Tag: Cinematic (Page 1 of 2)

Ruptured World – Archeoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Archeoplanetary
Release date: 2 July 2019
Label: Cryo Chamber
Reviewer: Michael Barnett

Tracklist:
01. Rituals of Attainment Through Time
02. The Revelations of the Cipher – Deciphering the Pictish Ogham
03. The Haven
04. Passages of Exposition
05. The Grim Repasts of Cullen Shores
06. The Enigma of St. John’s
07. The Aura of Drostan’s Well
08. Descent into the Underworld
09. The Portents of Crovie

Alistair Rennie, the man behind Ruptured World, was first introduced to the dark ambient community by Cryo Chamber with his debut album, Exoplanetary. He has now returned with the follow up, Archeoplanetary, which should be considered a prequel, in terms of the story’s time-line.

If you would like to find out more about Ruptured World and Alistair Rennie,  I highly recommend you check out our interview with him and our review of his previous album, Exoplanetary.

As on Exoplanetary, Rennie takes us back into his story of horrifying alien visitors to Earth. We follow Dr. Marcrae and the now-missing Dr. Tarknassus through their journey to discover the buried and forgotten secrets of Earth and the galaxy beyond. Borrowing heavily from the sort of cosmic horror present in the works of 1930s weird authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton-Smith, Rennie hints at unspeakable cosmic horrors, alien races from far-flung corners of the galaxy, and the ancient texts of the ‘Pictish Ogham’ (in true weird fashion, creating his own sort of demonic text, similar to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon or Smith’s Book of Eibon).

Rennie illuminates the details of his story for us, through the use of found audio-tape recordings. These recordings are detailed documentation of Dr. Marian Tarknassus’ research from 5 years previous, before his untimely disappearance. As such, we experience Archeoplanetary through the vessel of Dr. Archibald Macrae, as he begins to piece together the story of his mentor’s disappearance, and the horrifying realities Tarknassus had uncovered.

Gentle drones and atmospheric soundscapes, along with the occasional melancholic piano, gently transport us from tape-recording to tape-recording. Along the way we are able to be instilled with a sense of awe, fear and general insignificance. Much in the same fashion of God Body Disconnect, Ruptured World is able to use the dark ambient soundscapes to perfectly sculpt the emotions of the listener. As we move from one narrative into the next, we are naturally transitioning between emotions.

Upon discovery of each tape, we are given a beautifully crafted moment. We can hear Dr. Marcrae pressing play, rewinding back to re-listen. We can feel his hopelessness as he progresses, likely realizing he’ll never see his mentor again. But also realizing, that we are far from alone in this universe, and possibly even on this planet. While it’s certainly not so, I like to think of albums like this one as side-stories to the stuff of Sabled Sun, as if this were yet another story, of another survivor, on another world. And, while the dark ambient soundscapes themselves might not be quite on the level of Simon Heath’s Sabled Sun (not to say they aren’t great, just not on par with the master!), the “found tape recordings” are dark ambient gold. The way Alistair Rennie conjures this voice and delivery-style feels like it’s straight out of a classic (1950s-’60s) horror/sci-fi film.

For me, Ruptured World is the sort of artist you want to share with your “normal” friends. While they may not immediately dig an hour of drones, they might be more inclined to sit down to a narrated story with first-class voice acting. For more seasoned dark ambient listeners, you’ll likely find the attention to detail on these recordings to be as utterly exquisite as I have. The music itself is above average, at the very least.

I would recommend picking up a physical copy of this one, if you have the means. Or even better, the 2 CD bundle, which also includes Exoplanetary. The reason being that both albums are connected in theme/story. But more so, because there is such attention to detail on these albums, one deserves to get the full experience, which includes the booklets from both albums that are full of images and information about these beings and places described by Rennie.

Excerpt from Archeoplanetary booklet.

Ruptured World is one of my favorite projects on Cryo Chamber in recent years. I have found myself returning to both these albums quite frequently, especially Archeoplanetary. If you are a fan of the Lovecraftian series through Cryo Chamber or weird fiction / cosmic horror, in general, I think you will love this project as much as I do. I will be waiting patiently to see if Rennie will continue to reveal more details about this story-line, or if he will travel into uncharted territory on his next release. In the meantime, we have a gem!

Don’t forget to check out our interview with Alistair!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri – Codex – Review

Artist: Atrium Carceri
Album: Codex
Release date: 11 September 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Void
02. From Chasms Reborn
03. The Seer
04. A Memory Lost
05. The Empty Chapel
06. Path Of Fallen Gods
07. The Ancient City
08. Sacrifice to the Machine
09. The Maze
10. A Hunger Too Deep
11. The Citadel

I took quite a bit of time allowing Codex to fully sink into my psyche before I even began to consider reviewing it. Some albums require but a matter of moments to understand the beauty of their content. Other works might take years to fully unveil their secrets to the listener. Atrium Carceri has always been one of the latter for me. It is impossible to fully appreciate these works by just putting them on as background music. I find that I must enjoy Atrium Carceri much like I do with works of David Lynch, repeatedly and under various mental states.

The first set of listens revealed an album which was much more musical than I was expecting.  Atrium Carceri has for a long time incorporated tracks which show much more resemblance to fully structured songs than most other artists in the genre. Yet, Codex still managed to surprise, from the opening tracks “The Void” and “From Chasms Reborn”, Atrium Carceri delivers tracks which take on a sort of glitchy off-time feel. This feeling of oddity sets a proper foundation for the rest of the release. Focusing on worlds beyond the veil, either deep in history, or a matter of footsteps away hidden in some dark realm, just beyond the fabric of reality.

