Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

4th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

With Illusion, The Long Night threaten ‘a sonic journey capturing the deep melancholy sound of things that are likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses, adding that ‘Consisting of massive drones, chants, and field recordings, Illusion paints the picture of darkness trying to find a light in one’s consciousness.’

I’ve been struggling with certain things in recent months. Many things, if I’m honest. Reading books has been one, and listening to song-based music has been another. Concentration has been a real issue. Flitting back and forth in a daze through news items I haven’t the focus to read in their entirety, I see the theme of ‘long Covid’ as a recurring topic. But equally, I find that people I am in regular and frequent contact with – work colleagues, mainly – are feeling utterly drained and devoid of motivation. None of them has suffered from Covid-19, and I can’t help suspect there’s more of a long-term lockdown malaise that’s taking its toll on people. I’ve felt restless, listless, lacking in concentration, unable to face tasks that are beyond my comfort zone, and have immersed myself in domestic chores and cooking, outside my turgid dayjob.

And so it is that I’ve found solace in more ambient sounds. Their abstraction offers a certain escapism, and the right ambient sounds have an immersive quality that offers a distraction from everything else. Illusion is both abstract and immersive. For the most part it rumbles and drones without any real sense of direction, and that’s perhaps its strongest asset as it creates a sonic space in which to wander, lost, adrift, but away from the world.

On ‘Untold Mind’ and the murky morass of ‘Forgotten Time’, monastic voices rise ethereally from the grey smog, but for the most part, Illusion is a thick fog of amorphous, substanceless abstraction that drifts and eddies around without direction or any real sense of form. The nine-minute ‘The Myth of Now’ is a cavernous drone of immense depth and resonance that hangs heavy shadows with intermittent glimpses of light, but the overall experience is unsettling, as dark tones rumble and rise from the dark depths.

Illusion may be little or nothing more than its title suggests, but it is all we need for now as we cling to desperately to whatever we cen. And this is worth clinging on to.

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Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings – 2nd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those albums you can judge by its cover – and title. Golden Threads From Riven Rot continues to trace the same themes of death and decay as its Inverted Grim Mill predecessor, The Sea To Which The Body Is Drawn.

The liner notes promise Wreaths’ ‘signature swells of fragile strings [which] drift and fluctuate throughout, laying down a thick atmosphere that draws the listener in. While there’s a swamp of sadness to be sinking in, there’s also a hopeful tone.’

The hope isn’t always immediately apparent, and it’s the bleakness of eternity stretching out with nothing to grasp hold of that dominates the album’s eight pieces, the majority of which extend beyond the six-minute mark, giving them room to fully immerse and envelop the listener. The compositions are rich in texture, and the long, slow, droning swells of sound – not notes, not chords, just dense, yet at the same time wispy and intangible, like layers of smoke or fog hanging in the air. The grand sonic vista of ‘The Throes of Them’ is defined by a slowly pulsating rhythmic chime, while ‘That’s How Buildings Burn Down’ grows deeper, darker, denser as it progresses, a rumbling lower-end drone sonorous and heavy beneath the creeping stealth of the top layer, a thin, stratospheric drone that twinkles and shimmers.

The theme of decay dominates the bleakly suffocating smog of ‘Words Come to Rot in the Throat’, the title conjuring the sensation of all the thoughts we fail to articulate as the rise and catch in our throats and remain unuttered, for fear, for shame, for cowardice. Where do those words go? Sometimes, we swallow them back down, but something remains lodged and decaying as those recollections return and manifest as angst and self-loathing. Here, the sounds quiver tremulously as they linger, lost, directionless in the darkness.

Originally self released as a digital album, this CD reissue of Golden Threads From Riven Rot includes the lengthy final ‘lost’ track, ‘A Cloak For Rotting In’. Where it’s been and for how long is unclear, but it’s a sixteen-minute expanse of cold sonic desert. Strings scrape and whine as they suffer in quiet solitude and a sepulchral chill descends. It’s a gloomy, dolorous affair, steeped in sadness.

After Golden Threads From Riven Rot has drifted into nothingness, it leaves you cold, shaken, somehow empty and adrift. The prospect of moving feels beyond attainment, and there is nothing you want to do or listen to afterwards, but sit and bask in the faded silence.

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Opa Loka Records – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Breath Mule is the third album for Dutch multi media artist Richard van Kruysdijk under the moniker Cut Worms, and after a gap of over three years, completes a trilogy along with Lumbar Fist (2016) and Cable Mounds (2017).

As the accompanying blurb outlines, ‘Cut Worms’ sound palette is firmly rooted in the lower frequencies’, detailing how ‘As the droney, cinematic tracks evolve, their slowly unravelling, gritty sounds evoke the audio equivalent of brutalist architecture: Concrete walls of sound that are as majestic as they are elementary, yet intrinsically detailed when examined with a magnifying glass.’

The majority of the tracks are long, and not a lot really happens, meaning that there is time given for each composition to breathe and explore the tones and textures in full detail. The low-booming opener, ‘Slug Sirup’ sounds like a ship’s horn sounding out over the miles through a dense and played back at half speed. First distant, it grows in volume, but little else happens for a very long time. And then, somehow, more than nine minutes has evaporated, and drifted into the slow-booming drone of ‘Come Lightly’. There isn’t much light about it: it’s dank and ominous.

