Tag: Review (Page 1 of 11)

Taphephobia & Kave – Monuments – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Stromstad – New Devoted Human – Review on the Periphery

Artist: Stromstad
Album: New Devoted Human
Release date: 8 December 2017
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. Inherent Resurrection
02. Fever Wave Dream Function
03. Blood Consciousness
04. Nattsvermer
05. Reluctant Traveller (feat. Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved)
06. Exchanging Eyes
07. New Devoted Human
08. Kosto

Stromstad is a collaborative project between Jasse Tuukki and Toni Myöhänen of STROM.ec and Kristoffer Oustad. STROM.ec of Finland have been spreading their variety of industrialized darkness to the world since their debut on Freak Animal Records, back in 2000. Since then, they have continued to make a name for themselves through such labels as Annihilvs, Malignant and it’s sub-label Black Plague. The Norwegian artist, Kristoffer Oustad, known for work under his own name, and also as part of the Kristoffer Nyströms Orkester with Peter Nyström, has proven his dynamic set of abilities as a high caliber dark ambient producer.

We got a morsel of Oustad’s taste for the heavier and grittier cousin of dark ambient, death industrial on his contributions to the latest, and highly recommended, Tumult by Shock Frontier (reviewed here), which released just prior to New Devoted Human, also on Malignant Records. STROM.ec have stayed consistently heavier throughout their career, having little room for the more reserved dark ambient sections that we hear throughout New Devoted Human.

So, when we get both projects together, STROM.ec and Kristoffer Oustad, the outcome is not entirely surprising in its style, but what is more surprising is the sense of fluidity and comfort these artists seem to have working together. The chemistry is what makes New Devoted Human such a gem for the small but passionate international community that follows this sort of music. Malignant Records saw it coming, which led them to the choice of giving the Stromstad debut a vinyl edition, which is something they’ve been doing more frequently, but still quite selectively.

There are tracks where the two different styles come together perfectly in a single track, through a whirlwind of noise and emotion. Tracks like “New Devoted Human” with its distorted guitars, industrial drum sections, and enraged screams, blend perfectly with Oustad’s more reserved and delicate dark ambient undertones. Early in this track, we can hear that dark ambient element lingering in the background, behind the much thicker noises of the STROM.ec guys. As the track progresses these dark ambient elements slowly, and almost subconsciously, move to the forefront. The track takes on a sort of violent narrative, as we move from the viciousness of the beginning sections into this wall of subtle darkness, a sort of uneasy calm as the dust settles just after a city is besieged.

Other tracks, like “Inherent Resurrection” and “Blood Consciousness”, keep the energy at maximum throughout their duration. Electronics blaring and angry vocals dictated, Stromstad give us the perfect example of a sort of post-industrial metal band. Yet, the meshing of varied genres can go even further afield at times, like on the chorus section of “Blood Consciousness” which features a dubstep-like component that is incredibly unlikely, but fits beautifully.

Intermingled with these high-energy tracks are dark ambient soundscapes which help the listener to paint a picture of this imagined future, which is as technologically advanced as it is apocalyptically devastated. The listener can get a sense of a future which took A.I., military-grade weaponry, and robotics to their darkest ends, creating a war-torn planet, upon which human life is no longer so cherished; a place where greed and technology come together, achieving the worst possible outcomes. “Nattsvermer” is one such track, where the perfectly executed dark ambient elements take prominence above a tapestry of industrial noises which lie in the background. Another is the closer, “Kosto”, which is the most reserved track on New Devoted Human, using gentle waves of synth to create an almost serene atmosphere, which helps the album to end on a more philosophical than apocalyptic note.

New Devoted Human is certainly a unique experience. This is something that will find a wide and unlikely set of fans. While I’ve focused on a few of the more prominent genre elements presented here, listeners will likely find a number of other genre influences which will enrich their personal experiences with the album all the more. I would foremost recommend this release to listeners that find the more dynamic releases on Malignant Records to their liking. For fans of a more strict definition of dark ambient, this will be a bit too heavy, but with that said, I think it is still worth giving it a try, they really have found a nice chemistry here, which doesn’t take any one element to too great an extreme.

