Tag: Cyclic Law

Otavan Veret – Syvys – Review

Artist: Otavan Veret
Album: Syvys
Release date: 21 December 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. I
02. II
03. III
04. IV

Otavan Veret is a dark/ritual ambient project out of Finland. Syvys is the second album by the project, which is led by Kaarna (Tervahäät, Slave’s Mask, Anima Artica Label etc..) and Kivelä. There first self-titled album was released back in 2014, also on Cyclic Law.

While there is plenty of reference to stellar space in the description of the album as well as the cover-art, this feels to me more like the soundscapes of a person standing upon the Earth, staring into the vast depths of limitless space. Not an astronaut touring the galaxies. Rather a psychonaut, the mind filling with an eruption of understanding as the cosmos unveil themselves to a mystic hermit, as he gazes from some far northern campsite into the depths of space. The mind becoming fully enraptured and enlightened along the way.

The self-titled debut took the artists on a similar path as their latest Syvys. But, there is a noticeable difference in the sounds. Percussion was used more often in the first album, and has little inclusion on Syvys, where they use more rhythmic patterns with the synths to create a similar effect, but still contain a bit of subtle tribal percussion. There was also a sort of monotony to both releases, which a reviewer of their previous album considered a downside. But, for most fans of dark ambient and similar genres, we appreciate soundscapes that stretch on for 10+ minutes and gradually shift from one emotion into another, bringing the listener along for a beautiful journey, if only they are patient enough to take the ride. Syvys seems to put this ‘monotony’ to better use (probably a bad word for it as this is really nothing like the so-called monotony of a drone ambient release). The soundscapes quickly pull the listener into their grasp, opening us to feelings of awe, oneness and respite. The long track lengths, instead of making the album boring, turn it into a highly meditative medium, one that I’ve incorporated into yoga, and one which is also quite perfect for drifting off to sleep.

The style of the music fits in line nicely with another set of musicians, also hailing from Finland, that blend this feeling of interstellar travel with a simultaneous sense of earthly grounding. That is, of course, the Aural Hypnox label. Otavan Veret excels in the subtle inclusion of ritual elements, in particular chanting, which draw ties to the sounds of Arktau Eos or Halo Manash. Yet, there is also a more electronic feel and a musicality that lean toward a project like Lingua Fungi. Cyclic Law has been doing a splendid job over the last few years of working with artists that are outside the Aural Hypnox label, but share many of the same elements, including projects like Bonini Bulga, Altarmang (both side-projects of Kammarheit), Common Eider, King Eider, and Phurpa.

“I” starts with a piercing high note, which lingers for the first three minutes of the track before slowly fading into a sacral sort of feel, which vaguely hints at the feel of early work from raison d’être or Desiderii Marginis. “II” contains lingering elements of “I” which forms a noticeable continuity between the tracks, though this one is a bit less active. There is a real depth to the layers of sound on “II” I could make fleeting comparisons here to some of the sound design used by Atrium Carceri.

“III” is the highlight of the album for me. For anyone impatient, wanting to find the gem within the release, you should skip to this one and then check out the rest of the album. Though, I greatly prefer hearing it in its proper order. There is a simplicity here that can be deceiving. This takes us closest to the Aural Hypnox comparison. There are definite ritual overtones, but this ritualistic earthly nature seems to melt into the distant cosmos here. The mind of the listener opens and this primal energy pours in. “IV” starts with a high level of almost chaotic energy, reeling off the energies from the preceding track, but as it progresses we are taken into soundscapes that highlight a deep sense of peacefulness and solitude. Here, I get the feeling that we’ve been lying upon the snows of the far north, in some forest clearing gazing upon the stars above. But as we become further enraptured by the sounds, we are slowly losing life, fading off into a deep dark and frigid nothingness. As all fades out, we are left with an almost winter synth sort of outro, which really seems like the perfect ending to this epic journey through the mind, the north, and the cosmos.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Taphephobia – Ghostwood – Review

