Tag: Ambient

Melankolia – Vividarium Intervigilium Viator – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea – Review

Artist: Bridge To Imla
Album: The Radiant Sea
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Prologue: The Kuroshio Current
02. Tsushima Basin
03. Shatsky Rise
04. The Aleutian Current
05. Hikurangi Plateau
06. Mariana Trench
07. Louisville Ridge
08. The California Current
09. Richards Deep
10. Raukumara Plain
11. Emerald Fracture Zone
12. Fobos-Grunt
13. The Humboldt Current
14. Galathea Depth
15. Epilogue: Ring of Fire

Bridge to Imla is the new ambient / Berlin School project by artists Hans-Dieter Schmidt and Michael Brückner. Both artists are veterans of the wider ambient music genres and have been releasing music under various projects for decades. The Radiant Sea is their first collaboration.

The Radiant Sea is an ode to the Pacific Ocean. The theme of the album is two-fold. It partially is a telling of the Fukushima Disaster in Japan, and a warning against allowing these sorts of disasters to happen in the future. But it is also a love-song to the Pacific, a look not only at its majesty, but also at its ability to heal the planet. Our oceans help greatly in keeping the atmosphere clean, absorbing much of the toxins we create and discard. So, it is, in some instances, the only thing holding us back from fully disrupting our planet’s fragile eco-systems.

The music on the album is quite diverse. There are elements of many different sub-genres within the greater ambient spectrum. Fans of the Berlin School sound will find much to love here. It is also telling that they sought the mastering skills of Robert Rich, as much of the album fits nicely with his tastes and skill-sets. There are certainly elements of dark ambient which rise and fall throughout the album, particularly on the opening track, “Prologue: The Kuroshio Current”, we can hear some deep, menacing dronework which brings to mind the Northaunt opus, Horizons. Throughout the album, as well, we can hear drones which greatly relax the mind and lull the listener toward a sleepy half-aware state of consciousness. Yet, as a whole, the album is less routed in dark ambient than readers will find on most of the releases we cover. However, that isn’t to say that this should be ignored by those listeners which only are interested in that crushing darkness, it touches the genre in many ways throughout its entirety and will have plenty of things for dark ambient lovers to enjoy along the way.

The drones are well crafted and give the album that particularly dreamy feeling, but they aren’t always at the forefront. Much of the album is filled with field recordings, voice samples and instrumentation, which all come together to keep it incredibly entertaining, easily enjoyable as the primary point of focus for listeners. “The Humboldt Current” is a great example of this, with crystalline drones backing a beautiful wind instrument section, which give it a wonderful sort of meditative Eastern feel.

Then there are tracks like “Louisville Ridge” which lean heavily into the Berlin School / electronica side of the spectrum. The track is filled with synthesizer sections which give the listener an almost psychedelic feeling. This psychedelic element crops up often throughout the album, without becoming comical or overused. Often the subtle ways in which drones shift can play with the mind of the listener, especially if they are listening to this as they prepare to fall asleep.

The album becomes an all around success with the help of Robert Rich and the Winter-Light label. Robert Rich was brought in to master the release. Putting his decades of experience in the ambient genre to work, polishing the album to a pristine perfection. Once handed off to the Winter-Light label, The Radiant Sea was given beautiful cover-art, as well as a high quality 6-panel digipak, making the physical release as enticing as its stripped down digital-only alternative.

Bridge To Imla delivered a strong debut. An album which could have only been created by artists with a lifetime’s experience in the field of ambient soundscapes. The album is equally as delightful when given full undivided attention as it is when played in the background, as an augmentation to some other activity. After this strong debut, we can hope to see more albums like this in the coming years from these two gentlemen. Until then, there should be many hours of enjoyment as one floats along on The Radiant Sea!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Rafael Anton Irisarri – The Shameless Years – Review

Artist: Rafael Anton Irisarri
Album: The Shameless Years
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Umor Rex

Tracklist:
01. Indefinite Fields
02. RH Negative
03. Bastion
04. Sky Burial
05. Karma Krama
06. The Faithless

Rafael Anton Irisarri releases a monolithic exploration of hominin calamity.

Ambient music falls under a distinct spectrum of effect. Some artists evoke alternate mental spaces, others provide a space for listeners to reconcile themselves to the present world, and many accomplish a bit of both. New York’s post-minimalist composer Rafael Anton Irisarri has traversed several ends of this spectrum, but his latest effort comes as an austere acknowledgement of the human experience in all of its dismal magnitude. The Shameless Years stands as one of Irisarri’s most honest and passionate releases to date.

