Tag: Review (Page 1 of 12)

Teahouse Radio – Her Quiet Garden – Review

Artist: Teahouse Radio
Album: Her Quiet Garden
Release date: 24 April 2018
Label: Hypnagoga Press

Tracklist:
01. A low-toned meadow
02. Snow falling on black water
03. Death would find my halls and flood them
04. Unable
05. Urn
06. Dreaming splendid spaces
07. If I were a garden
08. Underwater sleep orchestra
09. Her tiny ears and paws
10. Resembling a ruin
11. The elsewhere sleep

Read our recent interview with Teahouse Radio/Hypnagoga Press.

Teahouse Radio is the latest project by Pär Boström. Boström has seen a veritable whirlwind of creativity over the last few years. As far as the quality of this burst of creativity is concerned, the music speaks for itself each and every time. We’ve seen new Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast since 2015, both albums well worth the considerable wait since their predecessors. But the most interesting aspect of Boström’s “reawakening” has been in the new projects he’s launched.

We’ve now seen the quality-over-quantity ideology of his young label Hypnagoga Press, with beautifully crafted releases by Hymnambulae (with sister, Åsa), Altarmang (with Kenneth Hansson), and Bonini Bulga. But, this latest release must be the most ambitious of Pär Boström’s attempts (successful attempts I might add!) to create something that is both deeply personal as well as novel to the dark ambient community. From cover-art to acoustic instrument choices to general atmosphere, Teahouse Radio is indeed a quite interesting and unique release.

This isn’t a cinematic dark ambient release in the same sense as we would hear from Cryo Chamber, (ex. Cities Last BroadcastThe Humming Tapes). Instead, Her Quiet Garden hones in on atmospherics and emotion. There are massive amounts of cathartic and lethargic emotion flowing through every moment of Her Quiet Garden. The music itself has a sort of lazy summer afternoon vibe. It begs to be heard while reading a book beneath the shade of an old gnarled tree, or while lying in bed on a hot summer night, too close to sleep to be productive, but too far to be fully relaxed. Tracks like “Death would find my halls and flood them” and “Snow falling on black water” have an incredibly sluggish and depressive feel.

While the album is undoubtedly steeped in lethargy and a generalized sense of depression, there are absolutely beautiful moments shimmering through the haze. “Unable” is a nice combination of the two sides co-mingling. The underlying drone/atmospherics are quite dark, giving a very ominous vibe to the track. But the piano section which sort of sits atop the track is more light-hearted. The two sides combine giving us a sense of that respite from depression, those beautiful moments between memories of loss, and yet even in those moments, we still cling to the worst, even if only subconsciously.

Relaxing and positive elements show through occasionally on Her Quiet Garden. On “Dreaming splendid spaces”, Boström incorporates several light-hearted piano elements giving the track a very nice warm feeling. Boström hums along in the background, quietly and effortlessly fading into the mix. This all serves as a respite from the otherwise bleak nature of Her Quiet Garden. But this is the point. The imagined garden in Boström’s vision is a place to visit those lost loved ones which are still held so dear. Deeply negative emotions are sure to surface, but memories of happiness and contentment are also sure to help exert a balance, and maybe find a personal understanding, a path to move forward.

Her Quiet Garden is not about finding an escape from one’s sorrow, loss, depression. It is about seeing it as it is, all the hard saddening memories combined with all those wonderful days and nights spent in a youthfully ignorant contentment. The loss of any true loved one, or even a past home or acquaintances, all come with their share of good and bad. Her Quiet Garden lets all these emotions melt into one another, giving listeners a deeply moving album, which will likely make a much greater personal connection with each listener than the majority of the music coming out of the post-industrial scene. This is what has kept listeners returning to Boström’s music over the years; his ability to tap directly into the mind of the listener, playing our memories and emotions like yet another instrument in his collection.

Her Quiet Garden was release on Hypnagoga Press in a CD edition of 100 copies (only about a dozen remain). The album is also, of course, available online. You’ll find in the album’s artwork some very unique elements. Boström used a very different technique in it’s creation, which can be seen and explained in better detail through the videos he’s posted online about the process. There has been talk of Her Quiet Garden being the best release yet by Pär Boström. I would rather not make that judgment, I love far too much of his previous work to downgrade its importance in any way. But, with that said, this is one incredibly powerful release, from the technical side as well as the emotional. It also doesn’t hurt, on the technical side, that Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, Cryo Chamber) did the final editing and mastering of the release.

I would highly recommend Her Quiet Garden to anyone that loves to hear various instruments boldly blended with dark ambient elements. But, also to anyone needing a helping hand in coping with loss. You are likely to find as much solace in these songs as Boström did. So get some headphones and take this album with you to your own quiet garden, where ever it may lie.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Hezaliel – Paradise Lost – Review

Artist: Hezaliel
Album: Paradise Lost
Release date: 5 April 2018
Label: Eighth Tower Records

Tracklist:
01. The Pit of Hell
02. Altar of Demons
03. They Darkned the Land of Nile
04. Fallen Angels in a Distant Earth
05. The Snake’s Deception
06. Before and After the Human
07. Reflected in a Mirror of Sins
08. Paradise Lost

This will be my second review of an Eighth Tower Records studio album, the first being the latest Sonologyst offering Apocalypse (read the review here). Eighth Tower Records is a sub-label of the Unexplained Sounds Group, both run by Raffaele Pazzella (read our interview here). Eighth Tower focuses more on dark ambient leaning releases, and less on the experimental nature of USG. Their slogan being, “Superspectrum sounds from Ultraterrestrial dimensions.” Paradise Lost is the sixth proper full length release, but there are also a number of compilations (one reviewed here), which contain a combination of exclusive and previously released tracks, each focusing on a specific theme.

