Tag: Review (Page 1 of 10)

Northaunt – Istid III – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

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

Martyria – Self-titled – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

raison d’être – Alchymeia – Review

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Mia Vaattovaara 2008

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Roger Karmanik 2015

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

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

 

Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Shock Frontier – Tumult – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect – Miles To Midnight – Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect
Album: Miles to Midnight
Release date: 9 January 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Miles to Midnight
02. A Thousand Empty Rooms
03. Scene of the Crime
04. Floor 6, Please
05. The Other Lobby
06. Sorry Sir, You Are In The Wrong Room
07. The Sleep Ensemble
08. Quiet Days On Earth

Miles to Midnight is one of those surprise records that you didn’t realize you needed until it presented itself. A collaboration between Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast and God Body Disconnect sounds like the perfect combination. But, then we add to this the unexpected dark jazz elements, which takes the concept from interesting to must-hear.

The first thing that will immediately jump out at any previous fans of these three artists is the addition of drums. It would seem that Bruce Moallem of God Body Disconnect was not ready to fully bury his love for the instrument, even if he’s moved on to the genre of dark ambient, which very rarely includes the use of a proper drum set. Throughout the album we hear these elements of dark jazz and dark ambient play off one another in a wholly unique way.

There really aren’t many albums out there that could be compared to Miles to Midnight. Of course, many of us will be familiar with dark jazz acts such as Bohren und der Club of Gore or The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. Miles to Midnight certainly plays off much of this style, but it also manages to keep its dark ambient roots intact along the way. Tracks like the openers “Miles to Midnight” and “A Thousand Empty Rooms” work heavily within the dark jazz framework, creating sounds that are vastly more “song-like” than much of the dark ambient genre’s output. Yet, particularly in the second half, with the exception of the closer “Quiet Days on Earth”, we hear tracks that keep the atmosphere intact while moving into territory more familiar to fans of these artists.

The reason for this stylistic shift from the first to second half of the album has to do specifically with the underlying theme of the album. The vinyl edition is the perfect fit for this release, on account of this split. Side A takes us through a sort of Lynchian crime-noir storyline, following a worn-down, unstable detective as he enters some seedy hotel with a dark history of murder. But as the detective makes his way to the 6th floor, he finds that this hotel has much darker energies than were first imagined. Side B takes us to “the other side”. We move from the scene of a gruesome crime on the lower levels to this twisted and otherworldly realm which has somehow made a connection with the upper section of the hotel.

Bruce Moallem of God Body Disconnect helps keep this first half in check, particularly through the use of his drum kit. We are able to enjoy something surely dark, but not necessarily unearthly. Though, as we move into the second half, the strange occult influenced talents of Par Bostrom from Cities Last Broadcast, among his many other varied and intriguing projects, become paramount in the recipe. The foundation goes from dark jazz to a twisted and troubling form of dark ambient. Bostrom’s vocal contributions, which can be heard creeping in and out of particularly the second half of the album give Miles to Midnight a truly mystical edge. Simon Heath’s (Atrium Carceri) contributions will be most noticeable to many in his piano elements, which fit perfectly with the dark jazz percussion of Moallem. Aside from their more obvious contributions, it seems fairly evident that each of these musicians contributed to the foundational layers of dark ambient throughout the album, in their own unique ways.

A particular highlight of the album, for me, is the closer, “Quiet Days on Earth”. On this track we return to the straightforward percussion of Moallem, which sets the foundations for the only truly dark jazz track on the second half of Miles to Midnight. There are guitar and piano elements accompanying this, which I expect are the work of Bostrom and Heath, respectively, but I can’t be certain. As the track nears its end we hear one of the most melodic and yet haunting vocal performances to-date by Par Bostrom, which really helps to fully solidify the dark jazz elements in our minds as the album reaches its close.

As I’ve been moving into my new apartment, this album has been pretty much on repeat for the last few weeks. The blend of dark ambient with dark jazz works in a way that gives the album energetic highs and lows, making it the perfect music for when one is trying to focus on some other project, but still wants to keep themselves thoroughly entertained. And yet, sitting down in the dark with a set of headphones, one is able to dissect the multitude of elements here, building a clearer picture of the underlying story.

