Tag: Review (Page 1 of 15)

Isegrimm – Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen – Review

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to share with you the second review from the talented Matteo Brusa!  If you want to be notified of all our posts, be sure to sign up for email notifications, found in the right panel of the webpage (just scroll down and look to your right). Facebook is worthless for promotion these days and there aren’t a lot of other alternatives, so please consider signing up!

Artist: Isegrimm
Album: Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen
Release date: 18 January 2019
Label: Dark Age Productions
Reviewer: Matteo Brusa


This is what I heard, and it will blow you away

In the vast and mostly featureless landscape of contemporary Dungeon Synth, Isegrimm stands like a massive, towering fortress, one where travelers who dare to cross its path can always be sure to find a safe haven. Now reaching its third installment (plus a split with Irish fellow dungeoneer Argonath), Max Berger’s project has established itself as one of the most engaging and recognizable acts in the current scene, and Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen further consolidates its status.

As titles suggest, the album draws its inspiration from the poem Hildebrandslied, the only surviving written example of High German winileod (epic “folk song”) from the early Middle Ages. For those unfamiliar with the subject matter, the “Song of Hildebrand” (“Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen” being the first verse, roughly meaning “This is what I heard”) narrates of a father and son destined to fight each other to death, a recurring theme in Indo-European mythology: in the war between Theoderic king of the Ostrogoths and Odoacer king of Italy, two champions, named Hildebrand and Hadubrand, meet on the battlefield to engage in duel; Hildebrand, the eldest, soon realizes he is facing his long lost son and tries to reconcile with him, being rebuffed by Hadubrand. Bound by the ancient Germanic warrior code, he can’t reject the duel, so they begin to fight, Hildebrand lamenting his sorrowful fate. The manuscript ends here, but likely, as occurring in all other examples of the trope in European literature, the original poem would finish with Hildebrand prevailing and killing his own son, an outcome accordingly stated in the album’s final song “Hadubrantes Todliod” (“The death song of Hadubrand”).

With the aid of a number of guests, including Matt Seeb of the acclaimed Hedge Wizard, Daithí O’Mathúna of Argonath and Italian singers Paolo Ferrante and Chiara Gangemi from the experimental vocal act The Voices, Max Berger manages to create an outstandingly evocative and engaging soundtrack to such an epic and tragic tale. “Medieval ambient” could be the perfect description for the sound and feel of Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen: a sustained note introduces the listener to a masterful sonic representation of early Middle Ages Europe, which slowly unfolds through a variety of different atmospheres and moods, providing for an astonishingly immersive experience, greatly enhanced by Alex Crispin’s crisp (no pun intended) and polished mastering work. Arrangements are rich and dynamic, ranging from dense synthetic orchestral passages to quieter and sparser ambient sections; there is tribal chanting and drumming, full-on sampled horns heroically blowing, synthetic pads delicately weaving backdrops for piano and sampled woodwinds flourishes, and more. While the compositional style is mainly based on repetition and layering as is common in Dungeon Synth tradition, the use of vocals and percussions throughout makes this album really stand out: the vocals specifically are a highlight, adding a strong human presence and often taking the lead with choirs and chanting, giving off at times a distinct ethnic feel, at times evoking sacrality. Track number six, “Wettu Irmingot” (“God the Excellent testify”) is perhaps the most brilliant example: through juxtaposition of obsessive percussions with skillfully written, arranged and performed intertwining vocal parts, it manages to sound like a Gothic (literally) version of Enigma, yet in a way not so far removed from certain neoclassical darkwave (early Weltenbrand also comes to mind). Almost each song could stand as well on its own, but in the album’s context, they seamlessly fit together and complement each other, creating a very cohesive and tight opus. Even the closing track, which is kind of an oddball, being a slow atmospheric metal song with guitar, bass and drums, doesn’t sound out of place at all: on the contrary, it perfectly sits within the flow of the album, concluding it with a captivating change of pace.

By combining old school Dungeon Synth with progressive elements, Ik Gihorta Dat Seggen undoubtedly turns out to be Isegrimm‘s masterpiece, an album deserving widespread praise and recognition in the scene as an example of keeping things fresh while maintaining a strong connection with the genre’s roots and spirit.

Written by: Matteo Brusa

Flowers for Bodysnatchers – Alive with Scars – Review

Artist: Flowers for Bodysnatchers
Album: Alive with Scars
Release date: 5 March 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber

Flowers for Bodysnatchers is back with Alive with Scars. Duncan Ritchie’s project has quickly become one of the most well-known in the dark ambient genre and a front-runner on the Cryo Chamber label, which he’s called home since the masterpiece Aokigahara in 2015.

