Tag: Polar Ambient (Page 1 of 2)

Ugasanie & Dronny Darko – Arctic Gates – Review

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

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

Otavan Veret – Syvys – Review

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

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

Wound – Up in the Starry Ether – Review

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

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

Moss Covered Technology – And His Many Seas – Review

Artist: Moss Covered Technology
Album: And His Many Seas
Release date: 30 April 2018
Label: Facture / Fluid Audio

01. – 08. Sea #1-8

Moss Covered Technology is an ambient project out of the United Kingdom. There really doesn’t appear to be too much more information available about specifics of the man behind the music. We can gather a bit of personal information, and a window into the intent of this album from the album’s blurb on their Bandcamp, which reads: “And His Many Seas is a personal voyage, as the artist’s father was suffering from cancer at the time of the album being written. A well-traveled man, And His Many Seas sets sail to quietly conquer and navigate another unexplored, painful continent: the frightening landmass of coming to terms with his father’s illness, steering through the trials of life as well as acting as a dedication to his father’s love of traveling. The illness itself heralded the beginnings of a new journey. Recalling the feel of the Arctic Ocean.”

So, And His Many Seas is an ode to the musician’s father, and an attempt to recreate the sort of awe and wonder of the voyages he took throughout his lifetime. But, I was drawn to this release, aside from its physical splendor, by the melancholia and chilling darkness which seems to be hiding just beneath the surface. Masked by the glory of nautical explorations, the region in which this imaginary journey embarks toward is just as important. Heading into a cold and unforgiving arctic climate, Moss Covered Technology connects with us on a more troubling level. This can be seen as a sort of allusion to the bittersweet journey of the miracle of life always moving toward a bleak and inevitable death.

From a technical perspective, And His Many Seas can initially seem like a pretty straightforward drone ambient release. But the multiple play-throughs keep bringing out new and interesting elements that I hadn’t previously experienced. This, to me, is always a sign of a great passive ambient release. Something that I can listen to multiple times, even in a single day, without feeling a deep disgust for repetition and monotony tearing at me. Tracks like “Sea #5” have a bit more active elements, bringing the senses of courage and exploration to the forefront, while tracks like “Sea #1” linger in more subtle territory. “Sea #8”, the album’s finale, takes us into some very peaceful and introspective soundscapes. The drones are light and shimmering, while we are treated to a pleasant undercurrent of field recordings.

When I first found this album it immediately jumped out at me and was begging me to get a physical copy. A label that I haven’t often crossed, Facture / Fluid Audio, brings this album by Moss Covered Technology to a magnificently crafted physical release. Every aspect of And His Many Seas preparation was considered and crafted with the utmost attention to detail. The CD is housed in a hand made book-bound cover, lined with paper from Florence Italy. The CD also comes with vintage nautical Nories tables from around the 1920s, vintage Elisha Kane Arctic Exploration inserts (ca. 1869), nine double sided A6 prints, and dried flowers. All this is placed in a hand-cut envelope which is individually stamped and numbered. That’s a lot of stuff to talk about for one release! Of course, opening the package was about as exciting to me as the music itself. I spent a good thirty minutes looking through all the inserts and reading all the explorer cards while listening to the CD for the first time.

I would highly recommend And His Many Seas to fans of the more subtle forms of ambient / dark ambient. This release will certainly fall into ambient territory, but there really is enough melancholy here to warrant a dark ambient zine’s coverage. If the exquisite attention to detail on this physical release isn’t enough to draw you in, the album is also available as digital only, but I really recommend seeking out a copy of the physical release. There are at least a few left available direct from Moss Covered Technology, but I doubt they’ll have time to gather dust. Moss Covered Technology is a great example of the versatility of these genres we cover, and an excellent introduction to the Facture / Fluid Audio discography.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Guest Sessions: Piblokto Frigid Ambient Mix by Cryogenic Weekend

Cryogenic Weekend is the latest collaboration of Oleg Puzan, best known for his work as Dronny Darko. For this new project, he teamed up with Vitaly Lebukhorski of Oil Texture. In celebration of their new album and the scorching summer months that are upon us in the northern hemisphere, Cryogenic Weekend created a 90 minute seamless mix of the coldest ambient soundscapes. Dark ambient favorites like Northaunt, Thomas Koner and Ugasanie, are blended with a selection of other ambient artists, many of which fall outside the realms of dark ambient. But nonetheless, this should be an entertaining mix for our readers, and a cool breeze to help cope with these horribly humid summer days. You can also check out their new album here.

