Tag: Review (Page 1 of 13)

Arktau Eos – Erēmos – Review

Artist: Arktau Eos
Album: Erēmos
Release date: 12 October 2018
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. The Liminal Pilgrim
02. Facing the Exarchs of Desolation
03. He Who Drinks the Light of the Stars
04. The Cells Beneath
05. Autochthon
06. Pacts of Stone and the Sun
07. In the Jaws of Basalt Lions
08. Column of Sky-Iron
09. Eden

Arktau Eos seem to have become the flagship project for the Aural Hypnox label. Since their debut, Mirrorion in 2006, Arktau Eos have quickly found a solid fan-base, which rabidly follows their every release. Erēmos shows fans, yet again, why Arktau Eos is esteemed so highly in the ritual ambient community and beyond. But, as has recently become less unusual, Arktau Eos have taken a step further into the unknown, expanding into new sonic territory as they transport us far from their mysterious Katajan Kaiku lodge in Northern Finland to the vast arid Mongolian steppe.

Arktau Eos says about the album in their promotional description on social media:
As has been the testimony of wise men and women of all faiths, solitude bestows its own distinct gifts upon the seeker, a process here treated in less intimate terms than on the voice-led Catacomb Resonator. Erēmos is more expansive; the desert that opens before the listener is not a locus of temptations or simple retreat, but a vivid inner mindscape of dramatic confrontations and transformations between flora, fauna, stellar matter, earth, and stone. Gradually they shed away the humanness in its most banal sense, until man identifies with the scorpionic voice of power that carries to the ends of the earth – and cosmos.

I am seeing Erēmos as a sort of connector between two worlds. The two places where Arktau Eos captured field recordings for the project were the initiators of this idea for me. I found it interesting and slightly strange that they would use field recordings from so far away as the Mongolian Steppe, and to then somehow connect these recordings to those captured in the northern Ostrobothnian woods of Finland. These disparate ideas can begin to reveal how they are connected as we look to the track titles on Erēmos.

“The Liminal Pilgrim” seems to be the indicator that we are about to experience a sort of pilgrimage, within the mind, to a place distant in time and space. It also indicates for us that this is a journey in solitude, not a cult attempting to make a grand movement, but a sole individual, seeking further enlightenment in realms unknown. This is further alluded to by the album’s title, Erēmos, which takes its meaning from the Greek “eremites” – person of the desert.

“He Who Drinks the Light of the Stars” seems to have a strong ritualistic feel to it, even more so than the previous tracks. This seems like a point where the meditator makes a sort of extra sensory move into the ancient lands of the Mongolian steppe, as they sit in their native Finland, gazing into a clear night sky. Or, they could even become conscious through the physical vessel of some native Mongolian of the past. This theory could follow nicely to the next track “Autochthon”, which here would likely refer to the birth of this human vessel within his own land of the Mongolian steppe. The track has a strong Eastern feel to it and Arktau Eos brings us into this new land smoothly using field recordings, not to mention the use of a plethora of other sounds which all help to build up this impressive sonic tapestry.

I will decline to make any further evaluations on this narrative presented by Arktau Eos. Various artists from Aural Hypnox have made it clear in the past that their albums should be a point of personal enlightenment and need not be too actively directed by the creators of the music. Though, with that said, Erēmos does seem to have a decent bit more specifics built into itself, through the album’s description and the track titles, than we are used to seeing from Aural Hypnox artists.

A further adjustment seems to have been made on this Arktau Eos project. As alluded to earlier, Erēmos is a natural progression further into new territory. Arktau Eos, and Aural Hypnox as a whole, have been testing the grounds of synthetic sounds more courageously over the last few years than could be witnessed on most of the label’s earlier releases. Though, as we have seen on an album like Zoät-AonStar Autopsy, a strict adherence to tribal/culturally-relevant instruments and other natural instruments like the voice, bone-flutes, or acoustic guitars is not necessary to create the same level of transcendental/mind-altering effects. Tracks like “The Liminal Pilgrim” and “Autochthon” are both brilliant examples of Arktau Eos ability to use their large array of sonic tools to dig deep into the consciousness of the listener, without sticking too closely to the standard ritual/tribal framework.