“I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

Hezaliel is a project out of Belgium by Steve Fabry, who is also known for his work in metal projects The Nightstalker and Sercati. His Hezaliel music, in general, could be described as a sort of tasteful horror ambient. Meaning there is darkness abound in this release, but it never pushes that feeling too far, never taking us into the more absurd territory of some other horror ambient albums.

Our first encounter with the theme comes in the cover art, which is a beautiful 1866 engraving done by Paul Gustave Doré for John Milton‘s epic poem Paradise Lost, which was first published in 1667. The poem, and so too the album, focus on the biblical story of the fall of man, namely Satan’s deceit of Adam and Eve, resulting in the end of paradise. So, while I’ve stated that this is a sort of horror ambient album, the themes are of a religious nature. But, with a theme such as the fall of paradise the religious and horrifying can come together quite easily.

The first half of the album focuses on Satan and the other rebel fallen angels, in their underworld. Thus the music is given liberty to be incredibly dark, as the soundscapes are basically recreating hell itself. Though, within this darkness there are moments of almost a dark bliss, such as on “Fallen Angels in a Distant Earth”, which includes what sounds to be field recordings of crashing waves, as if we are following the fallen angels on a walk along a prehistoric coastline.

Paul Gustave Doré – Engraving from Paradise Lost

The second half takes on more an air of sadness and regret. There are more likely to be fleeting melodies emerging from the background. The dense soundscapes give way to more peaceful qualities, as the storyline is generally pulling us toward a sad conclusion, which will play out over following millennia.

Hezaliel has crafted an album, in Paradise Lost, which is first and foremost an enjoyable listen. It has that perfect balance of active and passive qualities, giving it a higher level of replayability over an extended period of time. His techniques seem to have improved since his debut, In The World of the Anesthetist which came out on Kalpamantra in early 2017. Following the narrative of a tried and true classic, like Paradise Lost by John Milton, gives Hezaliel room to build a story with more details that are able to be understood immediately by the average listener.

Paradise Lost is one of my favorite yet on Eighth Tower Records. Hezaliel has shown that he is up to the task of creating dark ambient albums with depth and detail. The theme for this one seemed quite appropriate for a dark ambient album, and it also fit very nicely with the general aesthetic of Eighth Tower Records, keeping that focus on the “ultra-terrestrial” intact. I would recommend Paradise Lost to those that prefer there dark ambient to be a bit more active, but never abrupt or jarring. It makes for a nice reading companion, but it is also able to keep your attention during isolated listening sessions in a dark room with headphones.  With a heavy focus on theme and an ability to show reservation when creating such dark soundscapes, Hezaliel will certainly be an artist to watch over the coming years.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrox Pestis – Hewn by the Hands… – Review

Artist: Atrox Pestis
Album: Hewn by the Hands of the Damned
Release date: 20 January 2018
Label: Chryptus Records

Tracklist:
01. Hewn by the Hands of the Damned
02. With Seven Tongues, He Spoke
03. Choking on the Waters of the Firmament
04. They Will Reach from the Heavens (Cut off their hands)

Atrox Pestis is a new project by Grant Richardson. Richardson has been a powerful player in the death industrial scene as his main project, Gnawed. Since 2009, Richardson has been scavenging the depths of the Minneapolis underworld. Searching the dank tunnels beneath this city, Richardson found the voice for his music. Metal clanging and grinding, washes of reverberated drone, vocals distorted beyond recognition, these are the offspring of Gnawed.

Atrox Pestis gives Richardson’s immersion in post-industrial music a new outlet. For fans of Gnawed, you will find much of that same industrial/mechanical darkness. But the mood and execution have both been greatly subdued, in comparison to Gnawed. This is a proper dark ambient release. Devoid of any percussion or distorted vocals (though it does include some Gregorian style chants), Richardson focuses on a more introspective atmosphere. Where Gnawed shows the destruction of the world, Atrox Pestis shows the destruction of the mind, within this doomed biosphere.

Hewn by the Hands of the Damned takes on a religious element as well as one of societal/planetary collapse. On the release’s Bandcamp page, Chryptus added several Biblical passages which are worth sharing here:

Mark 9:43
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.

Genesis 1:6
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

These passages illuminate the album’s struggle with the current standing of mankind. Questions of what is evil, what is good, who are the enemy, who are the saviours? Should we deserve to be erased from history? Should we fight to correct our trajectory? How would that look? What laws would we impose, in order to bring about vast societal/planetary changes?

Hewn by the Hands of the Damned is Atrox Pestis first full-lenghth release. But, in 2016 and 2017 they released a self-titled C40 cassette on Maniacal Hatred (Richardson’s own label), and a split with Strigae on Phage Tapes. If you enjoy Hewn by the Hands of the Damned I would highly recommend going back to these older releases. Especially the split with Strigae, a project created by Leo Brochu, owner of Chryptus Records, another very promising new dark ambient artist, which I will be planning to cover more thoroughly in the near future.

