Tag: Neo-classical

Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution – Review

Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Album: Diminution
Release date: 13 April 2018
Label: Malignant Records / Cloister Recordings / Black Horizons

01. Diminution
02. Life Leaving
03. Causeway
04. Abjure
05. Wayward
06. Self-Recognition (For Pauline Oliveros)
07. Hindsight
08. Light Rising

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-talented musician out of the San Fransisco bay area. She’s contributed to a rather large number of musical projects, including: Hammers of Misfortune, Saros and Vastum to name a few. Through these projects she’s delved into a wide range of music from doom and folk metal in Hammers of Misfortune to post-industrial in Ionophore. But, on her solo albums, as Leila Abdul-Rauf, we have heard much calmer and more atmospheric music.

Leila Abdul-Rauf creates her dark ambient(ish) music in a way that delivers a more musical, song-based result than much of what you will see covered here. The trumpet and vocals play a major part in this difference. Her haunting yet beautiful vocals lend themselves to some of those Blue Velvet vibes. It is easy to envision that dark club where Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) first witnesses a performance by Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) over an ice-cold Heineken. Of course, the trumpet certainly helps produce this vibe. The connection can also be made by the way Leila Abdul-Rauf is creating music that is thoroughly dark, without ever feeling too languid or depressing. This is likely part of the reason the album is being promoted as early morning solitude music; a nod to the interplay between light and dark that flows through the album.

Leila Abdul-Rauf does a great job of building these visuals into the sounds. Unlike some releases we cover, Diminution doesn’t appear to follow any set narrative. It’s not supposed to tell us one specific story. Instead, we are given a sort of mood-enhancer. Diminution plays best at those late-night hours, after much of the world has retired for the day, or in those early morning moments, dew still glistening on the leaves, as the sun begins to peak out upon the horizon. This is a sort of midnight music. A sound that isn’t particularly depressing, but is certainly not happy. The track titles and lyrical content of the album, as well as the cover-art, all feed into this mood. Titles like “Life Leaving”, “Self-Recognition”, and “Hindsight” all lend to a feeling of reflection and contemplation, of the acceptance of loss and death. But, this isn’t a brooding lament, instead it seems to look at these concepts from a more constructive perspective. For instance, the opening track, “Diminution”, uses the combination of trumpet and piano in a way that draws equal parts serene contemplation and sorrowful despair. This formula emerges for me throughout the album, making it something I love using for lazy driving music. Following a dark highway home at night, or cruising aimlessly through some national park, Diminution is able to enhance the vibe, bringing out a well of divergent emotions.

Photo by: Allan I. Young

“Light Rising” – Paradoxically seems like one of the darkest tracks on the album. The thing that puts it into this context for me is the doom-laden repetitive sound, which gives a sort of black metal or dungeon synth vibe to the track. The track begins and ends with this isolated sound, but throughout “Light Rising” Abdul-Rauf uses her voice and trumpet to give it that lighter contrast. The vocals on this one give me the greatest reminder of something we would hear in Twin Peaks, that dark synth-pop vibe which Lynch has helped to cultivate over the years. Though, of course, here we get a much slower pace and a significantly more atmospheric vibe. For me, this balance between some more active genres, like synth-pop or jazz, with the more subtle sounds of dark ambient and neo-classical comes together perfectly on Diminution. We get the closest we can to the experience surrounding a Lynchian film, with the visual elements melting into the soundscapes to create a dark and cinematic atmosphere where sound can replace visuals altogether.

“Self Recognition (for Pauline Oliveros)” is, as one may guess, an ode to the highly influential musician Pauline Oliveros. I have not personally spent a lot of time with Oliveros’ music. But, shortly after her death in 2016, I read a rather thorough article about her impact on the music world. There are obviously a great number of reasons for Leila Abdul-Rauf to find inspiration in the work of Pauline Oliveros. Her presence was felt heavily in Leila Abdul-Rauf’s San Fransisco bay area, particularly through the San Fransisco Tape Music Center, founded in the ’60s. But her work in the, at the time, untrodden frontier of experimental electronic music would be one of her most notable lifetime contributions. “Self-Recognition” provides a thoroughly enjoyable “deep listening” experience which would likely make Oliveros proud.


Photo by: Nathan A. Verrill

The success of 2015’s Insomnia, her sophomore release, through Malignant Antibody, was due in large part to the musical content. But, there was also no shortage of praise for the cover-art, a painting by Mark Thompson. This time around, Matthew Jaffe contributes some of his beautiful artwork to the project. This painting of buildings in background, fronted by a thick fog which enshrouds trees and what could be either gravestones or shrouded figures, make for a brilliantly atmospheric cover-art. This artwork is given further justice through the vinyl variants; one of which is solid black and the other is gold with black swirl.

Art by Matthew Jaffe – featured on vinyl insert

Leila Abdul-Rauf brings back everything we loved about the highly-praised Insomnia. But, this time around the music seems even further refined. I would recommend Diminution to any fans of dark ambient with more active elements such as vocals and trumpet. This one will not be particularly jarring to the passive-preferring listeners either. With near universal praise again this time, it seems we can be expecting a good many more years of musical output from this highly talented individual. Not to mention all her other musical projects. Highly recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Tapes and Topographies – Signal to Noise – Review

Artist: Tapes and Topographies
Album: Signal to Noise
Release date: 17 August 2017
Label: Simulacra Records

01. Answered in an Echo
02. Rain in Our Room
03. An Illustrious Career
04. Painted Bird
05. Resplendent
06. In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last
07. Wiretaps
08. All the Ports are Empty
09. Signal to Noise
10. Both of Us, Regardless

So I must admit I’m running a bit behind on this one. I was first introduced to Tapes and Topographies as well as their label Simulacra Records last summer with this release, Signal to Noise. I immediately fell in love with it, but I like to give an album time to sit with me for a bit, especially if the artist is new to me. So, by the time I realized that Signal to Noise was possibly my favorite album of the summer, it was already well into fall. So now summer has returned, and with it Signal to Noise. As the heat crept up, this CD found its way right back into my player on long drives.