Miles to Midnight is a brilliant and novel release for Cryo Chamber. Following on the footsteps of their recent release Heralds by Wordclock, Cryo Chamber takes the dark jazz elements in an even more focused direction. While they are obviously a dark ambient label at heart, it’s great to see them taking chances and testing the waters of different genre influences, which should ultimately make for a more diverse catalog of releases and widen their fan-base even further. A highly recommended release especially, but certainly not only, for fans of dark jazz!

Written by: Michael Barnett

 

Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Asylum Beyond – Review

Artist: Flowers For Bodysnatchers
Album: Asylum Beyond
Release date: 28 November 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Red Ballerina (Oksana’s Theme)
02. Midnight My Dearest Midnight
03. Ravenfield
04. Phantasma
05. Mechanical Pictures
06. Dear Ernest, You’re Dead
07. A Darker Rebirth
08. Black Catechism
09. White Ballerina (Polina’s Theme)

Asylum Beyond marks a moment in dark ambient which I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time. In a genre like dark ambient, one would expect to find “horror ambient” music around every turn. But the truth is, most dark ambient artists stray quite far from this style. Their sounds usually harnessing something more akin to melancholy, despair or the phenomena of the natural world. We get views into the horror infused world only intermittently. Artists like Atrium Carceri, Svartsinn and Apocryphos have spent time in this area, but few others have fully dedicated themselves to producing utter darkness, in a skin-tingling fashion.

Duncan Ritchie seems like the perfect person to join the small but potent group of musicians that have delved into the horror style. His first project, The Rosenshoul, has always worked in a soundtrack-like fashion; building soundscapes for imagined horrors. But with The Rosenshoul, the focus was never on the cinematic, only the pure musicality of the sounds. Flowers For Bodysnatchers, from its inception, has been a channel for Ritchie to create intricate and often intimate cinematic experiences which actually seek to tell a story. His first two releases on Cryo Chamber, Aokigahara and Love Like Blood, told a story of a broken man, riddled with guilt and heartbreak, who takes a trip to the great sea of trees in Japan, the Aokigahara forest, the most popular suicide destination in the world. On the four artists collaboration, Locus Arcadia, Flowers for Bodysnatchers joined Randal Collier-Ford, Council of Nine and God Body Disconnect to tell a sort of side-story from the Sabled Sun mythos, another product from the mind of Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri/Sabled Sun).

Ritchie puts to the test his experience in story-telling with Asylum Beyond. This album takes all the lessons Ritchie has learned over the years and hones them in on the story of a deranged, and possibly even evil, antique store owner from 1968 in Massachusetts. Ernest Semenov was admitted to Ravenfield Asylum for the murder of his wife and children. Numerous elements on the scene pointed to ritual dismemberment and slaughter. Not long after his admission to Ravenfield, the asylum burns to the ground, killing everyone on the premise aside from Semenov and his doctor, which have both disappeared.

The focus on old burnt-out asylums, ritual murders, secret occult knowledge and the hideous truth that lies somewhere just beyond reach all make for the perfect late-night exercise in the imaginings of the macabre and deranged. The surgical execution of Ritchie in his aural story telling reaches its climax with Asylum Beyond. The album is a perfect example of horror ambient, because it sits on the boundaries between the real and the imagined, the historic truth and the supernatural lore. The listener is given just enough textual information and aural clues to follow Ritchie’s plot, while simultaneously creating one’s own narrative.

From a physical standpoint, Asylum Beyond is also quite unique. On the Cryo Chamber label, almost all albums are mastered by Simon Heath. He has also created most of the cover-art for these albums. On Asylum Beyond, Duncan Ritchie is given full reign over his project. He was responsible for all parts of the creation process: mixing, mastering, photography, and so forth. Asylum Beyond also comes with a 16-page booklet filled with more clues and images to enrich the story, another oddity for the Cryo Chamber discography. So, it’s clear that Heath also sees the infinite talents of Ritchie, and trusts in his judgment.

