Tag: Drone

Med Gen – Brittleroots – Review

Artist: Med Gen
Album: Brittleroots
Release date: 22 September 2018
Label: ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ

Tracklist:
01. Peat Accumulation
02. Thallophyta
03. Nelumbo
04. Man From the Bog
05. Silt
06. Oxalis Poisoning
07. Typha

“The quiet humming of the earth and high-pitched bird calls, reflections of the autumn sun in the bog puddles… Silent steps on the path well-hidden in the thickets. No winds here. Just mesmerizing swaying of branches. Maybe they’re giving you signs not to partake in this journey, maybe better turn back and go home while you can… Yet this smell, these colors, those mysterious rustles in the deepness of the woods. One step after another and the story begins to unfold. What lies beneath these murky waters, between the layers of peat and on these oddly colored tussocks? Sun is approaching the horizon, so don’t hesitate, breathe in this night.”

Med Gen is the dark drone ambient project by Russia’s Michael Selitsky. Med Gen sounds often contain vast amounts of rich field recordings, often overlayed with subtle dronework. Though his first release only dates back to 2014, Med Gen has been one of my go-to musicians for contemplative dark ambient music for a few years.

To date, Med Gen has eight full length releases. While his initial releases were either self-released or through the Minus Silence label, recently Med Gen has been releasing his content through the magnificent, but highly under-recognized, ambient label ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ, run by Tim Six (known for his work as Creation VI). ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ have been making their name in the ambient scene with releases which are often quite colorful and artistic, with some bigger name artists working with the label along the way that include: Ugasanie, SiJ, Astral&Shit, Strom Noir and Endless Melancholy among others.

Med Gen says of their creative process and style: “The keeper of the med gen derives its sound from nature worlds and processes, after a long stay in solitude or wandering through nature places, then relays all senses into a sound stream.” This is a great description of the project for me, as the sounds truly do feel like they’ve been pulled directly from someone’s wanderings through nature.

The focus on field recordings and subtle drones makes Brittleroots a highly versatile release. Listeners can incorporate Brittleroots into practices like meditation and yoga, as the sounds provide a rich background, but never move far enough into the active that they become distracting in any way. This also makes the album perfect for background music while reading, or a rich soundscape to usher one into the dreamworld.

While much of the album is more or less uneventful, in the sense that things never really heat up or seem to present an overarching story-line, there are moments of true beauty which emerge from the depths of Brittleroots. “Thallophyta”, for instance, moves effortlessly through its first roughly eight minutes before the background sounds drop out and a lonely synth-line comes to the surface. Subtle field recordings continue to linger in the background. The combination achieves a feel that I would compare to some of my favorite moments in the Northaunt Istid series. Fleeting glimmers of beauty and musicality emerging from the drones, only to sink back into the nothingness moments later.

I would recommend Brittleroots to any lovers of rich field recordings and subtle dronework. If this album is to your liking, you will certainly find a treasure trove of previous works on the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label, as well as within Med Gen‘s personal discography to provide many hours of contemplation and serenity.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Endless Chasm – Saṃsāra Eternal – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Wound – Up in the Starry Ether – Review

Artist: Wound
Album: Up In The Starry Ether
Release date: 15 June 2018
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. Bright and Cold
02. Oblivious to the Passing Hours and Days

Up In The Starry Ether by Wound is an album that immediately resonated with me. The artist shared the album with me and I initially liked the simple yet emotive cover-art design and then found that the music itself is also quite enjoyable. In his words, “Wound is a musician from Poland who incorporates various elements of ambient, drone and glitch into his music. Bringing together ordinary instruments like strings or piano with otherworldly electronic sounds he creates a soundtrack for the brief moments between unconsciousness and walking life.”

Photo by: FOT. SIEMI.

This apt description explains a number of the reasons I love this project. Wound combines the aesthetics of glitch, drone and ambient in interesting ways. Listening to Up in the Starry Ether, it is obvious that the release is based upon a drone foundation. The two tracks both run at approximately fifteen minutes a piece, making a nice length for a cassette release, and also allowing plenty of time for each track to slowly evolve. These drones are complemented by subtle field recordings as well as glitchy noises which keep us grounded in the modern realm.