It’s hard to avoid falling into despair when looking at the world’s current state of affairs, but Irisarri has no intention of denying any unhappy realities. Through gargantuan dream symphonies, The Shameless Years imparts a coming-to-terms story over-arched by lamentations about mankind’s regression into an audacious era.

These six tracks remain shrouded in murky soundscapes, non-linear structures and dynamic plateaus. However, “Indefinite Fields” is immediately the modulative might of The Shameless Years. Spellbinding refrains navigate through a maze of oceanic white noise, gently pushing along synthetic hypnotism and seismic chord changes. The following “RH Negative” further front-loads the album’s melodic qualities, capturing the desolation left in the wake of intolerant outlooks. Irisarri stacks layer upon layer of rumbling sub-bass and distorted guitar strains on a cinematic lead as clanking percussion pushes it to an overwhelming climax of melancholic splendour.

Though the meat of The Shameless Years revels in nebulous gloom, Irisarri still wears his heart on his sleeve as he grapples with his finality. “Bastion” heralds the album’s descent into droning immensity, simultaneously pulverizing and assuaging the senses with its blend of refined arrangement and aural oblivion.

Irisarri’s vast orchestrations partly spring from the recognition that he has now outlived his father at only 40 years of age, the resulting textural cushion allows listeners to ride a transcendent crescendo towards profound acceptance of their limitations within a chaotic universe. “Sky Burial” returns to melody as quasi-choral inflections soar above suffusive meanderings, but Irisarri stays true to form by never fully locking into a form. His amorphous notation gives a cosmic perspective on existential turmoil.

The Shameless Years arguably reaches its most impactful territory with two collaborative pieces with Iranian ambient storyteller Siavash Amini. Though contrasted in their approaches, these songs raise an overpass linking two countries separated by violence, war and fear. Amani and Isarri are united by their middle-eastern heritage, yet the path between Iran and New York has become marred by horrific adversity. Their tandem effort shines a light of dismay and empathy into a wounded world — embodying the groans of the afflicted and the ache of those who would intercede.

“Karma Krama” juxtaposes angelic swells over cavernous feedback walls and abrasive static undertones, spotlighting the plight of the disenfranchised and the negligence of the privileged like a train-wreck happening in slow motion. Every layer forms a more detailed portrait of the struggle to preserve innocence, and its culmination signals the full realization of pandemic sorrow in a time where nothing is sacred and life is cheap.

Massive upsurges acquire a softer touch during the final and longest track. A fragile melody ushers “The Faithless” in, and out of its 13 minutes, offers the most vulnerable cut on the record. Distant noise-scapes and eerie bass gradually give this moving line buoyancy within its subterranean atmosphere. The song surfaces from the depths with deliberate grace via inconspicuously added drones, suspending itself over a foundation of shimmering arpeggiations and murmuring sound collages. After the final percussive clicks echo out, listeners are left to ponder their sonic journey.

The Shameless Years feels endless until it’s over, mirroring the harrowing dichotomy between alarming rapidity and agonizing sluggishness that defines the human experience. Glorious arrival points last forever until they fade in the same way the slowburn of reticent ruminations seems indefinite until unforeseen escalation whisks it away… and it all ends before one has time to truly comprehend what they just experienced.

Multiple listens and a continuous internal dialogue about the subject matter are required to fully appreciate the calamitous odyssey this album harbors within its sprawling sound collages. Its exploration of mankind’s frailty and failures compasses astride a conciliate raft of abstract sublimity. The Shameless Years is not only a bulwark of post-minimalist music, but a stunning account of the deepest insecurities of Rafael Anton Irisarri and his most lofty appraisals of stricken generations.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

protoU & Hilyard – Alpine Respire – Review

Artist: protoU & Hilyard
Album: Alpine Respire
Release date: 25 July 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Alpine Respire
02. Blood Grass Sojourn
03. Cave Lights on the Bay of Bengal
04. Boreal Distillate
05. Final Refugium
06. Elwha Snowfinger

Alpine Respire is the latest addition to the quickly increasing set of collaborations by protoU. protoU was first introduced to the greater dark ambient community through the brilliant release Earth Songs, in collaboration with now husband, Dronny Darko. Earth Songs still gets tons of play here at This Is Darkness HQ, “Riparian Forest” being one of my favorite dark ambient tracks in recent history. Earth Songs was followed by her first two solo releases, Lost Here and Khmaoch. Both of these albums showed her inclination to keep to the subtle side of the genre. Creating music that is often quite pleasant sounding. More dark in a sense of solitude and introspection than in the malevolent or occult sense. Her recent collaboration, Stardust with Alphaxone, took us into space, giving us a tour of the cosmos through the dark ambient lens.