Asylum Beyond serves as a perfect template for the dark ambient community. It shows how one may focus on themes that could be considered unworthy to the more philosophically driven artists of the genre; and how these themes are still absolutely worthy of our attention. When undertaken from the right perspective, horror ambient can be as entertaining as the best of horror movies. Even more so in many ways, since “seeing the evil” ultimately brings about disbelief and sometimes even humor in horror films. Horror ambient is able to bring us face to face with these horrors without ever removing the fragile veil from the listener’s imagination.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Arktau Eos – Catacomb Resonator – Review

Artist: Arktau Eos
Album: Catacomb Resonator
Release date: 29 September 2017
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. Catacomb Resonator

Arktau Eos return with another brilliant ritual ambient piece. Since their debut Mirorrion, Arktau Eos have been defining leaders in the ritual ambient scene. There music takes listeners on a spiritual journey, leading to ends which can’t be defined.

Aural Hypnox has taken pride, over the last decade, in creating output which connects on a very personal level with their followers. The soundscapes are first and foremost ritualistic. Each project on the label has their own unique way of creating this atmosphere. While a project like Lingua Fungi comes close to a more musical framework, Arktau Eos has often shown the most primal elements of the ritual ambient genre.

On Mirrorion, Arktau Eos covered a lot of ground. Each track on the album tapped into the ritual ambient sound from a different perspective. While Scorpion Milk, it’s other half of sorts, was much more minimal and focused on a specific sound. Their sixth and latest release, Catacomb Resonator, is most closely comparable to Scorpion Milk. There is all the attention to detail that would be expected of an Aural Hypnox artist, but Catacomb Resonator, like the aforementioned Scorpion Milk, is one of the most minimal releases in the label’s history.

The main instrument used on Catacomb Resonator seems to be the human voice. There is a sort of rhythm to it, as the music slowly climbs to a peak and then returns to silence just as gently. The rest of the soundscapes are constructed of what appear to be predominately synthetic elements, minimal dronework that rises and falls in synch with the vocals. The use of light drones adds another layer to its subliminal depth. The contrast of human vocals to synthesized drones gives the perfect balance between nature and the machine.

When devoting full attention to the release, in a sort of meditation, it was easy for me to feel my breathing synchronize with the fluctuations in the music. In fact, Catacomb Resonator could likely be the most successful Aural Hypnox release to date, in regards to its usefulness as a meditation tool. The sounds of the album are quite subdued, giving the listener the ability to fully drift from the physical world, allowing the mind’s eye to take the lead.

Catacomb Resonator is the second Aural Hypnox release to be offered in the vinyl format. As with the recent Aeoga release Obsidian Outlander (which was reviewed here), Catacomb Resonator is presented on black vinyl with packaging that highlights the Aural Hypnox do-it-yourself aesthetic, with emphasis on originality and simple yet elegant designs. The CD version uses a very old paper stock, which was discovered in storage by the label, giving the CD format its own unique charm. The album was also released in a special collector’s edition which included both vinyl and CD as well as a cassette with additional content. Unfortunately for anyone interested, this edition sold-out almost immediately and extreme mark-ups should be expected on any available second-hand.

As is always the case with Aural Hypnox, readers will not find the album in any of the usual online music services like Spotify, Bandcamp or iTunes. While this can clearly present a problem for potential new listeners, veteran fans of the Aural Hypnox label will have already learned that previewing a new release is rarely necessary, as their quality of output is so consistent.

Veteran listeners of the Aural Hypnox label will find nothing unusual with Catacomb Resonator. It is a welcome addition to an already impressive catalog of releases. For newcomers to the label, Catacomb Resonator should prove to be a perfect album to introduce to listeners. The ritual elements are strong, but the energy levels are more subdued than will be found on many Aural Hypnox releases. I can safely recommend this release to any fans of the ritual ambient genre. Arktau Eos are tried and true leaders of the genre, and Catacomb Resonator serves perfectly to reinforce this claim.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Trepaneringsritualen – Kainskult – Review

Artist: Trepaneringsritualen
Album: Kainskult
Release date: 1 October 2017
Label: Tesco Organization

Tracklist:
01. Death & Ecstasy
02. Maðr Malformed
03. All Flesh Has Corrupted
04. ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ
05. Feral Me
06. Serpent Seed
07. An Immaculate Body of Water
08. ∴
09. V ∴ V ∴ V

Injecting catchiness into styles as unfriendly as death industrial or ritual industrial might seem about as logical as trying to teach anteaters how to read, but that’s exactly what Swedish experimental artist Thomas Martin Ekelund has done with his newest release under the alias Trepaneringsritualen (TxRxP for short. You’re welcome.). Though thematically and aesthetically up to the standard this death industrial heavyweight set for mechanical dementia, Kainskult remains as infectious as it is caustic.

