Category: Retro Reviews (Page 2 of 2)

Frozen In Time: This is Darkness playlist – July 2020

Here are the dark ambient albums that we at This is Darkness have been listening to this month – some are new releases, but a few are older gems we’ve just (re)discovered. Please check these out by clicking on the Bandcamp links, and consider supporting the artists. Enjoy!

Mortemhize – Herald of Doom

I’ve been a huge fan of Russian neoclassical ambient artist, Mortemhize, for some time now, so I was thrilled when I learned he was releasing this new 6 track album. This is hauntingly sad music, played beautifully on piano and stringed instruments, complimented by subtly blended ambient soundscapes. The end result is music that evokes strong feelings of melancholy and despair – yet provides a wonderful listening experience.

Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead – It Will Be Dark Soon

This is one of those albums that just blew me away on the first listen – with its dark ambient, drone, and industrial elements coalescing to create the definitive soundtrack to the apocalypse. No, it’s not an easy listen, but that’s the point. If you’re looking for something on the noisier side of the dark ambient genre, then this album is definitely worth checking out.

Extinct Anatomies – Above The Wandering Land

I’ve had this album from Chilean dark ambient musician Extinct Anatomies on repeat play for the last couple of weeks – its blending of dark ambient and down-tempo industrial elements hitting a sweet spot that I’ve been drawn to again and again. I can’t wait to see what this artist releases next.

Desiderii Marginis – Departed

I’ve been eagerly awaiting for this album to be released ever since Johan Levin mentioned it in an interview last year. It was worth the wait. This is an incredible album of atmospheric dark ambient soundscapes – powerful and emotive music that draws you in and takes you to another world. The inclusion of reworks of 3 classic Desiderii Marginis pieces – Deadbeat, Worlds Apart, and I Am Without Rule (Sum Sine Regno) – is an added bonus. Once again, Johan Levin has shown why he is considered one of the masters of the genre.

Grove of Whispers – Borderland

Grove of Whispers is fast becoming a favourite of mine – his drone-ambient albums always striking the perfect balance between the darkness and the light. Borderland is an album of unsettling drones and eerie dark ambient soundscapes… but its subtle layers and underlying gentle vibe provide the perfect soundtrack to relax, reflect, and lose yourself to.

Keosz – Vigor

The latest album from Slovakian ambient / electronic musician Keosz is actually the soundtrack to Vigor – a “…free-to-play shoot ‘n’ loot game where you build the Shelter in post-war Norway…”. And, as a soundtrack album, some of the music here is a little more uplifting or hard hitting than your typical dark ambient. But because it all flows together so well, I found myself drawn in and enjoying the whole album experience – regardless of whether certain parts of it were dark ambient or not.

Various Artists – +​+​Transcend Transmute Kreate​+​+

The Sombre Soniks dark ambient label specialises in music of a “… ritual or ethnomuzikologikal nature…” and this latest album, a compilation of tracks from twenty-seven artists, is the perfect showcase for the consistently high quality output the label releases. Each track offers something different, yet the pieces all fit together to create a wonderfully unified audio experience that leaves the listener feeling touched by something special.

Mørket – Shadows of Existence

This impressive dark ambient release from Greece, is described by its creator, Mørket, as “… a journey to the subconscious and the hidden, darker aspects of the mind, the moments that are stored within the memory…”. It sums up this album perfectly – where evolving drones and repeating electronica combine together to create a sublime dream-like soundtrack. I will definitely be checking out more from this artist.

Frozen In Time: This is Darkness playlist – June 2020

Here are the dark ambient albums that we at This is Darkness have been listening to this month – some are new releases, but a few are older gems we’ve just (re)discovered. Please check these out by clicking on the Bandcamp links, and consider supporting the artists. Enjoy!

Beyond The Ghost – Eternal Drift

I’m a big fan of Beyond The Ghost‘s previous offering, You Disappeared, so I was thrilled when I heard he was releasing another album on the Cryo Chamber label. Eternal Drift is a dark, brooding album, of cinematic soundscapes that provides the listener with an audio experience that manages to be both melancholic and disturbing. The unsettling drone sounds are complimented by haunting piano and cello work, resulting in music that is sad and despairing, but has an underlying human warmth to it. This is an incredible album, and with it, Pierre Laplace has firmly established himself as one of the masters of the genre.

Bonzaii – A Person / Life on a Blade

These two tracks from German artist, Bonzaii, have been stuck in my head for the last week, in a wonderfully endless loop of wistful poignancy. Discordant drones and low tempo synth patterns are expertly blended together to create something very special. This music provides the perfect soundtrack for reminiscing over days long past and remembering old friends… and maybe a spot of soul-searching. I can’t wait to see what Bonzaii releases next.

Paul Vinsonhaler – Antigonish

Strictly speaking, this isn’t dark ambient – not in the purist sense – but, this electronic / industrial / soundtrack album definitely includes a number of dark ambient elements. This is dark and edgy music, the kind that grabs you by the throat right from the off and doesn’t let go until the album has finished. As a result, Antigonish may not be for everyone – but I was completely blown away the first time I played the album… and I’ve had it on repeat play ever since.

Equal Stones – Catharsis

Ambient producer, Amandus Schaap, describes his latest release as “… a very personal record, mostly functioning as a form of therapy and to release long emotional blockage…” which gives you a good idea of what to expect of Catharsis. This is heartfelt, powerful music – sad, moving and almost overwhelming at times. It’s beautiful, yet bleak stuff, and if you’re in the mood for something on the downhearted side, this album is perfect.