As Tear Ceremony and Sonogram, Todd Gautreau has been releasing albums since the early ’90s. But Tapes and Topographies seems to be a much newer project, with five total releases dating back to 2014. Signal to Noise is the third of these, and just prior to writing this I realized his latest, Opiates, will also definitely need to be heard thoroughly and likely covered here. To say Signal to Noise was my absolute favorite album of summer 2017 might be a stretch. But, it certainly has stuck with me in a more personal way than most of what I encountered through the year.

What will become immediately clear to the listener upon diving into Signal to Noise is that it is seeking to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I would argue that it is a heavily melancholic, but nevertheless cherished, nostalgia. The sort of feeling you get walking back into some childhood home, but its now overgrown and rotten, or less intensely, a home that has new occupants with a new color paint and a new mailbox. The memories are still just as beautiful, but the time has passed, the world is a different place now. Each time I revisit Signal to Noise, these feelings present themselves freshly, as if I am experiencing it again for the first time.

Songs like the opener, “Answered in an Echo”, are quite direct in their prodding of our subconscious. The track starts off with a high-mid ranged drone that gently sweeps through field recordings of some park on a summer day. Children are playing only feet away. Parents chat amongst one another more quietly. But there are other elements to “Answered in an Echo” which are more experimental and take it into a more interesting place for someone like myself that is not overly interested in drone heavy releases. I would make a comparison, for dark ambient fans, to the way that Elegi has incorporated a wide variety of instrumentation and techniques to create something that is at once nostalgic, peaceful, and experimental. There are different layers of drones, field recordings, and likely other actual instruments, which I haven’t specifically placed.

While “Answered in an Echo” is direct in its evocation of nostalgic memories, the whole album does not guide you so directly. Some tracks, like “An Illustrious Career” are sort of a glitchy form of classical. Soft and peaceful piano arrangements mingle with more strange noises. The connection here clearly being that we are able to remember these beautiful bits and pieces from our pasts, but not all that we remember is correct, and not all that happened is remembered. There is a lot of noise that accumulates through the years, muddying the signal, diminishing its purity. But, the scientific definition for signal to noise is: Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.

Another favorite to be mentioned is “In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last”. This one adds some beautiful string instrumentation to the already delightful piano arrangements. This track actually includes very little of the more experimental sounds, focusing almost fully one the classical instruments. It makes for a nice little interlude in the album. It could evoke the feelings and/or memories of something like a moment of clarity. When for once life actually presented itself to you, no riddles included.

I can say equally positive things about the cover-art and digipak for this one. The open window, sun shining in upon a dirt floor is the perfect visual representation of this album’s emotion. A feeling of loneliness, a bit old and worn. But, the album doesn’t present itself as all sadness and despair. The memories are not quite yet gone, the moments live on in our minds, and maybe one day moments so beautiful will present themselves once again. Or is life only ever so beautiful in hindsight?

Written by: Michael Barnett

Melankolia – Vividarium Intervigilium Viator – Review

Artist: Melankolia
Album: Vividarium Intervigilium Viator
Release date: 12 December 2017
Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records

01. Ambrosia
02. Nyctophilia
03. The Crowning of Autumn
04. Between Heaven and Hell
05. In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger
06. Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)
07. Requiem
08. Melankolia
09. The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow)
10. Annie, Light in a Dying World

Melankolia is the dark ambient / neo-classical project of Mike O’Brien, also known for his work as Appalachian Winter, Veiled Monk and Ritual in Ash. Since the founding of his project in 2009, O’Brien has released three full length album, the last of which, III, came out in 2012 on Quartier23. Melankolia, true to the name, seeks to engulf the listener in a melancholic atmosphere. The strongest, most consistent tool in his repertoire is the piano. Often just a little field recordings and piano work is all that is needed for Melankolia to create a dark, lonely sort of atmosphere.

On their fourth release, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator, Melankolia paid painstaking attention to detail, allowing the creation process to run several years longer than on any of their previous releases. The album was picked up by Hypnotic Dirge Records, a label that specializes in a variety of music, which they call “An auditory palette for the estranged and eclectic”. Unlike on previous releases, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is completely done by O’Brien himself, with no guest musicians.

Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is a diverse release. There are a number of different styles of music and mood being created here. These albums take a bit more consideration than the standard dark ambient fare, thus I’m reviewing this one six months after release, though I have been enjoying it since December. What makes this release hard to describe for a reviewer, ironically, should be just what would make listeners enjoy it. Tracks like “In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger” have sections that sound like they came right off something like Prospectus I by raison d’etre. Then, moments later on “Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)”, we hear an intricate texture of darker background soundscape, while synth, piano and choral voices give the track a more fantastical, ethereal feel. Then, on “The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow), Melankolia starts with a billowing wind and a guitar, before the piano takes over and O’Brien begins to recite an interesting passage, I assume of his own creation, which talks of the woes and disappointments of human existence.

In all these different sorts of tracks, Melankolia keeps the theme and mood directed consistently toward his goals. The heavy use of field recordings throughout the album adds greatly to its contemplative, melancholic nature. The piano parts all hold an emotional edge, and are reasonably diverse, in opposition to so much of the neo-classical styled dark ambient we hear which incorporates the piano, but not in any skillful or complex sense, often allowing several notes to repeat throughout, never using any actual scales or chord progressions. Not that most of that is bad, I enjoy many of these sorts of tracks, but it feels more authentic with Melankolia than with many of the other examples I’ve heard over the years.

This music is perfect for long lonely nights, sitting by the window reading, watching as the seasons pass, time slipping irretrievably through our fingers. The name Melankolia really tells the tale of this artist’s style. He treads that ground between dark and “regular” ambient very lightly. The album evokes a sadness, but of an indirect variety. We aren’t left imagining lost childhoods or ended relationships. We are not given such a direct sensory nudge. Instead the music leaves me feeling  almost content in my solitude. It is that sort of calm darkness that one finds when all is pitch black, but a single burning candle or night-light. A sense that all the surrounding woes and hardships are fleeting, as are our own fragile lives.

I would highly recommend this release to anyone into the neo-classical side of the dark ambient spectrum. There will be quite active moments throughout the album, but they rarely if ever disrupted me when I am focusing on some other task. The heavy use of field recordings makes this a true pleasure as well, really adding a depth to the sounds of your environment, and their emotional pull on you. Hypnotic Dirge Records released the album in a beautiful 4 panel digipak with an eight page booklet of photography and thought provoking written passages. O’Brien really put together a polish gem with this one. We should definitely be keeping our eyes and ears open for whatever is to come next!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Wordclock – Heralds – Review

Artist: Wordclock
Album title: Heralds
Release date: 12 December 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Bell Ringing I
02. Bell Ringing II
03. Bell Ringing III
04. Beatrice’s Euphoria
05. St. George
06. Where Mercy Lives
07. Thames Does Flow
08. Heralds

At the youthful age of twenty-two, the Portuguese musician Pedro Pimentel has quickly solidified his position as a monumental force in the realms of dark ambient. It’s not only praise from the Cryo Chamber fan-base or label-mates that has proven Pimentel’s strengths as a musician. He’s also worked closely with Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails on the soundtrack for the videogame Noct. All this being accomplished before most musicians have come close to finding their true calling, it’s hard to tell what Pimentel will have accomplished ten years from now.

In my opinion, his first major accomplishment has just been actualized. Heralds is the third release by Wordclock on Cryo Chamber. All the brilliant techniques Pimentel has shown over his last few albums have come to an utter climax on Heralds. This album finds itself on the fringes of the dark ambient genre, and yet it couldn’t be more in line with the goals of the genre, and particularly the Cryo Chamber label.

It’s not exactly the originality of Heralds which makes it work so well. Many of its various elements can be heard in the music of other artists such as raison d’etre, Enmarta, Phonothek and Elegi. But it’s the seemingly effortless blending of these different elements which makes Heralds praiseworthy.

The opening track brings us our first taste of this marriage of styles and techniques. Wordclock has used the piano and bass guitar previously to successful ends, but the introduction of the cello into his music has taken it to new heights. The cello, I’m convinced, is one of the best live instruments to be incorporated into dark ambient music. Each instance I’ve heard this combination throughout the last few years has been gloriously successful. For the task, Pimentel has brought back Norwegian classically trained cellist Amund Ulvestad. His skills could also be heard on the previous Wordclock album, Self Destruction Themes.

Ulvestad was first brought to my attention in 2014 as part of the Northaunt/Svartsinn split, The Borrowed World, which I still highly recommend to any readers that haven’t yet experienced it. Soon afterward, I saw him live when he toured the United States east coast performing as a duo with Svartsinn. His contributions to Heralds can’t be overstated, whenever his craft is featured the album all the better for it.

Yet, Ulvestad is far from being the only addition of note to this Wordclock release. Pimentel brings in the talents of Nuno Craveiro on the Scandinavian instrument Nyckelharpa. An instrument which has gotten some mainstream recognition recently, being used by the atmospheric black metal / Nordic folk artist Myrkur. The third addition to Heralds is George Shmanauri on trumpet. We’ve heard his trumpet work add an intriguing dark jazz flavor to his two recent albums as half of the duo Phonothek, also residing on Cryo Chamber.

When all these musicians come together, the outcome is blissful perfection. The track “Where Mercy Lives” is the crowning glory of Heralds. Pimentel brings together all of his previous experience as a solo artist and blends it with the works of these three guest musicians. Add to that some samples of choir vocals, and what we have is probably my favorite dark ambient track of the year, if not of recent years. The combination of these artists gives us a hint of what an all out dark jazz project would sound like, if they were all so inclined to create one. The music has so many noteworthy layers, that it could warrant a full review treatment itself. Suffice to say, readers must give this track their full attention, preferably through the best audio deliver system on hand, in order to appreciate the extent of its accomplishment.

It is said in the album blurb that Pimentel traveled far and wide, through Porto, London and Berlin, in order to collect the acoustic instrument sounds and field recordings necessary for completing this opus. It’s as if not only the sounds collected, but the travel itself is harnessed on Heralds. Pimentel gives us a completed album which could traverse the boundaries of dark ambient, finding praise from followers of multiple genres, including but not limited to, dark jazz, neo-classical, ambient and northern European folk.

It has been apparent since his debut, Endless, that Pimentel was a musician to keep an eye on. That sentiment has never been more apparent than now. With the release of Heralds, Pimentel shows the staggering extent of his ambition and skill as a musician and a studio technician. I simply can’t overstate the magnitude to which this album has moved me, and I strongly suspect that it will have the same effect on many, if not most, readers of this review.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Nhor – Interview

2017 was an interesting and eventful year for the UK project Nhor. He pushed the atmospheric element for his approach to its minimalist limit, which resulted in a quadrilogy of EPs that formed the
Wildflowers cycle. Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter shed light on aspects of their respective seasons not often explored in any art-form — let alone through piano ambient music. As this portion of Nhor’s existence closes out, the artist was kind enough to sit down and give some insight into the creative process, hidden meanings and personal significance of Wildflowers.

Interview conducted by: Maxwell Heilman

Maxwell: Do you have a favorite EP out of the four? Does it coincide with your favorite season?

: I don’t think I do have a favourite, not yet anyway. They each have their own unique mood and special moment held in time. As each season approaches, I always consider it to be my favourite, but the flowering of bluebells in Spring is always a special occasion for me, and very likely a catalyst in realising the Wildflowers concept.

Maxwell: Other than the imagery, what differentiates these four releases from one another? Are there any distinguishing characteristics to listen for when listening to the EPs?

: I suppose ultimately this is for the listener to decide. I can hear a great deal of change, but I know how I play and write music, so maybe some things are more apparent to me, especially including the knowledge of what inspired each song, and the process undertaken to convert that into music.
I think Autumn has the darkest mood. Spring represents an awakening, Summer is more hopeful than any of the others, but I won’t pass judgement on Winter yet, not publicly anyway, I’d rather people made their own conclusions about the new EP.

Maxwell: Wildflowers are the cycle’s unifying image, yet these songs never seem to directly address them. Do you have any insight into how the Wildflowers concept lays the foundation for the music?

: The wildflowers fit the idea, of musical ideas. Wildflowers are beautiful flowers, that bloom for such fleeting spells within their own seasons. These hopefully mirror my music, which is made more of ideas and moods than it is of “songs”. These ideas hopefully fit within their own time of the year, mimicking the short spell of a wildflower in it’s given season.

Maxwell: Even in your black metal releases, piano often takes center stage (Within the Darkness Between the Starlight comes to mind). What is your history with this instrument? What draws you to it?

Nhor: I think simply, I find it very expressive. Luckily, I don’t think it requires a lot of skill to play it as I do, or coordination to press a key (which is the basic requirement of getting a nice sound from a piano, a violin requires much more coordination to make a note sound good). I don’t mean to offend any pianists, I know there are very, very accomplished pianists out there, but this isn’t what I’m trying to achieve. I’m trying to translate the mood of myself and the seasons. Also, the piano helps me to simplify my own work, and concentrate on the melodies and notes I’m working with. If there was no darkness between the starlight, would the stars still hold your gaze? I stick to that concept in giving the notes room to breath. Nothing is more fertile than the void.

Maxwell: The Wildflowers EPs have a very raw, immediate sound to coincide with the music’s delicate delivery — almost sounding like they’re being played in the same room as the listener. Care to elaborate on what the recording process was like?

Nhor: Recording is not something I look forward to. I enjoy writing music and exploring ideas but the recording can completely change my mood and take my focus away from what I was trying to create. There is a point where the recording/mixing/mastering process becomes more of a science than an art. I tend to leave a take rolling for a long period of time, to try and forget about what’s happening and let it come naturally.

Maxwell: How did you approach writing these songs? Are any elements improvised?

Nhor: I don’t really have any knowledge of music theory, so everything is just a natural progression or elaboration on an idea. I suppose everything is improvised. It’s strange to say but I can hear the melody before I’ve written it. I then spend some time chasing those notes, trying to find them, and exploring anything else I stumble upon along the way.

Maxwell: Did you find it a challenge to impart discernible structure and unique moods to such minimalist, ethereal music?

Nhor: It’s not something I have actively tried to achieve. If I have achieved it then it has been a welcome accident. I write what I feel, and try to not plan anything, or make any rules, especially not in structure.

Maxwell: These songs are incredibly vivid within their stripped-down sound. Do you have imagery in mind when you write, or does your music paint a picture for you similar to how it does your listeners?

Nhor: A lot of the time I’m drawing from a sight or experience that pushes me to play my piano. At times the music will pull old memories of my own which then create their own space or story with their song.

Maxwell: The moon is a recurring character in the cycle. What does this entity mean to you within the context of Wildflowers?

Nhor: I don’t think it’s possible to explain it’s meaning only within the context of Wildflowers. There are so many aspects of the moon I treasure. How the full moon lights the earth, how it disappears, how its light changes through the clouds, its shifting form, its silent presence above. I wrote this short passage a long time ago:

A heavy weight upon my eyes.
A confidant of secrecy.
Soft light spills over me.
It slows my thoughts,
And it calms my wild swelling heart.
I swear that it waits for me.
So profound in its solemn vigil.
Silently it serenades me.
And it knows,
It knows my thoughts;
Of my longing to return,
And of my desires.
It waits for me.
And even when it slips beyond,
I know it will return.
And I pray that when it does,
I will be taken forever.

Maxwell: Judging by your social media, you make a point of immersing yourself in nature. Do you remember a time where you realized the inspirational potential of the wilderness?

Nhor: In my art book Towards A Light that Dwells Within the Trees I speak about how Nhor started, this excerpt from the introduction should cover it:

Many years ago, as I stood beneath the stars during a cold cloudless night, something crept behind the cabin at the foot of my garden. As I gathered myself to approach, the overgrown grounds in front of me began to rustle. The cabin overlooks the forest to the East of my house, so it’s not unusual for creatures of the forest to visit. In fact, ever since this night I have taken such occurrences and crossings of paths to be a good omen. I stood waiting for the creature to re-appear for some time but it had dissolved into the night. As I moved to return to my place beneath the stars the cabin loomed in front of me. I opened its door and stepped inside to find my father’s old piano. On the top, sat his father’s binoculars and lantern. I have been told that he knew the names of every tree in the forest and each constellation overhead; knowledge that I would later find myself drawn to. I left the door open to let what little light I could in, and also in the hope that I would see my visitor once more. After lifting the piano’s lid I remember being surprised at how close its tuning was despite the weather. Then with my fingers stiff from the cold I began to slowly play. It was there that I stumbled upon two chords that ached with sadness. I played them over and over listening to how the room began to fill with their song. I could feel the atmosphere within the cabin changing, beginning to flow out of the door and into the starry skies above. Today though, I wonder if it was in fact the wild night making its first tentative steps towards my side. One thing I do recall clearly is how the two chords sang out like the stars above. Their pale notes hung in the air, painting the room with their light; as if the stars themselves were softly appearing within the darkness around me. It was there that I found Nhor, it was in this moment that its all began.