Almost all the tracks on Codex will show this perfect combination of atmosphere and musicality. Some, like “The Maze” make it central to the track’s foundation, while others such as “Sacrifice to the Machine” use it as a tool for achieving an emotional climax within the story.  While the music of some tracks builds the atmosphere, other tracks hold religious connotations, such as “The Empty Chapel” and “The Citadel” which both incorporate treated choral elements. “The Empty Chapel” shows off some of the same elements which elicited such strong emotion on “Österländska Tempel” from his recent collaboration with Herbst9, Ur Djupan Dal (Reviewed here.). A sense of entering some old, decrepit chapel/cathedral, a relic from the height of some civilization’s religious fervor.

Codex gives us snippets of many places visited over previous Atrium Carceri albums. On the opening tracks, “The Void” and “From Chasms Reborn”, we seem to be taken to the places and events documented during Void and The Untold. “The Ancient City” takes us once again into that twisted metropolis which we have been able to explore considerably throughout the discography of Atrium Carceri, most notably on tracks like “A Stroll Through the Ancient City” from Kapnobatai or many tracks from Metropolis, including “Decrepit City”, “Industrial District”, “Heart of the Metropolis” and others. We seem to be re-visiting ‘The Warden’ or some similar character on several tracks from Codex. Particularly “Sacrifice to the Machine” and “The Maze” make these connections for me. On “Sacrifice to the Machine” we might actually hear that deep orcish sounding voice which has instilled terror in listeners since the project began.  Is this the warden or is this some other entity? Possibly the horrific entity, visually and textually detailed on an earlier track of the album, “The Seer”?

As I spent more and more time with Codex, I slowly began to make a realization. There doesn’t necessarily appear to be a whole lot of new revelations presented on Codex. The album seems to be giving us deeper understandings, through atmospheric soundscapes, but also through the focused use of imagery and text within the digibooklet. Within the Atrium Carceri discography there are albums like Cellblock and Void (really most of the discography) which seem to follow very specific story-lines (you can read my in-depth look at Cellblock here), and there are other albums like Archives I-II (read my old review on the Terra Relicta website) which capture fragments of different times and places. Codex seem to be part of this latter, but in a much more polished fashion, as Archives I-II was a piece-work compilation of old fragments from previous Atrium Carceri album sessions. This is not to say that there is nothing to be learned about the Atrium Carceri story, just that Codex focuses more on clarification of previously explored territory than on creation/unveiling of new territory.  Codex gives us added details and we must individually decide how to place these details within the greater context.

The many stories within the world of Atrium Carceri give listeners ample reason to keep returning to these albums. In this way, the music of Atrium Carceri is best appreciated in much the same way as the films of David Lynch. One must approach the content from various angles in order to fully understand its meanings and plots. One may listen more casually, focusing on moods and imagined landscapes. Later, one may return to the album, focusing much more specifically on the individual sounds, trying to place them in their proper contexts. One may celebrate the legalization of marijuana in parts of the U.S. with an especially elevated and/or distorted listening session.  One may ignore the whole story and focus only on the music, for the sake of enjoying the music. However one approaches Codex, as well as the previous Atrium Carceri releases, the listener seems to have a world of options available. There seems to be a whole universe within the content, one with history, scientific breakthroughs, and psychological/societal meltdowns. The realms of the holy and the apocalyptic are constantly brushing against one another. The question of the self, the ego, and their perceived impact on the political and social order can all be pondered indefinitely.

Codex is the first solo Atrium Carceri release to see a vinyl option. For fans of the vinyl renaissance, Codex will be a much anticipated and appreciated release. But, for those followers that are keen on fully understanding the intricacies of Atrium Carceri, the digibook CD version is recommended, as it includes a booklet with brilliant artwork and texts which add a much greater sense of depth to the Atrium Carceri story. Then of course there is the digital version, in 24-bit, which will be the go-to for audiophiles looking to find secrets in the vast tapestry of sounds for which Atrium Carceri is most known and revered. Also all artwork is present within the digital version, so the lacking art isn’t a deal-breaker on the vinyl.

Codex has not yet uncovered any great burning answers to my questions concerning the realms of Atrium Carceri. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t present on Codex, still awaiting my revelation. It also doesn’t make the album any less potent of a release from one of the most highly-recognized and well-respected names within the genre of dark ambient. Codex proves once again why Simon Heath has become the standard-bearer for the latest generation of dark ambient happenings. His auxiliary work on Cryo Chamber consistently fills the market with dark ambient albums worth the time and money they require to be fully enjoyed. Meanwhile, his work as Atrium Carceri, but also as Sabled Sun, continues to push the boundaries of what we, the dark ambient community, expect of our musicians.  What we expect of a ‘cinematic story’. What we expect of any artist worth their salt. We look to musicians in the dark ambient genre to take us out of our dull everyday lives, and transport us to a place both beautiful and horrifying. There is no artist better at achieving this goal than Simon Heath, Codex shows us, yet again, why this is indisputable.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ruptured World – Interview

From the first seconds of Exoplanetary, the new Cryo Chamber release by Ruptured World, I knew this was going to be a unique and incredibly entertaining album. I was not wrong. As I found out more about the man behind the project, its breadth and attention to detail became more understandable. I will preface the interview with this “about me” from Rennie’s Amazon page:

Alistair Rennie is author of the weird, sword and debauchery novel, BleakWarrior. He has published weird fantasy and horror fiction, essays and poetry in The New Weird anthology, Weird Tales magazine, Fabulous Whitby, Electric Velocipede, Mythic Delirium, Pevnost, Schlock Magazine, Horror Without Victims, Weird Fiction Review and Shadowed Realms.

He was born and grew up in the North of Scotland, has lived for ten years in Italy, and now lives in Edinburgh in the South of Scotland. He holds a first class Honours Degree in Literature from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Literature from the University of Edinburgh. He is a time-served Painter and Decorator and a veteran climber of numerous hills and mountains in the Western Highlands, the Cairngorms and the Italian Dolomites.