Anne Sulikowski – Bedroom Drone

This impressive collection of drone and lo-fi electronic music is the latest release from Canadian composer, Anne Sulikowski, who uses guitar, loops, synths and pedals to create unique sonic landscapes. This is a laid back, chilled out album of experimental electronic and ambient music that is soothing and cinematic in equal measure. I will definitely be checking out more of Anne’s music, and with with an extensive back catalogue of 73 (!) releases, I know there will be plenty to keep me entertained for a long time to come.

Mind over MIDI – Skuddår

Mind over MIDI‘s latest release is an album of arctic inspired drone ambient. Helge Tømmervåg has done an amazing job of combining natural field recordings with subtle synth work and drone sounds, to create beautiful meditative polar soundscapes. This album transports the listener to the far, wild reaches of Norway, away from all the every day stresses of modern life. Wonderful.


Frozen In Time: This is Darkness playlist – April 2020

Here are the dark ambient albums that we at This is Darkness have been listening to this month – some are new releases, but a few are older gems we’ve just (re)discovered. Please check these out by clicking on the Bandcamp links, and consider supporting the artists. Enjoy!

Michael‘s Picks for April

bvdub – Ten Times the World Lied

I’ve been a huge fan of bvdub since I first found his work on Glacial Movements 2017 album, Epilogues for the End of the Sky (read my 2017 review here), which was a beautifully bleak piece of arctic drone with fleeting glimpses of more trance/electronica type vibes. Ten Times the World Lied returns Brock van Wey to the Glacial Movements label for another album which shares many similar vibes to the aforementioned work, ranging from moments of engulfing tension to a minimal and endearing, piano-laden beauty. As if one is wandering alone through a mild northern storm, reminiscing on times of love and others of despair, giving each their due importance. As many of us walk/sit/work alone during these hard times, bvdub‘s sounds seem ever-important and timely.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Mount Shrine – Shortwave Ruins

Mount Shrine is back with another variant on their signature combo of delicate field recordings, slowly evolving drones and the occasional samples of ‘radio-transmission’ voices. Shortwave Ruins brings these radio samples to the forefront, making for a more active listen than the previous albums. It’s certainly a perfect album for the hours winding down before bed, and for those that sleep with the TV on, this would be a useful replacement! For me the album evokes the same sort of frigid ambient, which simultaneously has a heart-warming effect, for which I often go to Northaunt, which is my next recommendation for the month!

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Northaunt/Svartsinn – The Borrowed World

This is an album that solidified my love for dark ambient. It is inspired by ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. While there is never a bad reason to pull this vinyl out and give it a spin, it seems even more appropriate during this current pandemic. You can check out my previous deep analysis of the album/book here, and an interview I did with Hærleif Langås of Northaunt here.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Old Sorcery – An Inkling of Void

Old Sorcery is back with a new EP, An Inkling of Void, running slightly over 20 min. The album is presented on Electronic Purification Records in a vinyl edition, which also includes 2018’s The Path Lies Hidden EP on it’s reverse side. An Inkling of Void is one of the more subtle releases by Old Sorcery, focusing more on dreamy synths than their more frequent and overtly dungeon synth vibes of the previous full-length releases.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.

Rich‘s Picks for April

Obsidian Relic – Obsidian Relic

Daniel Edenfield’s previous releases have been black metal / darkwave (Throne of Anguish), dungeon synth / soundtrack (Seregost), and cinematic audio horror stories (The Night Keep). His latest project, Obsidian Relic, takes the dark ambient elements present on those albums, to the next level – with brooding synth work, eerie drone soundscapes, and post-industrial undertones. The end result in an impressive album that I’ve had on repeat play for days. I will definitely be watching out for future releases from this artist.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Moonshine Blues – Through

Through is an album of mesmerising, melancholic soundscapes – where drones, strings and synths have been expertly combined to create music that is incredibly beautiful… and almost unbearably heartbreaking. All five tracks are imbued with a real sense of sadness and regret, and the listener is taken on an emotional journey of sorrow and self-reflection that is simply wonderful.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Hiemal – Vacant

Hiemal is fast becoming a favourite of mine – the winter-themed drone ambient soundscapes he creates never failing to chill me out and transport me away from everything. Vacant is one of his more meditative albums, with long form drones blended perfectly with the gentle sounds of wind-swept trees and distant birdsong. This is music to lose yourself in.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Grove of Whispers – The Sleep of Reason

This album of drone ambient / dark ambient provides the perfect soundtrack to the unfolding pandemic, with its bleak, haunting soundscapes… and pleasantly soothing undertones. This is deep, multi-layered music, and listening to it is an intense experience. The world is going to hell, but The Sleep of Reason tells us there is still hope…

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Wings of an Angel – Surrender to Emptiness

Israeli Wings of an Angel describe the music they create as “… spiritual ambient & drone music for meditation, dreaming and sleep… “ and, listening to the dreamy warm drones of Surrender to Emptiness, I have to say that’s an accurate description. This is beautifully calming music, ideal for unwinding and drifting off to sleep at the end of a hard day.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Archean Nights – Metropolis

The latest release from French artist, Archean Nights, is an album of unsettling dark ambient / drone ambient, that conveys a real sense of dread and growing unease as it plays. The immersive soundscapes are truly captivating, with so many subtle nuances to pull you in, and each listen provides a powerfully emotional experience.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Frozen In Time: This is Darkness playlist – March 2020

Here are the dark ambient albums that we at This is Darkness are currently listening to – some are new releases, but a few are older gems we’ve just (re)discovered. Please check these out by clicking on the Bandcamp links, and consider supporting the artists. Enjoy!