Alpine Respire, in the same fashion as it happened for protoU, is the debut release on Cryo Chamber by Hilyard. Bryan Hilyard has already been making his rounds in the ambient / dark ambient communities for several years. His previous works have been field recording heavy, with an overarching focus on nature. Much like protoU, Hilyard finds the sweet spot between ambient and dark ambient music, making for albums that are at once peaceful and meditative, but ever so slightly eerie and melancholic.

Coming together for this release, protoU and Hilyard seem to have already had a decent bit in common. So instead of two styles clashing and creating some unlikely outcome, we are instead presented with something that seems natural, free flowing and polished. As if the duo had been working together for years. The music keeps a constant focus on nature, particularly the colder forested environments. Alpine Respire, in its literal definition would mean something like the breathing of the high mountains, or some similar sentiment. Taking the sounds of the album and the gorgeous cover-art into consideration, this definition seems to fit their vision accurately.

The album opens with the title track, “Alpine Respire”. My very first impression of this track was as surprising as it was delightful. I, even after hearing it 10+ times at this point, feel a strong connection between this and the opening track from Sigur Rós self-titled debut album. The drones are dense and slowly evolving in the background. The foreground is laden with eerie higher pitched sounds. This whirlwind of sound all seems to come to a climax around the two minute mark as the drones subside and there seems to be a celestial voice (or maybe just some well-placed synth) giving a sort of exhale. As the energy begins to rise once more there are so many sounds to capture the imagination, allowing listeners to take their interpretations off into various directions. This opener sets the perfect mood for the rest of the album. The balance between darkness and light, eeriness and comfort, devastation and peace, constantly plays itself out beautifully.

“Blood Grass Sojourn” starts off droning and subtle, then slowly moves into more active territory. A plethora of field recordings taking the foreground. Crows cawing, winds rushing, flecks of indeterminate sound oscillate between left and right as the drones begin to construct a thick wall. As if falling under the pressure, we begin to hear the movement of large rocks, like they are being crushed by the drones. There is a strength and depth to this wilderness being conveyed. The tones of something that sounds like Tibetan singing bowls gives the impression that this is almost a religious experience. But this is no modern religion. If religion it is, then it is that of our ancient forebears, those that respected and feared the Earth itself for its brutal nature.

“Boreal Distillate” seems to be on par with the aforementioned “Riparian Forest”. protoU and Hilyard pack this track, once again, with field recordings. There is a downpour which lays the base for the track, augmented by thick slowly evolving drones. The rest is filled out with the occasional sounds of wildlife. There is not a ton of activity here and we are urged to take a meditative approach to listening. The track works perfectly in passivity, accompanying the mind as it is left free to wander. If listening actively, we are able to picture ourselves trekking through some great old forest, as the rains permeate our clothing. If placed in the background, the gentle beauty of the music does little to side-track from any other goal, be it reading, studying, writing, etc.

Photograph used courtesy of barefootjake.com

The album concludes with “Elwha Snowfinger”, which is a perennial snow field located near the Dodwell Rixon Pass, which is 1452m/4763 ft high and separates the watersheds of the Elwha and Queets rivers in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in the USA. This track reminds me a lot of the many works of Ugasanie. There is a thick almost overwhelming layer of drone-work setting the foundation. Upon this base we here strange sounds, likely field recordings, but the context and meanings are hard to discern. This gives the track an eerie sort of feel, as if one is wandering aimlessly through a white-out at a bitter cold high elevation, fumbling for shelter, nearing hypothermia and the inevitable final outcome of death.

