Tag: Cryo Chamber (Page 1 of 2)

Flowers for Bodysnatchers – Alive with Scars – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ugasanie & Dronny Darko – Arctic Gates – Review

Artist: Ugasanie & Dronny Darko
Album: Arctic Gates
Release date: 12 February 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Behind the North Wind
02. Wreck
03. An Object
04. 80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E
05. In the Polar Sea
06. Absorbed by Ice
07. Isolation Pit

“Two weeks you’ve been scouring the Arctic Sea. No sun since you reached the North, the dark water a constant fractured mirror that meets the universe above and pulls you into its black fold. Everything points to “it” resting beneath the ice, in a slumber of centuries.

Three weeks, now on land, you’re getting close. Down here beneath the ice you feel disconnected from the world, like you are leaving the present as you spelunk into the past. You snap another glow stick and throw it down the ice shaft, the light strobes off crystalline walls as it reveals an ancient structure below. The Arctic Gates.”

After Northaunt, Ugasanie (Угасание, which my Belarussian friend has told me is pronounced Ew-Gah-Shay-Nee-Yuh, and which means something like ‘fading away’ in English) was the second “polar ambient” artist with which I fell in love. Pavel Malyshkin of Vitebsk, Belarus has been creating music since around 2010 under this name, with a few solid early albums before he was discovered by Cryo Chamber in 2013 and released the classic White Silence. Since then, Ugasanie has become one of the most well known polar ambient artists within the greater dark ambient genre. He also runs two side-projects: Polterngeist and Silent Universe.

Oleg Puzan of Kiev, Ukraine also came to prominence with his first Cryo Chamber release as Dronny Darko, Outer Tehom, in 2014. Since then, he’s created a vast catalog of albums covering a multitude of styles within the dark ambient genre. He also mentored his now wife and mother of his child, Sasha Puzan aka protoU, who has released a number of solo albums on Cryo Chamber as well as excellent collaborations with Dronny Darko and others. He also has a few side projects of which I particularly enjoy Cryogenic Weekend and Hivetribe.

With Dronny Darko known for his attention to detail using drones and field recordings to create exquisitely nuanced soundscapes, and Ugasanie‘s mastery of the far northern landscapes/soundscapes, we should expect something extra special here! If the amount of times I’ve played this album on repeat over the last few days is any indication, this one is a gem!

The theme takes us to the far north, into the Arctic Ocean, not far north of Svalbard (Spitsbergen), the massive archipelago which has been under Norwegian sovereignty since 1920. The album blurb tells us that there are people searching this region of the Arctic for “it”, which has apparently been slumbering beneath the ice for centuries. This scenario seems to hint at something like a Cthulhu type entity for which the explorers search. It seems that they find signs of what they seek around the GPS coordinates given as the title of the fourth track, “80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E”. I’ve shown these coordinates on the map below.

I’m having a hard time connecting the narrative in the song titles to the narrative in the album blurb. But it seems that the explorers are searching this area by boat in the middle of dark winter (that time of year in the polar regions when the sun sets and doesn’t rise again for weeks/months, depending on how far to the extreme north or south you are). At some point, the explorers wreck their vessel (likely into floating glacial breakaways or the solidifying sea itself). However they move on. They find their way into a shaft, beneath the ice, possibly beneath the frozen sea itself. Until they reach land and ‘The Arctic Gates’. Whatever great mysteries are revealed to them in these depths should be left to the listeners’ imagination.

From a technical perspective, Ugasanie provides brilliant field recordings, which are able to bring this treacherous and frigid northern climate to our headphones. We can feel the gusts of wind, the creaking glaciers, the flexing ice. But, there is much more to this journey than an unwelcoming frozen environment, there is also dark energy, possibly dark gods. Dronny Darko takes the helm on bringing the events and encounters to life within Ugasanie‘s world. The results are magnificent. Both artists show a perfection of their styles here, allowing me to close my eyes and bring this cinematic experience truly to life.