Interviewee: Alistair Rennie of Ruptured World
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

Michael Barnett: So, I want to get this stupid question out of the way first! While considering Exoplanetary for review, I felt some connections to The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), googling it to make sure I had the correct title, I notice the main star is Michael Rennie. Any relation?

Alistair Rennie: That’s a great question! Unfortunately, the answer is no, we’re not related. Though my dad used to claim that we were. There’s a good chance I could be related to the alien Klaatu, however. The true star of the film.

Michael: On that same topic, what were some of the foundational influences on this project? Did you get inspiration from some of those old sci-fi films, like the one aforementioned?

Alistair: Yes, I did, as well as from elsewhere. I think it started off more influenced by 80s classics like Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, at least at the stage of writing, and with a strong Lovecraftian influence, too. But, when it came to recording, the older archaic broadcasting style came out in a very spontaneous and natural way, and I liked the way it blended unusually with the more modern electronic soundscapes and drones of the music.
Films like Them, War of the Worlds (also the musical version) and Forbidden Planet, and also the kind of narration you sometimes get in the old Hammer Horror films – they’re definitely in there.

Michael: Before we get into your new album on Cryo Chamber, I thought you could tell us a bit about the writing side of your artistic journey. I am looking forward to reading BleakWarrior, which seems like it will be quite the tale, if the review snippets in your promo are any indication. I will assume the majority of readers here will be aware of your music before your writing. Would you like to tell us a short description of BleakWarrior in your own words?

Alistair: It’s a tricky one to describe because it was very experimental and incorporates a range of influences, including Sword and Sorcery, Manga/Anime, Cyberpunk, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedies, Ancient Greek and Celtic heroic verse, violent westerns, Classical Chinese Literature. It’s an attempt to blend the extremes of pulp and literary elements of fiction and turn them into something that combines sensationalist sex and violence with metaphysics. I tend to describe it as sword and debauchery, though that downplays some of the more philosophical content that might be in there. In some ways, it’s also a study of what happens when we act or exist outside of a moral framework. If I were to summarise it in strictly generic terms, though, I’d call it dark weird fantasy, with significant SF and horror characteristics thrown into the mix.

Michael: Is the world in this book something that you would think dark ambient fans will find interesting?

Alistair: Without wishing to be presumptuous, I think so, yes. There are some very dark elements to the story and its characters. It’s very bleak, as the title suggests. But there’s also some over-the-top mayhem and humour that’s more black metal than dark ambient. There are also parts of the novel that focus on the natural world and ideas relating to the metaphysics of physical nature, which I think is clearly a theme of dark ambient music on a number of levels. You can see that with many of the artists on the Cryo Chamber label.

Michael: Would you like to tell readers a few recommendations in case they are interested in reading your other works?

Alistair: I think dark ambient fans might be interest in what’s been called New Weird fiction and, in particular, in an anthology called the New Weird which features a chapter from what later became BleakWarrior. It’s a ground-breaking anthology in many ways and features writers like Michael Moorcock and Clive Barker, Brian Evenson, Michael Cisco, Jeffrey Ford, Jeffrey Thomas, KJ Bishop – authors who, I think, would be interesting to fans of dark ambient.
In my own case, I have a story that’s coming out later this year in an anthology called Mechanical Animals to be released by Hex Publishers. The story I’ve contributed, called “The Island Brushed By Ghosts”, is set in the northwest of Scotland and deals with subjects pertaining to the nature of existence, as well as nature itself. It’s more cerebral and less frenzied than some of the other stuff I’ve written. If you prefer the mayhem, though, I had a recent story in an anthology called “DOA III” which was released by Blood Bound Books. It’s a sort of surreal slash horror SF far future story. Very dark! But also with elements of humour.

Michael: Which came first, your fiction writing or music production?

Alistair: That’s a very good question in the sense that they kind of evolved together. Music came first in terms of actually creating songs, finished works, as it were. With writing, I started off writing song lyrics and poetry. Fiction, writing stories, came much later, in my late teens, and writing stories that were actually completed and presentable came later still. But I believe that there’s a very close connection between music and writing, which is stating the obvious, really. Often, with writing, you’re striving to find harmony and rhythm, not only in the prose, but in the proportions of the story-telling, the narrative itself, to create a unified organic whole out of something (language) that is essentially chaotic and uncontrolled. Music does that, but with sounds instead of written symbols and utterances. And, of course, language itself is inherently musical.

Michael: How have these two elements been able to come together for you in the Ruptured World project? Did it originate as a story idea, or was it always meant to be this spoken-word blended with dark ambient format from its inception?

Alistair: I think what came first was the idea of using radio transmissions – which I find to be deeply mysterious, an area of activity where the technology and mystical elements of nature come together within the context of sound. I’ve always been fascinated by radio, especially by short wave radio. I remember when I was younger, before there was an internet or even home computers, I used to tune into voices and music from other parts of the world and found it incredibly exciting and amazing to be able to tap into the atmosphere of other countries. It still fascinates me today, even while it has been dramatically superseded by the internet.

Michael: Have you worked in other styles of music, or is Ruptured World your first foray into the musical world?

Alistair: I’ve been involved in music since I was twelve years old. I started off playing in a punk band and later played in an indie band that was fairly well known locally in the north of Scotland. And I also grew up playing folk music, which is not uncommon for musicians from Scotland, where there’s a very strong and innovative folk music scene. But, alongside all this, and right from the start, me and one of my friends had formed our own music project, which is very much the origins of what is now Ruptured World. We were influenced by bands like Bauhaus, the Virgin Prunes, the Cure, the Birthday Party, Japan and David Sylvian. There was just the two of us. We couldn’t find a third band member who shared the same tastes or ideas as us, so we couldn’t do a standard three or four piece thing. So we improvised. I had a Casio keyboard and we had guitars. We used all sorts of other things to generate noise, everything from biscuit tins to crash helmets, often using our voices as sound effects. And we also did spoken word. I still have old recordings on cassettes. More recently, we revived some of our old songs, did new versions of them using the technology of today. It was wonderful. The music is dark, sometimes haunting and melodic, but also low-fi and deliberately crude and primitive in terms of sound and style.