His first two releases on Cryo Chamber showed a dark and personal side of Duncan Ritchie. Aokigahara took us on a journey into the forest of its namesake in Japan. This forest has become notorious and recognizable to many around the world in recent years, due to the more widespread reach of social media and news websites. It’s being featured in movies like A24‘s The Sea of Trees has only further solidified it in our minds. We knew that this was a sort of “potential suicide voyage” and the fact that Ritchie collected field recordings directly from Tokyo and the forest itself could lead us to believe that he may have taken this journey very seriously.

Love Like Blood, the follow-up to Aokigahara, added more pieces to the puzzle for us. We found out that, at least part of, this trip was due to a lost love and the emotional reverberations felt because of it. The picture was undeniably a personal one for Ritchie at this point. Not just a theme for an album, but a saddening memoir.

Alive with Scars takes us even deeper into the personal life of Ritchie. We are given a key to one of the underlying causes behind that eerie trip to Aokigahara. We find that the situation was not only one of personal incompatibilities and emotionally charged laments. Ritchie now shows us that a huge part of the puzzle comes from his struggles with MS. Here it is best to allow Ritchie’s words to speak for themselves, as he explains MS and his struggles in dealing with it.

(Taken from the album blurb on Cryo Chamber)
Alive With Scars is an album that explores the life long struggle of living with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue, in the case of MS, the healthy tissue is myelin, the protein that insulates the nerves in the spinal cord, brain and optic nerve gradually destroying the myelin that coats the central nervous system. Your body slowly beings wasting from the inside out by the subversion of its own central nervous system. A body that with the passing of time will waste and wither to its own unique sonnet of pain and torment.

I personally have lived with MS for almost 10 years and, this album has been an on again, off again affair for almost as long. Did I even want to do this? Will people understand it? It has been a difficult subject to approach and express musically. Yet I found I had been subconsciously doing it all along. From the formidably depressing album Aokigahara to the melancholic spitefulness of Love Like Blood. The narratives represented in these albums were backed by the way my MS affected me and the people around me. It’s a long journey and Alive With Scars continues both the physical and emotional process of living life, trying to keep one step ahead of it and, trying to say sorry for the times I got things terribly wrong. – Duncan

This all makes a lot of sense when listening to the album, especially if you are familiar with Ritchie’s previous work. There are certain sections, like the piano on the opening track, which harken back to previous works by Ritchie. The fact that he’s been working through the material of this album for almost this full ten year period explains how some of the tracks will seem like things unusual to the Flowers For Bodysnatchers repertoire, while others will feel like they were taken directly from the sessions for Aokigahara and Love Like Blood. Some could be older pieces from styles which Ritchie has since distanced himself, while others could be glimmers of the future of the project.

From a technical standpoint, Alive with Scars is very much an active listen, more so than maybe any of his previous releases. This is particularly so because of the vast number of styles incorporated, as well as the several in-your-face uses of electronic percussion. It is also interesting to try to pieces together what elements may be time-capsules from several years ago, and which other ones seemed to be created/recorded over the last year, in preparation for the final album.

I see no point in going into detail here on a track-by-track analysis. I rarely read them myself when digesting someone else’s review. The reviewers feelings about a track aren’t what’s important, yours (the listener) are. Suffice to say, I highly enjoyed each track on the album, and there is quite a bit of variation present in style, flow and emotion. Which is all to be expected when documenting the journey through physical (and so often as a result, also emotional) pain.

Unlike most releases on Cryo Chamber, but par for the course with Flowers for Bodysnatchers, the album was 100% created and realized by Duncan Ritchie. From field recordings and synths to artwork and mastering, this is from the heart of Ritchie himself. I always consider that a real testament to his talents, when such a skilled person as Simon Heath is usually the one behind the artwork and mastering. Heath is absolutely ruthless when it comes to details and final product, so there is no way he would allow an album to be released on Cryo Chamber that wasn’t mastered by himself unless he really trusted and respected the work of Ritchie.

I can highly recommend this release. But, don’t expect it to be one that you just put on in the background while reading. It won’t do the album justice, and it will likely distract you if you are studying or reading. Give this one an hour in the dark with a nice set of headphones. It will be an hour well spent, and one sure to be followed by many more visits with this episode in the story behind Flowers for Bodysnatchers.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Skeldos – Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning – Review

Artist: Skeldos
Album: Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning
Release date: 5 April 2019
Label: The Epicurean

Tracklist:
01. Melas – A Lie
02. Ilges – Caretakers of Yearning
03. Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens

It is with immense pleasure that I am able to bring you an (heavily) updated version of my previous Skeldos review. As I lamented in the final paragraph, Skeldos is a brilliant musician and one that was deserving of much more exposure than previously realized. While my review, at the time, may have helped a few extra people find their way to and purchase this beautiful album, it was still sadly left under-the-radar. Now, finally, Skeldos has found a proper label, The Epicurean, one that is well-respected within the post-industrial community, which will likely bring his music to the attention of a much larger audience. As it so greatly deserves.