I’ve honestly felt the cinematic elements of Arctic Gates more intensely than most other albums in the last two or so years. Aside from Eximia‘s Visitors album, I haven’t had so much fun trying to piece together a plot since the last time I sat down with the Atrium Carceri discography for several days straight. This is cinematic dark ambient at its best, especially if you like the polar theme.

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

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

Mount Shrine – Winter Restlessness – Review

Artist: Mount Shrine
Album: Winter Restlessness
Release date: 24 July 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Mount Shrine is a dark(ish) ambient project from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From the tidbits of info I’ve gathered, they seem to be one of the younger artists to join the Cryo Chamber label. While Mount Shrine has only been creating music under this moniker for several years, they seem to have an impressive mastery of the more field recording driven side of the dark ambient genre. Many previous Mount Shrine releases contain long tracks, some reaching 15+ minutes. With the majority of the tracks on Winter Restlessness following this longer format it is possible for the sounds to take the listener on deep journeys into their subconscious. It can be perfect meditation, reading, and sleep music because of its slowly evolving elements, peaceful rain field recordings and just enough additional sounds (often more field recordings, but also musical elements too) to keep the soundscapes interesting and engaging.

We can hear Mount Shrine honing their sound on previous releases like Forbidden Temple. But, it is worth mentioning that Mount Shrine has said on their social media that Winter Restlessness should be considered their official debut. So, I guess we can consider all these older releases to be demos and preparation for the project’s real introduction to the world. While they obviously aren’t as polished as a Cryo Chamber release, they are definitely interesting and deserving of a listen if you find Winter Restlessness so good that you must have more.

There are a few releases on Cryo Chamber which could be reasonably compared to Winter Restlessness. The first that came to my mind was SiJ & Textere OrisReflections Under The Sky. Though after a good many replays of Winter Restlessness, I’m finding the theme here to be better represented, personally. Another comparison that came to mind was EnmartaThe Hermit, though only in theme, as Enmarta allows his viola to add a very specific sort of sound to his tracks, a highly active style of sound in comparison to the subtleties of Mount Shrine.

The subtleties are certainly the most appealing elements of this sound. Mount Shrine makes music which is truly perfect for augmenting reality. It is never aggressive in its delivery. Sounds of a staticy radio transmitting unintelligible voices could be jarring to the experience, but they melt beautifully into the tapestry of Winter Restlessness, sometimes only even recognizable through headphones with added attention. This leads to one of my favorite claims to make about a dark ambient album, and one I make often in the releases I selectively choose to cover: Winter Restlessness is a perfect release for active or passive listening. In the background, the slowly evolving drones, rains and transmissions all come together forming a wonderfully complex texture, which never becomes a distraction from deep thought. In an active listening session listeners can begin to take note of all the varied field recordings, which do so much in creating the cinematic experience. This formula is the perfect dichotomy for a sleep album as well. The listener can find enough activity to keep their mind from wandering into territory which could be detrimental to the onset of sleep. However, once the darkness takes hold, one can gently drift off, never being abruptly pulled back to reality. Even at quite high volumes, I’ve personally been able to fall asleep with Winter Restlessness on repeat and was never once awakened before the morning.

The subtleties as well as the theme make Winter Restlessness a particularly potent tool for aiding meditation. For all the reasons stated above in regards to sleep, using Winter Restlessness for meditation is particularly convenient. As a whole, the album is incredibly relaxing and conducive to focus. But the story isn’t all positive, nor are the soundscapes. While the protagonist sits full lotus inside their shrine, the scent of sandalwood wafting passed their nose, they are at once in the most beautiful place on Earth, in tune with nature, but also totally disconnected from the usual reality of daily human contact. This sort of separation can form a sense of a serene contentment, but also the ugly head of loneliness constantly leers from the shadows, always attempting to pull the meditator into a dark void. This darker side to the album presents itself most noticeably in the use of drones. While the gentle texture of a million raindrops falling can be incredibly relaxing, inducing a sense of serenity, the drones can often move into the darker territory. This is not so much a malign or violent darkness. Instead, it is more akin to the restlessness one finds close to the end of a mediation session. When you know the timer or Tibetan singing bowl is just about to chime, but doesn’t for minute after yet another minute. The serenity really never leaves, but the restlessness can become almost overwhelming at times. But of course, wrestling these emotions/urges is what makes meditation such a powerful tool for mental wellness.