“Bright and Cold” is the more relaxing of the two tracks. The drone elements are a bit less prominent on the opener and it allows us to slowly visualize the scene Wound is painting. Shimmering, yet slightly harsh drones solidify the cold atmosphere. Field recordings of wind blowing and footsteps through snowy terrain paint a picture of a lone traveler, making their way through a subzero white-out. The track gradually becomes more abrasive as it nears its ending, adding to this sense of discomfort and peril for the traveler.

Photo by: FOT. SIEMI.

“Oblivious to the Passing Hours and Days” begins with only field recordings. We now seem to be in a darker, more claustrophobic space. We can hear sounds in the distance, which could either be the rushing winds outside, or possibly some large factory off in the distance. The drones slowly intensify as the track progresses and we begin to hear a multitude of unsettling sounds. A high pitched-hissing comes and goes, as if we’ve passed some nearby pressure-release valve. Meanwhile, a looping musical element is creeping to the forefront. Though this never progresses into something that would be considered “music” outside our genres, it does add an emotional element to the track, and helps the listener descend further into these soundscapes of Wound.

Wound says of Up in the Starry Ether, “…the second release in my Drone Series project where I experiment with techniques to create long-form compositions. In the first one, Man as a Prism, the no-input mixer improvisation has been used, whereas in this I have collected found or discarded sounds to create a dreamy collage of trash.” This collage element is one of the things that makes me enjoy the album so much. There are so many sounds coming together. I get a sense here of that complexity which we expect of someone like Jarl, but with more of an ambient focus and less of the noise elements. This plethora of sounds makes for multiple rewarding listens. I have been enjoying this one for a few months in preparation to write about it and new elements are still presenting themselves. This is, of course, one of the best indicators of a great ambient release, for me.

 

Up in the Starry Ether is available in digital format as well as a handsome cassette edition, with a fitting artwork and a nice frigid, abstract palette. Wound is basically giving these cassettes away, at a five euro price tag. The first drone series release by Wound, Man as a Prism, can also be purchased along with Up in the Starry Ether as a bundle.

I highly recommend this album to those that enjoy drone ambient, but often find it monotonous, or worse, boring. Wound manages to harness the drone ambient slowly evolving format, while simultaneously embedding it with enough extra details that we can truly enjoy every minute of its playtime. It is quite the impressive release for an artist that doesn’t yet appear to be working through any record label, instead managing to bring together some memorable physical releases on his own. Readers/followers should be pleased with this one, but labels seeking new talent really should take note.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Skeldos – Ilgės – Review

Artist: Skeldos
Album: Ilgės
Release date: 21 June 2018
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. melas
02. ilgės

Skeldos is an “anxious electronic, industrial, ambient” project by Vytenis Eitminavičius of Lithuania. Ilgės is his third full length solo release. While his debut album, Įspaudai, was released on the Lithuanian label Terror, his last two solo releases, as well as his brilliant collaboration, Aviliai with fellow Lithuanian ambient/drone artist Daina Dieva, have all been independently released.

Skeldos focuses on a form of drone/dark ambient which at times can be incredibly relaxing and calm. But it can move into varied territories with little awareness from the listener. The sounds seem to morph effortlessly. While the music itself can sound a good bit different at times, the approach to these soundscapes seems quite reminiscent of Kammarheit, or some amalgamation of Kammarheit and Taphephobia, maybe. Or at their harshest of times (not present on this album) can come into territory more aligned with artists like Jarl or Yen Pox, creating textures which can seem chaotic and over-bearing, but are still able to totally draw the listener into their coils, taking us on a mental voyage to destinations unknown. An interesting caveat here is that it would appear Skeldos creates all his “drones” with real acoustic instruments, namely on this album: accordion, Lithuanian zither and guitar.