Alpine Respire is a perfect fit on Cryo Chamber. It has all the attention to detail one would expect of this label. The field recordings are crisp and give life to the entire album. The drones are varied, sometimes taking on hollow natures other times so dense that they literally seem to crush boulders. protoU and Hilyard make a fantastic pairing, their skills seem to be relatively overlapping, as are their goals. This album is overflowing with field recordings. For listeners that love to hear the elements of nature transported to their speakers, this is the perfect album to add to their libraries. the drone work is also top-notch. The combination makes for some brilliantly dark ASMR enriched music. It is the perfect companion to a late night of reading, a stroll through nature, or a critical session of active listening on a high-quality headset. I, for one, will surely be returning to this album very often.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Siyanie – Mystery Of Life – Review

Artist: Siyanie
Album: Mystery of Life
Release date: 21 July 2016
Label: Zhelezobeton

Tracklist:
01. You Are Self
02. The Moment of Truth
03. Circling Eternity
04. Invocation
05. Chant for Beauty
06. Deep Tenderness
07. The Sky is Not the Limit
08. Everflowing Stream
09. Shine If You Will Pt. 1-3

When I got this album, I opened the envelope, put the CD to the player and felt like taking a nap. And it was a pleasant nap. This Russian duo doesn’t push the limits of the genre, but their creations are nicely prepared and quite relaxing.

The two musicians are known from their other projects, as both Vresnit and Neznamo are already recognized members of the ever-growing Russian ambient/experimental family. Mystery Of Life is their fourth album, including the collaboration with the mentioned Neznamo. I know that our page is called This Is Darkness and Mystery Of Life is somewhat distant from the pitch-black or grey ambiances (check the cover), but there’s a certain form of depth which most of the shades of ambient share. The spirituality, the detachment from the mundane world. But, while dark ambient artists often wander through the wastelands, sometimes in the literal meaning, sometimes as a metaphor of the dark corners of the human soul, the artists like Siyanie (Russian word meaning “radiance”), search for a harmony with nature, a contemplation in a peaceful solitude.

It’s nothing new musically, you won’t find anything that you haven’t heard on the albums by Alio Die, Mathias Grassow or Klaus Wiese. In this form of ambient it is even harder to create your own, personal path than in dark ambient, so the trick is to capture the perfect atmosphere, that won’t bore or tire the listener, that will let him be immersed in the blissful contemplation. Serene, but not shallow. The body may lie on the bed or in the grass, but the spirit is traveling astrally to the world beyond. And they manage to do it, I find the album relaxing after a hard day, but not in a mindless way, there’s a whole open space for reflection here. The other important thing for such music is to avoid falling into the new age trap. And they succeed here as well, although there are moments when they balance dangerously close to the edge of triviality. Perhaps the album is a little bit too long, the album is not able to catch my attention for the whole duration and a few tracks seem like they are filling the gaps, but I can’t deny that there are some magic moments here, like the fourth composition, “Invocation”, with the growing tension, deep drones of the Eastern provenance and the sublime sounds of sitar. It’s worth mentioning that all tracks (except one) were recorded during live performances. If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t guess, they sound awesome. So if you don’t expect anything crucial to the genre, but rather look for a completion of your spiritual ambient collection, this one might be for you.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

X-Navi:Et – Machina Nova – Review

Artist: X-Navi:Et
Album: Machina Nova
Release date: 16 May 2017
Label: Eter Records & Beast of Prey

Tracklist:
01. Machina Nova
02. Neo Primitiv
03. Weltschmerz
04. Pseudo
05. Nonsens
06. Fiasko

X-Navi:Et was born as a side-project of Rafał Iwański, one of the members of HATI collective. Although I’m not sure if I should still use the term “side project”, as currently X-Navi:Et seems to be more active than the main project. Rafał focuses on it in terms of both recording new material and playing live. The last HATI album was released in 2015 – in the meanwhile we got Vox Paradox material, an full length album called Technosis and now Machina Nova, a CD including also Vox Paradox, which was previously available on tape only.

HATI is a three person ensemble, so it is sort of the sum and essence of three ideas and views on music. With X-Navi:Et we have an insight into a single artist’s creative mind. But I have to admit that – on the contrary to Dead City Voice or Brain Overloaded – this CD gets pretty close to the HATI spirit. First of all, this time he travels far from the (dead) cities. Far from the turbulent, modern world. The music on Machina Nova happens to be turbulent as well, but more in a tribal, atavistic aspect. It all starts with the flute imitating the singing of the birds and then turns into the struggle between the drones, the ethnic instruments and tribal drums. This first track, Machina Nova has a strongly Eastern feeling, however weirdly it may sounds, but it’s like the primitive ritual, yet delicately saturated with Orthodox traces. It’s like living in a village, having your own primitive gods and beliefs, yet you see the towers of the first church that has just been built on the horizon. Machina Nova. The New Machine.