While Atrox Pestis debut is going under the radar, a young project released on a young label, there has been no shortage of praise for this release from veteran dark ambient musicians. This is always a sign of a promising new project, as so many of the veteran producers from this genre will likely have a much more critical ear than the average listener. Hewn by the Hands of the Damned is the perfect release for listeners of the older industrialized dark ambient acts such as Svartsinn, Yen Pox, and others in this vein that are able to incorporate some harsher, more metallic sounds, while simultaneously keeping the album sounding smooth and polished. While you may find little in the way of new ideas on this release, you will find a producer creating at the top of his game. Let’s hope more listeners come along for the ride, as this project is not one to be overlooked!

Review by: Michael Barnett

Theologian – Reconcile – Review

Artist: Theologian
Album: Reconcile
Release date:  16 June 2018
Label: Cloister Recordings
Guest artists:
Andy Grant (The Vomit Arsonist), Mike McClatchey (Lament Cityscape), Stephen Petrus (Murderous Vision), and Derek Rush (Dream Into Dust).

Tracklist:
Side A
{wound I}
01. Whittled Down By The World
{wound II}
02. Rough Hands Hew
{wound III}
03. Tetanus
{wound IV}
04. The Banality Of Evil
{wound V}

Side B
{wound VI}
01. Prion
{wound VII}
02. A Rope Of Human Teeth
{wound VIII}
03. Seratonin Antagonist
{wound IX}
04. Everything Is More Beautiful,
Because We’re Doomed
{wound X}

Theologian manages to find their way to the top of the list again with Reconcile. Since I’ve started This Is Darkness, Theologian has been in constant rotation here. Whether it is on the latest Malignant/Kalpamantra compilation, the latest Cadabra Records spoken art record, or his own proper solo release, Theologian manages to keep me entertained. I keep feeling like I am hearing something new, not returning to this artist, yet again, hoping for some variation in formula or style.

There are certainly many elements here of sounds that have been previously explored. But, we reach them from different places, and so they they feel refreshing. As I heard previously mentioned, Reconcile could be seen as the closest comparison to the first Theologian release, The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face. It has vast sections which are dedicated solely to dark ambient. Though, in the case of Reconcile, these can be seen more as extended interludes, between much more active tracks. Or, they are parts of these other tracks, drawn into a slow decay.

Photo by: Gretchen Heinel

The album starts with “Whittled Down By The World”, which is a brooding intro with heavy industrial dark ambient reverberations. There is a deep foreboding darkness, but at the same time, a sliver of light, however dimly flickering. But reaching its close, it quickly descends into a chaotic maelstrom of noise. This is the first indication of more violent elements yet to be introduced. Entering “Rough Hands Hew”, Theologian builds from a gentle ambient intro, first introducing the dominant synth line, and then the industrial percussive undercurrents. As the vocals enter, performed by Theologian here, they are used as more of an instrument, than a tool for communication. Though, we are, thankfully, given lyrics to all tracks which incorporate vocals. [This is something I appreciate and wish would happen more often in genres where lyrics are hard to discern amidst the orchestrated chaos.] Theologian uses a combination of singing/screaming to build what doubles as an added layer of drone, a technique used throughout the second half of the track. We are then, again, cast into a solitary ambient darkness, though the industrial elements of this scene are not far distant. As “Tetanus” builds to its climax there is a constant singing/chanting that sounds to be a combination of male/female vocals (though likely just Theologian in different ranges as there are no female artists in the credits), reminding me of the style of his Some Things Have To Be Endured album, but also, in a way, of acts like Empusae or Arcana.

The second side (of the cassette, that is) is a generally more subdued experience. It opens with some dark ambient elements which develop into some more industrial territory, as percussion and distorted guitar/synth elements intensify. “A Rope Of Human Teeth” incorporates a glitchy beat oriented foundation accented by lighter synth elements. “Seratonin Antagonist” takes us back into some subtle dark ambient territory with heavy industrialized textures, showing both sides of his sound in stark contrast, yet perfect fluidity; often making it hard for the listener to fully register when shifts into new territory are occurring. The album ends on a sort of death-synth-pop note, with another seemingly effortless contrast between the harsh and the beautiful.

Photo by: Gretchen Heinel

Hearing all the different soundscapes Theologian traverses on any given album, it’s no wonder his talents were tapped by the guys at Cadabra Records, to help orchestrate some of their greatest releases to date. Theologian moves between contrasting territories in a way that only a seasoned musician could manage. His willingness to show us equal parts beauty and crudity makes for an experience that doesn’t feel overwhelming in the way that many similar artists do for a portion of listeners. The devastation reaches its heights, abusing the listener along the way, but then returns to a calm, a respite before the next assault. In many ways this could be an analogy for life itself, brief moments of beauty and calm, amidst a sea of pain and hardship.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Tapes and Topographies – Signal to Noise – Review

Artist: Tapes and Topographies
Album: Signal to Noise
Release date: 17 August 2017
Label: Simulacra Records

Tracklist:
01. Answered in an Echo
02. Rain in Our Room
03. An Illustrious Career
04. Painted Bird
05. Resplendent
06. In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last
07. Wiretaps
08. All the Ports are Empty
09. Signal to Noise
10. Both of Us, Regardless

So I must admit I’m running a bit behind on this one. I was first introduced to Tapes and Topographies as well as their label Simulacra Records last summer with this release, Signal to Noise. I immediately fell in love with it, but I like to give an album time to sit with me for a bit, especially if the artist is new to me. So, by the time I realized that Signal to Noise was possibly my favorite album of the summer, it was already well into fall. So now summer has returned, and with it Signal to Noise. As the heat crept up, this CD found its way right back into my player on long drives.