01. 00:00 Jacob Kirkegaard – Cave (Day 0)
02. 08:10 Craig Vear – Adélie Penguins (Jenny Island)
03. 12:46 Northaunt – Part II
04. 17:28 Simon Whetham – The Innocence of Deceit
05. 23:14 France Jobin – Scène 4
06. 28:39 Richard Chartier – Wire.re (rework of Autistici)
07. 36:13 Thomas Koner – Novaya Zemlya 2
08. 39:19 Llyn Y Cwn – Y Garn
09. 42:50 Robert Henke – Teboi
10. 45:43 Steve Roden – Mobile Stabile
11. 51:35 Craig Vear – Cravasse Blue
12. 54:15 Mika Vainio – Viher [Green_Cellular]
13. 63:24 Tu M’ – Monochrome # 02
14. 70:42 Francisco López – Untitled #225
15. 74:31 Llyn Y Cwn – Cwm Bochlwyd
16. 77:26 Jana Winderen – Drying Out In The Sun
17. 81:02 Ugasanie – To the Land of Storms and Mists

Northaunt – Istid III – Review

Artist: Northaunt
Album: Istid III
Release date:
Label: Glacial Movements

01. Part I
02. Part II
03. Part III
04. Part IV
05. Part V

I’m happy to be reviewing the second Northaunt release in recent months. The last one, Night Paths (which can be read about & heard here), was a compilation of previously unreleased Northaunt material from the last decade. He decided to polish and release those tracks while waiting on the release of this third part of the Istid series, a proper full album of new material.

Northaunt, as many of you may know at this point, has been one of my favorite dark ambient artists since I first discovered the genre. I have a profound love for northern landscapes and, for me, this music most closely defines that in a dark ambient format. Through the various albums we’ve heard a variety of different themes which all fall under the banner of this northern climate and landscape. Though recently, it has been in a more defined form than in the past. With Istid now moving into its third chapter, Hærleif Langås is giving us an extended look at this particular theme.

In the liner notes for Istid I-II, Northaunt tells us of previous ice ages and how quickly they may have came and went, swallowing continents in their wake. This theory has been played out in great detail recently by various scientists and researchers. Particularly to my knowledge, Graham Hancock & Randall Carlson speak of the evidence of previous Ice Age progressions and recessions that were devastating to life on all parts of Earth. The Istid series gives us snapshots of various points in time during these cyclical events.

Especially in the beginning, Northaunt had a style of polar ambient which seemed closer to human emotion. However, as Horizons and Istid I-II came along, humanity was less involved in the vision. But with Istid III, we are starting to hear the return of humanity through various samples of people speaking, mostly in a language I don’t speak, so I can’t comment on that part. But whether it is the woman in “Part II” or the old man in “Part IV” it adds a hazy look at human emotion in a way reminiscent of early Northaunt and also Langås’ newer album Silent Heart by The Human Voice.

Going into the final track there is a thick frigid wind billowing prominently in the background behind some of the best guitar work present in Langås’ repertoire. It sets us in these dark frozen landscapes, gazing across a glaciated horizon with flecks of ice burning our cheeks in a way that many of us rarely or never will experience. This has always been the beauty of Northaunt, the music transports us to these places and shows us their best and their worst aspects.

As I said earlier about Alchymeia by raison d’être (in a recent review here), this is a tour-de-force by Northaunt. Langås has been working these various aspects of his Northaunt sound since the late 90s. Istid III brings the old together with the new in a unique way giving us the best of both worlds. This release is also a step outside the ordinary, as it’s been released through Glacial Movements, a label out of Italy that specializes in various types of polar ambient soundscapes. This should hopefully bring a new group of listeners to the Northaunt sound, as all the die-hard listeners will certainly find their way to his work regardless. My only regret is that I would love to have the Istid III vinyl sitting on my shelf beside the Istid I-II set. But, maybe the release could still find its way to Cyclic Law in the future for a vinyl release, or maybe Glacial Movements will start to head in that direction too, as many labels have opted to in recent years.