Erēmos has been released exclusively on CD. There was a quickly sold-out variant described by the label as “The Bleeding Stones edition” which had several alternate colour schemes and some extra photographs. But, it is worth sharing here that Arktau Eos said on social media, in response to a few people’s dismay at the sold-out special edition:

“Sorry to hear you missed out on the Bleeding Stones edition. Perhaps it is of some consolation that we consider it more of a curiosity than a proper special edition like the ones we have done before. In fact, none was planned for Erēmos, but these copies practically forced themselves to manifest and we could not but act duly! Regarding actual extra materials, they exist and might be released in a less strictly limited edition. We will see once we get back to work soon post-Erēmos – there is a lot of stuff seething in the cauldrons that begs to be finished and let loose upon the unsuspecting world, but that is all we know or can say right now!”

Arktau Eos have created a truly brilliant album in Erēmos. The sounds presented here are able to touch the listener in a multitude of different ways. We can close our eyes and imagine this world, which Arktau Eos have illustrated, unfolding before us. We are able to travel through time and space to a destination which only exists in our own minds, but is highly detailed nonetheless. Erēmos doesn’t contain a moment of the sort of primordial ritual ambient which was more prevalent on earlier Aural Hypnox releases. The evolution of their sound has kept the authenticity and subliminal power of its foundations, but they have moved into territory which is much more diverse from moment to moment and capable of conveying more specific visuals through sound. This would be an essential album to show those readers or their friends which are unfamiliar with Aural Hypnox. The Arktau Eos sound is possibly more focused and more effective here than at any time in their past. The project, like the rest of the label, just seems to keep increasing in quality with each passing year.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Dahlia’s Tear – Through the Nightfall Grandeur – Review

Artist: Dahlia’s Tear
Album: Through the Nightfall Grandeur
Release date: 16 October 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Encroaching Shadows Beckon to Chase the Fleeing Light
02. The Keeper of Broken Dreams and Tattered Spirits
03. Forlorn Whispers on a Moonlit Path
04. The Frozen Echoes of the Endless Moor
05. Bitter Silence of Desolate Steps
06. Drowning in Delusions of Grandeur
07. Lamenting Memories Long Past in the Remnants of Darkness
08. Drifting into the Void Grasping at Fading Starlight
09. Lost in the Crystalline Enigma

Dahlia’s Tear is a dark ambient project out of Stockholm, Sweden by sole member Anile D. Dahlia’s Tear debuted in 2005 with Harmonious Euphonies For Supernatural Traumas Mesmerising Our Existences in Radient Corpuscle and was followed up in 2007 with My Rotten Spirit of Black. Yet, these two releases remained quite elusive, and have only recently been uploaded to the personal Bandcamp page of Dahlia’s Tear. Therefore, my knowledge of the project starts with their masterpiece Under Seven Skies, also from 2007 and released on the now defunct Thonar Records. The strength of Under Seven Skies  would lead to Dreamspheres in 2012 which was released on the legendary Cold Meat Industry.

This all seemed to be leading toward Dahlia’s Tear becoming a first-class name within the dark ambient genre. But, after their one-track inclusion on the Cryo Chamber compilation Behind the Canvas of Time in 2012, Dahlia’s Tear disappeared for the next six years. Each time I listened back to Under Seven Skies and Dreamspheres I would think of that track on Cryo Chamber, and hope that one day there may be a new album by Dahlia’s Tear released through that label. Dahlia’s Tear did, indeed, keep in contact with Cryo Chamber throughout these years, and the long-awaited follow-up to Dreamspheres has finally arrived!

Though plenty of time has passed, the core of the Dahlia’s Tear sound has remained intact. Those familiar with Dreamspheres and Under Seven Skies will find many of the elements they loved are still being incorporated on Through the Nightfall Grandeur. Each track is distinctly musical, in comparison to many dark ambient releases, on Cryo Chamber or otherwise. Drones are constantly morphing and shifting. Piano arrangements feature often and distinctly in the mix. The female voice is incorporated throughout the album, taking the form of short, spoken word passages, (more in line with Dreamspheres than with the vocal performance by Carline Van Roos of Aythis and Lethian Dreams on Under Seven Skies).

One of the most moving elements of the Dahlia’s Tear sound, for me, has been its blending of the musical, dreamy, light-hearted elements with harsher industrial field recordings and tones. Again, this aspect of their sound is still intact, and further honed. This contrast is perfectly displayed on tracks like “Drowning in Delusions of Grandeur”, where the piano, female whispers, and distant chants, all play beautifully off one another, creating something that is at once familiar and warm, but equally harsh and remote.

