid fan-base, which rabidly follows their every release. Erēmos shows fans, yet again, why Arktau Eos is esteemed so highly in the ritual ambient community and beyond. But, as has recently become less unusual, Arktau Eos have taken a step further into the unknown, expanding into new sonic territory as they transport us far from their mysterious Katajan Kaiku lodge in Northern Finland to the vast arid Mongolian steppe.

Arktau Eos says about the album in their promotional description on social media:
As has been the testimony of wise men and women of all faiths, solitude bestows its own distinct gifts upon the seeker, a process here treated in less intimate terms than on the voice-led Catacomb Resonator. Erēmos is more expansive; the desert that opens before the listener is not a locus of temptations or simple retreat, but a vivid inner mindscape of dramatic confrontations and transformations between flora, fauna, stellar matter, earth, and stone. Gradually they shed away the humanness in its most banal sense, until man identifies with the scorpionic voice of power that carries to the ends of the earth – and cosmos.

I am seeing Erēmos as a sort of connector between two worlds. The two places where Arktau Eos captured field recordings for the project were the initiators of this idea for me. I found it interesting and slightly strange that they would use field recordings from so far away as the Mongolian Steppe, and to then somehow connect these recordings to those captured in the northern Ostrobothnian woods of Finland. These disparate ideas can begin to reveal how they are connected as we look to the track titles on Erēmos.

“The Liminal Pilgrim” seems to be the indicator that we are about to experience a sort of pilgrimage, within the mind, to a place distant in time and space. It also indicates for us that this is a journey in solitude, not a cult attempting to make a grand movement, but a sole individual, seeking further enlightenment in realms unknown. This is further alluded to by the album’s title, Erēmos, which takes its meaning from the Greek “eremites” – person of the desert.

“He Who Drinks the Light of the Stars” seems to have a strong ritualistic feel to it, even more so than the previous tracks. This seems like a point where the meditator makes a sort of extra sensory move into the ancient lands of the Mongolian steppe, as they sit in their native Finland, gazing into a clear night sky. Or, they could even become conscious through the physical vessel of some native Mongolian of the past. This theory could follow nicely to the next track “Autochthon”, which here would likely refer to the birth of this human vessel within his own land of the Mongolian steppe. The track has a strong Eastern feel to it and Arktau Eos brings us into this new land smoothly using field recordings, not to mention the use of a plethora of other sounds which all help to build up this impressive sonic tapestry.

I will decline to make any further evaluations on this narrative presented by Arktau Eos. Various artists from Aural Hypnox have made it clear in the past that their albums should be a point of personal enlightenment and need not be too actively directed by the creators of the music. Though, with that said, Erēmos does seem to have a decent bit more specifics built into itself, through the album’s description and the track titles, than we are used to seeing from Aural Hypnox artists.

A further adjustment seems to have been made on this Arktau Eos project. As alluded to earlier, Erēmos is a natural progression further into new territory. Arktau Eos, and Aural Hypnox as a whole, have been testing the grounds of synthetic sounds more courageously over the last few years than could be witnessed on most of the label’s earlier releases. Though, as we have seen on an album like Zoät-AonStar Autopsy, a strict adherence to tribal/culturally-relevant instruments and other natural instruments like the voice, bone-flutes, or acoustic guitars is not necessary to create the same level of transcendental/mind-altering effects. Tracks like “The Liminal Pilgrim” and “Autochthon” are both brilliant examples of Arktau Eos ability to use their large array of sonic tools to dig deep into the consciousness of the listener, without sticking too closely to the standard ritual/tribal framework.

Erēmos has been released exclusively on CD. There was a quickly sold-out variant described by the label as “The Bleeding Stones edition” which had several alternate colour schemes and some extra photographs. But, it is worth sharing here that Arktau Eos said on social media, in response to a few people’s dismay at the sold-out special edition:

“Sorry to hear you missed out on the Bleeding Stones edition. Perhaps it is of some consolation that we consider it more of a curiosity than a proper special edition like the ones we have done before. In fact, none was planned for Erēmos, but these copies practically forced themselves to manifest and we could not but act duly! Regarding actual extra materials, they exist and might be released in a less strictly limited edition. We will see once we get back to work soon post-Erēmos – there is a lot of stuff seething in the cauldrons that begs to be finished and let loose upon the unsuspecting world, but that is all we know or can say right now!”