New Risen Throne – The Outside

This album of post-industrial dark ambient is incredible – its dark, cinematic soundscapes providing an audio experience that is simply breathtaking. Both Michael and Rich here at This is Darkness and have had this album on repeat play since they first heard it. Read our full review of the album here.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


NERATERRÆ – Scenes From The Sublime

NERATERRÆ‘s second album, Scenes From the Sublime, is even more impressive than his well-received debut, with ten tracks of dark ambient and drone inspired by visual masterpieces from the world of art. This is a wonderful album, with so many textures and levels of detail to it that each listen is a joy. Read our full review of the album here.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Hiemal – Summoning the Hall of Stars

The latest release from Hiemal features relaxing drone sounds and subtle field recordings… and is almost six hours in length(!) Summoning the Hall of Stars is another drone ambient triumph by the French musician, and is the perfect soundtrack to chill-out to. Read our recent interview with Hiemal here.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


The Last One – Bastards and Brothers

This is an album of seriously eerie and brooding dark ambient from Russia. Drone, dark ambient, and noise elements are expertly combined together to create a sinister soundscape that provides a wonderfully unsettling listening experience. Impressive stuff!

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Apocryphos – Against Civilization

Against Civilization is a guitar-driven dark ambient album that provides the perfect soundtrack to the self-isolation apocalypse… the music is a haunting, melancholic blend of atmospheric ambience and field recordings, and listening to it makes you want to stay inside, turn the lights off and escape from everything.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Ugasanie – Ice Breath of Antarctica

This album of incredibly atmospheric polar ambient was actually released back in March 2018, but since discovering it earlier this month, Rich has been listening to it almost daily. Dark ambient and drones sounds are expertly combined with field recordings of snow storms, blizzards and cracking ice flows, to create a powerful audio experience.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


SVR – Republic

Over the last couple of months, Scottish dark ambient musician SVR has released five albums / EPs, each showcasing fantastic lo-fi electronic drone music. It’s minimalist stuff, but the experimental soundscapes have a depth to them that you can lose yourself in. Wonderful!

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Various Artists – Drone Islands Volume I / II

This impressive collection of drone / ambient drone tracks features a number of well known names from the scene, as well as some lesser known artists. As you’d expect from a compilation album, there is quite a range of musical styles and tones featured across the twenty-five tracks, but there is no filler and nothing here disappoints.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Black Box Memories – Missing Heart Pieces

Missing Heart Pieces is a melancholic album of ambient and dark ambient compositions, overlaid with spoken contributions from a number of the musician’s long lost friends. The resulting pieces of music are all tinged with sadness and regret, yet beautiful. Powerful stuff.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Jinthra – Wotanist Affair

The latest release from Czech ritual artist Jindřich Spilka features four tracks of ritual ambient / drone music that grab the listener by the throat right from the off, and don’t let get until the album has finished. It’s wonderful stuff – dark and heavy, and laden with the soundscapes of ancient otherworldly forces.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Macrogramma – Volume 2

Italian sound designer & composer Macrogramma creates beautiful electronic ambient / drone music, that provide the perfect soundtrack to self-reflection and dreaming. This album is simply mesmerising, and listening to it is an uplifting and life-affirming experience.

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Mortemhize – Through the Night

This neoclassical ambient album is evocative and atmospheric, with soaring dark ambient soundscapes complimented by haunting piano work. It’s unsettling in places, sad in others – but all hangs together perfectly to create a unified sense of melancholy. Outstanding!

Digital album available on Bandcamp here.


Written by Rich Dodgin

Depressive Silence – Mourning – Retro Review

Artist: Depressive Silence
Album: Mourning  
Original release date: 1996
Original release label: Self-Released
Re-release date: 2016
Re-release label: Unborn Productions
Formats: Digital, Vinyl

01. Forests of Eternity
02. Depths of the Oceans
03. Spheres
04. Mourning
05. Dreams

Depressive Silence’s 1996 demo continues its influence.

Back in 1996, dungeon synth was not a recognised genre. The likes of Norway’s Mortiis, Austria’s Summoning and Greece’s Lamentation existed in amorphous limbo between dark ambient, medieval music and the black metal scene it stemmed from. It was in this environment that the German musician Ral dropped a handful of releases under the moniker Depressive Silence. Together with the aforementioned artists, his self-titled demo helped found what would become a highly-trafficked avenue of independent music. Renamed Mourning, the album’s return in LP form not only reestablishes its raw mysticism, but heralds its status as both a foundation and a benchmark for dungeon synth.

From the arpeggiated flute that begins the album, it becomes clear that Ral balances submersive atmosphere with acute musicality. No technical flaws and production limitations hold Mourning back as each song sports unique hues through a film of isolated melancholy. “Forest of Eternity,” the first and longest track, spotlights Ral’s meticulous layering and sound choices. Hypnosis coincides with orchestration as choral music and string trills punctuate shimmering chords and moving lines. On top of that, the vinyl pressing imparts warmth to the cold recordings, which increases their mesmerizing aura.

The following track “Depths of the Oceans” comes packed with swift single-note lines over washed out legato, traversing territory as vast as the aquatic catacombs it is named after. Ral balances the delicate and the stark, allowing his songs to breathe naturally within their brittle confines. Field recordings in these and other moments give the realm Depressive Silence conjures tangibility in the midst of otherworldly dreariness.