The opening track, “Encroaching Shadows Beckon to Chase the Fleeing Light”, shows off the use of field recordings and subtle drone to create a dark but vibrant atmosphere. We get a real sense of the evolution of Dahlia’s Tear with this one. While, the following track “The Keeper of Broken Dreams and Tattered Spirits” seems like a direct continuation of the styles incorporated on Under Seven Skies. It is nice to see how this musician manages to retain the magic of these previous releases, while also moving into new terrain.

The cover-art for Through the Nightfall Grandeur seems to also nod to the artwork from Under Seven Skies, with thick fog and clouds rolling across the mountainous landscape. Though here there doesn’t seem to be such a connection to alien technology as was on display with Under Seven Skies. While the cover-art was created by Simon Heath, the album was not mastered by him, as is almost always the case with Cryo Chamber releases. Instead it has been mastered by Jeff M. in the U.K. The vocal performances, as well as words, on the album have all been contributed by one Michelle Rippy, who also contributed to Dreamspheres in 2012.

Dahlia’s Tear has always been one of my favorite dark ambient musicians when I’m in the mood for something more musical and more active than most dark ambient releases. For anyone familiar with Dahlia’s Tear, I think you will likely agree that this album is equal if not superior to his previous output. For anyone new to the sounds of Dahlia’s Tear, I highly recommend this dark ambient project. I can’t overstate my pleasure that I can cover something new from them, when I was often unsure if I’d ever hear anything new from them ever again. It’s also great to see that they’ve found a home on Cryo Chamber, where their music will certainly now become familiar to many of the more recent fans of this genre.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Haft Teppeh – Yume – Review

Artist: Haft Teppeh
Album: Yume
Release date: 19 March 2018
Label: Autarkeia

Tracklist:
01. Hedonic
02. Sibylline
03. Help Me Sleep [eternally]
04. Where Children’s Dreams Go To Sleep
05. Arterele Viselor/Hipnoza
06. Yami Ni Maboroshi
07. The Practice of Solitude
08. Anomalie
09. Wails of the Oblivious
10. Lucarna

Haft Teppeh is a new dark ambient project out of București, Romania. Quietly released through Autarkeia, Yume almost passed my notice. Immediately upon hearing the opening track I realized this was not an album to be missed. For me, the beauty of Haft Teppeh is in their ability to delve into the waters of several different dark ambient styles flawlessly. But one thing that stands out, is their similarity to the general atmosphere of early 2000s dark ambient musicians from the Scandinavian area.

The albums themes lie in several areas, which may or may not be clashing with each other. (Or just misunderstandings on my part.) The first relevant factor is Haft Teppeh itself, which seems to refer to an ancient site near modern Khuzestan in Iran. Haft Teppeh appears to have been in use during the middle Elamite period. Many of the ritual elements in the album, as well as the similarities to a project like Herbst9, would certainly make sense within the context of this connection.

The other relevant factor is the allusion, in track titles, to sleep/hypnosis/prophetic vision. On “Anomalie” we hear a meandering drone with a backdrop of strange, glitchy, almost otherworldly, noises. This eerie soundscape is complemented by a passage being spoken in a sort of dreamy half-whisper. This track gives me strong vibes of a combination between Cities Last Broadcast and Hymnambulae, as well as much of the Aural Hypnox catalog.

Combining these two ideas, we could imagine that Yume may be representing the story of a mystic tapping into their sibylline powers to connect with the distant past. The combination of ritual elements with things much more subtle helps this picture, we witness the ritual preparations, and then we slowly move further into this lucid hypnotic state, picturing ourselves in distant times and lands, far from our actual reality.

Putting questions of interpretation aside, one can come to this album with no sense of context and thoroughly enjoy every moment. Haft Teppeh is a well honed dark ambient project, which seems incredibly polished for a debut. I have already made references above to some of the projects I would compare with Haft Teppeh. Still there are other incredibly dreamy tracks, like “Help Me Sleep [eternally]” and “Where Children’s Dreams Go To Sleep” which could almost hide convincingly among the works of Kammarheit. As this is the third project by Pär Boström which I’ve mentioned here, I am willing to assume Haft Teppeh are quite the fans of his various musical works. We can also see some possible nods to the aesthetics of Aural Hypnox in Haft Teppeh‘s use of initials instead of artists’ full names.

In further comparisons, “Yami Ni Maboroshi” opens up with a subtle synth/drone which I immediately associate with some of Angelo Badalamenti‘s work on Lost Highway. But this connection only holds for a split second before the track fully reveals its ritual elements. This one is a highly meditative track, with the relaxing drones and gentle percussions clashing against the occasional high registered tone or momentary field of static. It all melts perfectly into something that gradually moves further into the realms of raison d’être, and here again, Haft Teppeh do honor to the connection.

As a debut, Yume is a triumph. Haft Teppeh are creating music which absolutely astounds me to imagine it might be their first foray into dark ambient. I am almost, but not, convinced that there might be some well-known dark ambient musician hiding behind the initials “HT”. Yume is currently only available in cassette through Autarkeia.org or digitally on the Haft Teppeh bandcamp page. An album like this really deserves an expanded release, in CD or vinyl, and hopefully we will see that. But, regardless I must assume they are already hard at work on whatever might come next. With a debut like this one, I really can’t wait.

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

Nam-Khar – Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa – Review

Artist: Nam-Khar
Album: Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa
Release date: 23 March 2018
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Dri Za
02. Sab Dak
03. Srinmo
04. Bdud
05. Shidak (re-shaped)
06. Nyan
07. Gyalpo
08. Klu

Nam-Khar is a ritual ambient project out of Germany which I’ve been following now for some years. They describe their music as, “Nam-Khar develops in a deep magickal exploration handling complex defragmentations and vibrational tunes with an ancestral touch which opens to listeners new gates of perception due how the evocative sounds emerges from time to time.”

They have released several collaborations/splits over the last few years with artists including Sielwolf, Alone in the Hollow Garden, Holotrop, and Shibalba. In fact, all their releases up to this point have been either collaborations or splits with other ritual ambient musicians. The only exception being their self-released debut, A Hallowed Ground Within, back in 2009. Due, in no small part, to the collaborative nature of Nam-Khar, they have been steadily gaining a larger audience over the last two years. This culminates with their first label released solo album, Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa on Winter-Light.

Video by: Maria Martinego

I will not go into any detail on specific tracks here. The album, as the artists have stated, is meant to be experienced as a whole, and thusly, that is the best way of speaking about it. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa is a brilliant ritual ambient release, but one which took me some time to fully grasp. This is a subtle form of ritual ambient presented here. The album has little-to-no “musical” elements, in the strict sense of the word. If you are reading as you listen to Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa, you might find the album calmly carry you through the next hour, without ever distracting you or inadvertently drawing you to its sounds. Though, if you are actively listening there is still a good bit of interesting things happening to keep your attention. But, the main attraction to this release, as should be obvious, is for those inclined to ritual music for more than just its aesthetics. Nam-Khar is, after all, a ritual ambient project which puts their goal of creating something unique and yet still authentic to Tibetan Buddhism-leaning traditions/rituals.

The general calmness of Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa lends itself nicely to its use as a meditation aid. Lighting a few candles and a stick of incense, then sitting down to a period of meditation, one can allow the sounds of Nam-Khar to fully envelop their consciousness. We can, then, absorb all the energies these artists have conjured in their craft. The gentle chiming of singing bowls, the field recordings which paint a picture of the environment, the tribal percussion, and the airy drones, all come together splendidly, and in a way that is never distracting. This, I think, is a feat for a ritual ambient act. So many ritual ambient albums are highly invasive on their listeners, begging every moments attention, or trying to force a listener into the intended mindset. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa coaxes us in the correct direction, without ever being forceful, leaving much more room for spiritual awakening/enlightenment.

This is their first release on the well-respected Winter-Light label. Before this, most of Nam-Khar music was released on the ritual ambient Sombre Soniks label. While Sombre Soniks is probably more in-line with the aesthetics of Nam-Khar, the move to Winter-Light should help further raise awareness of Nam-Khar within the dark/ritual ambient community. Nam-Khar is certainly one of a few ritual ambient projects that deserves a much greater appreciation. I would recommend Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa to any fan of ritual ambient that prefers the more subtle side of things. This could also be a very nice album for those that don’t usually like ritual ambient, but find an occasional release in this genre to their liking. Again, the subtlety of the work done on this release makes it very easy to enjoy and digest, and leaves the listener inclined to keep coming back for many repeat listens.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Templum N.R. – Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1 – Review

Artist: Templum N.R.
Album: Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1
Release date: May 2018
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. Bowels of the White Rose
02. Through the Liquid Mirror
03. The Unseen Tailor
04. The Towering Wall
05. Black Dust Enfolding
06. Hymn Two, Seven, Three