From a technical standpoint this is one glorious release. Every element of Winter Restlessness seems to be perfectly honed. Painstaking attention to detail makes every rain drop, every staticy transmission, every evolving drone as crisp and pristine as one could imagine. Reading a post on the personal social media of the man behind this album, a quote worth mentioning is “This album was produced through February-June this year, with me and Simon working A LOT together giving the final touches on it.” Knowing that Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri/Sabled Sun had some direct input on this release (outside his usual mastering role), whether that was simply through advice or through hands-on manipulation doesn’t necessarily seem relevant to me. The important part is pointing out this close relationship and familial setting cultivated by Cryo Chamber. One could argue that the added input takes away from our understanding of Mount Shrine, but I find this unnecessarily pessimistic. When talented musicians are in contact with one another, and one has well over a decade of intense personal experience within the given genre, it seems like a win/win for the audience. We are sure to get the absolute best version of an album in the end. Improvement is improvement, no matter how achieved, and the final product should always be the most important factor.

I would highly recommend Winter Restlessness to fans of a more laid-back dark ambient. The drones and field recordings are used in almost equal proportions throughout the album, so I could see fans of both or either of these elements to find something they love here. Mount Shrine appears to be a young musician with an abundance of talent and creativity. I will be very pleased to see his relationship with Cryo Chamber continue, and his delves into serene environments expand, furthering the concept of Winter Restlessness, or dropping us into a totally new setting.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Lesa Listvy – Way Home – Review

Artist: Lesa Listvy
Album: Way Home
Release date: 22 May 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Sunny Side
02. Reflection
03. Evening by the Lake
04. The Hedge
05. Obelisk
06. Swarm
07. Lost Compass
08. Way Home
09. Mechanism

In 2013, Cryo Chamber made a running start in the dark ambient world with the releases of new works by Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, Halgrath, and a compilation, Behind the Canvas of Time featuring many of the top artists in the genre. They continued to solidify their presence over the next few years with multiple releases by artists which would become label veterans, like Alphaxone, Ugasanie, Randal Collier-Ford, and Flowers For Bodysnatchers, to name a few. But, now about five years into their existence, Cryo Chamber is really starting to dabble in new territory. Releases like WordclockHeralds, the Miles To Midnight collaboration, and now Lesa ListvyWay Home, all incorporate elements which lean more in the direction of more active musical genres. While staying true to the themes and general atmosphere of the label, the introduction of drums, saxophone and bass guitar, to name a few, opens the label up to a new group of listeners, while introducing their current fan-base to yet more novelty.

Lesa Listvy, or Леса Листвы, is a Moscow-based quartet, as Cryo Chamber puts it. But this is the only information I can discern, thus far, about the musicians behind the music. It would be interesting to know who plays what, but its likely that everyone does a little bit of everything. Along with the four members: Daniil Sheremet, Ryazantsev Dmitriy, Armenak Voskanyan, and Stanislav Smirnov, they implement the use of contributing artists: Max Tsibizov, Boro, and Ilya Orange (also without specific duties indicated). But this isn’t really a hindrance to enjoyment of the release. In fact, for me it’s done a bit of the opposite. I have found a bit of added entertainment in trying to discern what is live instrumentation, modular/digital synth or field recording. Though, in the end, I’ve found that this ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on my feelings about the album.

Way Home is an incredibly entertaining release. The closest comparison I could make to it would be Atrium Carceri, though this still doesn’t really do the trick. It is true that tracks like “The Hedge”, “Obelisk”, and “Swarm” all have significant stylistic similarities to some of Atrium Carceri‘s more percussion-heavy tracks. But, then something like “Evening by the Lake” moves off drastically from the trademark Atrium Carceri sound, that sort of industrial-infused cinematic ambient which almost seems to have a swagger about it at times. (A point I don’t know if I’ve previously mentioned about my particular enjoyment of Atrium Carceri; I would like to go into some more detail on that in the near future.)