Of course, this should be highly recommended to any lovers of dark ambient. Northaunt has had a pretty broad and consistent following since the debut years ago and Istid III is only going to reinforce listeners’ feelings about his music.

Written by: Michael Barnett

nota bene: You can also read a recent interview we conducted with Langås of Northaunt here.

Stuzha – Siberian Sketches II – Review

Artist: Stuzha
Album title: Siberian Sketches II
Release date: 15 November 2017
Label: Ksenza Records / Infinite Fog Productions

01. Into the Blizzard
02. Transsiberian
03. Winter Forest (Awakening)
04. Winter Forest
05. Here is no Life without a Fire
06. Winter Forest (Into Slumber)
07. Lost in the Catacombs
08. A Night in the Village

Stuzha first caught my attention at the beginning of 2017 during my brief stint with Heathen Harvest, when they sent me his album, Butugichag, to review. I was immediately enraptured by the depths of his frigid polar ambient style and his take on the cinematic side of dark ambient music. As the man behind the project is native to the Siberian expanses of Russia, it is no surprise that he is able to convey this style so well. Siberian Sketches II is the follow-up to his first major release Siberian Sketches, all of which were released by Ksenza Records and distributed by Infinite Fog Productions.

There is actually quite a huge difference between the styles of the two Siberian Sketches releases and Butugichag. Butugichag was an incredibly subtle release, with slowly evolving drone-work and field recordings which lingered in the background. The Siberian Sketches albums are more active album in almost every respect. In fact, the latest release takes these differences much further than  did Siberian Sketches I. There are a ton of field recordings incorporated into this release, making it the most cinematic work of Stuzha to date. While Siberian Sketches I incorporated some guitar, the guitar on Siberian Sketches II is also great increased, being used on most of the tracks here. This time there are even subtle vocals added to the mix. These are not the style of dark ambient infused vocals of something like a Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio sort of project (which honestly is a stretch to even be called dark ambient), but more in line with the vocals on some tracks by Taphephobia; a deep, brooding voice which is barely audible on sub-par speakers and blends gently into the rest of the mix.

Siberian Sketches II starts with a door swinging open and someone stepping out into the icy snows of a raging blizzard, on the aptly titled “Into the Blizzard”. As they step back indoors we can still hear the storm raging just outside the threshold, a fire roaring in the stove and a dog barking nearby. The music on this track is composed almost entirely of field recordings and a guitar that sounds to be acoustic with some light effects, with the later addition of an electric guitar and soft vocals. Subtly in the background, we can hear the low roar of a passing train, a dynamic which will be fully explored on the following track, “Transsiberian”.

“Transsiberian”, beginning with an intercom system and distorted electric guitar ups the tempo of the album. Yet, this guitar is incorporated in a way that doesn’t compromise the dark ambient nature in the slightest. By the close of the track, the album’s protagonist is well on their way, journeying to some unknown, yet equally frigid, destination.

“Winter Forest (Awakening)” brings another dynamic into play. Still here, there is no discernible drone-work to be found. The track is constructed of passive field recordings which create the background atmosphere, bass guitar which also helps to solidify that foundation, and several guitars; one of which undertakes some interesting and quite delightful tremolo-picking which reminds me of the guitar español – style, but this could be do to my lack of knowledge when it comes to guitar playing styles native to Siberia.

“Here is no Life without a Fire” could be the closest to a more traditional dark ambient track, as it is one of only two on the album that seem to incorporate any use of drone-work. It is also likely the oldest track on the album, being a reinterpretation of a track from the self-released Through the Snowfield.