I love how the folk and ethnic sounds intermingle with the electric, drone textures, as they go hand in hand. A struggle, yes, but fair and balanced. Both parties have the same chances, you don’t have the feeling that one aspect dominates over the other. Also it has to be said, that Rafał doesn’t use the ethnic elements in the typical way, you know, like many others do, in quite a cheesy manner reinterpreting on synths the simple melodies they’ve heard somewhere. The melodies on Machina Nova may not be very sophisticated either, but they’re something different – they’re filtered through a modern and creative soul of a person not only having different, wider technical possibilities (because a lot of sounds have been created using real instruments, not electronic surrogates, just like folks were doing many centuries ago), but also having an open mind and awareness that the music is timeless. Some sounds may seem old, but if you use them in a proper context, this fact becomes insignificant.

All this refers to the first six compositions, forming the Machina Nova segment. These are probably the most catchy pieces from X-Navi:Et so far, just check the melodies on “Weltschmerz” or “Neo Primitiv” (what an apt title). Of course it is all based on adding loops until the track reaches its climax, but it sounds really cool. The compositions 7-12 are taken from a tape released by the Wounded Knife label in 2015. These are closer to cities, but quite vague ones, suspended in time and space. You get a bit of industrial harshness here, without any extremities, obviously, but you’re not on a forest meadow anymore, around a bonfire, rather you are in the sewers under a dystopian megalopolis, where ancient rituals are still practised. Yeah, I know I’m simplifying here, but you get the idea. Still, a tribal feeling is present here and there as it is Rafał’s trademark, just like this “neoprimitiveness”, a certain idea around which all Rafał’s projects are built. Like in the amazing “E System X” piece. On the other hand, you’ll get a jazzy trumpet in “Machina”. So… expect a mix of organic and electric, the ancient and the modern. And the unexpected.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

Keosz – AVA – Review

Artist: Keosz
Album: AVA
Release date: 18 April 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Aquitted from Illness
02. All I Had To Do
03. AVA
04. Downfall
05. Nothing Left But Gloom
06. Consigned To Limbo
07. Behind The Horizon of Preconceptions
08. Resurrection from the Dust
09. Equanimity of the Senses
10. The Took All I Had
11. Farewell To Hollow Space

In 2016 the Slovakian electronic artist Keosz first appeared on Cryo Chamber with his album Be Left To Oneself. Since 2010, Keosz has been releasing a variety of singles and EPs through varies labels. He won the Radio Head Award for best electronic artist in 2016 for his work through these various projects.

Be Left To Oneself was Keosz‘ first real venture into dark ambient. On his dark ambient debut, we heard a fairly uniform style throughout the album. Keosz delivered a collection of melancholic droning ambient tracks, perfect for reminiscing one’s past. The sound Keosz produced had a unique atmosphere in that it was simultaneously downtrodden, and yet uplifting. For me, it was the most fitting when traveling through the city by metro. Watching a sunset over a cityscape alone, yet surrounded by people and modern technology.

AVA starts out in a similar vein as Be Left To Oneself. The first few tracks follow the same formula and ultimately evoke the same set of feelings. Yet, this time around there is a noticeable shift after the first half of the album. As we move into “Consigned To Limbo” Keosz changes everything. The track starts out calm with a bit of field recording sounds and a very gentle airy drone. This is the first time I can recall any real use of field recordings in Keosz‘ music. Two minutes into the track an electric guitar enters the mix. Again, this seems to be a first for Keosz. The guitar gently strums the same notes gradually increasing in volume and intensity. By the time it has moved to the front and center of the mix, it has added such an emotional charge that one can’t help but feel moved.

As AVA continues through the second half of the album, we are repeatedly presented with the use of the electric guitar. In fact, often the album takes on an energy and template that would be a perfect fit in a post-rock band. Similarities to acts like Caul could easily be found. Even comparisons to bands like Explosions in the Sky or This Will Destroy You would not be misplaced.

Keosz creates something in AVA that has been tried on more than one occasion. But on this album this artist perfects the formula. The combination between dark ambient and post-rock elements is flawless. The soundscapes move from introverted to highly energetic and back again in such a natural way that the transitions are often hard to notice.

These dynamics of AVA are quite a pleasant surprise. All the elements that made Be Left To Oneself such a gorgeous album are still present. Yet, AVA offers so much more. It is alive with emotion on a whole new level for this artist.

Cryo Chamber has slowly shifted over the last year from a label which strictly focused on cinematic dark ambient to one that gives a home to all sorts of different ambient music projects. Keosz and Phonothek both made their debuts last year on Cryo Chamber and each were quite surprising in their deviation from the norm. Yet, this year with both of their sophomore efforts being released back to back, we find in both that there has been abundant growth. Both projects took what made their debuts so interesting and went much further with their innovations.

AVA will likely be heralded as the greatest work yet by Keosz, an artist who already has quite a following. It will be very interesting to see where he takes his style in the future, because it seems that this artist has much more to offer than may have initially been realized. Between the heavier use of field recordings and the introduction of overt post-rock elements, Keosz will be finding many more listeners receptive to his sound. AVA is surely one of the best albums I’ve heard yet this year. It is bound to find a similar place in the hearts of many other listeners.

Written by: Michael Barnett

The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time: Stages I-II – Review

Artist: The Caretaker
Album: Everywhere at the End of Time: Stages I-II
Release date: September 2016 / April 2017
Label: History Always Favors The Winners

Tracklist:
01. A1 – It’s Just a Burning Memory
02. A2 – We Don’t Have Many Days
03. A3 – Late Afternoon Drifting
04. A4 – Childishly Fresh Eyes
05. A5 – Slightly Bewildered
06. A6 – Things that are Beautiful and Transient
07. B1 – All that Follows is True
08. B2 – An Autumnal Equinox
09. B3 – Quiet Internal Rebellions
10. B4 – The Loves of my Entire Life
11. B5 – Into Each Others Eyes
12. B6 – My Heart Will Stop in Joy
13. C1 – A Losing Battle is Raging
14. C2 – Misplaced in Time
15. C3 – What Does it Matter how my Heart Breaks
16. C4 – Glimpses of Hope in Trying Times
17. C5 – Surrendering to Despair
18. D1 – I Still Feel as Though I am Me
19. D2 – Quiet Dusk Coming Early
20. D3 – Last Moments of Pure Recall
21. D4 – Denial Unravelling
22. D5 – The Way Ahead Feels Lonely

The Caretaker is one of the musical projects of James Leyland Kirby. Kirby is also known for his projects: V/Vm and The Stranger among several others. He started The Caretaker in 2011 as a look into the past, with a focus on the failings and degenerations of the human mind. The Caretaker project was named after the character from The Shining, Jack Torrence. Some of these sort of sounds could be heard in the 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick. Deciding to build a musical project around these premises, it wasn’t long before Kirby had a highly successful offering in the second proper album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.

Stage I

The Caretaker project is based around borrowing sound samples from a period of musical history which has been all but forgotten. He started the journey in old records stores, perusing collections of vinyl which were coated in dust from years of neglect. From these hidden gems, Kirby sampled and manipulated the music to fit into his narrative.

Everywhere at the End of Time is being released in six segments, but the entirety of the series is a one-off purchase. At a very low price, the final three year period of The Caretaker music project will be fully available to buyers. This gives Kirby the ability to spread his music to as many listeners as possible. This is a bold move, while many artists try to find ways to maximize profit, Kirby has vied to maximize exposure, caring more for the ears than the wallets of his fans. Of course, this direction is easier to choose for an artist with multiple music projects from which he may continue collecting an income.

Each section of Everywhere at the End of Time will focus on a different aspect of the degenerative stages of dementia. Stage I, released in 2016, focuses on the early signs of memory loss. It is bright and generally has a positive vibe. It is sort of a throwback to the heyday of the “patient”. It is a window into the fond memories and high points in life. Each track is rather upbeat, with only a few taking on a slower pace. Even with the more laid-back tracks, their is always an uplifting energy present.

Stage II

Stage II takes a turn to darker thoughts. It focuses on the saddened acceptance of the disease. The Caretaker begins to realize the full ramifications of his position. As his memories begin to fade and become foggy, so too does his mood become more negative. There is a heavy sadness weighing down the entirety of Stage II, an extremely noticeable shift from Stage I. Track titles like “A Losing Battle Is Raging” and “What Does It Matter How My Heart Breaks” give the listener further cues to understanding the emotional elements presented, with the latter being an alternate version of “It’s Just A Burning Memory”, the first track from Part I.