“The Hedge” slowly builds momentum over its first two and a half minutes, before bursting into an energetic industrial percussion-laden second half. There are numerous intriguing sounds to follow throughout this second half, including some quite well inserted piano parts. “Obelisk”, again, holds many stylistic similarities to Atrium Carceri, this one starting active and holding its intensity throughout, though, in general, it is less energetic than “The Hedge”.

This brings me to “Swarm”. My personal favorite track on the release. And one that I was not surprised to see Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, mastered Way Home), mention he keeps coming back to it for repeated listening sessions. This one has a thick atmosphere, as if one is deep in some catacomb or abandoned factory, but on Way Home this sentiment seems to be more representative of some dank heavily-forested swamp lands, as is certainly the case for the album’s cover-art. Taking the track titles and general feel of the album into account, I get a sense of “Swarm” representing the arrival of some non-human antagonist into the story. I almost get a Starcraft Zerg feeling from the music.

Technicalities and possible plot references aside, Way Home is a deeply enjoyable album. It can become incredibly active at times, as mentioned above, but it can also be reserved and beautiful, like on my other favorite, “Evening by the Lake”. This opens Lesa Listvy to a potentially large audience, having something attractive for the die-hard dark ambient fans, as well as those most interested in sonic discovery and adventure. It also makes for quite nice background soundscapes, as it never becomes overly invasive during its most intense moments. I’m pleased to see Cryo Chamber testing new territory; and Lesa Listvy should give listeners enough reason to feel comfortable discovering whatever is to come next.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Eximia – Visitors – Review

Artist: Eximia
Album: Visitors
Release date: 3 April 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Day One
02. First Contact
03. Prepare
04. Abyss (feat. Lukas Tvrdon)
05. Extinction
06. World Without Man

Eximia is an album by sound design engineer Dominik Ragančík of Slovakia. While this is his first release as Eximia, Ragančík has done sound work on Mass Effect and Call of Duty trailers, as well as Lamborghini and Mercedes commercials. In 2015 he won in the category of “Best Sound” award at FAMU festival for his sound design in the movie Leshy [Lesapán – 2017]. So, we are looking at a musician that has a bit more thorough an understanding of sound design than many that enter the dark ambient genre. His talents in this sphere become glaringly evident within seconds of beginning Visitors.

Visitors is an album that follows the reasonably worn sci-fi theme of aliens contacting/attacking Earth. While this is far from a new theme, Eximia manages to conjure one of the most vivid and awe-inducing reactions from me, every time I listen to Visitors. The main point of attraction, for me, is the atmosphere itself. As the album progresses, various other sound sources come into play, but those moments when nothing is actually happening, the soundscapes shine as much or more than any other example I could show someone. It’s this atmosphere that makes the album so incredibly alluring.

As the album begins with “Day One”, listeners will get a sense of what I mean about this atmosphere. Well into the second minute of the track, basically nothing has happened yet, but I’m nonetheless enthralled. Gentle winds blow in the distance. We start to feel that deep rumbling bass creep up on us, before we hear these alien beings for the first time. Whether it is the creatures themselves, their spaceships, or some other technology making these unearthly sounds, the effect is the same, especially with a good set of headphones, one can close their eyes and fall into this world/scenario, can look around this landscape as the visitors begin to make their entrance into our atmosphere. One can imagine black clouds parting, as we hear a blisteringly potent crack of thunder, lightning crisscrosses the sky, tearing the atmosphere itself open, the visitors have arrived.

“First Contact” is, again, cinematic dark ambient bliss. The winds continue howling, the visitors continue making their futuristic noises, then we hear an air-raid siren, presumably warning residents of the area that the shit has official hit the fan. The thunderstorm becomes more intense as the creatures continue to make their arrival known. I’d like to mention here, that I immediately noticed a stylistic connection between the sound design of this album and that of the movie Arrival (2016). This is high praise, as I found the sound in that film to be one of the most compelling representations in film of alien technology at work. Near the 5:30 minute mark, in “First Contact” something happens. There is a sound as if something has teleported or shifted, as if the laws of nature themselves were being broken. I can’t help but think what comes next is the sounds of these visitors laughing. It should be noted that there are no more “Earth-based sounds” present in the track after this occurrence.

“Prepare” begins with more strange noises, which presumably are emanating from the visitors themselves, not necessarily their technology this time. Shortly into this track we can hear human footsteps, among other earthly sounds, though they are consistently mixed with those of the aliens. Following the track titles is incredibly helpful to supplement the soundscapes themselves. There is most certainly a story being told here, and I’m not one to go flailing around grasping for explanations, so I’ll say that the main plot, as the album progresses forward seems be an attempt by the humans to stop this force, and their immediate failure, and ultimately the collapse and extinction of the human race.

For those that love cinematic dark ambient, this album is a must-have. Cryo Chamber is the label fans most often turn to when searching for a fully immersing cinematic experience, and I can say Visitors by Eximia may well be at the very top of this list. While there may not be as many minute details as with projects like Sabled Sun or Atrium Carceri, the ability to visualize these sounds is certainly on par. Eximia is part of a phenomenon that hasn’t happened as much as I would expect, where movie sound design artists will find their way into the dark ambient genre, and the dark ambient genre will find its way into movie sound design. I would like to see a good bit more of both happening, personally. Visitors is a glaring example of why this recipe for success is so attractive. I will be patiently waiting for their next release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal – Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri & Herbst9
Album: Ur Djupan Dal
Release date: 23 January 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Mot Främmande Land
02. Sov Ej Hos Kvinna, Som Är Kunnig I Trolldom
03. Österländska Tempel
04. Ur Evighetens Pipa
05. Vida Jättars Väg
06. Blott Den Vet Som Vida Reser
07. Drakhuvud
08. Händer Skola Hålla Hårda Yxor
09. Den Döda Trollkvinnan

The protagonist comes from the far north, but has awoken in the lands of the middle east during the earliest times of human civilization. Ur Djupan Dal takes place in the fertile crescent of ancient Mesopotamia. During this period, the “Cradle of Civilization”, humans began to create magnificent cities like the fabled Eridu, Uruk, and Ur of Sumer (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait), some origins of which go back further than 5000 BCE.

Longtime fans of Herbst9 will be very familiar with this setting. Over the last two decades, Herbst9 have been utilizing the medium of dark ritual ambient to take listeners on a journey into the ancient past. Their destination of preference has always been the fertile crescent, looking at the ancient Akkadian and Sumerian civilizations, especially in the Mesopotamian trilogy which includes: Buried Under Time and Sand, The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon, and the masterpiece Ušumgal Kalamma, a double disc which closes the series.

Herbst9, as well as Atrium Carceri, are no strangers to collaboration. They recently released their magnificent collaboration with Penjaga Insaf on their own Shortwave Transmission label. Fans will also fondly remember their decade-old collaboration with Z’EV, who has unfortunately passed on this year. But, a noteworthy difference here might be pointed out; Ur Djupan Dal is the first of the Herbst9 collaborations to use the connector “&” instead of “vs”. This gives me the impression that they might have collaborated a little more closely with Atrium Carceri than on these previous endeavors, which may have been more akin to one artist sending a fully realized product to a second artist and having them present their work “against” the original, instead of “alongside” the original. However, without actually asking the artists, guessing may be pointless and fruitless.

Looking at the collaborations of Atrium Carceri, we can begin to enter an exhaustive rundown of everything from close one-on-one collaboration, to other artists borrowing from his lore, to the massive 20+ artist collaborations that are the Cryo Chamber Lovecraft series. While the list may be exhaustive, the content has been consistently memorable, with some of my favorite dark ambient releases, for instance Onyx with Apocryphos and Kammarheit, falling under this tag.

While the story seems to be independent of anything which has happened in the proper Atrium Carceri lore, there are certainly connections to be made. The Atrium Carceri lore was never based on just one individual. It has, instead, focused on multiple main characters over multiple locations and timelines. So, adding one more character and timeline to the list isn’t exactly unwarranted here. Taking some liberties: it seems like the story is based around a man from the Scandinavian region (timeframe uncertain), falling asleep by the sorcery of some enchantress and awakening in the distant past thousands of miles away in the fertile crescent, roughly the modern day Middle East. The character is immediately certain that there has been a vast change, but as he moves through the ancient city, he slowly realizes where he has gone, and takes in the beauty of this city in the ancient world, its architecture and its religion.

The story truly captivates me in the third track, “Österländska Tempel”. Here it is the easiest to close one’s eyes and imagine themselves in this ancient city. As the protagonist nears the temple, we are given suspenseful and contemplative dronework. The music sort of guides us through the opening of the doors to this great temple. As the doors open the protagonist becomes fully enraptured. The music builds to a wonderfully divine climax as the doors open. The protagonist is bombarded with the architecture, paintings, symbolisms, and rites of a long lost civilization. He becomes so totally enraptured that his head grows dizzy, he sways in place as a plume of frankincense burns his nostrils. This is a scenario that fully plays out in my mind each and every time I listen to “Österländska Tempel”.

The story seems to end by returning to the enchantress from the previous time and place on the track “Den Döda Trollkvinnan”. Roughly translated to English as “The Dead Sorceress”, this track seems to be a reflection on the events that have just come to pass, as the protagonist stands by the funeral pyre of the enchantress or sorceress whom seems to have been a sort of antagonist for the tale. These three above defined scenarios are the only ones that I would be willing to give my opinion on. As always in the cinematic dark ambient style, listeners will be encouraged to fill in the blanks on their own, with their own ideas and narratives.

From a technical standpoint, the album is quite successful in finding a harmonious unity among the three artists involved. Frank Merten and Henry Emich of Herbst9, as well as Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri, have all created music which could be easily recognizable along side this collaboration. Meaning, they are not breaking the wheel on this release. We will not find some brand new sort of sound here which we could have never imagined would come from these two projects. When listening to Ur Djupan Dal, fans of both projects will constantly hear familiar sounds and techniques which have been perfected by their creators over the not-so-short histories of both projects. For example, Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 have both included a fair share of percussion in their previous works. So here, we will not be surprised to hear a lot of well-placed tribalistic percussion sections on numerous tracks.

Another shared feature of both projects, which particularly stands out on Ur Djupan Dal, is the delivery of vocal passages. In these we should be able to glean some further knowledge about the storyline. In the voice modulation which is often used in his Atrium Carceri project, Simon Heath recites several passages throughout the album. Some of these passages seem to be his own work, while others can be traced back to various H.P. Lovecraft works. On “Vida Jättars Väg” Simon recites two passages from H.P. Lovecraft. The first,

“I have seen the dark universe yawning where the black planets roll without aim. Where they roll within their horror unheeded. Without knowledge or lustre or name.”

is from the poem “Nemesis”. While the second passage,

“The most merciful thing in the world, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”

comes from story “The Call of Cthulhu”. The addition of Lovecraftian lore into the equation really begins to uncover the connections Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 are making between their seemingly divergent sets of lore and themes. The idea of time-travel and obnoxious gods reeking havoc on humanity fits squarely within the Atrium Carceri framework. Meanwhile, Herbst9 are masters of the ancient world. So, in connecting the two ideas and the two masters of these ideas, listeners are dealt the best possible outcome of a connection between these times and worlds.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Cryo Chamber decided to give this release the vinyl option. Now the third vinyl release on Cryo Chamber, we have yet again a title which showcases the recent collaborations of Atrium Carceri. Just as on the first two, Black Corner Den with Cities Last Broadcast, and Miles To Midnight with Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect, Simon Heath has opted to take releases in this direction which are sure to bring in a large crowd, a prudent tactic for any label opting to branch into untraversed territory.

Ur Djupan Dal should be a welcome release for any listeners that have been following the “second wave of dark ambient”. Atrium Carceri and Herbst9 have both been performing at the top of their game for over a decade each. Ur Djupan Dal is a perfect example of how artists can come together to create not only sounds which delight, but storylines which have direct connections to each of their past works. I would recommend this album to any dark ambient listeners who enjoy the perfect blend of ritual, cinematic and traditional dark ambient music.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Asylum Beyond – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Wordclock – Heralds – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

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