The first track on Ilgės, “melas”, falls somewhere in the middle of Skeldos‘ range of soundscapes. There is a slight harshness, but it is predominately a sort of trance-inducing dronescape, which has little variation, and yet has managed to keep my full attention over many, many replays. I could maybe lightly compare the style to something more reserved on Aural Hypnox. The second track, “ilgės”, takes us into calmer, more melancholic territory. The backing dronework has a sort of celestial/shimmering/peaceful quality to it, which is accentuated by its solitude within the track. As listeners begin to sink into this trance, Skeldos introduces, for the first time on Ilgės, what I think is his most defining characteristic. His vocals. Skeldos has a very relaxing mid-deep ranged vocal quality. His vocals sound as if they are a lullaby, cutting through the darkness of night, in a sort of singing whisper. As we reach the end of the track, the energy of the soundscapes, as well as Skeldos‘ vocals, pick up momentum for a more emotional finale.

The inspiration for this album was taken from the poem “melas” or “A Lie” by Lithuanian writer Antanas Škėma. In the physical cassette release of Ilgės, Skeldos features the poem in its original Lithuanian as well as in English translation. This poem is included on a beautiful tan paper adorned with artwork similar to that of the album cover. The ART edition (25 of the 100 copies) goes a step further, stitching this paper directly into the handcrafted cassette case, giving it a very personal ‘do-it-yourself’ sort of feel. Though I should say the end result, concerning the cases, looks like quite professional work. The cassette itself is blank aside from a white “I” or “II” painted in its center, which isn’t  “professional”, but avoids my greatest problem with unlabeled cassettes, which side is which? Also, the hand-painted numerals further add to the DIY aesthetic. In the end, I’d say this is one of the best looking handcrafted cassette releases I’ve seen so far. Proof that  overall quality doesn’t need to be sacrificed on account of the hand-crafted nature.

Skeldos is a little known artist, under-recognized much more so than under-rated, that should be seeing a good bit more attention, in my humble opinion. Since discovering his music recently, I’ve been returning to it very often, especially in that last hour before sleep, most frequently after the lights are out for the evening. Skeldos‘ style of drone-work along with his vocal contributions make for a wonderfully peaceful, if thoroughly melancholic, experience. I would highly recommend Ilgės to anyone that loves the calmer more introspective forms of dark ambient. Ilgės is certainly on par with many of the genre’s renowned artists.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ajna – An Era of Torment – Review

Artist: Ajna
Album: An Era of Torment
Release date: 22 December 2017
Label: Reverse Alignment

Tracklist:
01. An Era of Torment I
02. Infect My Soul
03. An Era of Torment II
04. The Melancholy Hours
05. Manie Sans Delire
06. An Era of Torment III

Ajna is a dark ambient artist out of New York. He’s been creating dark ambient music since about 2008. But, his first proper release didn’t come until The Strange Demeanor of Solitude in 2013 on the Petroglyph Music netlabel. By 2016, he had his first physical release, Inevitable Mortality, through Reverse Alignment. Inevitable Mortality spread the subtle but ominous drones of the Ajna sound to a larger audience. Further solidifying his name in the dark ambient genre, Ajna released Black Monolith, a massive collaboration with Dronny Darko. (You can read the review of Black Monolith here.)

The latest release, An Era of Torment through Reverse Alignment, will not hold any surprises for listeners familiar with Ajna. The dominating element of the sounds are drones, as was the case on previous releases. However, there has certainly been growth in the artist since his last release. An Era of Torment has a strong isolationist feel. The music in ways reminds me of the more subtle tracks by Svartsinn. The sounds are consistently dark and eerie. The drones are crafted with the utmost care. But, the overall experience is slow-paced. This slow pace gives the album a particular edge when searching for quality background music for studying, sleep aid, etc.

The album opens with “An Era of Torment I” which brings us slowly into the mix through drones of various texture, some light and hollow, while others are incredibly thick, distorted and crushing. Moving into the following track, “Infect My Soul”, Ajna incorporates a more active approach. The track is again dominated by the movement of drone-work, but there are field recordings throughout the track, which add an extra layer of depth not only for the sake of the music, but also to help paint a better picture of the surrounding environment. The track brings forth images of the end times, apocalyptic visions and a devastated environment reek havoc on the soul, slowly moving toward its full and irreversible corruption. The rest of An Era of Torment sticks more or less to the formats of these first two tracks. There are three parts to the title tracks “Era of Torment (I-III)”. In general, these “Era of Torment” tracks are more heavily reliant upon drone than the other three tracks on the album, giving the full experience a nice ebb and flow.