Michael: You performed all the vocal parts on Exoplanetary, and I assume Frontiers of Disorder as well? I, personally, love your vocal performance on these albums. Have you heard things like this in the past that inspired you? Or is this an idea you came up with to combine your loves of music and storytelling?

Alistair: There are definitely precedents for combining narration and music that have no doubt influenced me. There is nothing I can point to directly as an influence in this particular case. But I think War of the Worlds is certainly there, and audio recordings of poetry I’ve listened to over the years. And some of David Sylvian’s music where music and spoken words are combined. I also recall an old album a friend of mine had, one of those Dungeons and Dragons albums they used to produce, where a D&D story is narrated alongside the music. When you hear music and storytelling done together, I think it’s a very natural combination and, indeed, one that occurs every time we watch visual narratives realised in film. We forget that film is also an audio as well as a visual medium. I suppose, in many ways, that’s what Exoplanetary aims to be – a narrative and soundtrack conceived as a film but rendered and delivered through the medium of sound only.

Michael: Will you be continuing to work in this format on future releases?

Alistair: Yes, I think that’s a certainty. It’s a fascinating and extremely enjoyable challenge to integrate the musical and spoken word elements together. And trying to find ways of delivering the spoken narration, and do so effectively, is an extremely enjoyable if often difficult thing to aim for. And, being a writer, for me it’s just the obvious and natural thing to do, I think.

Michael: On the technical side, do you prefer working with digital soundscapes or do you incorporate modular synths or other such equipment into the mix?

Alistair: I tend to work principally with digital soundscapes combined with live materials gained from different sources and approaches, often through sampling where I take live recordings of instruments or objects and sounds derived from various places, and using them all as part of the digital tableaux. I have a very experimental approach, often unconventional, which is also true of my writing, and I try to explore those areas which are off-piste, as it were.
One approach I’m seeking to develop now derives from an interest I have in ideas relating to the “genius loci” or spirit of place. This is a literary term that, among other things, refers to the specific conditions or essence of a particular place or geographic location. I’m looking to do live recordings in specific locations using instruments and devices channeled and amplified through conventional hardware, then integrated into the soundscape of the purely digital environment. So, it’s trying to take the essence and evocation of a particular place and preserve it in the alternative digital universe, as it were. Not an easy thing, but something to aim for!

Michael: If you used many field recordings on Exoplanetary, what was the process like capturing these sounds? Were you able to work with some sound banks or did you take field recording expeditions?

Alistair: I use only field recordings, precisely for the reasons given above. It’s the fascination of the specificity of the sound and the particular place or conditions in which it was conceived and recorded. The active participation in the process from start to finish has a strong fascination for me. Not that I don’t think sound banks are useful. They are a valuable and viable resource. And, for me, the rule is to use anything and everything that works for the creation of the sound or music, so a certain magpie instinct is necessary for gathering sounds and adapting them to the creative process. But, in my own case, the fascination requires me to follow the goal of capturing a unique essence and trying to integrate it into the overall composition. I suppose that might sound somewhat airy fairy! But I think anything that injects your music with an additional sense of purpose is worth pursuing. It will ultimately lead to better results in being driven by the conviction of an established methodology.

Michael: You’ve mentioned previously that you are an avid climber, it seems you’ve reached the summit of a good number of mountains around the world. Do you have a particular love of nature or is this more a physical drive for you? Do you think these excursions in nature lead to a deeper understanding of this dark ambient genre?

Alistair: The love of nature I think is the overriding passion, but I also relish the physical contact with the natural world and the physical effort it requires of you. Walking in mountains, in heightened terrain that changes your visual perspective of the world, is exhilarating for all sorts of reasons. You see the world, quite literally, in a different way, in the way it actually is. You see how the contours lie, how the habitable spaces are often actually small pockets or strips of land surrounded by hostile terrain. The close contact with weather conditions is always a great source of inspiration for me, and also the fear you feel when you’re faced with raw nature.
And I think these are facets of our experience which are very much at the heart of the dark ambient coterie of themes. Importantly, dark ambient doesn’t deal solely with the beauty and spiritual amplitude of nature, which are ably and admirably covered by many artists in the ambient and new age genres, for example. Dark ambient has a preoccupation with the more menacing aspects of nature, with its innate power and mysterious forces which, while crudely scientific, are nevertheless suggestive of something greater. And I think this is where we receive a sense of awe that causes us to look on nature with a primitive response we cannot summarise in words. Hence, we resort to music and sounds as a means of expressing it, which is very much the territory of dark ambient.

Dark ambient has a preoccupation with the more menacing aspects of nature, with its innate power and mysterious forces which, while crudely scientific, are nevertheless suggestive of something greater.

You find in old mythologies that humans, when confronted by gods, must shield their eyes because, if they don’t, they will be driven mad by the beauty and terror of the deity they look upon. I think dark ambient is a form of music that dares to look upon the gods and seeks to reiterate what it sees through the language of sounds.

Michael: What would be your dream project? If you could secure funding for any sort of project?