With such a multifaceted emotional palette, this album transcends the product of a man with a keyboard. The organ drones and wistful crescendos that drive “Spheres” definitely have as much of a synthetic quality as the other tracks, as do the timpany-esque percussion, but Ral’s atmospheric ingenuity creates an indescribable suspension of disbelief. He uses his limited medium to his advantage and weaves a sonic tapestry of accessible mystery. He accomplished this without the brawn many of his contemporaries and successors often implement.

Unlike albums such as Født til å Herske by Mortiis, which tend to utilize bombastic fanfares via brassy synth, this album drifts along its 36 minutes with whimsical grace. The title track encapsulates Ral’s knack for ornamenting his synthscapes with celestial melodies while founding them on swelling modulations. Coating individual timbres and tones sparingly, he keeps his work interesting in its minimalism. Bells, voices and piano creep in and out of the mix as the songs need — never as attention-grabbing gimmicks. Even the concluding “Dreams” finds its footing in echoing harpsichord and marching rhythm, something Ral wisely saved for last. Whether Mourning escalates to a wall of sound or a single instrument, intuitive orchestration makes every moment gorgeously dynamic, yet coy in its execution.

The return of Depressive Silence stands as testament to the longevity of Ral’s two-decade-old album. Though many modern artists continue heightening the instrumental and thematic elements of dungeon synth, Mourning stands as a distant lighthouse beckoning back to the source — a reminder of the potential this vein of dark ambient had already realized merely three years after The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost by Mortiis which sparked it into being.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Vond – Green Eyed Demon – Retro Review

Artist: Vond
Album: Green Eyed Demon
Original release date: 1997
Re-release date: 10 January 2017
Original label: Cybertzara
Re-release label: Funeral Industries

01. My Dying Day
02. Living Among the Remains of Dead People
03. Satan at My Back
04. To the Dreamer Dead and the Dreamer Dying
05. Hell Starts Now

Green Eyed Demon is the third and final album by Vond, a side project of Mortiis. These three albums were created from 1994 through 1998. Green Eyed Demon was initially released on the Cybertzara label. Now, almost 20 years later, Mortiis has re-released this album through his own label, Omnipresence.

Many of our readers should be very familiar with Mortiis. Several of his Era 1 albums were released through the late, legendary Cold Meat Industry, which was the launch pad for many of the forefathers of the dark ambient scene. The main project of Mortiis started as what is now called dungeon synth. He would later transition into dark wave / goth rock / goth metal or whatever other classification would best describe his varied sounds. But the lesser known side-project Vond, is the one which would be best suited to fans of the dark ambient genre. Vond may not in every aspect fall perfectly into the framework of traditional dark ambient, but it is probably the closest genre to this music.

The album Green Eyed Monster consists almost exclusively of the manipulation and layering of cinematic samples. Throughout the album, Vond sets the foundation for each track with a blend of dense industrial soundscapes and noises. This is industrial in the literal sense of the word, not the genre. We can hear machinery humming, the crashing and hammering of metal, steam releasing through valves. On top of this foundation Vond pieces together a plethora of samples of various cinematics.

The opening track, “My Dying Day”, focuses on descriptions of the early use of the electric chair in the United States prison system. The samples of a narrator describe the procedure in minute detail. Occasionally intertwined with these samples are Gregorian chants, which add a sort of perverse beauty to the composition. All this is placed on top of a thick foundation of industrial noises, which easily brings to mind early works of raison d’être, with particular similarities to the album Within the Depths of Silence and Phormations. As both artists were on the Cold Meat Industry roster during this period, it isn’t hard to imagine that they were likely borrowing a bit of inspiration from one another. Though I should make it clear that these similarities are not nearly enough to warrant calling one or the other a follower or copycat of the other’s style.

The following track, “Living Among the Remains of Dead People”, incorporates large portions of an old film, which appears to be of a documentary format, though it is actually a horror film posing as documentary footage. The story follows the demented and evil deeds of a psychopath by the name of Ezra Cobb. The narrative explains the progression of Cobb’s mental collapse from his initial attempts to cope with the death of his mother through his later acts of grave-robbing and necrophilia. Along with the narrative, Vond layers in samples of the man screaming “mother!” and other sound clips which add to the immersion for the listener.

My favorite track from the album, “To the Dreamer Dead and the Dreamer Dying”, takes us closer to the sounds of Era I Mortiis than much of the other output on  the Vond albums. There is much more prevalent use of the synthesizer on this track. Initially, we can hear a wind instrument, later it shifts to a sound which comes closer to a bass guitar that eventually is treated with distortion. As the track progresses the synth work moves into territory that would be very fitting on some soundtrack to a film, which is obviously a natural choice here, on an album that is full of cinematic samples. Aside from the synthesizer, Vond incorporates a variety of cinematic samples which seem to take us into some of the worst sagas of Christian history.

Green Eyed Demon has been given an impressive re-release. While it doesn’t appear that there was any re-mastering done, the physical copies of this album will be a delight to the avid collector. Through Mortiis‘ web-store there is finally an official digital copy of the album. A limited edition LP is presented in several different variations, including: black, blue, testpress, and there are even some copies of the original 1997 pressing available. The album is also released for the first time on CD in an A5 digipak.

For long-time fans of Mortiis, there will be nothing new here aside from the beautifully crafted re-release editions. But, for newer fans, just recently discovering his older phases and side-projects, Green Eyed Demon, as well as the other Vond albums, should be a delightful discovery. Vond definitely shows off a side of Mortiis’ talents that should be highly attractive to fans of dark ambient music. Its gritty production is a reminder of the old days of the dark ambient genre, back before everything could be done with a computer and midi controller. It’s also a reminder of the varied nature of Mortiis‘ interests. I would love to see these old albums draw enough attention to maybe get Mortiis to consider opening the vaults of Vond for one more chapter.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Desiderii Marginis – Songs Over Ruins (1997) – Retro Review

Artist: Desiderii Marginis
Album title: Songs Over Ruins
Original release date: June 1997
Re-mastered release date: 27 January 2017
Original label: Cold Meat Industry (defunct)
Re-mastered label: Cyclic Law

01. Songs Over Ruins I
02. Scintillate II
03. Ephemeral
04. Chrism
05. Entombment
06. Ashes
07. Solemn Descent
08. The Core of Hell II
09. Embossed in Bones
10. Songs Over Ruins II
11. Chreston

Desiderii Marginis debuted back in 1997 with this monumental release of Songs Over Ruins. Desiderii Marginis took many of the concepts which had been established in the young but prospering industrial ambient genre. Yet, he made them his own, twisted them to his liking, and along the way he paved the foundations of a decades running career in the industrial ambient, later referred to as dark ambient, genre. There is a beauty to this album, a dark and devastating beauty, which can’t be denied. His later career would build upon and often stray from these beginnings, but the fan-base and core mechanics of Songs Over Ruins would become a legacy of Desiderii Marginis ever after.

Original Album Art

So much has changed in the music world since 1997. Not only the landscape of the sounds themselves, or even the labels that presented the genre, but more than anything, there have been many technical innovations, which make a re-master of old releases so tempting. The demise of Cold Meat Industry was a slow one, and Desiderii Marginis had plenty of time to switch his home-base to Cyclic Law. Cyclic Law is a label that hit the ground running, building a reputation with some of the highest quality dark ambient of the genre, in a relatively quick progression. So after solidifying his position as a fore-front artist on Cyclic Law, it only made sense to look back to the classic which started his career. Cyclic Law offered the structure necessary to facilitate a proper re-master and a release on vinyl for the first time, not to mention a CD release, both of which feature new cover art.

For the loyal fans of the industrial ambient genre, fans that have followed this music through its many shifts over the decades, there will be no surprises in Songs Over Ruins, it is a tried and true classic, and album that goes down as one of the stand-out-greats in a genre which is arguably filled with masterpieces. But for the younger fans, this re-release of Songs Over Ruins will be a welcome history lesson, and a glaring example of how amazing this music was, even 20 years ago.

Songs Over Ruins will be noticeably different from the Desiderii Marginis that we know in 2017. It stands to reason that over two decades an artist will shift and morph with their personal life changes, as well as the technical progress of the equipment used to create this sort of music. Songs Over Ruins takes on an industrial feel throughout the album, with the sounds of metallic clangs and down-tempo martial drum sequences pervading through almost every track. But listening closely it is obvious that this is Desiderii Marginis. The changes to come over the decades did not necessarily make the artist better or worse, they evolved in a way which kept the artist relevant and firmly positioned as one of the most revered of the genre.

There is a melancholia, a despair to this album. The religious under-tones are constant. The listener can close their eyes and melt into the soundscapes, envisioning a world actively collapsing under its own arrogance. We feel the presence of dilapidated churches, mourning choirs. There is a sense of warfare, which is just outside the reach of the congregation. As if they sit in waiting, praying to a god which has lost interest in their blasphemies. Humanity is at the brink of destruction, but this is their story, these are the songs that now reflect their dying breed. When only the strong will survive, the weak and reverent will find themselves utterly devastated, struck from the history books, as raiding bandits find themselves relishing in a world without morals or repercussions.

Johan Levin

Songs Over Ruins is certainly an album of its time. It has many glaring similarities to raison d’être, a musical force that was carving its way into the collections of black metal and industrial fans, paving the path for generations of the industrial/dark ambient acts to follow. As one who can never get enough of a good thing, I find the beauty of these tracks to be first-class. The darkness of the music applies its umbra to the religious samples. What was once a beautiful church choir now becomes a chorus of the damned and dying, the devastation is bleeding through every note sung, every drumbeat hammered. Tracks like “Solemn Descent” and “Ashes” are brilliant examples of this comparison.

Don’t confuse the meaning, Desiderii Marginis is by no means a raison d’être copy-cat. There was a brilliance and an originality to Songs Over Ruins that couldn’t be denied. Cold Meat Industry already had one raison d’être, they didn’t need two. Desiderii Marginis brought a cinematic edge to the sound, taking listeners on a sort of journey through these decaying ruins of western civilization. Tracks like “The Core of Hell II” and “Embossed In Bones” seem to be some of the true precursors to the cinematic dark ambient sound which has really blossomed since the mid 2000s, brought to prominence by artists like Atrium Carceri. While Desiderii Marginis may have moved away from this style himself, it is easy to notice the effect that was left on the genre of dark ambient, a lasting legacy, which proves the reason that Songs Over Ruins can so easily be described as a classic of the genre.

New Album Art

In later years, Desiderii Marginis surely evolved, leaving behind much of this style that originally brought him to prominence. Yet, there should never be a sense of regret, no artist should go on for two decades reproducing the same sounds over and over, ad nauseum. But, that also doesn’t mean that these beginnings should be forgotten. In this remastered re-release of Songs Over Ruins the younger generations of dark ambient fans can learn much about the bygone decades of the genre. They can see where so many concepts came to fruition in the first place. As for the older crowd, here’s your chance to have Songs Over Ruins on a fresh pressed disc of vinyl for the first time ever. It’s a chance to have those magnificent sounds polished and renewed, to find their prominent position once again on the top shelf of any discerning dark ambient fan’s collection. Songs Over Ruins is a classic, the beginnings of greatness from a musician who would never disappoint. It is highly recommended to anyone with any love for the genre of industrial/dark ambient.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Kammarheit – The Starwheel (2005) – Retro Review

Artist: Kammarheit
Album: The Starwheel
Release Date: 2005
Label: Cyclic Law

01. Hypnagoga
02. Spatium
03. The Starwheel (Clockwise)
04. Klockstapeln
05. The Starwheel (Counter Clockwise)
06. A Room Between The Rooms
07. Sleep After Toyle, Port After Stormie Seas
08. All Quiet In The Land of Frozen Scenes

By now, Kammarheit is about as close to a household-name as one can get, within the dark ambient community. Over the last 15 years, Kammarheit has properly released three full-length albums, as well as the Unearthed 2000-2002 set, all through Cyclic Law.

Kammarheit first made waves on the scene with the Nord Ambient Alliance album. An album which was one of the very first releases on Cyclic Law. To this day it is unmistakably pertinent to dark ambient. Kammarheit released these tracks alongside with a few other artists, including Northaunt and SvartsinnNord Ambient Alliance, and its contributing artists, would help shape the face of the dark ambient scene. These three projects have since been referred to fondly as the face of the second wave of dark ambient. The cold, cinematic, and subtle sounds of Nord Ambient Alliance provided a template for future artists, that still to this day holds strong.

Asleep and Well Hidden immediately followed. This album would give listeners a taste of what a full Kammarheit album sounds like. Yet, it wasn’t until The Starwheel that Kammarheit truly found his calling, and his audience. The Starwheel is named almost unanimously as one of the most important albums to the entire dark ambient genre, sharing this coveted position with other classics like Stalker by Lustmord and Robert Rich, as well as Prospectus I by raison d’être.

What could be so captivating about this album, putting it on a pedestal above so many other brilliant works in the genre? The answer is simple, Kammarheit was able to find that sweet-spot where subtlety, cinematics, and boldness all collide. I’ve used this album easily a hundred times to fall asleep, something that isn’t possible with many dark ambient albums. The slowly sweeping drones match brilliantly along side the bold use of field recordings. These field recordings serve two purposes. They bring out the cinematic element, giving listeners thoughts of some massive clock tower, overshadowing a cold, misty landscape. They, simultaneously, give the album a punch, a direct and sometimes overwhelming sense of purpose.

As all the aforementioned elements come together, the listener sinks into a sort of trance-like state. In those moments when the mind is at its most vulnerable, just before sleep takes its grasp, The Starwheel shines the brightest. The mind is able to fall in synchronization with the album. The dreamy drones lull the listener to the very edge of sleep. Just as this happens some bold sounds push through the blanket of slumber. This collision can put the mind in tune with the music. Just as the notes from a guitar take on a celestial perfection as they are brought in tune, so the mind equally finds this perfection in these moments during The Starwheel. As the mind goes in tune with the music, the listener is able to feel an sort of out-of-body experience, a oneness with the music. A relationship is born herein which gives the listener a warm connection, a loving bond which may never be broken. Waking up hours later, reflecting on this phenomenon seems almost impossible. Yet, again, it arrives the following night in those moments before slumber.

What followed The Starwheel was an unexpected gap of roughly a decade before the release of its successor, The Nest. Yet, Kammarheit never lost relevance over this time. Fans pined over The Starwheel and Asleep and Well Hidden. They dug up, from the deep recesses of the internet, previously unreleased works by Kammarheit. These six unreleased albums took on such a life of their own that in early 2015 Cyclic Law released Unearthed 2000-2002, finally giving these albums a proper mastering and a beautiful presentation, in the form of a cloth-bound digibook.

Since the re-emergence in 2015 of Kammarheit, there have been a slew of releases from Pär Boström. The Nest marked the return of Kammarheit. It was a brilliant album full of foggy supernatural soundscapes, true to the form of previous Kammarheit works. Cities Last Broadcast, Pär’s side-project, released its sophomore album The Humming Tapes on Cryo Chamber. Kammarheit joined up with Atrium Carceri and Apocryphos for two of the most compelling dark ambient releases to date in Onyx and Echo. Pär, joined by his sister Åsa, established their new label and printing press, Hypnagoga Press. On Hypnagoga Press, Pär and Åsa released their first cooperative project, Hymnambulae, an eerie, yet beautiful take on the more mystical side of dark ambient. Hypnagoga Press released its second album, Altarmang Void, months later, a mystical partnership between Pär Boström and Kenneth Hansson.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. Among Cryo Chamber, Cyclic Law, Hypnagoga Press, and who knows how many more partnerships, Pär Boström seems to be on a roll with no end in sight. This is surely just fine with his die-hard fans, who were accustomed to waiting great swathes of time between releases. Yet, these die-harders are finding their company growing every day, as Pär Boström takes his career to new heights, and apparently the sky is the limit.