As Tear Ceremony and Sonogram, Todd Gautreau has been releasing albums since the early ’90s. But Tapes and Topographies seems to be a much newer project, with five total releases dating back to 2014. Signal to Noise is the third of these, and just prior to writing this I realized his latest, Opiates, will also definitely need to be heard thoroughly and likely covered here. To say Signal to Noise was my absolute favorite album of summer 2017 might be a stretch. But, it certainly has stuck with me in a more personal way than most of what I encountered through the year.

What will become immediately clear to the listener upon diving into Signal to Noise is that it is seeking to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I would argue that it is a heavily melancholic, but nevertheless cherished, nostalgia. The sort of feeling you get walking back into some childhood home, but its now overgrown and rotten, or less intensely, a home that has new occupants with a new color paint and a new mailbox. The memories are still just as beautiful, but the time has passed, the world is a different place now. Each time I revisit Signal to Noise, these feelings present themselves freshly, as if I am experiencing it again for the first time.

Songs like the opener, “Answered in an Echo”, are quite direct in their prodding of our subconscious. The track starts off with a high-mid ranged drone that gently sweeps through field recordings of some park on a summer day. Children are playing only feet away. Parents chat amongst one another more quietly. But there are other elements to “Answered in an Echo” which are more experimental and take it into a more interesting place for someone like myself that is not overly interested in drone heavy releases. I would make a comparison, for dark ambient fans, to the way that Elegi has incorporated a wide variety of instrumentation and techniques to create something that is at once nostalgic, peaceful, and experimental. There are different layers of drones, field recordings, and likely other actual instruments, which I haven’t specifically placed.

While “Answered in an Echo” is direct in its evocation of nostalgic memories, the whole album does not guide you so directly. Some tracks, like “An Illustrious Career” are sort of a glitchy form of classical. Soft and peaceful piano arrangements mingle with more strange noises. The connection here clearly being that we are able to remember these beautiful bits and pieces from our pasts, but not all that we remember is correct, and not all that happened is remembered. There is a lot of noise that accumulates through the years, muddying the signal, diminishing its purity. But, the scientific definition for signal to noise is: Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.

Another favorite to be mentioned is “In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last”. This one adds some beautiful string instrumentation to the already delightful piano arrangements. This track actually includes very little of the more experimental sounds, focusing almost fully one the classical instruments. It makes for a nice little interlude in the album. It could evoke the feelings and/or memories of something like a moment of clarity. When for once life actually presented itself to you, no riddles included.

I can say equally positive things about the cover-art and digipak for this one. The open window, sun shining in upon a dirt floor is the perfect visual representation of this album’s emotion. A feeling of loneliness, a bit old and worn. But, the album doesn’t present itself as all sadness and despair. The memories are not quite yet gone, the moments live on in our minds, and maybe one day moments so beautiful will present themselves once again. Or is life only ever so beautiful in hindsight?

Written by: Michael Barnett

Lesa Listvy – Way Home – Review

Artist: Lesa Listvy
Album: Way Home
Release date: 22 May 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Sunny Side
02. Reflection
03. Evening by the Lake
04. The Hedge
05. Obelisk
06. Swarm
07. Lost Compass
08. Way Home
09. Mechanism

In 2013, Cryo Chamber made a running start in the dark ambient world with the releases of new works by Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, Halgrath, and a compilation, Behind the Canvas of Time featuring many of the top artists in the genre. They continued to solidify their presence over the next few years with multiple releases by artists which would become label veterans, like Alphaxone, Ugasanie, Randal Collier-Ford, and Flowers For Bodysnatchers, to name a few. But, now about five years into their existence, Cryo Chamber is really starting to dabble in new territory. Releases like WordclockHeralds, the Miles To Midnight collaboration, and now Lesa ListvyWay Home, all incorporate elements which lean more in the direction of more active musical genres. While staying true to the themes and general atmosphere of the label, the introduction of drums, saxophone and bass guitar, to name a few, opens the label up to a new group of listeners, while introducing their current fan-base to yet more novelty.

Lesa Listvy, or Леса Листвы, is a Moscow-based quartet, as Cryo Chamber puts it. But this is the only information I can discern, thus far, about the musicians behind the music. It would be interesting to know who plays what, but its likely that everyone does a little bit of everything. Along with the four members: Daniil Sheremet, Ryazantsev Dmitriy, Armenak Voskanyan, and Stanislav Smirnov, they implement the use of contributing artists: Max Tsibizov, Boro, and Ilya Orange (also without specific duties indicated). But this isn’t really a hindrance to enjoyment of the release. In fact, for me it’s done a bit of the opposite. I have found a bit of added entertainment in trying to discern what is live instrumentation, modular/digital synth or field recording. Though, in the end, I’ve found that this ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on my feelings about the album.

Way Home is an incredibly entertaining release. The closest comparison I could make to it would be Atrium Carceri, though this still doesn’t really do the trick. It is true that tracks like “The Hedge”, “Obelisk”, and “Swarm” all have significant stylistic similarities to some of Atrium Carceri‘s more percussion-heavy tracks. But, then something like “Evening by the Lake” moves off drastically from the trademark Atrium Carceri sound, that sort of industrial-infused cinematic ambient which almost seems to have a swagger about it at times. (A point I don’t know if I’ve previously mentioned about my particular enjoyment of Atrium Carceri; I would like to go into some more detail on that in the near future.)

“The Hedge” slowly builds momentum over its first two and a half minutes, before bursting into an energetic industrial percussion-laden second half. There are numerous intriguing sounds to follow throughout this second half, including some quite well inserted piano parts. “Obelisk”, again, holds many stylistic similarities to Atrium Carceri, this one starting active and holding its intensity throughout, though, in general, it is less energetic than “The Hedge”.