Artist: Taphephobia
Album: Ghostwood
Release date: 10 April 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Ghostwood
02. Watching the Storm Crows
03. Transformed Through Alienation
04. Ghost of Him
05. Hospital Ward
06. Unwanted Visitors
07. Thunder Over The Boardwalk
08. The Other World Doesn’t Exist – Part 1
09. A Bitter Alternative
10. Fragility, Secrets and Revelations

Ghostwood is the 7th full length solo release from Taphephobia, the one man dark ambient project out of Trondheim, Norway, created by Ketil Søraker. Søraker has been creating music as Taphephobia since around 2004, after he split from Northaunt. To this day, Ketil Søraker and Hærleif Langås are still friends and worked together on a project in 2009, entitled Mulm, along with fellow Norwegian Avsky. Langås has also contributed album art for several Taphephobia releases. In other noteworthy news, concurrent with the release of Ghostwood, Taphephobia released a split, also through Cyclic Law, with Kave, a dark ambient project by Bram Gollin out of the Netherlands. (Read our review of that split here.) Yet another recent release by Taphephobia worth mention is the re-issue of his long sold-out debut House of Memories, which found its new home on Reverse Alignment. So, it’s quite obvious that Ketil Søraker has been staying very busy recently.

Ketil Søraker said in a recent interview on Terra Relicta that he’s been working on this new release Ghostwood from 2012-2015. So, it should be immediately obvious that this gentleman is not one to hastily toss any half-baked idea onto Bandcamp, saturating his discography with filler. Instead, Søraker puts quality over quantity and makes sure that each Taphephobia release we hear will be something special. Something to treasure for years to come.

Followers of previous works by Taphephobia should, by this point, expect an album that is heavily focused on the use of guitar to create these droning soundscapes. While Ghostwood holds to that formula, and even increases on it in ways, there is a new element here in his use of flute. Adding these processed flute sections to the release gives it a bit more natural vibe, the wind instrument adding a nice complexity to the usual string based arrangements. It also helps add to the theme, as some of these flute sections can remind the listener of birds chirping, deep in this lonely forest.

There are sections with more synthetic sounding dark ambient elements. But several tracks on Ghostwood take Søraker’s use of guitar to a bold new level. We can most notably hear this element on “Transformed Through Alienation” which allows a clean guitar sound to rest atop the droning elements which built the foundation of the track. These slowly strummed guitar chords add wonderfully to the elements of sadness and solitude, which are always so prevalent in Taphephobia. Though it might also be mentioned that this clean guitar-work could have a potential negative, as I’ve found it can be a bit jarring if I’m falling asleep with Ghostwood playing. This is, however, a minor issue for me, as I don’t expect any dark ambient artist to create an album with a constant focus on keeping it “slumber-friendly”, unless a sleep-themed album is the primary goal.

Another track of particular note is “Hospital Ward”, which many have pointed out has a more positive tone than the majority of Søraker’s previous work. The clean and clear guitar sounds, mentioned above, are also present on this one. The chord progressions used, as well as the sort of higher-pitched and faster-paced backing drones give the track an undeniable sense of light and hope. But, it doesn’t come close to pushing into “happy” territory, there is still plenty of melancholia drenching every second of Ghostwood.

Søraker’s voice is used sparingly but is certainly noticeable throughout Ghostwood. We hear him softly speaking various phrases through “Unwanted Visitors”. “Thunder Over The Boardwalk” might be my favorite track on the album. We have Søraker singing here, in a half-whisper, like we’ve heard occasionally throughout his career. This track seems to sort of pull together all the great elements of Ghostwood. As mentioned, the vocals are present, and they are one of the most successful uses of vocals in Taphephobia I’ve heard to-date. But there is also a very clear guitar element present. These two elements blend beautifully atop the serene-yet-melancholic droning undercurrents. One can almost feel themselves on a lazy afternoon stroll, alone, down some long-forgotten boardwalk, watching as the clouds slowly condense and darken, preparing for a violent storm.