From this, I became drawn further and further in the forests and woodland that surrounded where I live, becoming obsessed at times. This has been the case for many years now. Nhor is really an extension of my life, I’ve been inspired greatly by my surroundings, and they have helped shape me, and also helped me to answer many questions about who and what I am.

Maxwell: With the Wildflowers cycle coming to a close, how do you feel about the past year of the Nhor project in retrospect?

Nhor: I had a clear idea in mind, and I feel that I’ve achieved what I wanted to. I’m really pleased that people have taken to the idea of me releasing my music seasonally instead of one big single release. It’s allowed me to make a very broad release, but focus quite finely on specific aspects. Also, I must thank the people who have consistently ordered everything I have ever made, and who message me with their support. I’ve received so many thoughtful messages during each season. It’s interesting to hear from people who find themselves drawn to differing seasons. Those kind of things are what help inspire me to continue to release my music.

Maxwell: Do you have anything you particularly desire your listeners to take away from these EPs?

Nhor: It’s enough of an honour for me, to know that people have chosen to spend their time listening to my music. That is something I struggle to get my head around at times. If there was anything I wanted them to take away, I suppose it would be a desire to connect further with nature, or to help maintain the bond between themselves and the natural world that they already have.

Maxwell: Can you give any information as to the future of Nhor in the coming years?

Nhor: The full Wildflowers album is roughly 1 hour 40 minutes of minimal piano. I feel I’ve explored this quite thoroughly. I have a few ideas that have come from Wildflowers, and also worked backwards to some ideas I didn’t get the chance to complete when writing Within The Darkness Between The Starlight. I suppose it all depends on what one I get around to finishing first.

Maxwell: Any final words?

Nhor: Sic transit gloria mundi. Thank you.

Nhor links:
Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram

Nhor – Wildflowers: Winter – Review on the Periphery

Artist: Nhor
Album: Wildflowers: Winter
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Self-released

01. Bereft
02. Murmurations Above Me
03. Owls Through Snowfall
04. Wreaths of Hoarfrost
05. The Moon Belongs To All and None
06. The Leave No Trace
07. Mercy

“I now come to think of Autumn as a knife that was thrust into Summer,” Nhor says about the cold months creeping upon him. Indeed, the holiday season often seems detached from the underlying significance of the winter, something English artist Nhor has set out to rectify with the final release in his season-themed piano ambient EP cycle called Wildflowers. His skeletal arrangements filter out the shopping blitzes and overpriced decor, allowing Winter to epitomize the shrouding of the past in an enveloping sheet of white.

The spacious notes beginning “Bereft” take shape into a dreary depiction of a landscape suddenly monochromatized. Fall’s mad dash of preparation comes to an end, leaving frigid silence in its wake. The song’s dynamic swells and perfect sound panning creates a lens of muffled solitude by which to view the crystallized snow statuettes winter brings in its wake.

Though destructive blizzards may come to mind when thinking of this time, Nhor spotlights quiet dialogues the season harbors for those who listen. Embellished by wandering leads, the swirling modulations and uplifting chimes of “Murmurations Above Me” evoke sweeping flurries reverting natural changes, as though they never occurred.

What happened before temperatures dropped? Who can tell just by looking at a snow bank? As “They Leave no Trace” illustrates with its drifting melancholy and passionate melody, the true nature of the world becomes blurred in its hibernation. Those without resilience retreat to whatever warmth they can find as Nhor’s intimate drama depicts natures impervious dis-invitation to all but the most resilient. Of course, this frosty blight hardly drives out all life.

“Owls Through Snowfall” uses staggered arpeggiations and volume jumps to eloquently depict its namesake, proving yet again the seemingly boundless musicality Nhor brings to his compositions. While artists like Goldmund have a more phonetically complex take on piano ambient, few artists embody the term “a lot with a little” to Nhor’s degree. Winter shows no cracks in the glass castle of perfectly-placed chords and moving lines, providing exactly what is needed and allowing emotion to carry it.

Nhor’s ability to direct the listener’s attention to overlooked occurrences over seasonal phenomena never ceases to amaze, and “Wreaths of Hoarfrost” brings new light to his attention to detail. A stark melodic line gives the perfect soundtrack to one of this season’s most beautiful byproducts, woven into light-treading chords. “The space between notes has become so fragile,” Nhor says, in conscious protection of the fragile artwork created by freezing temperatures. In the midst of these new elements, a familiar character also shifts.

It came as a comforting voice in the heavens, then became the envy of the night and the forbearer of coming darkness, now “The Moon Belongs to All and None.” A balladic lament to the absent heavenly body, this fleeting hymn emphasizes the loss of vibrancy and vitality winter represents to places not pacified with Christmas lights and veracious consumerism. The moon’s presence remains, but perception of the silvery celestite is beholden to no one. “Will the whole Earth slip away into a cold, lifeless end,” Nhor wonders. “Or is there something more beyond that veil?”

Will the whole Earth slip away into a cold, lifeless end, or is there something more beyond that veil?