Alistair: It would have to be something that combined music with landscape. The Austrian musician, Manu Delago, recently led an expedition of 7 musicians into the Alps where they recorded music to be made into an album and film, called Parasol Peak. They recorded songs acoustically as they ascended through the various stages of their journey, and the results are incredible. So, doing something similar, but using electronic means of music production, would definitely be a dream project for me. And, to be honest, I don’t think it would require a huge amount of funds, so I may well go for it sometime soon! The problem would obviously be the need to generate power for electronic devices, but I’m sure there’d be a way.
Musician Paul Winter did a similar thing when he recorded music for an album in the Grand Canyon back in the 1980s. He and his musicians rafted down the river to find a spot to record music that would capture the echo generated by the canyon walls. Again, I would like to undertake a similar expedition with the objective of creating an electronic dark ambient extravaganza!

Michael: I’ll end on a bright note, how do you imagine Earth to look 100 years from now?

Alistair: Rain, rain, nothing but rain. Lots of gloom. No sunlight. Humans will evolve into vampires. A bit like Scotland during the summer, really.

Michael: Thank you very much for your time Alistair, I’ll leave the last words to you!

Alistair: Thank you, Michael! It’s been great to be in This Is Darkness. I very much wish you and your readership a prodigious abundance of lasting wellness!

Alistair Rennie’s Links

Ruptured World
: Official Website, Facebook,
Bandcamp (Exoplanetary)Bandcamp (Frontiers of Disorder)

Alistair Rennie’s Publications
: Official Website

Ruptured World – Exoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Exoplanetary
Release date: 7 August 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Bright Communion of Primal Energies
02. The Sunken Valleys
03. Future Cries of No Tomorrow
04. The Twilight Hours
05. A Time Without Saviours
06. The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces
07. The Voyage of Tarknassus
08. Closing Theme

Exoplanetary follows the story of a scientifically based exploration of the planet Proxima Centauri B. Ruptured World is a sci-fi cinematic dark ambient release created by weird fantasy and horror fiction author Alistair Rennie. Exoplanetary takes Rennie’s knack for writing fiction into new territory, giving us something that feels familiar, and yet new. Most tracks feature spoken-word, which is all performed by Rennie himself. Along with the booklet, this gives the album a lot of material for listeners to absorb, making multiple listens a must. Thankfully those multiple listens have been equally as enjoyable as the first.

The mission plan refers to “select members of the human species”, leading me to wonder about the class warfare that must be happening simultaneously (though this theme is not explored on Exoplanetary). As the 99.9% realize that they are going no where, and Earth will soon double as their grave marker, drifting through infinite space.

On “The Sunken Valleys”, Rennie speaks in his sort of 50s sci-fi movie style voice, explaining the characteristics of the landscape. But, there is even further detail committed to this topic in the 16 page “Executive Mission Summary” booklet, which accompanies both the digital and physical versions of Exoplanetary.

“The Twilight Hours” begins by explaining a bit about the Krivren species, which appears to be a deadly, intelligent race of creatures that populate Proxima Centauri B. Again, here, the booklet goes into even greater detail about this alien race, giving us enough information to start forming images of these creatures in our minds, as well as hearing their communications throughout the track. “A Time Without Saviours” picks back up on this dialogue, this time going into more detail about the routines and actions of this race, and their possible understanding of humanity’s arrival.

“A Time Without Saviours” is likely my favorite track on the album. It slowly builds until we hear some dialogue I mentioned above, then the track turns musical, allowing a slow almost glitchy melody to become the new focus for the remainder of the track. This section is highly evocative of some of my favorite Sabled Sun melodic sections. In fact, probably my favorite thing about this album, as a whole, is its similarities to the Sabled Sun 21XX series. But, here we are more focused on conveying the story through actual dialogue and through the accompanying booklet. Whereas with Sabled Sun there is much more left to the imagination, in terms of specific greater plot details, and the focus is instead on real-time soundscape cinematics (i.e. electronics bleeping, footsteps, doors opening). I wouldn’t commit to liking one or the other style better. I think it’s great to see these themes covered from varied angles.

“The Voyage of Tarknassus” brings together all the elements of Exoplanetary in a concise fashion. We hear a radio tuning into a station, finding a beautiful piano arrangement. This soon shifts to a transmission of the voice of Dr. Hector Macrae, which eventually trails off into a slow droning section. This seems to give listeners time to contemplate the words we’ve just heard and the greater plot of the album, going on for eleven minutes as the longest track. Exoplanetary ends on peaceful note, being another of the more musical tracks. A number of different elements come together here, built upon a peaceful drone and a prominent bass line.

Cryo Chamber continues making their bold moves into varying fringes of the dark ambient genre. Yet again, it seems they’ve made a successful gamble, bringing an artist into the fray with some highly detailed visions for his work. Alongside Simon Heath, this is likely to be a highly fruitful endeavor in the future, just as we’ve already seen here on Exoplanetary, as well as in similar circumstances with God Body Disconnect. Ruptured World must be the best project I could recommend for lovers of Sabled Sun and other cinematic sci-fi ambient releases. There is a little here of everything that makes that sub-genre so compelling. The beautiful cover-art, booklet and layout of Exoplanetary make it all the more attractive. I wouldn’t recommend this as background music, there are plenty of dark ambient albums out there that will blend nicely into your evening. Ruptured World asks more of their listeners, but the reward is worth the effort. Highly Recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Eximia – Visitors – Review

Artist: Eximia
Album: Visitors
Release date: 3 April 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Day One
02. First Contact
03. Prepare
04. Abyss (feat. Lukas Tvrdon)
05. Extinction
06. World Without Man

Eximia is an album by sound design engineer Dominik Ragančík of Slovakia. While this is his first release as Eximia, Ragančík has done sound work on Mass Effect and Call of Duty trailers, as well as Lamborghini and Mercedes commercials. In 2015 he won in the category of “Best Sound” award at FAMU festival for his sound design in the movie Leshy [Lesapán – 2017]. So, we are looking at a musician that has a bit more thorough an understanding of sound design than many that enter the dark ambient genre. His talents in this sphere become glaringly evident within seconds of beginning Visitors.