This brings me to “Swarm”. My personal favorite track on the release. And one that I was not surprised to see Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, mastered Way Home), mention he keeps coming back to it for repeated listening sessions. This one has a thick atmosphere, as if one is deep in some catacomb or abandoned factory, but on Way Home this sentiment seems to be more representative of some dank heavily-forested swamp lands, as is certainly the case for the album’s cover-art. Taking the track titles and general feel of the album into account, I get a sense of “Swarm” representing the arrival of some non-human antagonist into the story. I almost get a Starcraft Zerg feeling from the music.

Technicalities and possible plot references aside, Way Home is a deeply enjoyable album. It can become incredibly active at times, as mentioned above, but it can also be reserved and beautiful, like on my other favorite, “Evening by the Lake”. This opens Lesa Listvy to a potentially large audience, having something attractive for the die-hard dark ambient fans, as well as those most interested in sonic discovery and adventure. It also makes for quite nice background soundscapes, as it never becomes overly invasive during its most intense moments. I’m pleased to see Cryo Chamber testing new territory; and Lesa Listvy should give listeners enough reason to feel comfortable discovering whatever is to come next.

Written by: Michael Barnett

156 – Memento Mori – Review

Artist: 156
Album: Memento Mori
Release date: 22 September 2016
Label: Feast Of Hate And Fear

Tracklist: (Original Version @ 45 rpms) (Thunderdrone Version @ 33.3 rpms)
01. Kokoro
02. A Swarm of Butterflies
03. Demeter and Persephone Run From Hades
04. Winds of Vāyu
05. Me-Olam, Ad-Olam
06. Dance of the Ophites
07. Starlit Mire [Zero Kama cover]
08. To My Sons and Daughters
09. Chödpa

Adel Souto, originating from Miami and now living in Brooklyn, NY, must be a name familiar to those who knew the Feast Of Hate And Fear zine, of which he was the main editor, and Antibothis occultural anthologies series, to which he has been a noteworthy contributor of the first issue ; his new zine is titled Musica Obscura, and besides, he keeps publishing one-off zines, books, articles on esoteric and occultural subject matters, and compilations of “throwaway poems, that are said to be “unedited stream-of-conscious scraps, which purposefully have to fit 8.5 x 5.5″ pieces of cardstock ; handwritten, using a marker. Called “throwaways” due to being almost immediately left behind on mass transit, or in heavily trafficked areas. To date, over 1000 have been written (with only about 200 documented), and abandoned around Miami, Philadelphia and New York City“. Those throwaway poems, not unlike Tristan Tzara‘s dadaist writings, are signed using the pseudonym Adel 156. With such extensive activities as a writer, I wasn’t even aware of the musical side of his outputs – until now.

156 is a collective project, that Adel Souto conducts, featuring occasional or regular contributors. Presented as blending Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Z’ev and Crash Worship – with such references, I must admit that expectations were high. Thus, I downloaded (free downloads) the albums 1.5.6 (2011) and Steel Rarely Stands Alone (2015) in order to get more familiar with 156 and explore other soundscapes prior to immersing myself in the discovery of Memento Mori. Concrete sounds, almost field recordings, okay, but not the boring type of easily recorded and mannered artsy random material that several modern composers supplied us hundreds of hours with, rather tones of intimistic memories with quite a ritual and atmospheric edge. Minimal found objects manipulations. Flirting with both softness and rawness. Crash Worship and Z’ev, yes, definitely, and Test Dept. too, but more in the vein of their earlier recordings, rather than their later developments. Same with Einstuerzende Neubauten, back to those glorious days of caving under highway bridges, and before the departure of FM Einheit. There is even a cover version of Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s “Cycle on the Radio” as last track of Steel Rarely Stands Alone. The qualities of the recordings matter a lot with such sound works, no disturbing white noise hiss in here, and indeed, the environment where those recordings were done is crucial ; the self introduction of 156 mentions that it is “often being described as a drum circle in a rusty junkyard” : exactly. Rhythmic escalations are inducted in parts, whereas other moments are more floating. Further on, the self presentation of 156 also states : “having tribal elements, the music can often be used in shamanistic practices, as it comes from the soul, and is meditation music for metalheads“. Having more punk and minimal electro roots myself, i cannot say what’s up for the metalheads, but it is indeed appealing and meditative, leaving deeply marked reminiscences after listening. And as far as coming from the soul and being used in shamanistic practices, this is where Memento Mori enters the stage.

Recording sessions initiated in 2012, up until 2016. All the music on this release was made using exclusively human bones, or breath passing through human bones, which include skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and kangling (Tibetan thighbone trumpets). Zero Kama or Metgumbnerbone (rather Drëun than Ligeliahorn, by the way) immediately come to mind – which is obviously legit, as there is a cover version of Zero Kama‘s “Starlit Mire” on the B side of the 10″. “Starlit Mire” was maybe the highlight on Zero Kama‘s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. album cassette on Nekrophile Records (released in 1984 on Nekrophile Rekords, then reissued by French label Permis De Construire as a vinyl LP in 1988 and as a CD in 1991, and finally reissued by French label Athanor as both LP and CD in 2014), this album, itself, being a masterpiece and a milestone in contemporary ritual/tribal music. Thus, the challenge is rather hazardous, perilous, risky, to refer to such a revered piece of worship. Others have tried before and eventually failed, there has even been some homage compilation, with good and bad moments. Okay. At the risk of sounding pompous, what may I propose? To my perceptions, Memento Mori by 156 must be the most achieved and prominent companion to The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H. to date. Away from paying homage or imitating, it rather feels like a furtherance of it. Not a continuation, furtherance. Keeping in mind that Zero Kama had been conceived and executed in the context of Vienna, Austria, early 80s, whereas these recordings from 156 emanate from New York City in the 2010s.