Arktau Eos have created a truly brilliant album in Erēmos. The sounds presented here are able to touch the listener in a multitude of different ways. We can close our eyes and imagine this world, which Arktau Eos have illustrated, unfolding before us. We are able to travel through time and space to a destination which only exists in our own minds, but is highly detailed nonetheless. Erēmos doesn’t contain a moment of the sort of primordial ritual ambient which was more prevalent on earlier Aural Hypnox releases. The evolution of their sound has kept the authenticity and subliminal power of its foundations, but they have moved into territory which is much more diverse from moment to moment and capable of conveying more specific visuals through sound. This would be an essential album to show those readers or their friends which are unfamiliar with Aural Hypnox. The Arktau Eos sound is possibly more focused and more effective here than at any time in their past. The project, like the rest of the label, just seems to keep increasing in quality with each passing year.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Dahlia’s Tear – Through the Nightfall Grandeur – Review

Artist: Dahlia’s Tear
Album: Through the Nightfall Grandeur
Release date: 16 October 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Encroaching Shadows Beckon to Chase the Fleeing Light
02. The Keeper of Broken Dreams and Tattered Spirits
03. Forlorn Whispers on a Moonlit Path
04. The Frozen Echoes of the Endless Moor
05. Bitter Silence of Desolate Steps
06. Drowning in Delusions of Grandeur
07. Lamenting Memories Long Past in the Remnants of Darkness
08. Drifting into the Void Grasping at Fading Starlight
09. Lost in the Crystalline Enigma

Dahlia’s Tear is a dark ambient project out of Stockholm, Sweden by sole member Anile D. Dahlia’s Tear debuted in 2005 with Harmonious Euphonies For Supernatural Traumas Mesmerising Our Existences in Radient Corpuscle and was followed up in 2007 with My Rotten Spirit of Black. Yet, these two releases remained quite elusive, and have only recently been uploaded to the personal Bandcamp page of Dahlia’s Tear. Therefore, my knowledge of the project starts with their masterpiece Under Seven Skies, also from 2007 and released on the now defunct Thonar Records. The strength of Under Seven Skies  would lead to Dreamspheres in 2012 which was released on the legendary Cold Meat Industry.

This all seemed to be leading toward Dahlia’s Tear becoming a first-class name within the dark ambient genre. But, after their one-track inclusion on the Cryo Chamber compilation Behind the Canvas of Time in 2012, Dahlia’s Tear disappeared for the next six years. Each time I listened back to Under Seven Skies and Dreamspheres I would think of that track on Cryo Chamber, and hope that one day there may be a new album by Dahlia’s Tear released through that label. Dahlia’s Tear did, indeed, keep in contact with Cryo Chamber throughout these years, and the long-awaited follow-up to Dreamspheres has finally arrived!

Though plenty of time has passed, the core of the Dahlia’s Tear sound has remained intact. Those familiar with Dreamspheres and Under Seven Skies will find many of the elements they loved are still being incorporated on Through the Nightfall Grandeur. Each track is distinctly musical, in comparison to many dark ambient releases, on Cryo Chamber or otherwise. Drones are constantly morphing and shifting. Piano arrangements feature often and distinctly in the mix. The female voice is incorporated throughout the album, taking the form of short, spoken word passages, (more in line with Dreamspheres than with the vocal performance by Carline Van Roos of Aythis and Lethian Dreams on Under Seven Skies).

One of the most moving elements of the Dahlia’s Tear sound, for me, has been its blending of the musical, dreamy, light-hearted elements with harsher industrial field recordings and tones. Again, this aspect of their sound is still intact, and further honed. This contrast is perfectly displayed on tracks like “Drowning in Delusions of Grandeur”, where the piano, female whispers, and distant chants, all play beautifully off one another, creating something that is at once familiar and warm, but equally harsh and remote.