Given all these dynamics at play on Siberian Sketches II, one may rightly be a bit bewildered as to how this could be considered dark ambient at all. But, I firmly believe that the album falls solidly into this category. There is a ton of activity happening, but it is all done with the careful reserve of a seasoned dark ambient musician. The overall cinematic element also can’t be overemphasized. One may close their eyes and find themselves lost in the whiteout of these bleak far-northern lands. The various styles and effects of the acoustic and electric guitars also aid the field recordings magnificently in the numerous shifts between indoor/outdoor cinematics.

Stuzha once again proves their talents with Siberian Sketches II, this time taking what they learned from Siberian Sketches I as well as Butugichag, and crafting an album that is incredibly relaxing. It could be the sole companion to a lonely evening by the fire during these upcoming winter months. It could also be allowed to fall into the background during any reading, study or writing sessions. Between the combined albums of all his projects: Stuzha, Algol and Black Wanderer, Daniil Kazantsev proves himself to be an incredibly capable force in the genre of dark ambient, and one which I hope will become more well-recognized by the community as time passes.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Eislandschaft – Tales of the Frost – Review

Artist: Eislandschaft
Album: Tales of the Frost
Release date: 13 October 2017
Label: Lighten Up Sounds

01. I Found Them Buried in the Ice
02. Demented and Lost in the White Plain
03. There’s Something Out There, In the Middle of the Winter Night
04. Ten Thousand Footsteps in the Snow
05. The Iced Plateau
06. The Tombstone Under the Aurora Borealis

Lighten Up Sounds‘ recent release, Tales of the Frost, is the latest by up and coming dungeon synth artist Friedrich Curwenius of Argentina. In March of this year, Lighten Up Sounds released Curwenius’ first album Tunnels Under the Forest, under the moniker of Goblintropp. Now his latest release, Tales of the Frost, takes his dungeon synth style into a totally different territory, often transcending that genre itself, with this polar ambient / winter synth amalgamation.

Tunnels Under the Forest was a proper dungeon synth release which showcased Curwenius’ ability to create a spectacular and enchanting atmosphere within the tried and true style of previous dungeon synth masters. The album nods to the sounds of artists like Murgrind, and of course the forefather of the genre Mortiis. On Tales of the Frost Curwenius goes by a different name, Eislandschaft, which can be roughly translated to mean ‘icy landscape’. This is an appropriate title for the new album which can find comparisons to works by Vinterriket, Northaunt, Elador and Foglord among others.

While comparisons to these aforementioned artists would be helpful in describing the general direction of Tales of the Frost, it only begins to cut the surface of this brilliantly realized and well-honed release. The album could easily fit into the confines of the polar ambient or winter synth styles, but where it really stands out from the crowd is in its use of straightforward piano sections. Indeed, the album is heavily laden with this neo-classical flavor. Looking no further than the opener, “I Found Them Buried in the Ice”, the piano work sounds and feels as if it is the real deal, not a synthesizer version of a grand piano. One can almost imagine Curwenius sitting behind a beautiful Steinway, in the midst of a deep winter whiteout, winds whipping the fine granules of snow into massive drifts against the window of a cabin, high in the mountains.

The piano work is certainly the highlight of this album for me, but there is still plenty more to be said for Tales of the Frost. When incorporating the more conventional droning synth styles of other winter synth artists, like on the second track “Demented and Lost in the White Plain”, Eislandschaft proves to be a worthy competitor with some of the greatest of the style. The synth notes find that perfect balance between mid-range and a shimmering high-pitched timbre.

By the third track, “There’s Something Out There, In the Middle of the Winter Night”, we are presented with the last element which makes Eislandschaft such a successful project. As the synths take on a more subtle drone style, there are equally subtle field recordings layered in the background. These field recordings, unlike those of many winter synth artists, are perfectly balanced with the track. There is no overbearing attitude forcing this wintry atmosphere upon us. The layers of drone and field recording commingle exquisitely, making for a track which is as incredibly relaxing as it is isolating.

The original release by Eislandschaft in August 2017 would have been the middle of winter for the southern hemisphere, so we need not think of this as a summer release. The October re-release on Lighten Up Sounds gives the physical album the perfect amount of time to find its way around the world, before the winter months of the north commence. The beautifully realized cassette version of this release by Lighten Up Sounds fits the soundscapes splendidly with the cassette, cover-art and Norelco case all in white and the lettering on the cassette itself in a shimmering silver.