Links: Kammarheit Official Site, Kammarheit Facebook, Kammarheit BandcampPär Boström Official Site , Hypnagoga Press Facebook, Hypnagoga Press Bandcamp, Altarmang Facebook, Altarmang Bandcamp.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri – Cellblock (2003) – Retro Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri
Album title: Cellblock
Release date: 3 September 2003
Original label: Cold Meat Industry (defunct)
Rerelease label: Cryo Chamber

01. Entrance
02. Black Lace
03. Machine Elves
04. Corridor
05. Blue Moon
06. Stir of Thoughts
07. Depth
08. Crusted Neon
09. Halls of Steam
10. Reborn
11. Red Stains
12. Inner Carceri

At this point, Atrium Carceri should be a well known name to any fan of dark ambient music. With 10+ albums under the moniker Simon Heath has built a brilliant labyrinth of story-lines, mythos, and protagonists. The Atrium Carceri mythos is one of, if not the most, impressive collections of music within the dark ambient genre. The depth and sheer volume of the material could honestly thrust Atrium Carceri out of the confines of dark ambient music and into some other varied media. With this much information to pick from, it would be absolutely possible to make a series of books or films just based on the information already revealed. Yet, back in 2003 when Cellblock first released, dark ambient wasn’t really even a thing. Or at least, not in name.

Referred to by many at the time as “dark wave” it was really hard for fans and reviewers alike to even know how to classify Cellblock. There had been hints of music in the past which touched on the cinematic dark ambient experience, but no one had dedicated a whole album to this particular style. Atrium Carceri, as we now know, wasn’t just an artist writing albums. Atrium Carceri was, and still is, a story, a mythos, a set of gods, protagonists, times, and locations across a devastated and dying planet. The world was being turned on its head. The fabric of reality itself was tearing as gods and men reversed their roles, became one, killed each other off.

There are so many questions to ponder when it comes to the Atrium Carceri mythos. Does this take place on Earth, the Earth we know? Maybe. Most likely. It is worth noting that, in Za Frumi, Simon Heath’s earlier endeavor with Simon Kölle, he incorporated vocals in the orc tongue. So taking this into consideration, it becomes more clear that Cellblock must have taken place in Japan and U.S.A. As we can hear dialogues on Cellblock in Japanese and American English. If this were some foreign planet, I have to imagine Simon Heath would have used some other form of communication other than these two well recognized languages.

Having answered (or at least attempted) the question of where, we now must ponder the when. This one is much more problematic. I like to think of the when in Cellblock being in the near future, maybe within 50 years or so. There seem to have been structural changes to our cultures and planet hinted at in later albums, but on Cellblock, for the most part, things sound contemporary. Yet, the timeline of this album seems to lie in two separate time-frames. For the majority of the album we witness the environment and mental deterioration of a prison inmate. As we hear on “Crusted Neon” this is taking place in Japan. “Crusted Neon” appears to be a flash-back, a memory of some scene before the protagonist was imprisoned. Yet, 3/4 of the way through the album we reach “Reborn” a track which in name and sound seems to be a literal rebirth. Within the pages of the album the final line of text is “How many do we have to kill before they stop coming back?” This line seems to hint at the presence of reincarnation. Indeed it would seem that the original protagonist has died and has possibly been reincarnated in The United States. Yet, he still has the same thirst for blood, the hunger for murder is ever present. Coming back with his same desires, the reincarnated protagonist has returned to the murder spree which found his former self imprisoned. A detective on “Reborn” gives us an idea of the man’s deeds, saying “She’s been strangled, her throat’s been slashed. There’s jagged wounds running down the left side of her abdomen…”.

The idea of the change of landscape and time seems to be compounded by the choice of sounds in the two sections of the album. “Entrance” through “Halls of Steam” seem to be very subterranean, murky, muddled in their sound. They seem to depict the prisoner from his initial entrance to the prison, a time of fear and sad realization. As the album progresses the isolation becomes more and more profound, the mind of the protagonist deteriorates as he lies in his filthy cell, devoid of all contact with the outside world, save for his jailer. On “Reborn” there seems to be a good bit more clarity, the sounds are less murky and more crisp and pristine. This gives a sense of being outside the prison walls. The use of the English in its American dialect helps us realize that we are not in the same country anymore. It is worth noting here, that this final section of the album may be nothing more than a dream, an attempt to live through the dreamworld outside the confines of the prison, in a foreign land.

However, this vacation from imprisonment is fleeting. “Red Stains” is a highly suspenseful track, built up by its brilliant handling of the synth arrangement. It feels as if we have followed the detective of the previous track to the scene of the crime. Or is this a second crime? Hard to say, but we do seem to still be on American soil. As the track reaches its close, we hear the sounds of a metal door squealing open and then closed. Is this a sign of entering a second prison? Or, has the original protagonist just been awoken by the sound of his prison cell door opening? Again, it is hard to say. By the final track “Inner Carceri” it seems the murderer has been caught. His reincarnated self is now again imprisoned. The subterranean sounds return, yet it appears to be less muddled than on the previous tracks. This gives a sense of the clarity of the mindset of the prisoner, he has not yet succumbed to the isolation, he still has his wits. The album ends on this note, but we will see in the second Atrium Carceri album, Seishinbyouin that there is still more to be told about the tribulations of the imprisoned.

The release of Cellblock was immediately recognized by many to be a genre defining moment. The attention to detail on Cellblock cannot be overstated. The use of field recordings, human voices, synth, piano, and percussion all come together to present a thoroughly intricate and enjoyable album which not only is a delight to the senses but also tells a story. This story is not easily decipherable. I have given my best interpretation here of what I believe has taken place, but for all I know, I’m totally wrong. Simon Heath has been extremely cautious in how much information to give fans about the story-line of Atrium Carceri. Now over a decade after this debut, we are seeing time-lines and more details of the story slowly surfacing. But, back in 2003 the journey was only beginning and the story was anything but clear to the listener. Simon Heath has hinted at some future possibilities for clearly defining the story, but for now it is totally up to the listener to put the puzzle pieces together, as best they can. The mystery is often half the fun, the other half being a line of brilliant albums to feast upon.