In comparison to the grinding ritualism of 2014’s Perfection & Permanence, this LP’s approach sports pervading accessibility in the midst of its harsh overtones. “Death & Ecstasy” starts Kainskult off familiarly enough with growls cadencing clanking thuds and tribal grunts, but incomes quasi-melodic vocalizations evoking the most disconcerting affectations of Michael Gira and Attila Csihar’s most atmospheric tendencies. This juxtaposition of hair-raising terror and penetrating emotion derails expectations while enhancing the impact of Kainskult tenfold, which only becomes more apparent when “Death & Ecstasy” collapses into “Maðr Malformed.”

This track and the following “All Flesh Has Corrupted” sear their grooves onto eardrums like a branding iron. The former’s driving tribal percussion and subterraneanly heavy synth lines provide the perfect backdrop for demonic chants, standing in contrast to the plodding tom-tom hits and echoing back-beat of the latter. Though intimate delivery pails before bestial brutality, these songs transcend genre norms as they embody a maniacal occultist dance while pummeling listeners to smithereens.

The importance of vocals on Kainskult needs to be stressed. In many ways they’re the nucleus for the album’s memorability. On top of expanding his range, Ekelund also collaborates with several other throat-masters this time around, allowing his lyrics to take center stage on multiple occasions through multiple filters, accentuating ceremonial auras while embedding his words into the souls of listeners. The factory-esque military percussion and bass pulse on “Feral Me,” while punishing enough in its own right, brutalizes to a tremendous effect through fiery gutturals. TxRxP is no longer just about scaring, but decimating.

As its title might have already clarified, Kainskult centers around the biblical character Kain, known to Judeo-Christianity as the first murderer, and to Ekelund as the “Original Heresiarch.” His explorations of both the metaphysical divergency and visceral malice at play in Kain’s story, when coupled with paranoia-inducing drone-scapes and dirgey percussion, produce some of the most haunting music in the genre. The depth charge percussive blasts and glacial sound collages in ambient tracks like “ᚲ ∴ ᚲ ∴ ᚲ” delve into the depths of Kain’s outlook, while more structured cuts harness his archaic infamy to drive their auditory destruction.

“Serpent Seed” and “An Immaculate Body of Water” respectively encapsulate Kainskult’s undeniable groove and atmospheric rites within impregnable harshness. The former employs triplet-based vocal patterns almost bordering on rap over a bludgeoning beat, while the latter’s ominous synth lead piles layers of filthy distortion and disembodied voices comparing to West Europe’s Stalaggh/Gulaggh in aural excruciation. With the exception of the 29-second interlude “∴,” which serves only to transition from the aforementioned track into the concluding “V ∴ V ∴ V,” these tracks conjure believable vibes while energizing TxRxP‘s overall sound.

In the final song, Ekelund showcases his ability to balance accessible forays with the cavernous terror he has become known for. A hypnotic industrial beat slowly gains more complexity, while cleverly-placed descending synth lines provide the perfect foundation for Ekelund’s one-to-100 vocal jumps. The atmosphere remains intact thanks to unique auras produced by grating gutturals and brooding mutterings, keeping listeners guessing until the album closes with dynamic leaps.

TxRxP has broken new ground for the death industrial sound while paying proper respect to the style’s inaccessible nature, something Ekelund’s contemporaries often struggle to accomplish. Many projects embrace outside influences as they try to push beyond their template, but this album remains firmly rooted in brain-bashing claustrophobia. Trepaneringsritualen produces something hardcore fans of this music will adore, but also provides enough glimmers of approachability for those lost in the sonic fray — making Kainskult one of the most potent death industrial releases to drop in recent years.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

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