Tales of the Frost is a combination of winter-synth, polar-ambient and neo-classical at its absolute finest. The album makes for the perfect background to a cold winter night, nestled in one’s favorite chair in front of a blazing fire. For me, this album will be getting plenty of play through the coming winter months of the northern hemisphere. I would highly recommend the release to anyone with a deep love and respect for the frigid months of winter. Tales of the Frost is close to a perfection of its musical equivalent.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Northaunt – Night Paths – Review

Artist: Northaunt
Album: Night Paths
Release date: 15 October 2017
Label: The Last Bleak Days

It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point to anyone following This Is Darkness that Hærleif Langås is one of my very favorite dark ambient musicians. Just as it is with Pär Boström or Simon Heath, Hærleif’s music is rarely not included in any of my mixes and his albums, whether Northaunt, The Human Voice or Therradaemon his albums are in constant rotation in my CD player. Hærleif seems to have a natural talent for this kind of music, and that fact seems to be proven further and further with each of his releases.

Night Paths is the first Northaunt release since Istid I-II in January 2015. But luckily in between these two releases we had the brilliant Silent Heart, by his project The Human Voice, which I might consider my favorite album of his to date, and the best album of 2016. To my great pleasure, the opener on Night Paths has a lot of similarities to a few of the tracks on Silent Heart. But it seems even more so to harken back to roughly a decade ago when Northaunt released their sophomore album Barren Land. The field recordings are bold and crushing, the instrumentation is straight forward and nothing like the subtlety we heard on Istid I-II. There is even a vocal sample incorporated into the track, reminding me of something like “Hopeless dreams” one of the bonus tracks from the Barren Land digibook reissue.

Hærleif Langås mentioned, about a month before the release of this album, by way of a Facebook post, that these were unreleased tracks, a bit darker than the previous albums. While there is no real evidence to prove this, it sounds as if the album is laid out in chronological order. There is a slow progression across the length of the album from the harsher, bolder tracks from Barren Land and Horizons days, into something more like what we heard on The Borrowed World or Istid I-II. Though, right or wrong, this really doesn’t matter, it only shows that the album does have a sort of progression of sounds, whatever the reason.

“Skjelletering”, the second track on Night Paths, is another one which is brutally dark and crushing. The drones are thick and chilly, the field recordings and samples adding even more depth to this darkness. “Blood Trail” becomes a much lighter affair following these two crushing openers. But the malign nature and abysmal darkness may have gone to an even more intense level.

“Beneath the Ice”, a track that was introduced last month on our very own dark ambient compilation, becomes even more subtle. We get the sensations of a diver, searching some lost ancient shipwreck, beneath a thick layer of ice, which has kept the wreck sealed away from prying eyes for many years. This one is incredibly serene, and probably one of the least overtly dark tracks on the album.

There are really so many great tracks here to talk about. The album seems to have spanned the career, or at least the second half of the music career of Hærleif Langås. There have been few, but incredibly great, albums from Northaunt over the years and it should be a real blessing to any fan of Northaunt, that we are able to take a step back and hear these outtakes which are anything but dispensable.

Hærleif Langås decided to try something different with this album and released it himself, through his label, The Last Bleak Days. After so many years of releasing albums through various labels it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for him to do this one himself. But, dedicated fans should take note that this is a limited edition release of only 150 physical copies in a 6-panel digipak. So if you are interested in the physical release, don’t hesitate, they might not be around for long!