Written by: Michael Barnett

 

Theologian – Forced Utopia – Review

Artist: Theologian
Album: Forced Utopia
Release date: 20 October 2017
Label: Danvers State Recordings

Tracklist:
01. Side A 28:59
A1. In The End Times
A2. The Sisters
A3. We Envy Our Gods For Their Indifference
A4. Spent Fuel Rods
02. Side B 29:36
B1. Forced Utopia
B2. Subtract
B3. Indifference Redux
B4. Epilogue

Theologian is an artist I’ve been talking about quite frequently since the advent of This Is Darkness. His talents have been secured for numerous of the recent Cadabra Records spoken-art releases, particularly the H.P. Lovecraft ones. But the musical works of Lee Bartow go much deeper, spanning back into the late 90s as Navicon Torture Technologies, Bartow has been tearing up the death industrial, power electronics, and dark ambient scenes. All the while, his Annihilvs Power Electronix (APEX) label has been providing a foundation for a multitude of post-industrial artists.

Between 2009 and 2013, Theologian slowly replaced Navicon Torture Technologies as the primary of Bartow’s projects. Theologian has proved to be an incredibly diverse project, with sounds that can span several genres in a single track. This breadth of interest and expertise is what likely drew the attention of Cadabra Records when they were looking for dark eerie soundscapes to build the foundations for many of their spoken-art releases. The upcoming The Call of Cthulhu, which we’ll cover here, is likely to be one of the most impressive Cadabra Records releases to date, with Theologian (soundscapes) and Andrew Leman (readings) again taking the helm together.

The latest full-length solo release by Theologian is Forced Utopia, a look into a mind that sees in only darkness, in a world which is on a collision course with utter disaster. It equally examines the inner thoughts of one left to fend for themselves in an increasingly cannibalistic society, and the outer landscapes, as they dry and eventually conflagrate, burning to ash. The question of whether or not this existence is worth fighting for at all seems to be at the center of the narrative.

Forced Utopia has been an album that I’ve been pondering for a few months. There was never a question of whether or not it was worth taking the time to review, that answer has been apparent from the first play-through. But, dissecting the release, understanding what musical influences have come into play has proven to be a bit harder. In the end, suffice to say, it is basically futile to categorize much of what is happening here. The one comparison that does come to mind is the recent Shock Frontier, in the way that both albums seem to move through incredibly diverse stages touching on dark ambient, death industrial and power electronics, but also other, far reaching genres that would be much less obvious on the first analysis.

The opener, “In The End Times” has stayed pretty consistent as my favorite track on this release. There is a gradual build up, spanning several moments, before the terror is fully unleashed through heavily distorted vocals, which are given some of the most interesting treatment I’ve heard in a long time, a combination of effects which render Bartow’s vocals almost unearthly in their presentation. As the first half of the cassette progresses, we move through a number of different dark soundscapes, vividly painting that picture of apocalyptic ruin and mental degradation.

Side B moves on through varied mind-warping soundscapes, dark and sort of futuristic in palette. Toward the middle of Side B the energy is again driven into overcharge. Starting with a steady beat, electronic pulses, ghostly vocals hovering in the distance, we move into territory I wasn’t quite expecting. Bartow, delivers a vocal performance here, which is again quite impressive to say the least. Where at the beginning of the album the sounds were devastatingly harsh, here, we are taken into something on a vocal level which is more akin to an alternative rock style. But the rest of the track never abandons its cause, continuing to deal the devastating apocalyptic darkness that has saturated Forced Utopia. So, when these vocals pierce through, proclaiming the words, “This could be the year, I take myself out of the equation.”, it is a little bit more than gripping, it manages to add some serious heartfelt emotion to the album.

Forced Utopia came to us on cassette through Danvers State Recordings. An underground tape label run by Andrew Grant, also known for his project The Vomit Arsonist. (Note: Shortly after the birth of This Is Darkness, I reviewed Pulsed In A Dull Glass Bell by R.C. Kozletsky also known for Apocryphos and Shock Frontier, you can check out the review for that other brilliant release here.) The cassette format works well for this release, which seems to see the future as being so bleak. It can also be purchased digitally through Bartow’s Annihilvs Power Electronix Bandcamp page.

