I have come to realize several things about the dark ambient genre and its greater community, which I would like to share with you. If anyone disagrees with me, I am always happy, to debate these topics or any topics in which I’m passionate, for that matter.
First off, I’m sure this will be a given for many, but when I say “darkness”, I do not exclusively mean spooky. Darkness in the context of dark ambient manifests itself in a variety of ways. The heartbreak of a lost love, a peaceful walk through the woods on a cool evening, extra-terrestrial lifeforms visiting our planet, a crackling fire inside an arctic cabin, and a mental tour of the cosmos can all be as equally dark experiences as the man locked inside a cell, hallucinating as he falls further into an institutionalized insanity or the raising of evil spirits by means of seance or satanic ritual. The greatest common denominator here seems to be a sense of solitude.
Now may be the greatest time to be a fan of dark ambient. There are a plethora of new projects releasing every month. This is truly beautiful, because many of the veteran artists and trailblazers for the genre are still planted firmly in the center of the scene. While new projects crop up around the globe, veteran artists, like Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber and Frederic Arbour of Cyclic Law, are doing everything in their power to keep the momentum moving. Cold Meat Industry, a benchmark label for the genre of dark ambient, may be gone, but a number of equally, if not more, suitable labels have cropped up around the globe. Add to this the advent of Bandcamp, a website which has irreversibly changed the face of underground music, and dark ambient artists are more poised than ever to make a splash in the musical world.
Considering the global scale of this musical movement, it can be quite surprising to realize how much these artists have in common on a personal level. Having talked to many of the leading artists in the genre over the last few years, it has become apparent to me that a love for nature and darkness is almost unanimous. There is a sort of timidness to the genre, a sense of realization that we are not the makers or keepers of our universe. In many cases we aren’t even the keepers of our own livelihoods, personae, or mortality. This humbling realization may or may not have been a defining factor from the very beginning, but by this point in the genre’s evolution it seems to be a given.
As these artists do seem to have so many common interests, it is no wonder that we are seeing more and more collaborative work. We aren’t just seeing collaborations between artists who live in the same town, no, absolutely not. The way in which dark ambient artists are collaborating on a global scale just might be a first for the musical community. I honestly can’t think of another genre which has such a global yet close knit community of artists.
This humble nature also seems to seep into many of the geopolitical topics covered by the genre. Dark ambient albums are significantly less likely to show active signs of aggression toward anyone or anything, instead we often fall into the roll of the oppressed. Take the topic of the apocalypse, one that seems to have been beat to death by the genre and yet manages to continue to feel fresh and relevant. The scenario usually goes: Our governments have corrupted our politics, our waters, and our atmosphere. Now that our brief window of cultural and technological paradise has passed, what is left for us? Many an album answers this question from their own unique perspective. Yet, very few artists within the dark ambient framework ever take on the role of the oppressor. We are not the ones doing the destroying, we are the ones who have been destroyed. We can also look at examples of polar dark ambient type albums, which often depict a frozen planet, maybe right after the dinosaurs, or during our last minor ice age, when humanity had not yet discovered all the tools to destroy each other and our world, at a staggering pace. Conversely, we could be witnessing a planet which has succumbed to a nuclear-induced ice age. Again, in these albums we are looking at a sort of innocence lost, or maybe even an innocence rediscovered. A time and place in which the hunt, staying warm, and surviving are the utmost concerns.
Another telling sign of this union of minds is the prevalence of atheism within the community. Yes, there are many believers in old religions often heavily associated with nature, but even these people share many of the same feelings toward popular religions, persecutions, and general ignorance or naivety. It’s as if we have all been oppressed and therefore we respect the fragility of others. Yet this often can become more of a cautionary tale against collective ignorance than a call to peace. It would seem that many dark ambient artists have a live and let live mentality. There is rarely ever a political motivation behind these cautionary stories, as you might expect from, say, neo-folk artists. It seems like the popular sentiment is: go ahead and destroy the planet, but if you do, this is what you can expect. At a time when political opinions are extremely polarizing, this is probably the best for the longevity and continued collaboration of the genre.
Maybe a combination these similarities in viewpoints are why the community has done such a great job of coming together and respecting one another. I have yet to see any animosity from one dark ambient artist to another. Aside from Lustmord, who would, of course, prefer to be considered the one and only when it comes to this genre. Where else in the world can you currently find a niche, where Americans, Russians, Greeks, Swedes, Aussies, and Persians all come together under one peaceful banner, not to start some sort of revolution, but to enjoy the talents and company of one another. The template set here is truly impressive and could probably teach a few important lessons to other aspects of culture and the global consciousness.
Written by: Michael Barnett