Tag: Winter-Light

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

VelgeNaturlig – Kundalini – Review

Artist: VelgeNaturlig
Album: Kundalini
Release date: 21 September 2018
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Padmasana
02. On
03. Hold
04. Grey Sun
05. Secret Dialogue
06. Reflux
07. Indra
08. Matariki
09. Flow
10. Urur
11. Tara
12. Unboundedness

VelgeNaturlig is a dark ambient project out of Portugal. He’s been creating music in this genre for well over a decade, but he has only been submitting albums to major labels within the genre for a few years. So, after Opalescent Pust, last year’s album by Velgenaturlig (you can read our review here), he has returned again to Winter-Light for the release of his next album, Kundalini.

Kundalini (Sanskrit: कुण्डलिनी kuṇḍalinī,”coiled one”), in Hinduism refers to a form of primal energy, or shakti, said to be located at the base of the spine. Shakti is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism and Shaktism. So, we can see that this release has a very specific theme and focus on matters related to these ancient religious traditions.

The music, itself, will weave in and out of terrain which would be considered more or less dark ambient. What I should probably mention promptly, is that Kundalini doesn’t have that new age feel which would be such a negative for many of our readers. There are absolutely sections of the album which will flirt with this new age territory, something that is almost impossible to avoid when working with instruments and ritual elements related to Hinduism/Buddhism, yoga/meditation, etc. But, these sections on Kundalini serve to solidify the atmospherics of the album, while more often the soundscapes created are more in-line with the dark ambient aesthetics than yoga center soundtracks.

I happened to start focusing on this album at almost the same time I started practicing yoga, so the timing and setting were perfect for me to enjoy this release to its fullest. As with most things, I practice yoga in the solitude of my home, without the prying eye or direction of any outside forces. So, I really don’t know the “rules” on combining music with yoga/meditation practices (when doing them in a traditional/guided way). But, I will say that I have been using Kundalini as my background music with each morning’s yoga practice and I’ve found the combination very rewarding.

The album contains tracks which flow in a more ritual ambient direction like “Indra” and the album closer “Unboundedness” which use combinations of electro-acoustic loops to create atmospheres similar to those conjured by artists on Aural Hypnox. The opener, “Padmasana”, feels more in-line with more standard dark ambient, using drones and field recordings to initially draw us into the album. “Hold” is almost fully constructed of field recordings. There seems to be a combination of pristine nature sounds (crickets, wind, running water) which is in contrast to a prevalent mechanical sound, as if some vast engine is running off in the distance. “Grey Sun” and “Secret Dialogue” may take us the furthest into those ancient lands of south Asia, full of the history of such old and powerful religions. The field recordings blend with singing bowls, sitar, and drones to create first an atmosphere and then a mindset, a mindset perfect for the activities of meditation and/or yoga.

VelgeNaturlig seems to have tightened their reigns with Kundalini. While I greatly enjoyed Opalescent Pust, I find Kundalini to be a much more unified, as well as enjoyable, experience. Whereas, Opalescent Pust sort of left the themes and emotional responses to the listeners’ discretion, Kundalini has a much more rigged framework, and therefore seems to require a more direct guidance over the listening experience. This won’t do any favors for the fans that like to create their own narrative with a dark ambient album. But it is very helpful for us to know exactly what the artist had in mind when creating their works, and to know how best to appreciate these works. In my experience, these more directed approaches usually provide the most entertaining results. This is the case with Kundalini. I would still recommend Kundalini to those listeners that have no interest in religion/meditation/yoga, the album is certainly aimed toward those themes but the listener should have little trouble pushing this aside and enjoying their drive or a good book. For those looking to augment their yoga/meditation with dark ambient soundscapes, this will be a highly rewarding album to you in particular.