The opening track, “Encroaching Shadows Beckon to Chase the Fleeing Light”, shows off the use of field recordings and subtle drone to create a dark but vibrant atmosphere. We get a real sense of the evolution of Dahlia’s Tear with this one. While, the following track “The Keeper of Broken Dreams and Tattered Spirits” seems like a direct continuation of the styles incorporated on Under Seven Skies. It is nice to see how this musician manages to retain the magic of these previous releases, while also moving into new terrain.

The cover-art for Through the Nightfall Grandeur seems to also nod to the artwork from Under Seven Skies, with thick fog and clouds rolling across the mountainous landscape. Though here there doesn’t seem to be such a connection to alien technology as was on display with Under Seven Skies. While the cover-art was created by Simon Heath, the album was not mastered by him, as is almost always the case with Cryo Chamber releases. Instead it has been mastered by Jeff M. in the U.K. The vocal performances, as well as words, on the album have all been contributed by one Michelle Rippy, who also contributed to Dreamspheres in 2012.

Dahlia’s Tear has always been one of my favorite dark ambient musicians when I’m in the mood for something more musical and more active than most dark ambient releases. For anyone familiar with Dahlia’s Tear, I think you will likely agree that this album is equal if not superior to his previous output. For anyone new to the sounds of Dahlia’s Tear, I highly recommend this dark ambient project. I can’t overstate my pleasure that I can cover something new from them, when I was often unsure if I’d ever hear anything new from them ever again. It’s also great to see that they’ve found a home on Cryo Chamber, where their music will certainly now become familiar to many of the more recent fans of this genre.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Haft Teppeh – Yume – Review

Artist: Haft Teppeh
Album: Yume
Release date: 19 March 2018
Label: Autarkeia

Tracklist:
01. Hedonic
02. Sibylline
03. Help Me Sleep [eternally]
04. Where Children’s Dreams Go To Sleep
05. Arterele Viselor/Hipnoza
06. Yami Ni Maboroshi
07. The Practice of Solitude
08. Anomalie
09. Wails of the Oblivious
10. Lucarna

Haft Teppeh is a new dark ambient project out of București, Romania. Quietly released through Autarkeia, Yume almost passed my notice. Immediately upon hearing the opening track I realized this was not an album to be missed. For me, the beauty of Haft Teppeh is in their ability to delve into the waters of several different dark ambient styles flawlessly. But one thing that stands out, is their similarity to the general atmosphere of early 2000s dark ambient musicians from the Scandinavian area.

The albums themes lie in several areas, which may or may not be clashing with each other. (Or just misunderstandings on my part.) The first relevant factor is Haft Teppeh itself, which seems to refer to an ancient site near modern Khuzestan in Iran. Haft Teppeh appears to have been in use during the middle Elamite period. Many of the ritual elements in the album, as well as the similarities to a project like Herbst9, would certainly make sense within the context of this connection.

The other relevant factor is the allusion, in track titles, to sleep/hypnosis/prophetic vision. On “Anomalie” we hear a meandering drone with a backdrop of strange, glitchy, almost otherworldly, noises. This eerie soundscape is complemented by a passage being spoken in a sort of dreamy half-whisper. This track gives me strong vibes of a combination between Cities Last Broadcast and Hymnambulae, as well as much of the Aural Hypnox catalog.

Combining these two ideas, we could imagine that Yume may be representing the story of a mystic tapping into their sibylline powers to connect with the distant past. The combination of ritual elements with things much more subtle helps this picture, we witness the ritual preparations, and then we slowly move further into this lucid hypnotic state, picturing ourselves in distant times and lands, far from our actual reality.