For the most part, Stage II brings all new (in the sense that it hasn’t previously been used by The Caretaker) material into the project. From a technical standpoint, the music is much less direct, it seems to meander between varied levels of energy and emotion. Some of the tracks feel like they have a light use of field recordings complementing the sampled music loops. This second stage brings the track count up to 22, each of which are beautifully presented.

Each stage of the process is being released on vinyl, a fitting format to present this wonderfully staticy and purposefully flawed material to the public. The last four stages are set to be released between September 2017 through March 2019, at which point The Caretaker project will be officially laid to rest. Such a massive undertaking seems fitting for the close of a project which has managed to receive such positive feedback from fans and critics alike. There is no doubt that James Leyland Kirby will continue making music through one project or another. Yet, knowing that the end of The Caretaker is near gives fans a termination date that they can look toward with an air of sadness. It is a clever maneuver on the part of Kirby. As we know that the project will soon “die”. We can be part of the process, watching, waiting, and fearing the inevitable death of The Caretaker.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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AWARE – The Book of Wind – Review

Artist: AWARE
Album: The Book of Wind
Release date: 28 February 2017
Label: Glacial Movements

Tracklist:
01. so he got up and ate and drank
02. and travelled forty nights
03. until he reached the mountain
04. there he went into a cave
05. and spent the night
06. a powerful storm tore the mountains apart
07. but god was not in the storm
08. after the storm there was an earthquake
09. but god was not in the earthquake
10. after the earthquake came a fire
11. but god was not in the fire
12. and after the fire came a gentle whisper
13. so he pulled his cloak over his face
14. and went out

Glacial Movements is an Italian record label, known for their focus on cold, desolate and isolating releases. The new release, The Book of Wind by AWARE adds a layer of philosophy and theology to this template of frozen soundscapes. AWARE deliver one of the most relaxing and emotional releases on Glacial Movements with a grace and attention to detail that will be immediately noticeable to the listener.

The Book of Wind centers on the concept of using sound structures to invoke a sense of oneness with the godhead. This is not to be confused with ritual ambient. The sounds here are anything but that. The theory is that certain combinations of sounds, crafted just right, though probably by accident, may bring the entirety of mankind to a sense of enlightenment. There is also a philosophical concept presented here which is borrowed from the studies of Simone Weil, who believed that only downward motions were real, conversely ascension constitutes illusion. Feelings of sadness and joy are two faces of a similar structure of emotion.

The Viennese musician Alexander Glück, the man behind AWARE, uses a combination of these philosophical principles, field recordings and looped musical samples to take the listener on an inward journey. The result is a serenity of emotion. Listeners may easily fall into this music, delving deep into their inner consciousness. The sounds are certainly melancholic and introspective. The gently evolving drone-work matched with field recordings from nature display a sense of being in a small isolated cabin, deep in the wilderness, contemplating one’s own existence.

AWARE describes The Book of Wind as “a collection of essays which never reach their goal, but vanish into nothing, to which they belong.” This is a very apt description of the music. As a whole, the album consists of track names which, when read as one, convey a short poem, or piece of religious scripture. The entirety of the album indeed has an incomplete feel. This gives the listener a hunger for finding the deeper meaning, a thirst for repeat listening sessions. Each replay is able to evoke a new emotion or uncovers a new aspect of the soundscape. The entirety of the album melts into an intermingled whole, where no one track truly stands out above the rest. On the surface this seems to be some shortcoming on the part of AWARE, but in fact, it achieves its goal in simultaneously opening the mind of the listener, yet never giving them a total fulfillment or closure.

The length and ephemeral impact of the music makes for a highly enjoyable and replayable album. After dozens of play-throughs, a sense of boredom or repetition never rears its ugly head. The music stays pristine. It gives a sense of longing. Solitude. An attempt to describe any one individual track would be pointless, as the album constitutes a single entity. There is a life in the music which is undeniable. Given the sparse use of beautifully detailed field recordings, the album truly comes to life for the listener.

I would recommend The Book of Wind to any fan of ambient, dark ambient or drone music that finds contentment in staring out the window upon a lonely, rainy landscape. Anyone who finds an equal sense of beauty and melancholy in the natural world around them will be drawn into the embrace of AWARE. As usual with Glacial Movements releases, there is more than meets the eye with The Book of Wind, and one must experience it for themselves to truly understand the impact.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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