Editor’s Note: I was already planning on reviewing this release, but pushed it to the front because of hearing the sad news that this artist’s entire set of live equipment was stolen as he was headed for the airport to play Blasvart Aften Vol.10, an event curated by Svartsinn in Trondheim, Norway. Due to this sad situation VelgeNaturlig was forced to cancel. Sysselmann quickly stepped up to fill the slot, but that doesn’t help the fact that VelgeNaturlig has taken a massive financial hit. Many/most of us know how little money there is in music these days, especially in our beloved little sub-genres. Events like this can often prove fatal to the careers of musicians, because of finances and/or pessimism. So let’s do  what we can to show this artist our support during this less than optimal time.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Nam-Khar – Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa – Review

Artist: Nam-Khar
Album: Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa
Release date: 23 March 2018
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Dri Za
02. Sab Dak
03. Srinmo
04. Bdud
05. Shidak (re-shaped)
06. Nyan
07. Gyalpo
08. Klu

Nam-Khar is a ritual ambient project out of Germany which I’ve been following now for some years. They describe their music as, “Nam-Khar develops in a deep magickal exploration handling complex defragmentations and vibrational tunes with an ancestral touch which opens to listeners new gates of perception due how the evocative sounds emerges from time to time.”

They have released several collaborations/splits over the last few years with artists including Sielwolf, Alone in the Hollow Garden, Holotrop, and Shibalba. In fact, all their releases up to this point have been either collaborations or splits with other ritual ambient musicians. The only exception being their self-released debut, A Hallowed Ground Within, back in 2009. Due, in no small part, to the collaborative nature of Nam-Khar, they have been steadily gaining a larger audience over the last two years. This culminates with their first label released solo album, Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa on Winter-Light.

Video by: Maria Martinego

I will not go into any detail on specific tracks here. The album, as the artists have stated, is meant to be experienced as a whole, and thusly, that is the best way of speaking about it. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa is a brilliant ritual ambient release, but one which took me some time to fully grasp. This is a subtle form of ritual ambient presented here. The album has little-to-no “musical” elements, in the strict sense of the word. If you are reading as you listen to Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa, you might find the album calmly carry you through the next hour, without ever distracting you or inadvertently drawing you to its sounds. Though, if you are actively listening there is still a good bit of interesting things happening to keep your attention. But, the main attraction to this release, as should be obvious, is for those inclined to ritual music for more than just its aesthetics. Nam-Khar is, after all, a ritual ambient project which puts their goal of creating something unique and yet still authentic to Tibetan Buddhism-leaning traditions/rituals.

The general calmness of Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa lends itself nicely to its use as a meditation aid. Lighting a few candles and a stick of incense, then sitting down to a period of meditation, one can allow the sounds of Nam-Khar to fully envelop their consciousness. We can, then, absorb all the energies these artists have conjured in their craft. The gentle chiming of singing bowls, the field recordings which paint a picture of the environment, the tribal percussion, and the airy drones, all come together splendidly, and in a way that is never distracting. This, I think, is a feat for a ritual ambient act. So many ritual ambient albums are highly invasive on their listeners, begging every moments attention, or trying to force a listener into the intended mindset. Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa coaxes us in the correct direction, without ever being forceful, leaving much more room for spiritual awakening/enlightenment.

This is their first release on the well-respected Winter-Light label. Before this, most of Nam-Khar music was released on the ritual ambient Sombre Soniks label. While Sombre Soniks is probably more in-line with the aesthetics of Nam-Khar, the move to Winter-Light should help further raise awareness of Nam-Khar within the dark/ritual ambient community. Nam-Khar is certainly one of a few ritual ambient projects that deserves a much greater appreciation. I would recommend Secret Essence/Sangwa Dupa to any fan of ritual ambient that prefers the more subtle side of things. This could also be a very nice album for those that don’t usually like ritual ambient, but find an occasional release in this genre to their liking. Again, the subtlety of the work done on this release makes it very easy to enjoy and digest, and leaves the listener inclined to keep coming back for many repeat listens.

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

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