Putting questions of interpretation aside, one can come to this album with no sense of context and thoroughly enjoy every moment. Haft Teppeh is a well honed dark ambient project, which seems incredibly polished for a debut. I have already made references above to some of the projects I would compare with Haft Teppeh. Still there are other incredibly dreamy tracks, like “Help Me Sleep [eternally]” and “Where Children’s Dreams Go To Sleep” which could almost hide convincingly among the works of Kammarheit. As this is the third project by Pär Boström which I’ve mentioned here, I am willing to assume Haft Teppeh are quite the fans of his various musical works. We can also see some possible nods to the aesthetics of Aural Hypnox in Haft Teppeh‘s use of initials instead of artists’ full names.

In further comparisons, “Yami Ni Maboroshi” opens up with a subtle synth/drone which I immediately associate with some of Angelo Badalamenti‘s work on Lost Highway. But this connection only holds for a split second before the track fully reveals its ritual elements. This one is a highly meditative track, with the relaxing drones and gentle percussions clashing against the occasional high registered tone or momentary field of static. It all melts perfectly into something that gradually moves further into the realms of raison d’être, and here again, Haft Teppeh do honor to the connection.

As a debut, Yume is a triumph. Haft Teppeh are creating music which absolutely astounds me to imagine it might be their first foray into dark ambient. I am almost, but not, convinced that there might be some well-known dark ambient musician hiding behind the initials “HT”. Yume is currently only available in cassette through Autarkeia.org or digitally on the Haft Teppeh bandcamp page. An album like this really deserves an expanded release, in CD or vinyl, and hopefully we will see that. But, regardless I must assume they are already hard at work on whatever might come next. With a debut like this one, I really can’t wait.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Endless Chasm – Saṃsāra Eternal – Review

Artist: Endless Chasm
Album: Saṃsāra Eternal
Release date: 12 July 2018
Label: Chthonic Streams

Tracklist:
01. An Outline of a Memory
02. Just Below the Hot Surface

Endless Chasm is a dark/ritual/noise ambient artist out of Lawrence, Kansas. Since their first release in 2015, Endless Chasm is keeping a pretty steady release schedule, with roughly two full-lengths dropping per year. Previous releases have been hosted by labels including: Big Pharma Records, Lurker Bias and Endless Landscapes of Decay. Saṃsāra Eternal is brought to us by Chthonic Streams, a label which predominately releases works by it’s label head Derek Rush (COMPACTOR, Dream Into Dust, A Murder of Angels). Though, Rush will occasionally find an album which fits the framework of his aesthetic goals. Saṃsāra Eternal is one such release, in which the artist, much like Rush himself, uses a combination of techniques to conjure a plethora of abstract soundscapes from his electronics, while adding a unique touch to the project, through the addition of field recordings. [We’ve also previously reviewed another excellent release from Chthonic Streams by Hoor-Paar-Kraat which you can read here.]

“An Outline of a Memory” follows a dark drone ambient framework which borders on harsh noise at times. It successfully blends these harsher sounds which remind of artists like Jarl and many of the artists featured on labels such as Endless Landscapes of Decay, with something more meditative. What this combination creates is something I could compare with the recent AltarmangVoid or many of the harsher works on Aural Hypnox. There are great peaks of intense walls of sound, as this pulsating drone shifts from its piercing high pitched register to a calmer more contemplative soundscape, and back again.

“Just Below the Hot Surface” is more in line with the sort of dark ambient I often enjoy. Endless Chasm uses a balanced combination of pulsating analog synth and industrialized field recordings to create a complex atmosphere. We get the feeling of a sort of post-apocalyptic ritual taking place in the catacombs beneath some smoky rusted factory. The depths and complexities of this atmosphere slowly evolve, and likewise slowly reveal their subtle textures over time. The sounds which begin as lifeless mechanical workings evolve into this dark ritual with otherworldly/underworldly voices seeming to be channeled from the metallic clanging.

As the album progresses, and so too as it is replayed, the listener will be forgiven for beginning to second guess their initial intuitions on the sounds and their individual musical elements. Simple drones can morph into monstrous voices, mechanical hammering turns into ritual drumming and back again as the mind is slowly made aware of its surroundings, only to be deceived once again moments later.