Ghostwood is, to me, the full embodiment of Ketil Søraker’s vision of Taphephobia. What started as him looking for his own sound, with House of Memories, has slowly progressed into what is now referred to as “the Taphephobia sound” describing his combination of synthetic and guitar drone, matched with sparse, somber vocals, and a deep, sometimes overwhelming, sense of melancholia. Taphephobia should be one of the leading dark ambient artists for listeners looking for active yet peaceful dark soundscapes. The guitar and vocal elements make for a nice familiarity factor for those less versed in the styles of dark ambient. Creating an album which is inviting to the newly initiated, but also solid enough to attract praise from the most die-hard genre fans is a feat worth congratulating. With all this said, I would recommend Ghostwood to dark ambient fans, old and new, that find more active, yet still relatively reserved forms of dark ambient to their liking. This one should be considered a milestone in the career of Taphephobia, and an indicator that Søraker still has plenty of new ideas to share with the world.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Frédéric Arbour of Cyclic Law / Visions – Interview

Frédéric Arbour is probably one of the most important people in the dark ambient scene. Since the early 2000s, his record label, Cyclic Law, has released some of the most important and influential dark ambient albums in the history of the genre. Though, Arbour himself has always seemed to be one of the most quiet voices within the genre. Along with running the label, Cyclic Law, Arbour creates music in various projects including: Havan, Stärker and Instincts. His other project, Visions, has just released a brilliant new collaborative album with Phurpa, entitled Monad. So, now seemed like a great time to catch up with him to find out more about Visions, his collaboration with Phurpa, and the Cyclic Law record label’s past & future. Enjoy!

Interview with: Frédéric Arbour [See end for links to his projects and label.]
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael: First I’d like to talk a bit about your new album Monad, a collaboration with Phurpa. After your last two releases as Visions, you decided to take a break from the project. Was this release with Phurpa aligned with those plans, or did this opportunity come as a surprise, changing your plans?

Frédéric: I guess it was neither a surprise nor planned. I had put Visions on hold for an indefinite period to focus on Stärker and Havan and a few other collaborations I have also been involved in, and this past year I felt I had to rethink my approach and sound and decided to focus on Visions again and go forward with new ideas.

Michael: How long have you known Alexey Tegin? How soon did you decide that you would want to collaborate with him and the Phurpa project?

Frédéric: I have known of Alexey since 2002 from a release under his own name titled Gyer. Also, having been close to Tibetan ritual music for many years prior, his unique take on this tradition immediately resonated with me. We were in contact some years later, and we were able to finally meet in 2014 while I was hosting a Cyclic Law night in Moscow, where Phurpa closed the evening. Alexey was also kind enough to invite us to his home and ritual chamber. We have since kept in contact, and have also released 2 other albums by Phurpa through Cyclic Law.

Michael: Did Visions and Phurpa come together in a studio setting to create Monad, or was this done electronically between Germany and Russia?

Frédéric: It was done through exchanging ideas and audio files electronically. Alexey sent me mantras which had specific intents, that I then processed and merged into what became Monad.

Michael: Were there set guidelines for your individual roles (i.e. Phurpa does all percussion, Visions does all drones), or was it a more fluid process?

Frédéric: It was quite fluid, there’s chants and percussive elements from both Phurpa and myself. I layered the drones and atmospheric elements throughout, and also did the final mixing and mastering.

Michael: How did you decide on Monad as the title for the album, and I assume the theme of the release as well? Should we assume this to be the Monad of Gnosticism?

Frédéric: It would translate to the totality of the whole, and its source, and the channeling of this primordial force.

Michael: Obviously, Phurpa is a very spiritually oriented project, backed by the strict adherence to the beliefs that Alexey Tegin holds. Would you consider Visions to be an equally spiritual project, or do you seek to harness more abstract ideas?

Frédéric: Spiritual, most definitely, with a strong dose of abstraction. At its etymological roots, the word abstract relates to being “withdrawn from worldly interests”. This is where Visions stands.

Michael: How did the similarities/differences in the religious/world views between Visions and Phurpa play into the creation of, and energy behind, this release?

Frédéric: Let’s just say that we both channel and explore the same currents through our musical means; and this is how / why our paths crossed and we’ve come to this collaboration. The result and energy it emanates speaks for itself.

Michael: With Monad released, will Visions continue to be a main priority for the moment or will you allow it to patiently lie in wait for your next inspiration?