Forced Utopia is one of the most enjoyable Theologian releases I’ve heard to-date. I’ve been coming back to this release frequently and happily over the last few months, pondering it for review. While a review will occasionally give me a sigh of relief as I’m able to move into something fresh, this will likely be one of those releases I keep returning to frequently even over the coming weeks. Theologian gives us a little of everything that makes their music great, on Forced Utopia, while simultaneously painting a vividly bleak and disturbing picture for the listener to experience.

Written by: Michael Barnett

 

Ajna – An Era of Torment – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Northaunt – Istid III – Review

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

Tracklist:
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.

Martyria – Self-titled – Review

Artist: Martyria
Album: Martyria
Release date: 8 January 2018
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. Logos
02. Pneuma
03. Nekros
04. Nyx
05. Eschaton

Ambient music often carves out paths to enlightenment by providing head-spaces for spiritual and emotional self-discovery. In this way, the style connects back to the origins of musical expression as a whole, in which ancient peoples used chants and rhythms to facilitate reconciliations with their place in the universe. This cross-section of ambient and traditional world music is where Martyria find themselves. Using tribal instruments and ancient eschatological texts as their basis, Martyria scour the vanguard of ritualistic music at the very foundation with their debut LP.

Martyria don’t treat their instrumentation like a crutch. George Zafiriadis (didgeridoo, synth and ozark harp) and Lena Merkouri (Percussion and Wind Instruments) effortlessly evoke both the sonic and numinal qualities of apocalyptic mythologies. Their synthesis of ritual ambient and atmospheric world music carries a purpose far beyond a spooky aura — as exemplified by the ominous bell cadence, archaic drum pulse and droning throat singing of opening track “Logos.” Both musicians employ their sarcophagic vocal serenades, plunging the listener into malignant prophecies. Rustic synths fill in the sonic space, making an already expansive soundscape completely massive.

Martyria use the most resonant and monolithic qualities of their instruments to create their unique aura. Zafiriadis’s didgeridoo and ozark harp hardly function as exotic relics, taking the reigns of “Pneuma” and deepening the roots of its terminative tale. Echoes of rhythm linger and overlap in the song’s arrangement, which in this case function more to vectorize the song’s atmosphere rather than to confine it to a rigid structure. This unconscious movement allows Merkouri’s stirring byzantine melodies to find footholds rather than aimlessly drift, evidencing the project’s primeval elements, while allowing them to express their own inner dialogues.

“Nekros” divulges into less world music tendencies, allowing synth and processed samples and vocalizations to drive its amorphous labyrinth. The song’s emotional crescendo reveals some of the most fearful passages in the record, encapsulating the forlorn dread coinciding with fatal premonitions. While similar armageddon-centered music often evokes the terror of its subject matter as they imagine it occurring, Martyria hovers spectrally through the ashes of crumbled civilizations and bears witness to humanity’s end. With their aboriginal substratum intact, Zafiriadis and Merkouri confront the ultimate finality of existence and presents a unique vantage point from which to explore universal destiny.

Though the aforementioned track makes more overt use of modern synthesizers, this album’s seamless integration of the modern and the prehistoric allows it to remain entirely unified in its vision. “Nyx” remains perfectly balanced in this regard, with its distant chants and thudding percussion seemingly echoing off catacomb walls. Even the electronic drones hark back to a time long past, bolstering a ghostly flute melody as they illuminate mysterious sacraments. Additional voices and soundscapes trickle into the mix, filling the atmosphere so tactfully that one might not realize their submergence until the song releases its grip on the senses.

Howling winds begin the last and longest track “Eschaton,” as Merkouri’s spellbinding laments beckon listeners into the shaman’s cave for one last rite of passage. She and Zafiriadis create a cyclopean choral, free-flowing from hair-raising shrieks to oceanic swells. Their ability to simultaneously build tension to a breaking point while assuaging the listener into a trance, imparting a state of mental limbo between paranoia and prayerful tranquility. This particular track’s use of field recordings emphasize the transportive qualities of this record.