Also, keep in mind that in such specific areas of musical expression, ritualization of the process and intents are even more important than the results themselves. This day and age is fully indoctrinated, perverted by rationalism and hygienism. Although most would pretend the opposite, death still is somehow a taboo. Involving human bones in whichever creative process is still perceived as an heresy. Even illegal in some countries. Remember that you will die : whichever the way, trying to be consequent or not, human condition and the hedonism inherent to it is rendering oneself submissive or dominant, dull or enlightened, destructive or protective, whatsoever, in the end we all die, and that is the most essential remembrance to anyone’s lifetime probably. What kind of inner state is likely to be attained, or obtained, once one’s reaching the ultimate step in life? The temptation to quote Brian Eno is now high : “Just relax, you’re always at the beginning of something“. Woops. And when the Memento Mori 10″ has reached its end, just relax. You just have to play it again. At 33rpm instead of 45rpm. Such is the way of dancing with the Ophians under the auspices of Naas. Enjoyers of the Bandcamp downloads won’t be left out, as “Thunderdrone Versions” of the tracks are featured, those being, the 33rpm versions of the original 45rpm recordings – with intact ceremonial qualities.

The physical vinyl edition comes bone-colored and we are grateful. Mastered by James Plotkin for both the vinyl and the digital release. That James Plotkin of O.L.D., Scorn, Namanax, and Khanate fame, who collaborated with K.K.Null, Sunn O))), Earth and several others? Yes, that James Plotkin. Only a few copies of the Memento Mori 10″ are left, $20 postpaid within USA and $30 elsewhere. A much recommended ritual release that should find its way next to some cult classics of a non-forgotten past.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

Music videos from Memento Mori, created by Adel Souto.

Eximia – Visitors – Review

Artist: Eximia
Album: Visitors
Release date: 3 April 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Day One
02. First Contact
03. Prepare
04. Abyss (feat. Lukas Tvrdon)
05. Extinction
06. World Without Man

Eximia is an album by sound design engineer Dominik Ragančík of Slovakia. While this is his first release as Eximia, Ragančík has done sound work on Mass Effect and Call of Duty trailers, as well as Lamborghini and Mercedes commercials. In 2015 he won in the category of “Best Sound” award at FAMU festival for his sound design in the movie Leshy [Lesapán – 2017]. So, we are looking at a musician that has a bit more thorough an understanding of sound design than many that enter the dark ambient genre. His talents in this sphere become glaringly evident within seconds of beginning Visitors.

Visitors is an album that follows the reasonably worn sci-fi theme of aliens contacting/attacking Earth. While this is far from a new theme, Eximia manages to conjure one of the most vivid and awe-inducing reactions from me, every time I listen to Visitors. The main point of attraction, for me, is the atmosphere itself. As the album progresses, various other sound sources come into play, but those moments when nothing is actually happening, the soundscapes shine as much or more than any other example I could show someone. It’s this atmosphere that makes the album so incredibly alluring.

As the album begins with “Day One”, listeners will get a sense of what I mean about this atmosphere. Well into the second minute of the track, basically nothing has happened yet, but I’m nonetheless enthralled. Gentle winds blow in the distance. We start to feel that deep rumbling bass creep up on us, before we hear these alien beings for the first time. Whether it is the creatures themselves, their spaceships, or some other technology making these unearthly sounds, the effect is the same, especially with a good set of headphones, one can close their eyes and fall into this world/scenario, can look around this landscape as the visitors begin to make their entrance into our atmosphere. One can imagine black clouds parting, as we hear a blisteringly potent crack of thunder, lightning crisscrosses the sky, tearing the atmosphere itself open, the visitors have arrived.

“First Contact” is, again, cinematic dark ambient bliss. The winds continue howling, the visitors continue making their futuristic noises, then we hear an air-raid siren, presumably warning residents of the area that the shit has official hit the fan. The thunderstorm becomes more intense as the creatures continue to make their arrival known. I’d like to mention here, that I immediately noticed a stylistic connection between the sound design of this album and that of the movie Arrival (2016). This is high praise, as I found the sound in that film to be one of the most compelling representations in film of alien technology at work. Near the 5:30 minute mark, in “First Contact” something happens. There is a sound as if something has teleported or shifted, as if the laws of nature themselves were being broken. I can’t help but think what comes next is the sounds of these visitors laughing. It should be noted that there are no more “Earth-based sounds” present in the track after this occurrence.

“Prepare” begins with more strange noises, which presumably are emanating from the visitors themselves, not necessarily their technology this time. Shortly into this track we can hear human footsteps, among other earthly sounds, though they are consistently mixed with those of the aliens. Following the track titles is incredibly helpful to supplement the soundscapes themselves. There is most certainly a story being told here, and I’m not one to go flailing around grasping for explanations, so I’ll say that the main plot, as the album progresses forward seems be an attempt by the humans to stop this force, and their immediate failure, and ultimately the collapse and extinction of the human race.