The bleak overtones accompanying winter are consistently perceived throughout this EP, but the concluding track “Mercy” cleverly concludes the EP by hinting at Spring with its start-stoppy rhythm, thoughtful use of silence and inconspicuously added voices. The blanquette of winter is revealed to be but the passing of a year, and the coming of spring will see a world reborn into the next cycle.

As the EP, and Wildflowers, comes to a close, its true significance manifests. Seasonal changes become a compassionate cornerstone even as they continually uproot. When seen from the broad perspective Nhor stakes out within his minimal homestead of piano soliloquies, Wildflowers provokes a newfound sense of wonder towards the seasons. “I would flood the starlit forests with my song,” Nhor says, reaffirming the maps to placidity his musical explorations draw.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Nhor – Wildflowers: Autumn – Review on the Periphery

Artist: Nhor
Album: Wildflowers: Autumn
Release date: 10 October 2017
Label: Prophecy

01. Where They Once Were
02. The Trees Knew Not of Me Then
03. Moonfall
04. We Set Their Bodies Free in the Cold River
05. What We Hid in the Night
06. Fire Promises Guidance
07. Fate

After establishing himself in atmospheric black metal and ambient folk circles, the UK-based multi-instrumentalist Nhor has most recently embraced a unique strand of stripped-down piano ambient music. Over the past six months, he has released two installments of Wildflowers, a quadrilogy of EPs themed after the seasons. Spring and Summer provided intimate explorations of the warmer seasons, a time of rebirth and one of plenty, but Autumn comes as a quiet overture to a period of gradual wilting and panicked preparation with retrospective undercurrents.

Live production, repetitious playing, and modulative fluidity remain central to Nhor’s approach. Within this formula, “Where They Once Were” and “The Trees Knew Not of Me Then” start Autumn strong with two of the cycle’s most dense compositions so far. The former’s tasteful use of octaves skyrockets the dynamism of a trickling moving line, while the latter’s spiraling melody and rushing feel mirrors a blustery October afternoon — all the while maintaining intimate immediacy. Nhor sounds like he’s playing his piano right beside the listener, allowing the instrument’s resonance to overflow to the last echoing tone.

“When the first leaves begin to fall,” Nhor reminisces about autumn, “I am abruptly reminded of everything that I wished to achieve.” With the vibrant colors and spurt of ecological and meteorological activity comes the inevitable realization that the lull of summer is not only temporary, but never long enough. He explores this annual epiphany through his minimalist vein, through the polarized low-end arpeggiations and cutting chimes of “We Set Their Bodies Free in the Cold River.”

The waters and winds of time can suddenly feel like flash floods and gales as life hurtles towards finale, but Autumn still evokes moments of clarity as each note constructs a peaceful head-space in the midst of terrifying change. As the nebulous broken chords at the start of “What We Hid in the Night” take form, stoic understanding coincides with tragic realization.

Imparting the heavenly oracle’s third appearance in Wildflowers, “Moonfall” serves as a reminder that the world’s constant shifts never completely shroud the moon as an unmoving sounding board for both Nhor and the listener. The song’s use of silence and note decay make it the most atmospheric track on Autumn, while its basis in high register further separates it from other cuts — emphasizing Nhor’s ability to compose distinct auras by gradually dealing his hand from song to song.

Autumn confronts fall as an abrupt reminder of the transient nature of the good times summer provides, but Nhor’s thoughts are never hopeless. “As the warmth of our star retreats, I am drawn closer to the fire,” he says. The passionate “Fire Promises Guidance” encapsulates this enduring comfort, as its crestfallen melody imparts somber apprehension through several movements that encompass the entirety of his emotional and sonic palette. With Nhor’s tearful farewell to the jubilation summer brought comes a decision to preserve warmth as winter creeps over the horizon, in the knowledge that coming hardships will fade as surely as good times. The polyphonic concluding track “Fate” comes as a whimsical ode to the inevitability of these cyclical changes, a call to live in spite of them instead of wallowing when they come.

At 23 minutes, this is the longest and most dense Wildflowers EP so far. Using stark minimalism and extreme simplicity, Nhor has again created a cohesive narrative unique to the season in question. Autumn blows with crimson leaves towards a snowy blight, pacifying the maddening race to prepare for winter through its gentle chords.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Dark Piano Nights Mix – Dark Music For Dark Nights

Dark Piano Nights is a combination of dark ambient with some various other styles that all come together to form a peaceful yet melancholic nighttime listening session. This is mostly free of vocals, but there are a few exceptions throughout. The music becomes more active at times than that of a strictly dark ambient set-list, but I think the flow is good and the music, which includes classical, jazz noir, and a mix of others, is all highly enjoyable. I hope you will also enjoy this mix on a lonely dark rainy evening, when you are alone with only your thoughts, a good book, and an internet connection. Cheers!
The full set-list with links to the albums is available below the player (scroll way down!).