Martyria aren’t interested in simply recording interesting textures, instead taking listeners to the source through their authentically mystical expression. From its opening bell toll until its last notes fade into the annals of time, this tremendous debut succeeds not only as an incredible amalgamation of ritual ambient and world music, but an exercise in eschatological internalization.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

raison d’être – Alchymeia – Review

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Mia Vaattovaara 2008

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Roger Karmanik 2015

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

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

 

Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea – Review

Artist: Bridge To Imla
Album: The Radiant Sea
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Prologue: The Kuroshio Current
02. Tsushima Basin
03. Shatsky Rise
04. The Aleutian Current
05. Hikurangi Plateau
06. Mariana Trench
07. Louisville Ridge
08. The California Current
09. Richards Deep
10. Raukumara Plain
11. Emerald Fracture Zone
12. Fobos-Grunt
13. The Humboldt Current
14. Galathea Depth
15. Epilogue: Ring of Fire

Bridge to Imla is the new ambient / Berlin School project by artists Hans-Dieter Schmidt and Michael Brückner. Both artists are veterans of the wider ambient music genres and have been releasing music under various projects for decades. The Radiant Sea is their first collaboration.

The Radiant Sea is an ode to the Pacific Ocean. The theme of the album is two-fold. It partially is a telling of the Fukushima Disaster in Japan, and a warning against allowing these sorts of disasters to happen in the future. But it is also a love-song to the Pacific, a look not only at its majesty, but also at its ability to heal the planet. Our oceans help greatly in keeping the atmosphere clean, absorbing much of the toxins we create and discard. So, it is, in some instances, the only thing holding us back from fully disrupting our planet’s fragile eco-systems.

The music on the album is quite diverse. There are elements of many different sub-genres within the greater ambient spectrum. Fans of the Berlin School sound will find much to love here. It is also telling that they sought the mastering skills of Robert Rich, as much of the album fits nicely with his tastes and skill-sets. There are certainly elements of dark ambient which rise and fall throughout the album, particularly on the opening track, “Prologue: The Kuroshio Current”, we can hear some deep, menacing dronework which brings to mind the Northaunt opus, Horizons. Throughout the album, as well, we can hear drones which greatly relax the mind and lull the listener toward a sleepy half-aware state of consciousness. Yet, as a whole, the album is less routed in dark ambient than readers will find on most of the releases we cover. However, that isn’t to say that this should be ignored by those listeners which only are interested in that crushing darkness, it touches the genre in many ways throughout its entirety and will have plenty of things for dark ambient lovers to enjoy along the way.

The drones are well crafted and give the album that particularly dreamy feeling, but they aren’t always at the forefront. Much of the album is filled with field recordings, voice samples and instrumentation, which all come together to keep it incredibly entertaining, easily enjoyable as the primary point of focus for listeners. “The Humboldt Current” is a great example of this, with crystalline drones backing a beautiful wind instrument section, which give it a wonderful sort of meditative Eastern feel.

Then there are tracks like “Louisville Ridge” which lean heavily into the Berlin School / electronica side of the spectrum. The track is filled with synthesizer sections which give the listener an almost psychedelic feeling. This psychedelic element crops up often throughout the album, without becoming comical or overused. Often the subtle ways in which drones shift can play with the mind of the listener, especially if they are listening to this as they prepare to fall asleep.

The album becomes an all around success with the help of Robert Rich and the Winter-Light label. Robert Rich was brought in to master the release. Putting his decades of experience in the ambient genre to work, polishing the album to a pristine perfection. Once handed off to the Winter-Light label, The Radiant Sea was given beautiful cover-art, as well as a high quality 6-panel digipak, making the physical release as enticing as its stripped down digital-only alternative.