For those that love cinematic dark ambient, this album is a must-have. Cryo Chamber is the label fans most often turn to when searching for a fully immersing cinematic experience, and I can say Visitors by Eximia may well be at the very top of this list. While there may not be as many minute details as with projects like Sabled Sun or Atrium Carceri, the ability to visualize these sounds is certainly on par. Eximia is part of a phenomenon that hasn’t happened as much as I would expect, where movie sound design artists will find their way into the dark ambient genre, and the dark ambient genre will find its way into movie sound design. I would like to see a good bit more of both happening, personally. Visitors is a glaring example of why this recipe for success is so attractive. I will be patiently waiting for their next release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Salò Salon – The Scent of Voluntarism – Review

Artist: Salò Salon
Album: The Scent of Voluntarism
Release date: 11 February 2018
Label: White Ashes

Tracklist:
01. Mind-Body-Problem
02. Primat des Willens
03. Kampf ums Dasein
04. Decadenza
05. Beyond Affirmation and Negation
06. La Volonté Aveugle
07. Alienated Vitalism
08. Urnichtung
09 Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness

“Beauty is but the cloak of happiness. Where joy tarries, there also is beauty.” Ludwig Klages

You maybe know the feeling : an immense wave of joy captures you, but at the very same time, that voice on the radio, those people on the TV screen, the charming, fascinating attraction that is submerging you, despite it all, an inner voice is telling you that what is going on is probably wrong – nonetheless you can’t help but drowning in the collective enthusiasm. This is exactly what the instantly grabbing “Mind-Body-Problem” is likely to arise. With such intro and opening track, Salò Salon immediately sets a very high standard. The rest of the album, The Scent Of Voluntarism keeps up to the promises and never diminishes in strength. Crushing death industrial, wide amplitudes of frequencies, with no place to hide – any little corner will be invaded by the forceful atmospheric noise. My initial reaction at first listen has been: “A diamond”.

Not a newcomer at all – prior to The Scent Of Voluntarism, Salò Salon has issued Execution Tourism (The Dialectic Of Violence) (CDR album limited to 120 copies) on the British label 412Recordings (that released stuff by Slut Kull, Bagman, Steel Hook Prostheses, among other delicacies) in December 2015, followed by Agonal Pessimism (cassette mini album limited to 50 copies) on German Obsessive Fundamental Realism (a label maintaining a “crude DIY approach, (with) no interest in humanistic values and unauthentic artists, (…)rooted in the idea of Post-Industrial being a means of transportation for brutal and antisocial world-views, urges and mindsets”). The rather limited editions should not at all be a measure of disregarding these releases, as they are milestones in an ongoing rise of one of the most promising projects in this field of musical expression, likely to reach cult status in a not too distant future – and all these recordings are available as digital downloads at Salò Salon‘s Bandcamp anyway.

This new release is a factory pressed CD limited to 100 copies on the German label White Ashes, mastered by Sven Bussler (White Ashes‘ owner, and mastermind behind the martial industrial almighty Wappenbund, also a collaborator with Anna Gardeck and Wiener Aktivisten). Handmade box sealed and wax-closed with the logo of Salò Salon. Inner cover artwork by Quadreria Romantico Seriale from Italy, introducing themselves as “ethics, esthetics, genetics – esthetical and political deviance – autonomous and radical action – a mise en scene – an entity that acts among eugenics forms and terminal beauties – a misanthropic showgirl and disciplined daughter of the disaster ruling in the void, enemy of the Five M Order : Multiculturalism, Mundialism, Modernity, Mundanity, Materialism – an antinomian in the Great Civilizing Persuasion : here and now the verities are only moments of the fake, where every destiny succumbs to dissolution and every concept is subjected to oblivion – a cardiac wave, its organs are vital where others would die”. Needless to say, Salò Salon has gathered a bunch of allies of caliber for this album, which should be re-released as vinyl LP later on this year. And in the pipeline is a collaboration with UK legend Satori.

That has been the formal section. Going further: a very prominent aspect of the work of Salò Salon is cultural pessimism, as envisioned and investigated by German thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Klages, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Johann Caspar Schmidt aka ‘Max Stirner’, and the impact that such psychic explorers have had on the historical march of humanity. Delusional rationality… and indeed, not to be confused with any ideological positioning. Question everything – no restriction – no taboo – never take anything for granted. For the sake of the reviewer’s credibility, if I would have to propose some sort of a comparison, then I would maybe succumb to citing Anenzephalia. No less. But to the extent of the mindset / attitude context, not the sound. Salò Salon doesn’t have the very prominent use of speech that is a distinctive trait of Anenzephalia. Rather drowning the listener in a forceful exhilaration, than submitting to the crowds. Somewhere between death industrial and heavy electronics, between contemplation and brute force, blending hypnotic sample loops, fanfare tones, massive atmospheric, rash textures and noisy backgrounds. An album that is impossible not to play one track after the other in succession : once the wine is pulled, it must be drunk, drink the chalice until the dregs. An instant classic.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

Darkness Descends: A Post-Industrial Compilation – Review

Artist: Various Artists
Album: Darkness Descends: A Post-Industrial Compilation
Release date: 16 June 2018
Label: Live Bait Recording Foundation
Reviewer: Nicolas Dupont, debut review on This Is Darkness!