Aural Hypnox is one of the greatest hidden gems of the dark ambient world. To those in the know, collector’s editions sell out in a matter of days. It seems that most everyone from the dark ambient community that stumbles across Aural Hypnox quickly finds something to love here. One of the most concrete and noticeable attributes of Aural Hypnox is their focus on ritual ambient, as well as the attention to detail on their physical productions. Through acts like the legendary Arktau Eos and Halo Manash, among others, Aural Hypnox has built a solid fan-base, from their remote home-base of Oulu, Finland. For those unfamiliar with the northern Scandinavian region, Oulu is pretty far north. In fact, aside from Murmansk and Norilsk in Russia, Oulu is the most northerly city on Earth. Further adding to the intrigue of Oulu is their community-wide experiments with new technology, called a “living lab”. With its founding going back to 1605, Oulu seems to have some intense conflicting extremes.

For this strange, unique, and esoteric project I think it is best that Templum N.R. explain their goals and the meaning of the project’s name for themselves:
“Templum N.R. is a temple dedicated to Nightside Revelations and in this temple other worlds, parallel universes and realities are present both in sound and vision. The repertoire of the group consists of telepathic resonances received while travelling in the Spheres of Otherness and is presented through obscure electronics, eternal & eerie melodies and droning, swallowing textures. The material of the Temple will travel deep inside the listeners subconsciousness and foster the understanding of a Formless Sacrifice. The Otherness is unleashed in the surroundings inhabited by the group’s output.”

The releases of Templum N.R. show the intersections between technology and ancient traditions in a most glaring way. Their first two releases Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio and T.o.V. Improvisations XCII-XCIII show a side of Templum N.R. which is more in line with the rest of the Aural Hypnox roster. A sort of droning ritual ambient. But, Spectrum DCXCIII: Poison Portals started showing a more experimental side of Templum N.R. Especially on the track “I Am His Sacrifice”, Templum N.R. introduced the use of unusual vocal sections. “I Am His Sacrifice” took us on a journey to a remote cabin which has more to it than it would seem. This odd vocal style has been made even more prominent on Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1. Templum N.R. have also added a new element into the mix with all the vocals for this release being contributed by “Madame Eternally Nameless”.

You can hear on the music video for “The Unseen Tailor” how these various elements come together to create quite a unique experience. The cassette comes with a fold-out insert which gives us all the lyrics for the release. There is a nice combination of foreboding, poetic beauty, futurism, numerology and darkness here, all blended into this short but potent release. While the album only totals about twenty minutes play length, it is nonetheless a rewarding twenty minutes. As should be expected of Aural Hypnox, this cassette comes in a beautiful packaging, created by Aural Hypnox sister company Primeval Vision.

For those that have purchased any Templum N.R. merchandise over the past year or two, you will already know that Templum N.R. prefer to keep their distance from the digital world, and they have devised a subscription system for receiving newsletters and exclusive content via snail mail at intervals throughout the year. I recently joined this list and was graced with the c40 cassette, The Chasm of Desiccated Beings. This drone heavy release features an original track “Meditation I” on Side A and an “Inorganic Twin” remix of it on Side B. For those that are eager for more from them, this is certainly a way of finding it. Here is the official statement on their Discogs about this:
“There will be no official presence of Templum N.R. in the global system of interconnected computer networks. If you would like to receive traditional paper newsletters, unique artworks & exclusive audio tapes of the group, please join the official Templum N.R. subscription list. Contact via email for details.”
(Note: I don’t have their e-mail, so maybe it’s best to wait for the paper subscription form, which should come with any of the new Templum N.R. releases.)

As with just about everything I’ve encountered from Aural Hypnox, I highly recommend Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. I. It may be a short release, but every minute is valuable here and listeners will likely feel as content as I have with it, as a whole. Concurrent with this release, Aural Hypnox re-released all three of Templum N.R.‘s previous albums on CD, each with a bit of extra content. It is always interesting to see where Templum N.R. will take us next, and this is once again a journey worth remembering.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ruptured World – Exoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Exoplanetary
Release date: 7 August 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Bright Communion of Primal Energies
02. The Sunken Valleys
03. Future Cries of No Tomorrow
04. The Twilight Hours
05. A Time Without Saviours
06. The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces
07. The Voyage of Tarknassus
08. Closing Theme

Exoplanetary follows the story of a scientifically based exploration of the planet Proxima Centauri B. Ruptured World is a sci-fi cinematic dark ambient release created by weird fantasy and horror fiction author Alistair Rennie. Exoplanetary takes Rennie’s knack for writing fiction into new territory, giving us something that feels familiar, and yet new. Most tracks feature spoken-word, which is all performed by Rennie himself. Along with the booklet, this gives the album a lot of material for listeners to absorb, making multiple listens a must. Thankfully those multiple listens have been equally as enjoyable as the first.