Written by: Michael Barnett (5 November 2016)

raison d’être – Prospectus I (1993) – Retro Review

Band: raison d’être
Album title: Prospectus I
Release date: 1993
Original Label: Cold Meat Industry (defunct)
Re-release Label: Old Europa Cafe (physical), Yantra Atmospheres (digital)

01. Katharsis
02. Ordeal In Chapel
03. Ascension De Profundis
04. Mourning
05. Mesmerized In Sorrow
06. Cenotaphium
07. Synopsis
08. Anathema / Apotheosis
09. Penumbra

Back in 1993, Peter Andersson unleashed an album on the world which would be one of the benchmarks for dark ambient, a genre that was still in its infancy at the time. Sure, other artists had been pushing slowly in this direction as well. Delerium was fresh off their release of Stone Tower an album which must have had a decent bit of influence on Peter Andersson, who followed closely to their template but took it into a darker and more subtle place. A place devoid of the front and center percussion heard in Delerium. The classic Heresy by Lustmord was still just making waves across the scene.

Into this landscape, enter raison d’être. raison d’être clearly can’t be credited with starting the dark ambient genre. While still quite primordial, dark ambient already had about ten years worth of experimentation under its belt before Prospectus I hit the shelves, through the legendary Cold Meat Industry label. However, CMI did already have a name for themselves. So when Prospectus I released, it immediately found an audience. Fans ears perked up, maybe for the first time, as they heard an album which would change the face of the genre.

Lustmord through the proceeding years had been going for a sinister sort of feel. Heresy is wrought with some downright horrifying moments. raison d’être flipped the script, presenting an album which shared equal parts beauty and darkness. The sacral vocals incorporated throughout the album would not only become a trademark of the raison d’être sound. They would be tested and refined by many other artists even to this day. Whether any of them have ever reached the glory of this early release is a question that is absolutely debatable.

Adding upon the sacral vocals, which are such a defining part of their sound, raison d’être dug even deeper into this contrast between the light and dark. “Ordeal In Chapel” may be the most beautiful track on Prospectus I. On “Ordeal In Chapel” we hear and feel our surroundings in this chapel. Chanting is the dominate characteristic with a bell tolling in the background. Gently droning synths hold the majority of the track together, before fading out toward the end, as the track progresses further into the darkness. On “Ascension De Profundis” we are given a reasonably calm backdrop, with the sounds of church bells tolling. But these pleasant sounds are betrayed by the repeated phrase “The Holy Father”, and a sacral chanting sample which repeats throughout the track in an unsettling and decidedly eerie manner. The icing on this cake is an extremely well placed industrial sort of drum beat, which, while being quite pronounced in the track, doesn’t shatter the atmosphere, as is the case so often in dark ambient albums with percussion. Again on “Cenotaphium” we hear this brilliant use of industrial percussion, adding to the depth, yet allowing for continued immersion. Also of particular note, is the final track “Penumbra” which does break the immersion of the listener a bit, but not to a negative effect. Something that sounds almost like a violin, but is much more likely a heavily treated synth, cuts into the mix with its high-pitched notes. Following this is a clear and abrupt synth line, which meanders almost playfully through the track, taking on an Atomine Elektrine feel. Yet, with much of the album, this lighthearted side doesn’t last forever. We are slowly inundated with a pulsating sound which could almost be a human voice, but sounds quite demonic. A dreamier, yet fear inducing, synth line falls into the mix. On its tail is some serious use of industrial field recordings, which become more dominant as the track proceeds. By the end of “Penumbra”, we can hear a plethora of field recordings which all come together in a cinematic manner which might not be used so successfully again on a dark ambient album, until the coming of Atrium Carceri in the mid-2000s.

While raison d’être didn’t form a genre with this album, he did succeed in bringing a more peaceful, yet simultaneously eerie and irreligious release to the forefront of the CMI scene. The sense of beauty within the darkness cannot be overstated. One gets a feeling of religious nostalgia, simultaneously with a sense of the corruption on the part of Christianity. Light and dark are two sides of the same coin, and raison d’être is one of the best at blurring the lines between these two sides. Prospectus I has proven over the last 22 odd years that it is indeed a classic. As a fan who came into the genre much later, it is absolutely necessary to look back to the beginning, not only to see where the genre came from, but also to realize that some of these classic releases truly stand the test of time and would be just as welcome to the scene today as they were two decades ago.  Looking reverently back on the early albums of the 80s and 90s as if digging the dirt off the remains of an illustrious ancient civilization, there are few other artists that can bring out such emotion as raison d’être. Peter Andersson would refine and expand upon the template set in Prospectus I to build one of the most successful careers in the dark ambient scene. This album is an absolute must for any dark ambient fan who looks back over the history of the genre and doesn’t know where to start. Prospectus I is truly a classic and an early masterpiece of dark ambient.

Written by: Michael Barnett (9/9/2016)

Nota Bene:
raison d’être has recently restored, re-recorded and mixed Prospectus I. Check the “Re-release Label” links at the top or click on the Bandcamp player for information on purchasing this redux version of Prospectus I.

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