With An Era of Torment, Ajna proves that he is still developing as an artist, each album that comes along shows improvements on techniques and a focus of vision. Much of the music is incredibly subtle, so fans of the more active varieties of dark ambient may not find what they are looking for here. But, if you enjoy artists like Svartsinn, Kave, or Dronny Darko, that create passive, but intricately crafted drone-work, you are likely to find much to love on An Era of Torment.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Jarl – Hypnosis Colour – Review

Artist: Jarl
Album: Hypnosis Colour
Release date: 16 July 2017
Label: Reverse Alignment

Tracklist:
01. Hypnosis Colour

Jarl is the dark/drone ambient project of Erik Jarl of Norrköping, Sweden. Erik Jarl might be better known for his role in the power electronics project IRM, in which he collaborates with Martin Bladh and Mikael Oretoft. But Jarl is certainly his more active project, having released roughly two dozen albums since he started the project back in 2001. These albums have been released on a number of renowned labels including Malignant Records, Annihilvs Power Electronics and Autarkeia. But most recently, Jarl has been releasing the most consistently through Reverse Alignment, and that is where today’s album in question is released.

Hypnosis Colour is a successor to Amygdala Colours – Hemisphere Rotation from 2016. That album was described in its liner notes as: Electronic and acoustic sounds for the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. For the right and left side of Amygdala”. So we see, it was not really directed as a musical experience, so much as a psychological manipulation. Jarl started work on the next installment right after that album’s release.

His latest release, Hypnosis Colour, plays with this section of the brain in a different way. The amygdala is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. Recent research¹ has shown that hypnosis makes it possible for the amygdala to be controlled. So Hypnosis Colour is still focused on that section of the brain which was initially explored in Amygdala Colours. Under hypnosis, the amygdala is able to be turned off, thereby stopping the mind and body from having emotional reactions, giving it time to heal any mental or even physical wounds more efficiently.

So we can see that Jarl is not simply delivering us music for casual listening. Hypnosis Colour is able to serve a specific purpose. If allowed, Hypnosis Colour could likely have profound effects on the brain. This stands to reason that the listening of this album should be given full attention. The listener should absolutely be wearing headphones, in order to correctly experience the panning of sounds between the left and right speakers. Furthermore, it should be experienced in a dark, quiet setting, where the listener is not likely to be disturbed by any external elements. If these conditions are adhered to, the listener will be able to fully appreciate the effect that Jarl is trying to achieve.

From a technical standpoint, Hypnosis Colour will exhibit many of the same sorts of sounds and techniques used on previous Jarl albums. The sounds are extremely nuanced. The album works in a steady progression, slowly building up layers upon layers of acoustic and electronic sounds, while the volume also steadily increases to its maximum. There is the same level of harshness to the release which would be expected by any seasoned fan of the Jarl sound. But, as is usual with Jarl, somehow he manages to take this harshness to a place that is mind-altering, but never overbearing or anxiety inducing. The feat is likely achieved with the help of Peter Andersson of raison d’être, who has mastered the majority of Erik Jarl’s releases as well as those by IRM over the years. For added effect, he has also used artwork created by Karolina Urbaniak, another long-time collaborator. Her cover art is a beautiful combination of light greens and blues swirling upon a black backdrop. The visuals could be called psychedelic, without any of the usual hippy connotations that often weigh this word down.

Long-time fans of Jarl will have every reason to love Hypnosis Colour. It takes his sound into a direction that makes the most sense yet in his career, the building of layers in order to create an actual mind-shift in the listener. Readers that are new to the sounds of Jarl should be warned that this isn’t light listening. You will have to approach this album in a different way than you would with the usual dark ambient release. It is meant to be an active listening experience and headphones are mandatory. With that said, Hypnosis Colour as well as it’s predecessor Amygdala Colours are two of the most technically and thematically successful releases of Erik Jarl’s to date, and both should be perfect entry points for beginners. It will be interesting to see if Jarl will continue on this path with his next release or if he has plans to switch gears into a different direction.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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