The mission plan refers to “select members of the human species”, leading me to wonder about the class warfare that must be happening simultaneously (though this theme is not explored on Exoplanetary). As the 99.9% realize that they are going no where, and Earth will soon double as their grave marker, drifting through infinite space.

On “The Sunken Valleys”, Rennie speaks in his sort of 50s sci-fi movie style voice, explaining the characteristics of the landscape. But, there is even further detail committed to this topic in the 16 page “Executive Mission Summary” booklet, which accompanies both the digital and physical versions of Exoplanetary.

“The Twilight Hours” begins by explaining a bit about the Krivren species, which appears to be a deadly, intelligent race of creatures that populate Proxima Centauri B. Again, here, the booklet goes into even greater detail about this alien race, giving us enough information to start forming images of these creatures in our minds, as well as hearing their communications throughout the track. “A Time Without Saviours” picks back up on this dialogue, this time going into more detail about the routines and actions of this race, and their possible understanding of humanity’s arrival.

“A Time Without Saviours” is likely my favorite track on the album. It slowly builds until we hear some dialogue I mentioned above, then the track turns musical, allowing a slow almost glitchy melody to become the new focus for the remainder of the track. This section is highly evocative of some of my favorite Sabled Sun melodic sections. In fact, probably my favorite thing about this album, as a whole, is its similarities to the Sabled Sun 21XX series. But, here we are more focused on conveying the story through actual dialogue and through the accompanying booklet. Whereas with Sabled Sun there is much more left to the imagination, in terms of specific greater plot details, and the focus is instead on real-time soundscape cinematics (i.e. electronics bleeping, footsteps, doors opening). I wouldn’t commit to liking one or the other style better. I think it’s great to see these themes covered from varied angles.

“The Voyage of Tarknassus” brings together all the elements of Exoplanetary in a concise fashion. We hear a radio tuning into a station, finding a beautiful piano arrangement. This soon shifts to a transmission of the voice of Dr. Hector Macrae, which eventually trails off into a slow droning section. This seems to give listeners time to contemplate the words we’ve just heard and the greater plot of the album, going on for eleven minutes as the longest track. Exoplanetary ends on peaceful note, being another of the more musical tracks. A number of different elements come together here, built upon a peaceful drone and a prominent bass line.

Cryo Chamber continues making their bold moves into varying fringes of the dark ambient genre. Yet again, it seems they’ve made a successful gamble, bringing an artist into the fray with some highly detailed visions for his work. Alongside Simon Heath, this is likely to be a highly fruitful endeavor in the future, just as we’ve already seen here on Exoplanetary, as well as in similar circumstances with God Body Disconnect. Ruptured World must be the best project I could recommend for lovers of Sabled Sun and other cinematic sci-fi ambient releases. There is a little here of everything that makes that sub-genre so compelling. The beautiful cover-art, booklet and layout of Exoplanetary make it all the more attractive. I wouldn’t recommend this as background music, there are plenty of dark ambient albums out there that will blend nicely into your evening. Ruptured World asks more of their listeners, but the reward is worth the effort. Highly Recommended!

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

Tracklist:
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

Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution – Review

Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Album: Diminution
Release date: 13 April 2018
Label: Malignant Records / Cloister Recordings / Black Horizons

Tracklist:
01. Diminution
02. Life Leaving
03. Causeway
04. Abjure
05. Wayward
06. Self-Recognition (For Pauline Oliveros)
07. Hindsight
08. Light Rising

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-talented musician out of the San Fransisco bay area. She’s contributed to a rather large number of musical projects, including: Hammers of Misfortune, Saros and Vastum to name a few. Through these projects she’s delved into a wide range of music from doom and folk metal in Hammers of Misfortune to post-industrial in Ionophore. But, on her solo albums, as Leila Abdul-Rauf, we have heard much calmer and more atmospheric music.