Dark Piano Nights

01. 0:00:00 Atrium Carceri – Dark Water
02. 0:04:00 Arvo Pärt – Für Alina
03. 0:14:50 Beyond Sensory Experience – Time Travels
04. 0:20:45 The Human Voice – Is This a Palace or a Prison?
05. 0:24:45 Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi
06. 0:27:45 Tusen År Under Jord – Sorgsendömet Fobos I
07. 0:32:00 Elegi – Hvor Her Er Ødselig
08. 0:37:00 Enmarta – Ain Soph Aur
09. 0:42:00 Comadescent – The Calm
10. 0:43:10 Peter Bjärgö – As Rain Falls
11. 0:45:45 BVdub – Your Painted Armor Aches to Crack
12. 0:53:15 Aware – So He Got Up and Ate and Drank
13. 0:56:10 Randal Collier-Ford – Reverence of Wounds (feat. Simon Heath)
14. 1:00:40 Aythis – Night
15. 1:03:45 David Lynch & Marek Zebrowski – Night (City Back Street)
16. 1:16:40 Cryobiosis – Murkfall
17. 1:20:50 Apocryphos, Kammarheit, Atrium Carceri – Avenoir
18. 1:24:20 Bohren und der Club of Gore – Maximum Black
19. 1:30:25 Wolves and Horses – Aphelion
20. 1:37:30 Flowers for Bodysnatchers – Hearken Our Storm
21. 1:41:40 Northaunt – A Silent Battle
22. 1:46:00 Daniel James Dolby – Noir
23. 1:49:00 Black Box Memories – Interlude – Night Landing
24. 1:52:00 The Caretaker – Hidden Sea Buried Deep
25. 1:53:00 Inemuri – Part IV
26. 1:57:00 Goldmund – Methusela Tree
27. 2:00:40 Scanner – Underwater Lake
28. 2:04:10 protoU & Hilyard – Final Refugium
29. 2:12:50 Paranoia Inducta – Whispers and Cogs
30. 2:16:20 Cities Last Broadcast – Lights Out

Enmarta – Interview (re-pub ’15 )

Interview with: Enmarta aka Siegfried (Der Leiermann)
Conducted by: Michael Barnett

This interview was originally published on Terra Relicta Dark Music Webmagazine back in September of 2015. Tomaz has been kind enough to allow me to re-publish this interview on This Is Darkness.

Back in 2015, Enmarta had just landed on the dark ambient scene. His debut album Sea of Black took listeners into a brilliant world of dark ambient blended with authentic classical instrumentation. The album quickly became a lauded addition to the Cryo Chamber label. Since this interview, Enmarta has released his sophomore album, The Hermit which went even further in realizing this neo-classical / dark ambient amalgamation.

Michael: Where exactly are you from, and how does that influence your music?

Siegfried: Well, I’m from Reggio Calabria (South Italy), a small city for “small” people. It is easy to be imprisoned in yourself here and that’s because there’s no one who could understand your message. At least I have some friends with the same interests, but try to imagine a society who couldn’t catch what you have to say – even if you play indie or pop rock, now try to imagine it interfacing with dark ambient… This says it all.

Michael: What instruments did you play yourself for Sea Of Black? How did that effect your take on a dark ambient album?

Siegfried: My gear consists of a simple midi keyboard, a simple handmade Indonesian flute, a glockenspiel, bells and my viola. Everything treated with FL Studio and Reaper. This is what I use for Enmarta. I think I will expand my gear to different other instruments. I was just thinking about a string quartet for my second work! But we will see, I need time to study this combination.

Michael: Do you compose in any other genres?

Siegfried: Yes, of course. Actually I’m working for a black metal project of mine, but at the moment I’m too busy with my music studies that keep me in hours of seclusion. I also play keyboards in a melodic death metal band called Memories Of A Lost Soul.

Michael: How did you discover dark ambient music?

Siegfried: I have listened to black metal for a long time, since I was younger. Between songs we would always find some dark/obscure interludes and I think you must be wondering on how this could focus on my discovery of dark ambient music. Through time I just did some research and I just discovered that it was simply a genre within a genre. That’s how I discovered dark ambient music.

Michael: Do you ever perform live? Do you see live shows as a fitting way to spread the word about dark ambient, and your own album in particular?

Siegfried: I never perform live and it’s a pity. Of course it is a wonderful way to spread the word, my word. I can’t do anything here, I’m just locked, but I hope to make something great happen in the future. Maybe a performance for closer friends, who knows?

Michael: How did you come in contact with Cryo Chamber?

Siegfried: I just wanted to introduce my music to a large number of bright and able people. Cryo Chamber seemed the most suitable way to spread out my passion. At first it seemed a dream to me, but then I just asked Simon Heath if it could be possible to make this dream come true. Now I’m here.

Michael: How has your experience as an addition to the Cryo Chamber roster affected you?

Siegfried: It has been a joy to see my name and my face alongside those of many other composers who have given something very relevant to the world of music and I’m still very excited about it. It is not so easy belonging to a particular group of people.

Michael: Did you have a specific concept in mind, when starting this project, or did the concept and feel of the album change as you produced the tracks?

Siegfried: I just started this project as a bridge to my soul. I try to express what I have inside through a language that helps me a lot, MUSIC. I find no other way to make you understand how much I hate mankind and how I wish to see it rot. All my tracks have a specific message inside, but it is up to you to figure out what kind of message.

Michael: How do you feel about the dark ambient scene as a whole? Has it seemed very welcoming to you or has it been a struggle to gain recognition amongst so many veteran musicians?

Siegfried: It was not difficult to open a way in the scene, I thought Sea Of Black would have been a flop, and instead I received hundreds of compliments even from very important people in the scene and now everyone asks me what’s in store. I think it is a very warm welcome.

Michael: What are you currently working on musically? Do you have another dark ambient album in the works, or will you be focusing on other areas of your life?

Siegfried: I’m currently working on new sounds. I think I’ll bring this project with me, in my grave, one day.
(editor’s note: as fate would have it, this project did not follow him to his grave. Here’s a track from his most recent album, The Hermit, also released through Cryo Chamber.)

Michael: If you could tell fans one thing about yourself that you find interesting and they may not know about you, what would it be?

Siegfried: I am a fetishist.

Michael: Do you have a strong connection to ancient Italian civilizations? Do you ever visit ruins, which ones if so? Does this deep Italian history play any role in your music?