For this re-release Skeldos has added a third track to the album “Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens” and the album has been renamed Ilges – Caretakers of Yearning. It has also been mastered by Hunter Barr, and is now available as a CD. But, more on the physical aspects later.

Skeldos is an “anxious electronic, industrial, ambient” project by Vytenis Eitminavičius of Lithuania. Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning is his third full length solo release. While his debut album, Įspaudai, was released on the Lithuanian label Terror, his last two solo releases, as well as his brilliant collaboration, Aviliai with fellow Lithuanian ambient/drone artist Daina Dieva, have all been independently released. (Though this has now been remedied with the re-release!)

Skeldos focuses on a form of drone/dark ambient which at times can be incredibly relaxing and calm. But it can move into varied territories with little awareness from the listener. The sounds seem to morph effortlessly. While the music itself can sound a good bit different at times, the approach to these soundscapes seems quite reminiscent of Kammarheit, or some amalgamation of Kammarheit and Taphephobia, maybe. Or at their harshest of times (not present on this album) can come into territory more aligned with artists like Jarl or Yen Pox, creating textures which can seem chaotic and over-bearing, but are still able to totally draw the listener into their coils, taking us on a mental voyage to destinations unknown. An interesting caveat here is that it would appear Skeldos creates all his “drones” with real acoustic instruments, namely on this album: accordion, Lithuanian zither, violin and guitar.

The first track on Ilgės, “Melas – A Lie”, falls somewhere in the middle of Skeldos‘ range of soundscapes. There is a slight harshness, but it is predominately a sort of trance-inducing dronescape, which has little variation, and yet has managed to keep my full attention over many, many replays. I could maybe lightly compare the style to something more reserved on Aural Hypnox. The second track, “Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning”, takes us into calmer, more melancholic territory. The backing dronework has a sort of celestial/shimmering/peaceful quality to it, which is accentuated by its solitude within the track. As listeners begin to sink into this trance, Skeldos introduces, for the first time on Ilgės – Caretakers of Yearning, what I think is his most defining characteristic. His vocals. Skeldos has a very relaxing mid-deep ranged vocal quality. His vocals sound as if they are a lullaby, cutting through the darkness of night, in a sort of melodic whisper. As we reach the end of the track, the energy of the soundscapes, as well as Vytenis‘ vocals, pick up momentum for a more emotional finale.

The third track, “Blunkantys Sodai – Fading Gardens”, is the new addition to the album, as mentioned above. I’m not sure if this was an out-take from the original sessions or if it was created exclusively for the re-release. But, it fits perfectly with the first two tracks. The soundscapes follow a similar pattern to those of the previous track and we are again graced with another short but beautiful vocal section. The inclusion of this new track brings the total album length to a more satisfying 45 minutes.

The inspiration for this album was taken from the poem “melas” or “A Lie” by Lithuanian writer Antanas Škėma. As with the previous version, the poem/lyrics have been included in the digifile, in their original Lithuanian as well as in English translation. While the poetry of the first track was written by Antanas Škėma, the second two tracks have lyrics/poetry composed by Skeldos himself.

The cover-art for this version has been updated, but is still very similar to the original. The CD is housed in a beautiful 6-panel digifile made with high-quality natural paper. The special edition, which is limited to 25 copies, takes this “natural” element one step further. It includes the same digifile as the standard version, along with: Tibetan prayer flags, incense, refuge ribbon & a certificate for donation on joss paper.

As stated on The Epicurean‘s Bandcamp page, in regard to the special edition:
“€3 is going direcly to the German association ”Bridge of Friendship e.V.”. Their aim is to support the ”Karma Leksheyling” – an intermediate English-Tibetan school for girls and boys from low-income families from the Himalayan region, who are denied access to other forms of education. Its purpose is to provide Buddhist training and qualified general education for young nuns and monks in order to empower them to assume their responsibility for the protection and preservation of Buddhist teachings in the future.”

As many of us are coming to realize in this brave new world, an increase in Buddhist teachings would likely do the planet some good, as a whole. It is heart-warming to see a “dark music” label focusing on outreach to such an altruistic cause. It is also a testament to the fact that while we love dark music, we are not bad people. We just often see the world from a darker more pessimistic lens than most…

Skeldos is a true gem to the post-industrial community. There is an air of the ancient and folk, and a feeling of melancholy which many dark ambient and drone artists can only dream to achieve. Each time I listen to Skeldos I am reinvigorated by the wonders present in his soundscapes. I am beyond pleased to be returning to this wonderful release with its additional track, new mastering, and beautiful new physical presentations. I highly recommend this album, HIGHLY!

I will hopefully have an interview with Vytenis to share with you all in the near future. I’m very much looking forward to picking his brain!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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

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