Leila Abdul-Rauf creates her dark ambient(ish) music in a way that delivers a more musical, song-based result than much of what you will see covered here. The trumpet and vocals play a major part in this difference. Her haunting yet beautiful vocals lend themselves to some of those Blue Velvet vibes. It is easy to envision that dark club where Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) first witnesses a performance by Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) over an ice-cold Heineken. Of course, the trumpet certainly helps produce this vibe. The connection can also be made by the way Leila Abdul-Rauf is creating music that is thoroughly dark, without ever feeling too languid or depressing. This is likely part of the reason the album is being promoted as early morning solitude music; a nod to the interplay between light and dark that flows through the album.

Leila Abdul-Rauf does a great job of building these visuals into the sounds. Unlike some releases we cover, Diminution doesn’t appear to follow any set narrative. It’s not supposed to tell us one specific story. Instead, we are given a sort of mood-enhancer. Diminution plays best at those late-night hours, after much of the world has retired for the day, or in those early morning moments, dew still glistening on the leaves, as the sun begins to peak out upon the horizon. This is a sort of midnight music. A sound that isn’t particularly depressing, but is certainly not happy. The track titles and lyrical content of the album, as well as the cover-art, all feed into this mood. Titles like “Life Leaving”, “Self-Recognition”, and “Hindsight” all lend to a feeling of reflection and contemplation, of the acceptance of loss and death. But, this isn’t a brooding lament, instead it seems to look at these concepts from a more constructive perspective. For instance, the opening track, “Diminution”, uses the combination of trumpet and piano in a way that draws equal parts serene contemplation and sorrowful despair. This formula emerges for me throughout the album, making it something I love using for lazy driving music. Following a dark highway home at night, or cruising aimlessly through some national park, Diminution is able to enhance the vibe, bringing out a well of divergent emotions.

Photo by: Allan I. Young

“Light Rising” – Paradoxically seems like one of the darkest tracks on the album. The thing that puts it into this context for me is the doom-laden repetitive sound, which gives a sort of black metal or dungeon synth vibe to the track. The track begins and ends with this isolated sound, but throughout “Light Rising” Abdul-Rauf uses her voice and trumpet to give it that lighter contrast. The vocals on this one give me the greatest reminder of something we would hear in Twin Peaks, that dark synth-pop vibe which Lynch has helped to cultivate over the years. Though, of course, here we get a much slower pace and a significantly more atmospheric vibe. For me, this balance between some more active genres, like synth-pop or jazz, with the more subtle sounds of dark ambient and neo-classical comes together perfectly on Diminution. We get the closest we can to the experience surrounding a Lynchian film, with the visual elements melting into the soundscapes to create a dark and cinematic atmosphere where sound can replace visuals altogether.

“Self Recognition (for Pauline Oliveros)” is, as one may guess, an ode to the highly influential musician Pauline Oliveros. I have not personally spent a lot of time with Oliveros’ music. But, shortly after her death in 2016, I read a rather thorough article about her impact on the music world. There are obviously a great number of reasons for Leila Abdul-Rauf to find inspiration in the work of Pauline Oliveros. Her presence was felt heavily in Leila Abdul-Rauf’s San Fransisco bay area, particularly through the San Fransisco Tape Music Center, founded in the ’60s. But her work in the, at the time, untrodden frontier of experimental electronic music would be one of her most notable lifetime contributions. “Self-Recognition” provides a thoroughly enjoyable “deep listening” experience which would likely make Oliveros proud.

 

Photo by: Nathan A. Verrill

The success of 2015’s Insomnia, her sophomore release, through Malignant Antibody, was due in large part to the musical content. But, there was also no shortage of praise for the cover-art, a painting by Mark Thompson. This time around, Matthew Jaffe contributes some of his beautiful artwork to the project. This painting of buildings in background, fronted by a thick fog which enshrouds trees and what could be either gravestones or shrouded figures, make for a brilliantly atmospheric cover-art. This artwork is given further justice through the vinyl variants; one of which is solid black and the other is gold with black swirl.

Art by Matthew Jaffe – featured on vinyl insert

Leila Abdul-Rauf brings back everything we loved about the highly-praised Insomnia. But, this time around the music seems even further refined. I would recommend Diminution to any fans of dark ambient with more active elements such as vocals and trumpet. This one will not be particularly jarring to the passive-preferring listeners either. With near universal praise again this time, it seems we can be expecting a good many more years of musical output from this highly talented individual. Not to mention all her other musical projects. Highly recommended!

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

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