Visitors is an album that follows the reasonably worn sci-fi theme of aliens contacting/attacking Earth. While this is far from a new theme, Eximia manages to conjure one of the most vivid and awe-inducing reactions from me, every time I listen to Visitors. The main point of attraction, for me, is the atmosphere itself. As the album progresses, various other sound sources come into play, but those moments when nothing is actually happening, the soundscapes shine as much or more than any other example I could show someone. It’s this atmosphere that makes the album so incredibly alluring.

As the album begins with “Day One”, listeners will get a sense of what I mean about this atmosphere. Well into the second minute of the track, basically nothing has happened yet, but I’m nonetheless enthralled. Gentle winds blow in the distance. We start to feel that deep rumbling bass creep up on us, before we hear these alien beings for the first time. Whether it is the creatures themselves, their spaceships, or some other technology making these unearthly sounds, the effect is the same, especially with a good set of headphones, one can close their eyes and fall into this world/scenario, can look around this landscape as the visitors begin to make their entrance into our atmosphere. One can imagine black clouds parting, as we hear a blisteringly potent crack of thunder, lightning crisscrosses the sky, tearing the atmosphere itself open, the visitors have arrived.

“First Contact” is, again, cinematic dark ambient bliss. The winds continue howling, the visitors continue making their futuristic noises, then we hear an air-raid siren, presumably warning residents of the area that the shit has official hit the fan. The thunderstorm becomes more intense as the creatures continue to make their arrival known. I’d like to mention here, that I immediately noticed a stylistic connection between the sound design of this album and that of the movie Arrival (2016). This is high praise, as I found the sound in that film to be one of the most compelling representations in film of alien technology at work. Near the 5:30 minute mark, in “First Contact” something happens. There is a sound as if something has teleported or shifted, as if the laws of nature themselves were being broken. I can’t help but think what comes next is the sounds of these visitors laughing. It should be noted that there are no more “Earth-based sounds” present in the track after this occurrence.

“Prepare” begins with more strange noises, which presumably are emanating from the visitors themselves, not necessarily their technology this time. Shortly into this track we can hear human footsteps, among other earthly sounds, though they are consistently mixed with those of the aliens. Following the track titles is incredibly helpful to supplement the soundscapes themselves. There is most certainly a story being told here, and I’m not one to go flailing around grasping for explanations, so I’ll say that the main plot, as the album progresses forward seems be an attempt by the humans to stop this force, and their immediate failure, and ultimately the collapse and extinction of the human race.

For those that love cinematic dark ambient, this album is a must-have. Cryo Chamber is the label fans most often turn to when searching for a fully immersing cinematic experience, and I can say Visitors by Eximia may well be at the very top of this list. While there may not be as many minute details as with projects like Sabled Sun or Atrium Carceri, the ability to visualize these sounds is certainly on par. Eximia is part of a phenomenon that hasn’t happened as much as I would expect, where movie sound design artists will find their way into the dark ambient genre, and the dark ambient genre will find its way into movie sound design. I would like to see a good bit more of both happening, personally. Visitors is a glaring example of why this recipe for success is so attractive. I will be patiently waiting for their next release!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Atrium Carceri & Herbst9 – Ur Djupan Dal – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Flowers For Bodysnatchers – Asylum Beyond – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Michael Barnett

Stuzha – Siberian Sketches II – Review

Artist: Stuzha
Album title: Siberian Sketches II
Release date: 15 November 2017
Label: Ksenza Records / Infinite Fog Productions

Tracklist:
01. Into the Blizzard
02. Transsiberian
03. Winter Forest (Awakening)
04. Winter Forest
05. Here is no Life without a Fire
06. Winter Forest (Into Slumber)
07. Lost in the Catacombs
08. A Night in the Village

Stuzha first caught my attention at the beginning of 2017 during my brief stint with Heathen Harvest, when they sent me his album, Butugichag, to review. I was immediately enraptured by the depths of his frigid polar ambient style and his take on the cinematic side of dark ambient music. As the man behind the project is native to the Siberian expanses of Russia, it is no surprise that he is able to convey this style so well. Siberian Sketches II is the follow-up to his first major release Siberian Sketches, all of which were released by Ksenza Records and distributed by Infinite Fog Productions.

There is actually quite a huge difference between the styles of the two Siberian Sketches releases and Butugichag. Butugichag was an incredibly subtle release, with slowly evolving drone-work and field recordings which lingered in the background. The Siberian Sketches albums are more active album in almost every respect. In fact, the latest release takes these differences much further than  did Siberian Sketches I. There are a ton of field recordings incorporated into this release, making it the most cinematic work of Stuzha to date. While Siberian Sketches I incorporated some guitar, the guitar on Siberian Sketches II is also great increased, being used on most of the tracks here. This time there are even subtle vocals added to the mix. These are not the style of dark ambient infused vocals of something like a Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio sort of project (which honestly is a stretch to even be called dark ambient), but more in line with the vocals on some tracks by Taphephobia; a deep, brooding voice which is barely audible on sub-par speakers and blends gently into the rest of the mix.

Siberian Sketches II starts with a door swinging open and someone stepping out into the icy snows of a raging blizzard, on the aptly titled “Into the Blizzard”. As they step back indoors we can still hear the storm raging just outside the threshold, a fire roaring in the stove and a dog barking nearby. The music on this track is composed almost entirely of field recordings and a guitar that sounds to be acoustic with some light effects, with the later addition of an electric guitar and soft vocals. Subtly in the background, we can hear the low roar of a passing train, a dynamic which will be fully explored on the following track, “Transsiberian”.

“Transsiberian”, beginning with an intercom system and distorted electric guitar ups the tempo of the album. Yet, this guitar is incorporated in a way that doesn’t compromise the dark ambient nature in the slightest. By the close of the track, the album’s protagonist is well on their way, journeying to some unknown, yet equally frigid, destination.