Bridge To Imla delivered a strong debut. An album which could have only been created by artists with a lifetime’s experience in the field of ambient soundscapes. The album is equally as delightful when given full undivided attention as it is when played in the background, as an augmentation to some other activity. After this strong debut, we can hope to see more albums like this in the coming years from these two gentlemen. Until then, there should be many hours of enjoyment as one floats along on The Radiant Sea!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Shock Frontier – Tumult – Review

Artist: Shock Frontier
Album: Tumult
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. The Cold Illucid World (feat. CMK)
02. What We Are
03. Duress
04. I Am Afraid & Bringing Fire (feat. Gnawed)
05. Ashes of Others
06. Once Assured of Salvation
07. Forfallen (feat. Noculture)
08. Our Vain Illusion
09. Tumult (feat. Kristoffer Oustad)

Shock Frontier is the death industrial project out of Pennsylvania manned by Kyle Carney and Robert Kozletsky. Many of you will be familiar with Kozletsky’s work on his dark ambient project, Apocryphos. Shock Frontier, like many of it’s death industrial brethren, is a no-holds barred aural assault on the senses. The music is meant to make you feel the emotions of the artists, right down to your gut. This emotion can be wide-ranging in theme but is always on the negative side of the spectrum. Following in the footsteps of artists like Brighter Death Now and Deutsch Nepal, the death industrial scene has continued to grow over the last few years, with artists like Steel Hook Prostheses, Theologian, The Vomit Arsonist and Gnawed (just to name a few from the Malignant roster), continuing to carry the torch for the next generation of listeners. Shock Frontier garnered much acceptance after their debut, Mancuerda Confessions back in 2013, but their new sophomore release, Tumult, will likely bring them all due respect that they deserve.

On their debut, Shock Frontier created incredibly harsh soundscapes which, frankly, had no need for improvement. So, instead of recreating their debut Shock Frontier decided to test new waters with their sounds. The most noticeable of these new elements will be the addition of vocals. The opening track, “The Cold Illucid World” introduces us to this new addition. We hear a sort of singing/yelling by Kyle Carney which introduces us to the themes at play on the album. As the track progresses the vocals slowly morph into all-out screams. While there is no traditional use of instruments like guitars or drums, the track still manages to have a sort of traditional song structure feel to it, which, as the album continues, corrodes further and further into the glorious depths of death industrial noise.

The third track of the album, “Duress” is my personal favorite. It opens with this powerful passage, which I’m honestly not sure if it’s their own lyrics or a clip from a film. I’d like to think it is them! (but I’m guessing it isn’t) “You think god will protect you from the head of this hammer? Or the six floors you are about to fall? As long as there is a god, men like you can kill thousands, millions. But you will never find peace. Well… I guess were going to have to kill God. That is my message to the world. Kill God.” What follows is a repetitive harsh industrial percussion drowned in a tumult of electronic noise. Through the entirety of the track, we hear the words “Kill God.” repeated in various inflections and levels of intensity. As a whole, it makes for a beautiful cacophony of noise, which is utterly devastating and relentless.

Another highlight is the closer, “Tumult”, which includes the talents of Kristoffer Oustad, as well as another spine-tingling sample of an older gentlemen speaking of what would seem to be their plans for a mass suicide… in the name of God… This track is one of the few throughout the album that have a bit lower level of intensity, holding the death industrial vibes while moving into sounds that are, at times, quite dark ambient. It leaves the listener with an incredibly uneasy feeling as the album reaches its close.

Bringing in the talents of several other musicians (including Gnawed, Noculture and Kristoffer Oustad) to collaborate on a few tracks, Shock Frontier are able to further diversify their sounds from the previous release. What we are left with is a scathing look at humanity, through the eyes of people that have clearly had enough of the current trends and cultures that fill our modern planet. Themes of apocalyptic confrontations, mass suicides, and a corroded natural environment take listeners into the deepest darkest fears and sadistic pleasures mankind has to offer.

Shock Frontier have absolutely proven their worth on Tumult. The album is challenging at times, but always at maximum intensity and always drenched in negative emotion, even during its more reserved, dark ambient leaning tracks. This new vision was given the full treatment by Malignant Records, housed in a beautiful DVD digipak with irradiated, irreligious, apocalyptic art created by Noculture. The sounds are mastered by death industrial veteran John Stillings of Steel Hook Prostheses. Kozletsky and Carney have bared their souls, grinding out tracks which surely took them into the darkest recesses of their psyches and Malignant gave them a platform to spill this deviant heresy on the post-industrial world. It is now left to us, the listeners, to share this dark beast with the unsuspecting masses. May they bask in its deviance… or crumble beneath its iron grip.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Page 1 of 11

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: