Tag: Review (Page 1 of 15)

øjeRum – Nattesne – Review

Nattesne quickly merges with the subconscious. As the listener falls into the pattern of the album, the music becomes a meditation of its own.

Artist: øjeRum
Album: Nattesne
Release date: 3 March 2019
Label: Eilean Records

Eilean Rec. says of øjeRum:
“øjeRum is Copenhagen based musician and collage artist Paw Grabowski. Since 2014 he has put out releases on various labels such as A Giant Fern, Cabin Floor Esoterica, Eilean Rec., Phinery, Scissor Tail Editions and Vaald. øjeRum is all about the attempt to capture and convey emotions, moods and memories. two years and a half after his first release on eilean rec. we’re glad to host øjeRum for a second time on the map with the wonderful work: Nattesne.”

Before I heard this release, I was immediately captivated by the beautiful and evocative album art. The girl appears to be wearing a niqab and sitting in prayer or meditation. She is enveloped by a dull grey room, with sprigs of plants peaking out from behind. There is a halo behind her head (represented by the white circle). Her chest is an image of a snowy wooded landscape with the full moon peaking out from behind the trees. Her lower face scarf is a dark starry sky. So many narratives and emotions begin to immediately arise as I ponder the meaning of this artwork. This is the collage work of Paw Grabowski, the man behind øjeRum.

 

The album stays very true to the initial impressions I had of the artwork. There is a deep feeling of peace and meditative bliss present here. I don’t think I would call the music dark ambient, but it is pertinent to our sensibilities as listeners of that genre. There is a fleeting sadness, loneliness and isolation present throughout this release. These feelings reach an early climax on “V” with the help of vocalist Siri Anna Flensburg. Her voice draws all these feelings from meditation to loneliness to pure bliss into the six and a half minute track. Her voice melts into the tapestry of sounds, which on this track include a drone, which recurs throughout the album, accompanied by a dreamy and melancholic piano arrangement. This is the only time on the album that vocals or piano surface.

The majority of the album, aside from the aforementioned track “V”, has a recurring set of motifs. The guitar drone (not sure if it’s a guitar, it could be synth, but that’s not really pertinent) recurs through tracks I, III, V, VII, IX, XI, XIII, XV. You might notice that this is every odd track. Each time the album steers away from this template it is always certain to find its way back. The tracks filling in the even numbers alternate between two more templates.  A slowly strummed acoustic guitar allows its chords to resonate into the stillness. The remaining tracks feature another acoustic guitar but this time with picking progressions instead of strumming. The recurring nature of these elements drives the listener deep into a state of meditation, nostalgia, melancholy or some combination of the three.

Nattesne quickly merges with the subconscious. As the listener falls into the pattern of the album, the music becomes a meditation of its own. A spiraling staircase which one must ascend, only to find a brick wall at the top before the inevitable returning descent.

As alluded to by the imagery of the cover, the sounds of the album have a sort of “eastern feel” to them. The picked guitar sections could be a harp, the droning sections could be a flute, the strummed sections could be a sitar. And alternatively, the middle-eastern woman in prayer could be me, sitting in my American apartment in a deep meditation. Everything is cyclical and one, part of an inescapable whole.

As I’ve come to expect, Eilean Records has presented us with another beautiful release. Likely the last of their winter series before the course shifts to spring motifs. The limited edition CD of Nattesne quickly sold-out, as expected. Though there may still be a few copies floating around for sale outside the label. I always find Eilean Rec. releases to be perfect for the dark ambient sensibilities while only treading on the outer boundaries of it. Of course, dark ambient isn’t what they are going for, I only mention it because it’s the focus of our site! However, I doubt there will be many listeners questioning its appeal to our tastes.

I highly recommend Nattesne, and I equally recommend listeners explore the back-catalogs of øjeRum, as well as Eilean Records. There are many treasures still to be discovered for readers that dig this release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Kaya North – That Comes from the Tree and the Mist – Review

Kaya North deliver a dark ambient improvisation
which showcases some of the best elements of The Eagle Stone Collective musically, as well as in the physical release.

Artist: Kaya North
Album: That Comes from the Tree and the Mist
Release date: 3 February 2019
Label: The Eagle Stone Collective

Tracklist:
01. Animal Crown
02. Shamanic Blood Leaf
03. Ancient Conifers Reign
04. Prophetic Dusk
05. Oaks Ceremony
06. Primal Forest


The Eagle Stone Collective
is a label out of France, run by Caleb R.K. Williams. A rough translation of his label’s mission statement says:

“The Eagle Stone Collective is a musical project/collective on the fringes of ambient Americana, drone and other experiments. Influenced by the desert and natural areas of the wilderness of our world and beyond. A minimalist and emotional vision of a sensory universe.”

The label released their first digital album, Eagle Stone EP in 2015 and their first physical, Alaska in 2016. The label features a variety of guests including Abigail Lily O’Hara, who released the enchanting Meander late last year. John Scott Gartner has appeared solo, as well as part of Eagle Stone and Old Green Mountain, both of which are duo projects with Caleb R.K. Williams. But the majority of the label’s releases are various solo works by Caleb R.K. Williams.

Williams uses various names to denote the different sorts of music he creates on the label, in a similar fashion to the structures Pär Boström (Kammarheit, Cities Last Broadcast, etc.) and Peter Andersson (raison d’être, Atomine Elektrine, etc.) have used over the years to denote their various styles of music. But unlike either of the aforementioned gentlemen, Williams not only uses his label for fully realized albums, it is also a place to release his experimentations and improvisations. The music that falls under this category is released under his real name, while the proper albums are released under one of his monikers (at least this appears to be the pattern from my perspective).

I’ve taken the time to detail the label itself here because I truly love what they are doing. I’ve been following The Eagle Stone Collective since about 2016 or early 2017 and I really enjoy everything they release. Some of the improvisations feel rougher than others, but that’s fine, Williams is testing his musical boundaries before the eyes of the music community. It is a laudable task to simultaneously release many of one’s wanderings while still managing to keep the releases feeling fresh and valuable (in the sense that their listeners’ time is valuable and we shouldn’t waste it listening to just anything, even an improvisation should leave the listener feeling rewarded, otherwise it shouldn’t be released at all). I always feel that my time was well-spent listening to their albums. Be they improvs, solo experimentations of Williams, or a proper album release from one of their “groups/bands” for lack of a better term.

So now I’ll get into That Comes from the Tree and the MistKaya North is one of the proper solo projects of Caleb R.K. Williams. This one he describes as his dark ambient side-project. The album was released on cassette and CDr, both in ultra-limited editions. I’m not a huge fan of CDr for obvious reasons. But, when a label is doing an edition of only 15 copies in each format it would be absurd to expect them to be pro-manufactured CDs. Every label can’t have the resources to create editions like Cyclic Law and Cold Spring. But, this is not a reason to shy away from the physical medium altogether. I think these ultra-limited editions are certainly a way of bridging that gap. Listeners that want something physical can feel that they have a truly unique piece of work in their hands, even if it isn’t 100% professional (think professional = appealing to our 21st century corporate sensibilities. It wasn’t created in a massive factory?!?! For shame!!!!).

That Comes from the Tree and the Mist is predominately a drone album. Just as conveyed on the cover-art, the music is like a thick dark fog creeping over hills and through foliage. There is a primal sense of wonder and darkness present here. There is a feeling of deep reverence and fear for/of nature, through an almost ritual lens. The ritual vibe is further evoked through the track titles themselves. Names like “Prophetic Dusk”, “Oaks Ceremony” and “Shamanic Blood Leaf” nudge our understanding of the album in the right direction. This is music evoking the old world. Old Gods and old forests, old rituals and old traditions are all subtly evoked.

While the music on That Comes from the Tree and the Mist is improvised, it feels like it moves forward with a purpose. I don’t feel that “meh, he did it in 45 minutes” vibe that I get from so many improvised dark/drone ambient projects. There is substance here, and there is music worth listening to more than once (more than 20 times in my case). There also appear to be field recordings present in a few sections of the album. Though, as the album is stated to be improvised, I wonder (and hope) that those field recordings are actually part of the improvisation. I like to imagine a window open in the studio, with a microphone aiming outward capturing nature, while simultaneously capturing his electronic alchemy inside.

While the CDr is long since sold-out (sorry, I’m moving slowly with reviews these days…) there are 2 copies of the cassette left as I type this. I personally purchased the cassette and can certainly recommend it to others (if cassettes are your thing)! It comes in a numbered j-card (I have number 10/15) with sticker labels on the cassette denoting A/B and showing that gorgeously gloomy forest from the cover (so many cassettes aren’t being labelled at all these days!). It also came with two folded sheets of paper which appear to be stamped with hand-etched rubber.

I would highly recommend Kaya North‘s latest album. For those unfamiliar with The Eagle Stone Collective, this is a great place to start, especially so far as readers of This Is Darkness would be concerned, as it is more solidly dark ambient than many of their other releases. I would also recommend following the label in general, some styles of music they release are more to my liking than others, but I truly enjoy hearing each new release from them. It will be time well spent in a market that is becoming quite over-saturated at the moment.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ugasanie & Dronny Darko – Arctic Gates – Review

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

Tracklist:
01. Behind the North Wind
02. Wreck
03. An Object
04. 80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E
05. In the Polar Sea
06. Absorbed by Ice
07. Isolation Pit

“Two weeks you’ve been scouring the Arctic Sea. No sun since you reached the North, the dark water a constant fractured mirror that meets the universe above and pulls you into its black fold. Everything points to “it” resting beneath the ice, in a slumber of centuries.

Three weeks, now on land, you’re getting close. Down here beneath the ice you feel disconnected from the world, like you are leaving the present as you spelunk into the past. You snap another glow stick and throw it down the ice shaft, the light strobes off crystalline walls as it reveals an ancient structure below. The Arctic Gates.”

After Northaunt, Ugasanie (Угасание, which my Belarussian friend has told me is pronounced Ew-Gah-Shay-Nee-Yuh, and which means something like ‘fading away’ in English) was the second “polar ambient” artist with which I fell in love. Pavel Malyshkin of Vitebsk, Belarus has been creating music since around 2010 under this name, with a few solid early albums before he was discovered by Cryo Chamber in 2013 and released the classic White Silence. Since then, Ugasanie has become one of the most well known polar ambient artists within the greater dark ambient genre. He also runs two side-projects: Polterngeist and Silent Universe.

Oleg Puzan of Kiev, Ukraine also came to prominence with his first Cryo Chamber release as Dronny Darko, Outer Tehom, in 2014. Since then, he’s created a vast catalog of albums covering a multitude of styles within the dark ambient genre. He also mentored his now wife and mother of his child, Sasha Puzan aka protoU, who has released a number of solo albums on Cryo Chamber as well as excellent collaborations with Dronny Darko and others. He also has a few side projects of which I particularly enjoy Cryogenic Weekend and Hivetribe.

With Dronny Darko known for his attention to detail using drones and field recordings to create exquisitely nuanced soundscapes, and Ugasanie‘s mastery of the far northern landscapes/soundscapes, we should expect something extra special here! If the amount of times I’ve played this album on repeat over the last few days is any indication, this one is a gem!

The theme takes us to the far north, into the Arctic Ocean, not far north of Svalbard (Spitsbergen), the massive archipelago which has been under Norwegian sovereignty since 1920. The album blurb tells us that there are people searching this region of the Arctic for “it”, which has apparently been slumbering beneath the ice for centuries. This scenario seems to hint at something like a Cthulhu type entity for which the explorers search. It seems that they find signs of what they seek around the GPS coordinates given as the title of the fourth track, “80T-54’08.8N 49T-51’38.3E”. I’ve shown these coordinates on the map below.

I’m having a hard time connecting the narrative in the song titles to the narrative in the album blurb. But it seems that the explorers are searching this area by boat in the middle of dark winter (that time of year in the polar regions when the sun sets and doesn’t rise again for weeks/months, depending on how far to the extreme north or south you are). At some point, the explorers wreck their vessel (likely into floating glacial breakaways or the solidifying sea itself). However they move on. They find their way into a shaft, beneath the ice, possibly beneath the frozen sea itself. Until they reach land and ‘The Arctic Gates’. Whatever great mysteries are revealed to them in these depths should be left to the listeners’ imagination.

From a technical perspective, Ugasanie provides brilliant field recordings, which are able to bring this treacherous and frigid northern climate to our headphones. We can feel the gusts of wind, the creaking glaciers, the flexing ice. But, there is much more to this journey than an unwelcoming frozen environment, there is also dark energy, possibly dark gods. Dronny Darko takes the helm on bringing the events and encounters to life within Ugasanie‘s world. The results are magnificent. Both artists show a perfection of their styles here, allowing me to close my eyes and bring this cinematic experience truly to life.

I’ve honestly felt the cinematic elements of Arctic Gates more intensely than most other albums in the last two or so years. Aside from Eximia‘s Visitors album, I haven’t had so much fun trying to piece together a plot since the last time I sat down with the Atrium Carceri discography for several days straight. This is cinematic dark ambient at its best, especially if you like the polar theme.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Abbildung – At the Gates of Ouln – Review

Artist: Abbildung
Album: At the Gates of Ouln
Release date: 25 January 2019
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Brejor
02. Feruni
03. Astrolatry
04. Hymni Zahir
05. Travellers of Eternal Spheres
06. Abyme

“They dream our darkest dreams. They are searching for the untold meaning of their own dreams. They are starting to conjure all manner of strange things; demons, fears and chaos in primeval rituals. The mysteries of their realm unveil themselves, as we descend through their mystical gate….”

Abbildung, meaning in German a ‘mapping’ or ‘depiction’, is the dark ambient project of the Transylvanian, Casian Stefan. Stefan has been creating music as Abbildung since circa 2005. But, he’s also, at least equally, known through the community as the owner of the Essentia Mundi record label. While Abbildung has released the majority of their albums through Essentia Mundi, the last two have been on the Winter-Light label. You can check out my 2015 review of the last album All Demons Are Horned here on Terra Relicta.

Whereas All Demons Are Horned took an active and varied direction, diverging greatly in style from track-to-track, At the Gates of Ouln is a much more uniform release. This isn’t to say that it is any less interesting, but the tracks seem to progress in a smoother fashion. When choral male vocals fade into “Astrolatry” it does so almost effortlessly. When there are moments of percussion, again, they manage to stealthily fade into and back out of the mix.

As an active listen, these smooth transitions give you a reason to pay extra attention throughout the album, lest you miss something. For those incorporating this into  their passive listening, during reading, meditation or yoga, you will find the album can be placed perfectly in the background. Able to build a full and reverent atmosphere without sacrificing one’s concentration on the task at hand.

I use the word reverent because there is certainly a religious undertone which flows through the album. While the choral vocals being used are likely from a Christian choir, there is no reason to believe that this album should be considered a Christian experience. In fact, any hopes of something like that would be quickly dashed, as the beauty of “Astrolatry” shifts into the much darker and more primal “Hymni Zahir”.

In “Travellers of Eternal Spheres” we again return to the choral vocals, but this time they are obscured at a great distance. It is almost as if they become part of the shimmering drones which flow around and through them. The darkness of “Hymni Zahir” seems to have corrupted the beauty of the previous track, and “Travellers of Eternal Spheres” is then rendered a twisted combination of the two atmospheres. As “Travellers” draws to its close, after the 10 minute mark, we are moving toward a stiller darkness. We are left with some subtle field recordings and an ominous set of notes that corrupt and become the silent darkness.

“Abyme” truly represents the abyss here. Those dark and lonely notes from the previous track return, giving us a continuation of that motif. The field recordings become more subterranean and pronounced. The drones are almost non-existent. As the track proceeds through this dark soundscape, an unsettling high-pitched noise slowly begins to invade the track, gradually increasing in intensity (mind you the note/noise is nowhere near on par with something like death industrial or power electronics or noise ambient, this is a harsher but thoroughly dark ambient experience, and nothing I would really need to warn a sensitive ear against). Once this sort of demon has been abated by the 10 minute mark, we are again lost in the depths of an all-encompassing darkness which fades into total stillness.

I really enjoyed the last Abbildung album in 2015, and it was my first experience with the artist at the time. However, I found that there were only certain times when I could listen to the album and really allow it to shine. At the Gates of Ouln is a much more versatile album for me, and in the short time I’ve owned the CD it has been played at least several times a day, and never once was it found to be out of place, whatever I may have been doing at the time. I, therefore, very highly recommend this one. This is the perfect introduction to Abbildung if you aren’t previously familiar. For those of us familiar with his past works, this could likely be the best yet. Add a beautiful digi-pak presentation from Winter-Light, and there is really no excuse not to pick this one up!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Aindulmedir – The Lunar Lexicon – Review

Artist: Aindulmedir
Album: The Lunar Lexicon
Release date: 21 January 2019
Label: Hypnagoga Press

Tracklist:
01. Wind-Bitten
02. Book of Towers
03. The Librarian
04. Winter and Slumber
05. The Lunar Lexicon
06. Snow Above Blue Fire
07. Sleep-Form

Aindulmedir is the latest project from Pär Boström, known to most in the dark ambient community for his work as Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast. Following in the aesthetic the label often presents, mixtures of solitude, mysticism, northern landscapes and nostalgia draw the listener once again into the esoteric worlds presented on Hypnagoga Press.

For this release we will quickly notice a new side of Pär Boström being unveiled. While he often focuses on northern and/or dream landscapes and mysticism in his works, Aindulmedir takes these concepts a little bit outside the confines of the dark ambient genre. Aindulmedir adds a healthy dose of dungeon synth vibes to the mix. But this will not be your standard dungeon synth. Comparisons to someone like Mortiis wouldn’t make much sense here. The sounds of Aindulmedir more closely align with something like Grimrik‘s debut Eisreich. The solitary northern vibes outweigh the fantasy elements here, allowing for a subtlety which is often sorely lacking in the vast majority of dungeon synth releases I hear.

Though I mention a lesser reliance on the fantasy motifs, Aindulmedir actually does bring its fair share of fantasy into the mix. However, this is more noticeable in the album art and theme than the music itself. (Though there are some great fantasy moments, like the track “Winter and Slumber” with its more jubilant vibe.) We can see, through album art and titles, that The Lunar Lexicon transports us to some lonely tower on a remote mountain pass. This tower must be filled with the slowly decomposing grimoires of centuries passed. In the middle of the tower sits the old wrinkled hermit, his white beard falling carelessly across his old robes. In his lap sits some book of knowledge and power, while blue flames dance and leap from within the stone hearth. This is a place I never want to leave…

The Lunar Lexicon is stated to have some connection to a novel Pär is currently in the process of writing. Now, we can all begin to obsessively wonder what mysteries might be in store for us within the pages of this novel. As far as I’ve seen, this is the only public mention of such a work, so we can be sure that frigid climates and magickal books (and maybe even a wizard?) will be part of this narrative. But as the album description says that the music is “crossing the borderlands of a novel Pär is writing”, we are left probably with more questions than answers. I, for one, am incredibly excited about this news.

The album is also said to be “winter music for bibliophiles and hermits”. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, that makes now the perfect time for enjoying such a work. As our world slowly shifts we’ve been seeing vast accumulations of snow across various and often random sections of the world. There is no better time to sit down with a great book, a cup of hot tea or coffee, and Aindulmedir on repeat in the background.

I continue to be surprised by the ability of Pär Boström to continue expanding his musical output into new projects, while also moving forward with the others. I get a bit of a Kammarheit vibe from “Sleep-Form” but really this album sounds nothing like any of the other releases I’ve heard from Boström (of course, not all his works are solo, some like Hymnambulae include his sister Åsa, and Altarmang includes Kenneth Hansson). It will be increasingly interesting over the years to come, as we see how these various projects will all advance and morph.

The album was released digitally as well as in 30 limited edition cassettes. The cassettes were sold-out in something like two hours, so it looks like the community is certainly keeping an eye on these limited edition releases. From their past statements, it seems we can expect to see more of these sorts of ultra-limited edition releases in the future. However, other releases like the Hymnambulae debut, Orgelhuset, were pressed in a much larger quantity, so I guess there will continue to be a bit of each.

Since I first discovered the genre of dark ambient, Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast have both been incredibly important to me. It’s great a few years later to see Pär Boström taking his work in new and varied directions, while still staying faithful to his original projects. The Lunar Lexicon by Aindulmedir is yet another utterly magnificent release to add to that already impressive list.

Written by: Michael Barnett

VRNA – La Vecchia Madre – Review

Artist: VRNA
Album: La Vecchia Madre
Release date: November 2018
Label: Old Europa Cafe

Tracklist:
01. Of Great Silence
02. Ritual of Self-Burial
03. Empty
04. Cenere
05. Campi di Polvere
06. La Vecchia Madre – Ritual of Awakening

La Vecchia Madre is not streaming online,
but you can hear some other music by VRNA below:

VRNA (Urn/Ossuary), occasionally labeled as Urna, is the industrial/ritual/dark ambient project of Gianluca Martucci. Martucci has been creating music under this guise out of Italy since 1998. Starting his career with releases on Slaughter Productions, VRNA has been a solid, but under-the-radar, project which has caught the attention of those with discerning ears for two decades. Tattoo artist by trade, Martucci uses VRNA as his bridge into more mystical realms. Referring to the music as “…reflect[ing] the vacuous psychedelia of an ancient mind casting spells in a modern world” we can see that the sounds created here are intended to work on a higher level than that of a passive-listening ambient release.

The album is incredibly dynamic, at moments slowing to a meditative lull and others reaching moments of utter chaos and frenzy. The overall quality of the production seems to deteriorate at moments, writhing in raw energies before returning to a perfectly balanced state. Percussive elements range from dispersed single beats to fully realized tribal dance rhythms to droning silences. As a ritual ambient piece, it takes the listener through a full experience, seemingly able to direct states of consciousness in strange ways, if one were to properly open themselves to it.

“Of Great Silence” starts with a mid-high range oscillating airy drone. Male chants enter the mix after a few moments. The chants slowly fade into a distorted oscillation, mimicking the dronework. “Ritual of Self-Burial” is simultaneously unnerving and serene. It seems to convey a sense of destructive action with perfectly calm intent. This feeling is certainly reinforced by the track title. This is quite an amazing track in comparison to other similar attempts at this style. It really showcases Martucci’s natural grasp of ritual, industrial and ambient music and how they can all converge in the hands of the right aural alchemists.

After the chaos of the previous track, we move into “Empty”, another highlight of the album, which keeps a subdued level of energy. We are able to envision ourselves in some dark catacomb, witnessing an ancient rite. Wind whirls through the chambers as the chants and incantations echo off the dank stone walls. One can almost smell the combination of torch fuel and frankincense wafting through the chamber, burning their nostrils. As the track moves toward it’s close a clean piano piece enters the mix as the surrounding sounds all descend back into distorted chaos. The moment is reminiscent of some of my favorites in the works of Dahlia’s Tear, but the theme, setting, and therefore also the effect are quite different.

“Cenere” descends the furthest into chaos. The track mainly consists of a repeated vocal chant which is highly distorted along with an array of drones which create a sort of sonic assault upon the senses. Deep reverberations seem to usher in a powerful and malign force.

“Campi di Polvere” starts calmly, a lonely guitar riff plays over an airy drone. It feels like a nice meditative calm amidst the intensity of the surrounding tracks. “La Vecchia Madre – Ritual of Awakening” returns to the oscillating high-pitched industrial drones. There are words spoken over the drones using heavy distortion and delay to create a demonic sort of sound which intensifies into screams and growls over a slowly pounding drum. As the track progresses toward its close, it descends further into a distorted chaos. In seeming conclusion to the entire ritual/album the sound fades out, being replaced by a more primal style of tribal music. A single chanting voice prepares the scene for the aforementioned tribal dance rhythms which are joined by a number of other chants, male and female included here.

This won’t be an album for passive listening. One should really dedicate themselves to the experience of this one in order to fully and properly appreciate it. Released on Old Europa Cafe, La Vecchia Madre comes in an almost cloth or leatheresque textured digipak. As it’s a good album to put your focus toward, I would definitely recommend the physical for taking on driving excursions and the like.

VRNA has been involved in a number of noteworthy releases over the last few months, a few of which include their split with Holotrop, Enkoimesis, and the brilliant compilation Sons of an Older Cosmos. Both of these were through Qualia. There are certainly a number of other previous releases from this artist that are well worth discovery. If you are a fan of ritual ambient that isn’t afraid to take things into intense aural territory, you should find a lot to love on La Vecchia Madre. Those that prefer their ritual ambient subdued and meditative will have a harder time with this one, but could still catch a few of you pleasantly by surprise, as it did with me.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Med Gen – Brittleroots – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Desiderii Marginis – Vita Arkivet – Review

Artist: Desiderii Marginis
Album: Vita Arkivet
Release date: 22 October 2018
Label: Cyclic Law

Tracklist:
01. Capsule
02. The Scattering
03. Passing Bell
04. Vertigo
05. Eulogy

“Long awaited new material by one of Sweden’s most revered dark ambient acts. ‘Vita Arkivet’ translates from Swedish as ‘The White Archive’ and is an official document detailing ones funeral arrangements. In death our existence is whitewashed, the slate wiped clean. We start all over and we bring nothing with us where we go. We lose the agency of our own memory and leave it for those left behind to attend to, to continue our story, to write our eulogy. Vita is also the Latin word for Life, so the meaning could also be ‘The Life Archive’. White is the colour of the casket lining, the plaster death masks and the walls of the chapel, it is the colour of the first and last pages. What is kept in between the covers of our life archives? This record is a personal reflection and manifestation of that process, the loss and the great detachment from life, from others, and from ourselves.”

Desiderii Marginis has been one of the leading names in the dark ambient genre for the last two decades. In 1997 their debut release, Songs Over Ruins, took listeners deeper into a territory which had been recently traversed by raison d’être. A style which included a serene, yet troubling, combination of industrial field recordings, choir/chant vocals and various ritual instruments including bells. This combination of sounds gave listeners a different idea of how to look at religious works through dark ambient. Where previous artists like Ain Soph, Zos Kia and Korpses Katatonik often included ritual elements like bells and bone-instruments, particularly Desiderii Marginis and raison d’être took this concept into a new and more refined direction.

Early albums like Songs Over Ruins and Deadbeat held this sort of ‘sacral ambient’ focus, but by the mid 2000’s Desiderii Marginis was delving into different sorts of soundscapes. My two personal favorites, That Which Is Tragic And Timeless and Seven Sorrows, were fully incorporating the use of guitar (often acoustic) as one of the main elements of the project. The sacral fell to the wayside, with a focus more on sadness and isolation. Procession and Hypnosis seemed to be a nice blend of the original sacral style combined with the newer depressive guitar works.

Vita Arkivet is a return to that original sacral style, which Desiderii Marginis initially became so well known for using. The opening track “Capsule” is quintessential Desiderii Marginis, the industrially tinged drones sweep across a sort of quasi-religious, post-apocalyptic soundscape. Following the logic of the album’s theme, this track could be a sort of ‘time capsule’ into the history of this musician. We get a feeling of his previous works returning to the surface. “The Scattering” and “Passing Bell” are reasonably relaxing tracks, which unfold into more complex works as they progress. “Vertigo” has a darker feel to it, there is a greater sense of death and the confusion that might arise during it’s onset.

“Eulogy” starts with the chiming of a bell or singing bowl. It seems to indicate the beginning of something more ritualistic and less personal than the previous tracks. This track is also quite peaceful, but maintains some of that darker vibe from “Vertigo”. I get the sense here that this could be the artist’s preferred actual eulogy. A marking of the end of a life which is filled with equal parts light and darkness. A life concerned with the encroaching industrialized world upon nature. A call for peace, understanding and serenity in a confusing and destructive world.

Desiderii Marginis quietly unveiled this album digitally on their Bandcamp page a few months before the official release. Cyclic Law later would give the album its proper launch. There is a CD version as well as two vinyl variants, black or clear-and-black splatter. I have a copy of the clear/black splatter and it is gorgeous, I highly recommend getting ahold of one of them before that 100 copy edition is sold-out.

I was quickly impressed with Vita Arkivet, it encompasses all the things I love about the entire discography of Desiderii Marginis’ works. Sometimes when an artist has been in the business two decades and they release something like a “Eulogy” album, I get scared thinking this might be their ‘swan-song and departure’. I hope that isn’t the case here, Desiderii Marginis hasn’t become one of the most well known and highly respected artists in the dark ambient genre for nothing. They have decades worth of fantastic releases and live performances to keep followers quite content, but I’m sure there will be plenty more fantastic soundscapes for this artist to visit in the future.

As usual with Desiderii Marginis works, I consider Vita Arkivet to be a must-have for dark ambient listeners. This is a well-honed release by a veteran of the genre. The fact that Frederic Arbour of Cyclic Law decided to give the album a 2-variant vinyl release is a testament to the trust and esteem the community has for this artist. If you haven’t previously browsed their works, I highly recommend you start now with Vita Arkivet and then work your way backward through the hours and hours of wonderful music Desiderii Marginis has shared with us over the years.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Otavan Veret – Syvys – Review

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

Tracklist:
01. I
02. II
03. III
04. IV

Otavan Veret is a dark/ritual ambient project out of Finland. Syvys is the second album by the project, which is led by Kaarna (Tervahäät, Slave’s Mask, Anima Artica Label etc..) and Kivelä. There first self-titled album was released back in 2014, also on Cyclic Law.

While there is plenty of reference to stellar space in the description of the album as well as the cover-art, this feels to me more like the soundscapes of a person standing upon the Earth, staring into the vast depths of limitless space. Not an astronaut touring the galaxies. Rather a psychonaut, the mind filling with an eruption of understanding as the cosmos unveil themselves to a mystic hermit, as he gazes from some far northern campsite into the depths of space. The mind becoming fully enraptured and enlightened along the way.

The self-titled debut took the artists on a similar path as their latest Syvys. But, there is a noticeable difference in the sounds. Percussion was used more often in the first album, and has little inclusion on Syvys, where they use more rhythmic patterns with the synths to create a similar effect, but still contain a bit of subtle tribal percussion. There was also a sort of monotony to both releases, which a reviewer of their previous album considered a downside. But, for most fans of dark ambient and similar genres, we appreciate soundscapes that stretch on for 10+ minutes and gradually shift from one emotion into another, bringing the listener along for a beautiful journey, if only they are patient enough to take the ride. Syvys seems to put this ‘monotony’ to better use (probably a bad word for it as this is really nothing like the so-called monotony of a drone ambient release). The soundscapes quickly pull the listener into their grasp, opening us to feelings of awe, oneness and respite. The long track lengths, instead of making the album boring, turn it into a highly meditative medium, one that I’ve incorporated into yoga, and one which is also quite perfect for drifting off to sleep.

The style of the music fits in line nicely with another set of musicians, also hailing from Finland, that blend this feeling of interstellar travel with a simultaneous sense of earthly grounding. That is, of course, the Aural Hypnox label. Otavan Veret excels in the subtle inclusion of ritual elements, in particular chanting, which draw ties to the sounds of Arktau Eos or Halo Manash. Yet, there is also a more electronic feel and a musicality that lean toward a project like Lingua Fungi. Cyclic Law has been doing a splendid job over the last few years of working with artists that are outside the Aural Hypnox label, but share many of the same elements, including projects like Bonini Bulga, Altarmang (both side-projects of Kammarheit), Common Eider, King Eider, and Phurpa.

“I” starts with a piercing high note, which lingers for the first three minutes of the track before slowly fading into a sacral sort of feel, which vaguely hints at the feel of early work from raison d’être or Desiderii Marginis. “II” contains lingering elements of “I” which forms a noticeable continuity between the tracks, though this one is a bit less active. There is a real depth to the layers of sound on “II” I could make fleeting comparisons here to some of the sound design used by Atrium Carceri.

“III” is the highlight of the album for me. For anyone impatient, wanting to find the gem within the release, you should skip to this one and then check out the rest of the album. Though, I greatly prefer hearing it in its proper order. There is a simplicity here that can be deceiving. This takes us closest to the Aural Hypnox comparison. There are definite ritual overtones, but this ritualistic earthly nature seems to melt into the distant cosmos here. The mind of the listener opens and this primal energy pours in. “IV” starts with a high level of almost chaotic energy, reeling off the energies from the preceding track, but as it progresses we are taken into soundscapes that highlight a deep sense of peacefulness and solitude. Here, I get the feeling that we’ve been lying upon the snows of the far north, in some forest clearing gazing upon the stars above. But as we become further enraptured by the sounds, we are slowly losing life, fading off into a deep dark and frigid nothingness. As all fades out, we are left with an almost winter synth sort of outro, which really seems like the perfect ending to this epic journey through the mind, the north, and the cosmos.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Cadabra Records – The Call of Cthulhu – Review

Artists:
Andrew Leman (Spoken Word)
Theologian (Soundscapes)

Album: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
Release date: Spring 2018
Label: Cadabra Records

Cadabra Records has effectively carved out a niche for themselves with their H.P. Lovecraft vinyl series. It might seem strange to essentially buy an audiobook without the convenience, but their pressing of Lovecraft’s 1929/1930 work Fungi From Yuggoth takes the story’s effect to unimaginable heights. These projects aren’t mere reading. They’re gripping, haunting works of art in and of themselves.

Andrew Leman’s utterance of Lovecraft’s words is harrowing enough in and of itself, but the inclusion of post-industrial legends Theologian was a true stroke of genius. Their nebulous soundscapes embody Lovecraft’s fear of the unknown to a degree no other artist could hope to reach. Given how great Fungi turned out, it only made sense of Cadabra to unite the same artists once more to tackle Lovecraft’s magnum opus—The Call of Cthulhu.

A palpable aura sets into place right when the needle hits the wax, and only tightens its grip on the listener’s senses. Listening to this thing in the dark at high volumes is profoundly nightmarish, as the speaker and the musicians work to magnify the dreadful feeling The Call of Cthulhu elicits. The chemistry between Leman and Theologian is unprecedented in this type of media. Their respect for the source material is evident, as each sound and word resonates at the core of Lovecraft’s chilling narrative.

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While Theologian’s input on this release doesn’t stray far from amorphous noisescapes, their sonic tides rise and fall in synchronization with the story’s emotional crescendos. As Leman gets more impassioned, the soundscape acquires more layers of paranoid sound. The result gives a dumbfounding fervor to protagonist Francis Wayland Thurston’s descent into madness. Lovecraft always made a point to detail the mental fallout experienced by his protagonists after beholding the Great Old Ones, which this recording mirrors as Leman’s tone of voice gets increasingly agitated.

Leman and Theologian’s respective contributions were obviously made to be mutually exclusive, but this project keeps both the reading and the music compelling. Leman’s reading would be captivating without Theologian backing him up, just like Theologian’s finely-crafted ambiance could transfix by itself.

Theologian made a good call to avoid trying too hard to evoke each plot-point as it happens. The musician instead supports the overall atmosphere, working tirelessly to up the ante as the chilling narrative takes its course. There are a few nuanced additions to drive some of the most terrifying moments home. When police official John Raymond hears the ritual drums that lead him to the Cthulhu cult’s terrifying procession, a very quiet, but deliberate rhythmic pulse creeps into the aura.

Instead of trying too hard to musically interpret the story, Theologian intuitively creates a head-space for the listener. It almost works like subliminal messaging, preparing the ears and mind for Lovecraft’s words. This release forces listeners to contend with monsters beyond comprehension after being whisked away to Lovecraft’s macabre world.

For vinyl lovers who haven’t read Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, this is the perfect introduction. For anyone already familiar with The Call of Cthulhu, this provides a re-experience like no other. This album’s immersive ambiance and expressive reading is nothing short of spectacular. It takes nothing from the source material, only adding to its impact as a seminal work of horror and weird fiction. Cadabra may well have outdone themselves with this project.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

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