Siegfried: I have a strong link with the past of my nation and its traditions. I live on the same land where the first Greeks set foot to give life to what was once called the Magna Græcia, now called Calabria. The same land that for us has become synonymous with corruption for them became a land of hope. Many ruins and tools were still preserved in the best possible way, many others lost forever or simply not brought to light yet. We still have a lot of ruins scattered throughout the region: Caulonia, Gerace, Locri, Vibo Valentia, Nao and so on. I suggest that you visit these magnificent places, it’s a real ancestral throwback. In conclusion, my final answer is YES: my music is dedicated to my ancestors, as well as the stars which combine themselves to give life to a new galaxy. Our ancestors gathered with all their forces to give us a future, a floor to rest our feet and all my prayers and passions are devoted to them.

Enmarta links: Facebook, Cryo Chamber

Peter Bjärgö – Animus Retinentia (2017) – Review

Artist: Peter Bjärgö
Album title: Animus Retinentia
Release date: 1 March 2017
Label: Cyclic Law

01. You Let The Light Shine Through
02. Stillhet
03. To Replace My Sadness
04. Grains
05. Where Night Is Eternal
06. As Rain Falls
07. Memories
08. Transcend Time
09. Memories II
10. From Agony
11. Sleep Dep.Loop2

Peter Bjärgö is an artist that has left his mark all over the post industrial scene of music over the years. Going all the way back to 1994, Arcana, was Peter Bjärgö‘s first musical project to get attention. Arcana focused on a sort of medieval-ambient/neoclassical sound. The 1996 release on Cold Meat Industry of Dark Age of Reason is still to this day a reference point for many musicians. In later years, Arcana would expand its line-up. There also formed a second project Sophia, which focused on an industrial ambient sound. In 2009, Peter Bjärgö would start his solo-project, under his own name. Peter said on social media of this, “After nearly 20 years of activity with Arcana I decided to explore music as a solo artist, without boundaries, and show a more intimate side of my creativity.”

That intimate side turns out to be quite beautiful if also rather depressing. Peter Bjärgö spoke about issues of depression and sorrow, but it was felt on a more global scale, similar to the latest Sophia album, but in a much more personal manner.

Animus Retinentia takes us to this more personal place. A time in Peter’s past when things didn’t seem so bleak and depressing. A time when he had great hopes for his future, as well as the future of our world. Its a reflection on these times, through the lens of an adult who knows all too well the terrible state of affairs on our planet. Now in a time after the illusion has been shattered, looking back on childhood happiness can be a great comfort. In this way, Peter Bjärgö taps into that comfort, allowing it to blossom into a full album of music which is equally melancholic and inspirational. The senses of childhood happiness and adulthood depression are both played out masterfully, each being given its room to leave an effect on the listener. The instrumental tracks scattered through the album touch more on that adulthood melancholy, while the lyrics are often living in the memories, or reflecting upon them.

There are a few loop based instrumental tracks which split up the more active tracks. These instrumentals are full of thoughtful and emotional atmosphere. They give the listener an opportunity to reflect upon the lyrical content of the previous track. We are given an opportunity to think back on our own childhoods, times of youth when inspiration could be found in so many things. As for its comparison to the previous album, Peter Bjärgö explains through his social media outlets, “It’s not a sequel to Melancholy, that will happen later, this one is more cinematic and dreamy, reflecting on my childhood, a period when I last remembered I was truly happy.”

The vocals are at an all-time high level of quality. Peter Bjärgö has shed all sense of reservation on Animus Retinentia. He delivers each set of lyrics with a confidence that can’t be denied. There were hints at this development on the last solo album The Architecture of Melancholy, but only now has this become a purveying force throughout the entirety of the album. The delivery is in a deep bass range. It exudes the confidence and melancholic pondering of the album to perfection.

The lyrical content is well thought out and often quite emotional. The track “Transcend Time” for instance, shows the dichotomy between those childhood inspirations and the more depressing developments of adulthood. Lyrics like “… I need the curiosity now, everything was glowing, but the glow has faded, time has come to remind me.” show his inner dilemma, one which is surely relatable to many listeners.

The music on Animus Retinentia, is some of Peter Bjärgö‘s best yet. He manages to bring together a combination of looped elements with gentle synth sections, and his emotionally charged acoustic guitar parts, all coalescing into a warm and full sound. “Where Night Is Eternal” showcases a toned-down approach with a glitchy drum sequence. Then tracks like “From Agony” take a bold approach, again proving that his level of confidence in this style of music is at an all-time high.

As the album reaches its terminus on “Sleep Dep.Loop2” it’s almost as if there are thoughts trying to repeat themselves, while an increasingly present drone pushes forward from the background. The listener is allowed the sensation of trying to remain in this dream state, remembering the lost childhood naivety. While a beeping starts to push into the background, likely an allusion to an alarm clock, slowly bringing the dreamer back to a reality filled with despair and decay. A reality which played itself out full-force on the last solo album. This reality was also the reference point for the last Sophia album, Unclean,  which focused on an apocalyptic reality where humanity had finally gone beyond the point of return.

After so many years making music, one would think Peter Bjärgö must be running out of ideas and inspirations. Yet, there is no sign of this. Animus Retinentia as well as Unclean by Sophia have been some of his best work to date. There appears to be no stopping him from continuing with innovations and fulfilling his duties for each project with which he collaborates. Animus Retinentia is a highly recommended album. Any fans of any variety of post-industrial and neoclassical genres should find plenty to love here. Peter Bjärgö has created an album which should have an emotional resonance with a vast number of listeners. For, how many of us truly enjoy this time in history? How many of us miss that childhood passion and naivety? If you’ve ever pondered these questions, Animus Retinentia is the soundtrack to your ponderings.

Written by: Michael Barnett

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