“Winter Forest (Awakening)” brings another dynamic into play. Still here, there is no discernible drone-work to be found. The track is constructed of passive field recordings which create the background atmosphere, bass guitar which also helps to solidify that foundation, and several guitars; one of which undertakes some interesting and quite delightful tremolo-picking which reminds me of the guitar español – style, but this could be do to my lack of knowledge when it comes to guitar playing styles native to Siberia.

“Here is no Life without a Fire” could be the closest to a more traditional dark ambient track, as it is one of only two on the album that seem to incorporate any use of drone-work. It is also likely the oldest track on the album, being a reinterpretation of a track from the self-released Through the Snowfield.

Given all these dynamics at play on Siberian Sketches II, one may rightly be a bit bewildered as to how this could be considered dark ambient at all. But, I firmly believe that the album falls solidly into this category. There is a ton of activity happening, but it is all done with the careful reserve of a seasoned dark ambient musician. The overall cinematic element also can’t be overemphasized. One may close their eyes and find themselves lost in the whiteout of these bleak far-northern lands. The various styles and effects of the acoustic and electric guitars also aid the field recordings magnificently in the numerous shifts between indoor/outdoor cinematics.

Stuzha once again proves their talents with Siberian Sketches II, this time taking what they learned from Siberian Sketches I as well as Butugichag, and crafting an album that is incredibly relaxing. It could be the sole companion to a lonely evening by the fire during these upcoming winter months. It could also be allowed to fall into the background during any reading, study or writing sessions. Between the combined albums of all his projects: Stuzha, Algol and Black Wanderer, Daniil Kazantsev proves himself to be an incredibly capable force in the genre of dark ambient, and one which I hope will become more well-recognized by the community as time passes.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Randal Collier-Ford – Promethean – Review

Artist: Randal Collier-Ford
Album: Promethean
Release date: 8 August 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Breach
02. Watching Eden Burn
03. Flesh Reconstitution
04. Apotheosis (feat. Northumbria)
05. Arc of Thralls
06. Reverence of Wounds (feat. Simon Heath)
07. The Fruitless Lands Pt II (Live Excerpt Redux)
08. And Hell Followed
09. Rebirth Through Fire

On his third release with Cryo Chamber, Randal Collier-Ford closes his apocalyptic series. Promethean follows in the footsteps of Remnants and The Architects before it, bringing listeners into a futuristic version of our world which has seen itself torn apart. But this dying planet clearly has achieved many more technological advances than are present in our current age. This gives us a futuristic story which is simultaneously bleak and imaginative, progressive in its advancements of science and robotics, but degenerative in its social stability.

We are told in the album blurb for Promethean that this final chapter of the story takes place years after the events depicted in The Architects. If The Architects was the time of great advancements, Remnants was the time of their decline, and it would seem that Promethean is the time of a renewal or a wiping of the board, a clean start for whatever remains of humanity.

Parallels can be drawn between this trilogy by Randal Collier-Ford and the stories of Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, both by Cryo Chamber label-head, Simon Heath. The story seems to be linear in its telling across this trilogy, moving toward a definite end, like that of Sabled Sun. But, like Atrium Carceri, the storyline is often blurred and not necessarily following a single protagonist through this series of events. It would seem that each album in this trilogy contains its own mini-story, all three of which connect to form the full scope of the trilogy. But, pinpointing this as a formula still won’t necessarily bring a lot of clarity. It doesn’t seem feasible to pull the whole story together in this review, though I tried hard to connect the dots. Much like the stories by Simon Heath, the hints given by Randal Collier-Ford will take time, effort and a bit of imagination to fully reveal themselves. The guessing is half the fun and each listener is likely to draw their own conclusions.

The opening track, “The Breach” is certainly the most straightforward attempt to let listeners in on some of the secrets. We hear the voice of the album’s protagonist, but it is distorted, troubled and frankly hard to understand. But, with repeated listens on a good set of headphones, the passage will definitely start to come together. The story seems to pick up on Day 252 of the protagonist’s journey, or at least their documentation. We are told that there has been a possible overdose on some drug, but that this will not hold them back from continuing with their mission, whatever it may be.

As we move through the album, along with the protagonist, we encounter the recurrence of crackling fires, footsteps and strong rains, usually accompanied by thunder. Within this journey across this scarred landscape we encounter a plethora of futuristic mechanical sounds. Sometimes it seems that we are moving into some industrial complex, other times we may come across some demonic robot, maybe of the sort that we were introduced to so long ago in “Construction of a Demon” on The Architects. Then late in the album on “And Hell Followed” we experience deep rumbling bass and industrial noises of some heavy machinery. Which may or may not represent the place visited during “Hellgate”, also from The Architects. The protagonist, most often seems to be making a solitary journey, devoid of other human life, but there are instances like “Arc of Thralls” which seems to be a potential point of encountering slave laborers in some industrial complex, or maybe these are just more machines.

All these futuristic, industrial and robotic sounds on Promethean seem to have connections to The Architects. But, there is an equal portion of the album that pulls at a more emotional element, which makes an equally potent connection to Remnants. The setting of lonely campfires and what seems to be perpetual thunderstorms help set the emotional aspect of Promethean. Furthering adding to these elements are the contributions of Simon Heath on “Reverence of Wounds” and Northumbria on “Apotheosis”.

“Reverence of Wounds” seems to be the perfect clashing of the two different elements of futuristic technology and a solitary depression. The track starts off giving vivid details of footsteps inside a building, robotic whirs and bleeps as if the protagonist is working hard in some robotics laboratory, but the track takes a dramatic turn midway through, as if the protagonist is stepping outside of this area, gazing over the scorched abandoned landscapes. The piano draws on emotions of longing and despair. We can almost imagine the dark heavy clouds hovering over a dilapidated cityscape, crumbling streets, abandoned homes and vehicles. The protagonist, reminiscing on memories of times and events that will never return, or that he may never have even been able to experience in the first place. This sentiment seems to continue as the album proceeds into “The Fruitless Lands”, another track filled with thunder, rains, contemplative drone-work and a spattering of these futuristic robotic noises which return toward the end of the track.