Saṃsāra Eternal is released digitally and also in a limited art edition cassette box set. The matte black box includes a red C-30 cassette, 4 art prints which feature photography by Derek Rush (as well as a 5th on the cover of the box), an info card with album credits, a black-on-black sigil, and a red carnation. This presentation again brings to mind the depth and care that we expect from D.I.Y. labels such as Aural Hypnox.

Fans of more digitally-focused, subtle, cinematic dark ambient releases might find Saṃsāra Eternal a little over-bearing at times. But for those that are accustomed to the moments of climactic harshness, you will find an album which is masterfully prepared and worthy of the comparisons made to works on more internationally recognized labels. Endless Chasm has crafted an album I would highly recommend to those that prefer something contemplative/meditative, but also challenging in its delivery. Like any good release in these genres, the depth of these soundscapes will only slowly reveal itself over time, making for an album worth revisiting numerous times.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Nam-Khar – Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa – Review

Artist: Nam-Khar
Album: Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa
Release date: 23 March 2018
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Dri Za
02. Sab Dak
03. Srinmo
04. Bdud
05. Shidak (re-shaped)
06. Nyan
07. Gyalpo
08. Klu

Nam-Khar is a ritual ambient project out of Germany which I’ve been following now for some years. They describe their music as, “Nam-Khar develops in a deep magickal exploration handling complex defragmentations and vibrational tunes with an ancestral touch which opens to listeners new gates of perception due how the evocative sounds emerges from time to time.”

They have released several collaborations/splits over the last few years with artists including Sielwolf, Alone in the Hollow Garden, Holotrop, and Shibalba. In fact, all their releases up to this point have been either collaborations or splits with other ritual ambient musicians. The only exception being their self-released debut, A Hallowed Ground Within, back in 2009. Due, in no small part, to the collaborative nature of Nam-Khar, they have been steadily gaining a larger audience over the last two years. This culminates with their first label released solo album, Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa on Winter-Light.

Video by: Maria Martinego

I will not go into any detail on specific tracks here. The album, as the artists have stated, is meant to be experienced as a whole, and thusly, that is the best way of speaking about it. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa is a brilliant ritual ambient release, but one which took me some time to fully grasp. This is a subtle form of ritual ambient presented here. The album has little-to-no “musical” elements, in the strict sense of the word. If you are reading as you listen to Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa, you might find the album calmly carry you through the next hour, without ever distracting you or inadvertently drawing you to its sounds. Though, if you are actively listening there is still a good bit of interesting things happening to keep your attention. But, the main attraction to this release, as should be obvious, is for those inclined to ritual music for more than just its aesthetics. Nam-Khar is, after all, a ritual ambient project which puts their goal of creating something unique and yet still authentic to Tibetan Buddhism-leaning traditions/rituals.

The general calmness of Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa lends itself nicely to its use as a meditation aid. Lighting a few candles and a stick of incense, then sitting down to a period of meditation, one can allow the sounds of Nam-Khar to fully envelop their consciousness. We can, then, absorb all the energies these artists have conjured in their craft. The gentle chiming of singing bowls, the field recordings which paint a picture of the environment, the tribal percussion, and the airy drones, all come together splendidly, and in a way that is never distracting. This, I think, is a feat for a ritual ambient act. So many ritual ambient albums are highly invasive on their listeners, begging every moments attention, or trying to force a listener into the intended mindset. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa coaxes us in the correct direction, without ever being forceful, leaving much more room for spiritual awakening/enlightenment.

This is their first release on the well-respected Winter-Light label. Before this, most of Nam-Khar music was released on the ritual ambient Sombre Soniks label. While Sombre Soniks is probably more in-line with the aesthetics of Nam-Khar, the move to Winter-Light should help further raise awareness of Nam-Khar within the dark/ritual ambient community. Nam-Khar is certainly one of a few ritual ambient projects that deserves a much greater appreciation. I would recommend Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa to any fan of ritual ambient that prefers the more subtle side of things. This could also be a very nice album for those that don’t usually like ritual ambient, but find an occasional release in this genre to their liking. Again, the subtlety of the work done on this release makes it very easy to enjoy and digest, and leaves the listener inclined to keep coming back for many repeat listens.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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