Tracklist:
01. Murderous Vision – “The Final Enemy”
02. Cunting Daughters – “Awaken The Beneath”
03. Abjection Ritual – “Tiny Atrocities”
04. Shock Frontier – “Your Cross Is Not Illuminated”
05. Vitriol Gauge – “No Calm”
06. Compactor – “Ultimatum”
07. Gnawed – “The Harrowing Dark”
08. Steel Hook Prostheses – “Orbitoclast”
09. The Vomit Arsonist – “Dispirited”
10. Theologian – “I Shed Your Corpse”

The undead thrasher may feel hunger when thinking they’ve spotted some review of Dark Angel‘s second album from 1986, but the mistake is certain (homage is not), as this Darkness Descends does not belong to Combat Records catalog, rather to Live Bait Recording Foundation, referenced LBRF 051 ; subtitled A Post-Industrial Compilation, be sure that black prophecies and merciless audio death are anyway to be expected, and that in the sonic process of the burning of sonic landscapes, the listener might as well perish in flames.

The compilation opens like a mechanical procession towards the Styx with “The Final Enemy” by Murderous Vision, long going project of Stephen Petrus, owner of Live Bait Recording Foundation, confirming again the faultless majesty of dark atmospheric procedures and deep explorations of unhealthy corners with which he has established himself. Processed vocals and a pounding final section mark the beginning of a journey requiring assistance – ladies and gentlemen, this way please.

Cunting Daughters drowns you in stagnant, noxious swamps with “Awaken the Beneath”. Rise up and try to escape those liquid textures, as if coming back to life through metempsychic rebirth, the wet begins to dry with caution. Death ambient, industrial, atmospheric. A project formerly known for a very limited release (55 copies) in 2011, seemingly oriented on post-mortem evocations.

Abjection Ritual furthers the awakening with “Tiny Atrocities”. A, maybe, more electro-acoustic affair involving violin, ropes slippage above the intimistic power rumblings that are present throughout. Tension in the air, human order still prevails in the environment of rebirth, this new existence is not going to be peaceful. From a project introducing itself as “influenced by mental illness, disease, self-hatred, shame, failure and disgust for humanity”, the weight of the karma has to be borne.

Shock Frontier – Tumult

Shock Frontier continues the anamnesis of apprehending this world. “Your Cross Is Not Illuminated” convokes religious orders, spiritual coercion. The death industrial is profound. Flowing, somber drones, bit by bit, arise to a more crushing structure. Hearing this, I wonder what their previous two CD albums, Tumors 64 & 110 on Malignant Records, could have been like – must check those.
[Editor’s Note: You can read our review of Shock FrontierTumult here.]

Vitriol Gauge, a project emanating from one half of United Front, and who has recently issued a new excellently thick-frequencies-ridden opus, entitled Routines on the label Concrete//Contrôle, pursues the topology of being coerced : “Are you real, or are you just in my mind?” – “Doesn’t matter at all…” Harsher, due to the heavily-processed vocals, noisier, although the atmospheric, death-industrial tone is kept. Outbursts of resistance among a (post?)apocalyptic haze, “No Calm” indicates the persistence of will, despite the blurry consensus.

COMPACTOR photo by Stephen Petrus in Vantaa, Finland 11.06.17

The unleashing follows with Compactor – “Ultimatum”. Pounding powerful craft with titillating bleeps, stomping the contained rage. A project by Derek Rush, also responsible for the artwork on the compilation, and long go’er known from Dream Into Dust, labels The Order Of The Suffering Clown and Chthonic Streams, as well as involvement in Loretta’s Doll and The Sword Volcano Complex.

“The Harrowing Dark” by Gnawedthen, steps into power-electronics territories, due to determined, yet jaded vocals ; flanged vocals is the leading element in power-electronics? – yes madam, ‘cos as you can hear, even when the soundscapes are layers of death-industrial undertones and slow pounding, the commanding vocals crowning it all renders it power-electronics. The unleash remains uncertain, too many past lives, too many sticking memories, crusades failed, thus all has corroded. Gnawed is for me a very pleasant discovery here, I will for sure keep an eye on this project, which already has an imposing discography.
[Editor’s Note: Grant Richardson of Gnawed also runs the dark ambient project Atrox Pestis, whose debut EP we reviewed, and debut full-length we premiered.]

Steel Hook Prostheses next. Woops! Gnawed has been a fair warning? Okay… Drones are sumptuous and wide, almost orchestral, which does not prevent distortion and sepulchral shriekings from interfering. “Orbitoclast” sets a nauseating crawl, despite the beauty that may surface. Full blown heavy electronics with always the death-industrial measure that accompanies the trip. Since Steel Hook Audio Mastering has been in charge of the entire treatment of the compilation, you know which crushing efficiency to expect.

Are the visitors having enough? The journey is relentless. The Vomit Arsonist keeps reminding you that you are “Dispirited”, an avalanche of frequencies that is somehow closing the circle which Shock Frontier had initiated. You tried, you lost. Again.

Theologian concludes with structured awesome potency. “I Shed Your Corpse” sounds vibrant, poignant buried vocals and again an almost orchestral tone, culminating in rhythmic military reshaping that appears almost hopeful. So, this is the very texture of the darkness that we all have to deal with? Indeed – therefore you have been enlightened. Be merry.

Although a various artists compilation, it could almost sound as an entire album by  the same artist in that the tones are so unified. Not one weak track, not one filler, all almighty and powerful. Blending, both older and more recent, projects in a constant progression that creates the feeling of chapters within a book. A psychotopography, detailing specific aspects of an inner meltdown. The physical version of it will be a professionally printed CDR in a digi-sleeve limited to 200 copies, which will be available at the Darkness Descends Festival held in Cleveland, Ohio on June 16th, 2018.

Written by: Nicolas Dupont

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