Ending on “Rebirth Through Fire” the album takes a more positive turn. Plucked harmonics, a catchy piano tune and the continued exposure to the futuristic noises which almost melt into a proper beat provided by electronic percussion lead us to an ending that truly seems to depict a rebirth. Whether the protagonist has actually died and been reborn, has transferred their mind into an artificial vessel or just found a new ray of hope for the future is hard to tell.

What is most important is the emotions evoked on this journey, the experience of the listener as they travel through the varied landscapes created by Randal Collier-Ford. After years of experimenting with just about every angle of the dark ambient genre, Randal Collier-Ford has learned exactly how to move our minds in the way he intends. The story is meant to be elusive and cryptic. But the emotions are real, the experience is authentic. Whether any of us listeners will one day crack the code, and figure out exactly what the hell is happening on this trilogy is secondary to the experience of enjoying it for what it is, a work of aural art. Highly cinematic at times and down-right musical at others, Promethean is a pleasure to experience in its entirety.

Written by: Michael Barnett

The Rosenshoul – Darkly I Listen – Review

Artist: The Rosenshoul
Album: Darkly I Listen
Release date: 14 August 2017
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. Violence My Heart
02. In Her Blood
03. Revenge And A Black Dog

The Australian musician, Duncan Ritchie, will be best known to our readers from his other dark ambient project Flowers For Bodysnatchers. While he started creating dark ambient initially as The Rosenshoul, he had several highly acclaimed albums as Flowers For Bodysnatchers before he was brought into the Cryo Chamber family. Aside from Atrium Carceri, Flowers for Bodysnatchers has become one of the most successful and recognizable artists on Cryo Chamber, that is, if we are to gauge success by album sales and Facebook followers.

The Rosenshoul has been on hold since the 2014 release of Hidden Field. With all the output coming from the Flowers for Bodysnatchers project, I was a bit surprised to see this new album by The Rosenshoul show up on Bandcamp. Surprised, but also delighted. The difference between the two projects can often be quite minuscule. The most noticeable difference between the two project can be seen in track lengths. While Flowers for Bodysnatchers tracks usually run between four and seven minutes length, The Rosenshoul always delivers long-form tracks. Often as long as twenty minutes in length and usually roughly three tracks per album. This long-form style of dark ambient makes for a more intimate and uniform approach to the music. The Rosenshoul tracks have a chance to slowly develop and they can often gently slide from one emotion or energy level to another within the same track.

Flowers For Bodysnatchers takes on a cinematic dark ambient style which incorporates the cinema into the tracks, building a story within itself. The Rosenshoul also has a cinematic approach, but it is less in the active sense; it leans more toward providing the role of a soundtrack. There is no shortage of field recordings, and there are stories being told, but these stories are much more subtle, allowing the listener to take a more imaginative approach to their interpretation.

Darkly I Listen is full of energy, emotion and intrigue. The album comes with a companion poem, which is helpful in conveying a full understanding of the material to the listener.

Darkly I Listen through the raven.
Darkly I Listen through the trees and
through the walls and the windows.
Darkly I Listen into your violent heart.

Now I will come to you.
Come to you as decay and death.
Come to you slowly.
Like the black dog in the blackest night.

And from the bloodiest of shadows I shall
show you the hell you brought unto me.

The only other descriptor we are given to understand the album is this sentence: “Darkly I Listen explores a Victorian era tale of murder and otherworldly revenge.” There is no point in me attempting to tell my personal interpretations of these tracks or how they fit together as a whole. The process should be personal to each listener, and Ritchie has clearly intended for that process to be an integral part of the experience listeners have with his album.

From a technical standpoint the music is a bit more musical than many other dark ambient artists, though this can also be said about Flowers For Bodysnatchers. Flowers for Bodysnatchers most often incorporates piano sections as the direct musical addition to the soundscapes. The musical elements of The Rosenshoul, specifically on this new album, seem to come in the form of string instruments. In all honesty, I’m not sure if these sections are synthesizer created or if they are the actual instruments being played, but my guess would lean more toward the former. The drone-work is quite active, with swiftly evolving drones coming in and out of the soundscapes, changing note and pattern frequently. The real foundation of this album lies in the field recordings. They have a constant presence throughout the album. They are best described as industrial, not the genre, but as in field recordings collected in an industrial district of a city. A picture comes to mind of a scene from Eraserhead, Henry (Jack Nance) wandering through a dark, rainy, gloomy atmosphere in the heart of the industrial district of some nondescript metropolis. This image fits nicely with the descriptor for the album, which describes this as taking place during the Victorian era, which was also centered amidst the industrial revolution of western civilization.

Darkly I Listen is the most ambitious effort yet from The Rosenshoul. This is the first album to be released under that moniker in the physical format. Darkly I Listen has been self-released by Duncan Ritchie and he’s taken the bold step of creating a digipak CD that appears to be quite professionally executed. The cover-art is beautifully dark, evoking just the right sort of imagery for sounds such as these. The gamble seems to have already paid off, as there are only 8 copies remaining for sale through his Bandcamp page as I write this review. So if you are thinking about purchasing a physical copy, you’d best move fast! I would highly recommend this album to just about any dark ambient fan. It should have no trouble with impressing fans of Duncan’s other project Flowers For Bodysnatchers. It is also a real treat for those fans that prefer the long-form style over short, concise tracks. In short, Darkly I Listen should be a welcome addition to the collection of any discerning dark ambient listener!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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