Frédéric: This release is a prelude to the new album coming early next year, I’m working on new material that is soon approaching completion.

Michael: Let us turn the attention now to your role as founder and main operator of the Cyclic Law record label. In a word, how are things going at Cyclic Law at the moment?

Frédéric: Things are good, there are quite a few titles planned for the rest of the year and well into 2019.

Michael: You’ve recently made a huge move, transporting the whole Cyclic Law operation from Canada to Berlin. Would you care to speak any on the reasons for that move? How are things in Berlin, so far?

Frédéric: I’ve known for many years that I would at some point move to Europe. I’ve been traveling and touring Europe yearly for over 20 years now, and have always felt more at home on this side of the Atlantic. Berlin was a more strategic choice in terms of ease of relocation and for its very active cultural landscape. Things have been quite good for me as a whole here. I’m definitely glad this move came to its conclusion.

Michael: Obviously, during the previously mentioned move, the label’s output was a little slower, though it has considerably increased in the first half of 2018. Will you be planning to keep things moving at this pace for the near future?

Frédéric: Yes, moving took some adjustment, but 2017 and 2018 have been quite active with very interesting releases coming my way, and there’s quite a lot in the works.

Michael: I haven’t read any previous interviews with you, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about the start of Cyclic Law from your perspective. Those first few years, releasing the first handful of albums which ended up having such an impact on the dark ambient genre. What were your feelings starting up the label?

Frédéric: Well things started around 1998, when I purchased my first synth to create what became the Instincts / Bustum The Mystery Visions album, and subsequently what established Cyclic Law as a label in 2002. In those years, I had met Svartsinn, Northaunt and Kammarheit through the mp3.com platform. Things evolved from there, with the release of the Nord Ambient Alliance compilation and then releases by Kammarheit, Sophia, Svartsinn etc…

Michael: Did you have any intentions of still doing this almost two decades later?

Frédéric: Well you can never predict where things will lead you. But, my intentions to push this forward as long as it feels relevant have been there from the start, and I hope I can keep doing this for some time still. Things change, but the music still speaks.

Michael: Do you have any thoughts on the dark ambient genre as a whole, with the emergence of things like Spotify, Youtube, and too a lesser degree Bandcamp, that make it easier for listeners to absorb massive amounts of music, but harder for invested labels to pay the bills.

Frédéric: Well these are 2 things, content vs form. As for content, well the genre has evolved and I’m still surprised by some of the quality and craft some artists deploy. Even after all these years, there are still new ways to interpret and approach this genre. As for form, well yes, there’s a lot of material out there and for someone diving into this genre today the scope is overwhelming. Album sales are fluctuating and the streaming reality is what it is. We just work with the means we have and keep pushing forward.

Michael: Many people have quite rigid views on their favorite genres of music, whatever they may be. Do you see a great new horizon ahead of us, or do you think the golden age of dark ambient may already be in the rear-view?

Frédéric: Most musical styles have had their “golden age” and now it is through convergence of styles and ideas that things evolve. I’m okay with this for the most part. Classics will remain classics, yet there are more classics to be made.

Michael: The reemergence of vinyl has left its mark on dark ambient, as it has on most other genres right now. Cyclic Law got into the vinyl releases early on in this trend. For you as a label head, what are the ups and downs of vinyl?

Frédéric: My initial goal with the first releases was to give the CD format the aspects I had enjoyed of vinyl, the smell and feel of heavy cardboard, inserts, gatefold sleeves etc… this was at a time when vinyl was almost out of the picture. Yet, we were releasing vinyl back in 2003, before this “comeback” of vinyl. Now we can offer both CD and vinyl, and even cassettes. So, it’s interesting to be able to present all these formats. I maybe secretly miss the 8-track cassette days of my youth.

Michael: You played a big part in the startups of Kammarheit, Northaunt and Svartsinn. You found Psychomanteum, the first released project by Robert Kozletsky, now best known for Apocryphos, while he was still in college, only beginning to even realize his own talents. The list could go on. Do you have your eyes set on any artists right now that you think are incredibly talented which haven’t yet gotten the recognition they deserve?

Frédéric: Well yes, there’s always this aspect of running a label, to push the more established acts as well as unearth newcomers that one feels must be heard by a wider audience. Recently, Shedir from Italy has had a big impact on me, as well as a few others yet to be released: Cober Ord from France, Kristian Westergard from Norway, Purba from Russia, O Saala Sakral (ex Hadewych) from The Netherlands and more…

Michael: What can we expect the future to hold for Cyclic Law, business as usual, or any surprises on the way?

Frédéric: Well business isn’t quite usual here. There are definitely some surprises. But, I’ll have to keep the suspense for now.

Michael: Thank you so much for your time, Frederic. It’s been a great pleasure getting to pick your brain!

Frédéric: Thank you Michael, and for all your work. Your platform is a haven in a sea of insignificance.

Links
Cyclic Law: Official Site, Facebook, Bandcamp
Visions: Facebook, Discogs
StärkerFacebook, Discogs
HavanFacebook, Discogs

Visions & Phurpa – Monad – Review

Artist: Visions & Phurpa
Album: Monad
Release date: 25 April 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Ascendance
02. Fohat
03. Monad
04. Reminiscense

Visions and Phurpa have come together for a project I was not at all expecting! The two veteran producers behind these projects bring together two very different styles for something that sounds perfectly natural to both of them. Monad is a ritual ambient release, with a heavy dose of thick spacious drones. Phurpa provides the throat singing, which is immediately and most obvious at the opening of “Ascendance”, as well as incorporating sounds from their large collection of ritual bells, chimes, etc. Visions provides, what I assume to be, the rest of the soundscapes, including drone-work and the final mix and mastering.

Live at Phobos IX Festival, March 10 2018
Visuals by Karl Lemieux

Visions is the most active musical project of Frédéric Arbour, the man behind the Cyclic Law record label, one of the most revered labels in the dark ambient genre. Monad is the third release from Visions, who released their debut Lapse on Cyclic Law in 2005. After the 2010 sophomore release, Summoning the Void, Frédéric Arbour put the Visions project on hold indefinitely. During this time, among other things, Arbour moved his studio space and the whole Cyclic Law headquarters from Canada to Berlin, all the while keeping the label moving forward. So, the delay in output is certainly warranted.

Phurpa – Photo by: Elena Pinaeva

Phurpa is a much more enigmatic project. Phurpa was founded and led by Alexei Tegin, but also includes a number of other active members which often vary from performance to performance. Phurpa was founded with the idea of using Tegin’s knowledge of and dedication to the spiritual traditions of Bon and Dzogchen as a compass in the creation of their rituals. Phurpa use the Tibetan gyukye style of tantric overtone singing/chanting to create the foundation of their music. They add to this a variety of Tibetan ritual instruments, which again vary from album to album.

I’ve been following Phurpa for some years now, and heard a good many of their albums. But, I had yet to actually review one. Their music generally falls into a ritual ambient space that, I would say, is quite outside the realms of your usual dark ambient album. Though, the fan-bases of these types of music are so over-lapping that it makes sense to release their music on labels that are predominately dark ambient. I knew immediately on hearing the opening seconds of Monad that this release was different. “Ascendence” starts with the customary throat singing style of Phurpa, but within seconds a wall of dark ambient sound starts to form behind the vocals, and then intertwining with them, forming a dense yet earthly drone. The Tibetan ritual instruments begin to fall into place in the background. All this together evokes a deep primordial connection between the listener and the soundscapes.

“Fohat” takes us further into this hypnotic mélange of the ritual and the electronic. But, the drones here take on a more hollow, airy vibe, and the vocals become more submerged in the dronework. As the track progresses, everything seems to take focus, comes to a sort of crescendo, a moment of elightenment for the listener. At this point, I can’t help but feel that this track is going into territory that is similar to some of the very best works by raison d’etre. The technical prowess of Visions matched with the cosmic energy of Phurpa takes this particular sort of sacral/ritual ambient to truly impressive heights. I, also, can’t help but feel that their hearts are absolutely behind every second of this.

Starting Side B, “Monad” is a much more reserved and contemplative track than what we saw on either of the opening tracks. The drones and vocals are both calm, soothing, and again blend together impressively well, often leaving me forgetting that I’m hearing two totally different forms of “drone” at play. “Reminiscense” is more dynamic, but still incredibly calm, leaving this whole second half as perfect for background during meditation, study, etc.

Monad is the 100th Cycle on Cyclic Law. A true milestone for any label. Especially for Cyclic Law, to look back over these releases, there are so many gems of the genre here. Albums that were turning points for sub-sections of the genre, albums that have stood the test of time. If Monad is any indication of what we can expect for the next 100 Cycles, we are in for another great ride! Arbour decided on a vinyl option for this release, which works great, as the cover art is really fantastic and looks even better in the larger size, and the track lengths make for a good fit, not leaving a ton of dead space at the end of both sides. I would highly recommend this release to fans of ritual ambient, but the work by Visions done here totally warrants a listen for fans of the more traditional types of dark ambient. In the end, I could call this as much of a dark ambient release as ritual ambient. A must-hear regardless!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Taphephobia & Kave – Monuments – Review

Artist: Taphephobia & Kave
Album: Monuments
Release date: 10 April 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

01. Taphephobia – Entwined with the Dark
02. Kave – Doldrumin

Taphephobia is Ketil Søraker from Trondheim, Norway. His project has been active since his 2007 debut, House of Memories, which has just seen a re-release on Reverse Alignment. Before this time, Søraker was the second member of Northaunt. Søraker made his Cyclic Law debut in 2013 with Escape From The Mundane Self, an album which showed a honing of his style and was lauded by the general dark ambient community. Simultaneous with the release of this split, the latest full length by Taphephobia, Ghostwood, is also available.

Kave is a musical project by Bram Gollin of the Netherlands. My first experience with the project was his 2015 release on Cyclic Law, Ominousium. But, before this, Kave had already released a full length, Dismal Radiance, on Eibon Records and self-released the EP, The Language of Stones. On all these releases, Kave delivers a reserved style of dark ambient. One that evokes long lonely nights, walks through the vacant streets of some northern town, or through the coniferous forest, on its edge.

Monuments takes both artists into a territory that seems to be incredibly fitting for their styles of sound, contributing tracks which roughly run 20 minutes each. This gives the reserved styles of both artists time to fully evolve into something beautiful. Taking the cover art and album title into consideration, the theme feels to me as if it is describing humanity as monuments among the barren landscapes of the past, and likely the future. Or, from a different perspective, a single human, standing atop a beautiful vista gazing at the world beneath, both wishing to be a part of it, and content in solitude, at one with nature.

From a technical perspective, the opener, “Entwined with the Dark” by Taphephobia is a bit more dynamic in approach. Starting at a gentle whisper, the track gradually expands in density and volume, reaching an apex shortly before its close. Taphephobia incorporates guitar drone in a style that will be familiar to his loyal followers. Toward the end of the track there are some softly spoken vocals, adding a warm, human element to the otherwise frigid and barren soundscapes. On “Doldrumin”, Kave also uses a gradual build up, but his reaches its mid range sooner, and allows for a more ritualistic sort of experience, in comparison to the emotional edge on Søraker’s piece. As “Doldrumin” reaches its final minutes, the sound of beautiful choral chanting lulls the listener into a total trance, bringing the album to a triumphant and elegant close.

I don’t usually cover many split releases, and I can’t think of a previous Cyclic Law split. But, Monuments really does work out well. It genuinely feels like two pieces of a whole. Two sides to a similar set of emotions or ideas. The length seemed to work out great for both artists, but I particularly was impressed with the work by Kave. Though I should add, I’m always pleased to hear new works by Taphephobia. But for me, this has become a given. So, it was nice to also find the second half of the release as appealing as the first. I would recommend Monuments to listeners that like more relaxing, laid-back dark ambient releases. This is not going to keep the full attention of the ADHD stricken for a full 40 minutes. But for those of us who enjoy a nice dose of subtelty, this is the perfect companion to your night in solitude.

Written by: Michael Barnett

raison d’être – Alchymeia – Review

Artist: raison d’être
Album: Alchymeia
Release date: 31 January 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Nigredo
02. Albedo
03. Citrinitas
04. Rubedo

raison d’être has been one of the most beloved and recognizable names in the genre of dark ambient for over 20 years. His early work on the Cold Meat Industry label would be inspiration for numerous artists that came after him. His style of dark industrial soundscapes blended with contorted chants is immediately recognizable and often imitated, but never duplicated.

It’s crazy how much can change over a few years. For many young dark ambient listeners, raison d’être may not even be a familiar name. While he made huge waves in the late 90s through early 00s, recent output by raison d’être has been less frequent and less impactful on the scene. Meanwhile, veteran listeners are still playing their old copies of The Empty Hollow Unfolds or Within the Depths of Silence and Phormations like they are hearing them for the first time.

Photo by: Mia Vaattovaara 2008

Alchymeia struck me immediately as a so-called return-to-form. Veteran listeners should find everything they love about raison d’être in this release. The samples of a thousand clattering bells, chimes and random metallic objects are present through every track. The drones are sometimes crushing and sometimes light as a feather. But the thing that will likely be the most welcome is the frequency of chants.

The recurring complaint I’ve heard from dark ambient fans over the last few years was that there has been too much of the harsh industrial elements and not enough of the sort of dark beauty which raison d’être is so masterful at weaving. Albums like metamorphyses and Mise en Abyme were perfectly hypnotic and showcased the work of a veteran musician. But they didn’t have that heart-melting impact of some of the earlier classics. Alchymeia finds a perfect balance between the new and the old. The industrial elements are still bold and mixed prominently into the tracks, but those other elements, the delicate play on chants which create a sort of perverse beauty, have added just the right amount of emotion to the album.

The opening track “Nigredo” gives us an introduction to the theme of the album. Alychymeia is a look at the various elements of alchemy, from its dark mystical conjurations to its more practical uses. The topic seems fitting for an album with such a bold blend of the religious with industrial. A sort of melding of emotion and science. “Nigredo” in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. Many alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone, all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. So, too, this opening track can be viewed as an entryway to the greater product.

“Albedo” takes a more reserved approach. It may give listeners a bit of a nostalgic feeling as it has some similarities to some older favorites like “The Mournful Wounds” from the Collected Works compilation of compilation tracks release, originally on Perception Multiplied… released in 2003 on CMI. Again, the title has a strong connection to alchemy. We can see in the following definition that all four of these track titles have a specific significance in alchemy. “In alchemy, albedo is one of the four major stages of the magnum opus; along with nigredo, citrinitas and rubedo. It is a Latinicized term meaning “whiteness”. Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo.”¹

Photo by: Roger Karmanik 2015

“Albedo” really brings the idea to fruition of a washing away of impurities. That deep dark male chant which dominated the beginning of the track gently fades away and is later replaced by a female choir chanting a piece which is incredibly beautiful. It seems to radiate a sense of hope and levity which is in total opposition to anything we’ve previously heard on the album.

“Citrinitas” and “Rubedo” continue to move on in this fashion. Each track of the album working with the themes of each of the four alchemical stages. These four stages are all preparation of the magnum opus in alchemy. The magnum opus being the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It is not hard to imagine Alchymeia as the magnum opus of raison d’être. A return to form after years, Alchymeia is sure to delight and fully enrapture listeners. It is the perfect modern connection to the older works of raison d’être. If Peter Andersson will see this as his defining and final work, we will all likely hope for otherwise. But it is undoubtedly defining. It takes all the elements Andersson has been perfecting over two decades (closing in on three decades) of music creation and puts them to perfect use. The darkness is as dark as anywhere else in his discography, and the light is soul-gripping, heart-rendingly beautiful. Alchymeia is, in my humble opinion, the album we’ve all been waiting for from raison d’être. Truly a magnum opus in every sense.

Written by: Michael Barnett

1. R. van den Broek, Wouter J. Hanegraaff. Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times. SUNY Press. 1998. p.158-159

 

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