Night Paths is an absolutely worthy album to be added to the Northaunt discography. While it might not have the same stylistic and thematic consistency that we would hear on a proper full length, it’s full of great tracks, each one I am very pleased to have a chance to enjoy. We get a little something from all the different periods of the Northaunt sound, giving us a sort of time capsule back in time. For any fans of the older Northaunt music in particular, this is a must have. For newer fans, this is a way to get an idea of what Hærleif Langås has done in the past, a perfect introduction to his previous styles. Knowing that Istid III is right around the corner as well, we should all be quite content this winter, with plenty of fresh Northaunt music to act as a soundtrack to these upcoming cold, dark months.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Northaunt – Artist Spotlight

Northaunt is the main project of Hærleif Langås from Trondheim, Norway. Northaunt is a dark ambient project that is mainly focused on recreating the feelings of frigid climates and regions through the medium of dark ambient music. Though, Northaunt is not strictly tied to this format, since some releases will focus on different elements or different styles of music. On The Borrowed World, Northaunt focused on creating a post-apocalyptic soundscape, which would be fitting as an aural companion to the novel The Road by Cormac Mccarthy. On Istid I-II, Northaunt split the two section of the album into light and dark, which was further made clear on it’s vinyl release: Istid I, on white vinyl, and Istid II, on black.

started out as a duo, with Ketil Søraker (the man behind the current project Taphephobia) as the other half of the project, with Hærleif Langås. Their first release was The Ominous Silence, originally released in 2001 on Fluttering Dragon Records. This initial iteration of Northaunt took a more active approach than the later albums. The Ominous Silence featured guitar, piano and vocals which all added a more “band-like” feel to the music. The following album Barren Land would be the last to include the contributions of Ketil Søraker, and this album kept much of the active elements present on The Ominous Silence, but was already beginning to move into a more subtle and strictly ambient/drone direction.

Horizons was the true turning point in the sounds of Northaunt. Horizons was the first full length Northaunt release on Cyclic Law, as well as the first to be created solely by Hærleif Langås. It was a more subtle yet equally brooding release, which garnered significant praise from the dark ambient community, and is still looked at fondly to this day as one of the greatest releases in the genre. Yet, after Horizons, Northaunt would not release another full length album until almost a decade later in 2015.

During this lull in activity by Northaunt, Hærleif Langås was not inactive. 2007 saw the sophomore release of Syk Asfalt by his side-project Non Ethos. Non Ethos was the most experimental of Langås projects, and focused on manipulations of field recordings to create the majority of the soundscapes. 2008 saw the release of Exit Lines by The Human Voice, another side-project of which he was the sole contributor. The Human Voice is the most personal of Langås projects, focusing on human emotions as its inspiration and containing samples and piano to give it a more personal touch. The Human Voice would later release its second album (and one of my favorite releases by Langås) Silent Heart in early 2016. In 2011, his third side-project Therradaemon released its debut Den Mørke Munnens Språk. Therradaemon could be considered black ambient by some, and has a harsher, darker edge than any of his other works. In 2012, Mulm, a project which saw the reunion of Langås and Søraker along with fellow Norwegian musician Avsky, released The End of Greatness, a bleak and abstract dark ambient album.

Istid I-II released in 2015, again on Cyclic Law. Istid I-II follows the basic framework of Horizons by focusing heavily on subtly shifting drones to create meditative and atmospheric soundscapes.

Coming to the present we have been able to gather some information from Langås which will give us an idea of what to expect from Northaunt in the relatively near future. Langås recently conducted a contest which allowed fans to submit ideas for an album name. The winner was Matt Brown, who submitted the title ‘Night Paths’. Northaunt released a track on our recent compilation, This is Darkness Presents Vol. 1 Dark Ambient, entitled “Beneath The Ice”. Langås later stated that this track would be included on the upcoming album Night Paths.

After Night Paths, we can expect the release of Istid III, the proper full length follow-up to 2015s Istid I-II. Langås said of this release in June 2016 on social media “I have been invited to release something on renowned Italian label Glacial Movements, a label that specializes in drone and “glacial” ambient. It is one of my own favorite labels so I’m happy to announce that I have started making music for what I hope will become Istid III.” Langås later gave some more news about this release, in a recent interview with This Is Darkness, “The album is done, I worked really hard to have it finished by early 2017 since it was supposed to be released this year, but when it was done I got a mail telling me the release is postponed till January next year, I was quite disappointed.” Lucky for us, January 2018 is just a few months away and we are sure to have plenty of great music to enjoy on Night Paths to hold us over in the meantime!

Find out more about Northaunt in our recent interview with Hærleif Langås here.

links: Official Site, Facebook, Bandcamp

Written by: Michael Barnett

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