There are crackling creaks enveloped in the dense, crawling fog of ‘Cinder Locks’. The sound is thick, heavy, immersive, and yes, it is ominous but at the same time, I find a certain comfort in such vast expanses of thunderous ambience. The more condensed the sound, the more it billows like smoke, the more impenetrable and more solid it becomes, the more it feels somehow like something that’s a source of a certain warmth and security. The same is true of the throbbing ‘Denmark Spiral’, but the thin, trilling wisps of Girly Totem’, while more overtly and quintessentially ‘ambient’ are somehow more difficult to settle in with – particularly in context.

The darkness really comes to the fore on the final track, the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘Slashed Hostage’. The title provides a fair indication of its weight, and it begins with a low, slow, oscillating throbbing hum, one of those drones that nags at the senses like a far-off helicopter that you scan the sky for but can’t see. Again, it’s a slow-builder: the sound expands, louder, denser, but no different, and this is where it really starts to get into your head and burrow into your skull. It’s along this journey that the slow-moving drone expands to a different level of immersion, and when the swell tapers down, hushed vocals echo menacingly, too low in the mix to decipher the actual words, a poem by the enigmatic Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), who wrote surrealist works in French. Because. That said, Scelsi is an interesting choice, as a composer who, according to his Wikipedia entry, ‘composed music based around only one pitch, altered in all manners through microtonal oscillations, harmonic allusions, and changes in timbre and dynamics, as paradigmatically exemplified in his Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (‘Four Pieces on a single note’, 1959)’.

On Breath Mule, Cut Worms offers more than a single note, but then again, there are no notes: only thick, swirling billows of sound and layers of drone on drone. It grips you, immerses you, hold you… and it’s not unpleasant, as long as you don’t struggle.

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26th December 2020 – Lake Label

Christopher Nosnibor

There was a time when the phrase ‘concept album’ was something of a joke, a term indicative of some self-absorbed, self-important muso cack, all too often of a prog rock persuasion, with connotations of the pompous and grandiose, not to mention the overlong and immensely indulgent. Times have changed, things have moved on, and it’s no longer deemed pretentious to talk about art, at least in many circles, when it comes to the making of music. Outside the mainstream, at least, the movement against intellectualism and the war against intelligence has slowed.

It stands to reason that there would be a concept behind a sprawling forty-three-minute exploration of moody murkiness that is the latest (burnt) offering from Todd Janeczek via his dark ambient vehicle, the evocatively-named Withering of Light. As Janeczek explains, “The concept behind this album became how each of the words that are the titles took me out of the mundane everyday and put my mind in somewhat of a different state… For instance, ‘Reliquary’ is a vessel that contains a sacred or holy relic of some kind. We as humans fetishize objects, moments, memories. Even your mind can become a reliquary harboring the sacred, profane and otherwise. Each of these words I found carried some kind of weight, a spectral resonance (hence that title) and the sounds here are the aural embodiment of these.”

The dark ambient medium has always operated within the realm of the evocative, and while the pieces are born out of the artist’s internal thought processes and reflections, most of how one responds to such works is dictated by one’s own mindset, headstate, and experience. The question is therefore less ‘what is this album saying?’ than ‘what does this album say to me?’

I’ve been stuck at home for a long time with only my immediate family – wife, nine-year-old child, demented housecat – and a lot of music for company. As such, I’m not particularly attenuated to the nuances of the meaning of the song titles, and am more situated to feel the physicality of the rumbles and tensions of the dark undercurrents that course through the six compositions what comprise Reliquary. For the most part, it ushers a sense of discomfort and a sepulchral gloom that corresponds with my innate desire to hibernate. The atmosphere is dark and heavy and it hangs, lingering in the thick air. And yet… what does it say? Your back bows, and you want to move away. You want peace. But just as this has no words, you have no words.

‘Hive’ sees the arrival of percussion in the form of slow crashing cymbals and as such stands out from the thick sonic fog of the rest of the album. Apart from this, nothing happens, there is no punctuation and no other shift that adds to the appeal or otherwise draws the listener in.

‘Reliquary’ offers little more than dank darkness and dripping, a condensation of gloom that clings to every surface in the mind. It offers little enticement beyond the opportunity to sit in darkness and stare at the wall. And sometimes, that’s the soundtrack we need and the wall is ok with me.

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Lo Bit Landscapes – 3rd December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

A New Kind of Weather was composed in New York City in the first months of the pandemic, against a backdrop of global panic, and with refrigerated trucks were parked at the hospital a few blocks away from the band’s residence while the city racked up in the region of 1,000 deaths in just a few weeks in March and April. Around the same time, the brother of Nihiti’s primary songwriter committed suicide. This is the bleak space in which the band found themselves – one which, to varying extents – we can all relate to.

Here, at the end of December after an interminable year, the spring of 2020 feels like another lifetime. If anyone thinks we’ve adjusted to some ‘new normal’, they’re simply thinking wishfully. Yes, we may have been ground down into trudging through the day-to-day, existing, but the separation and isolation, the ongoing restrictions and mask-wearing has a cumulative effect. Unlike the curve, our moods may have flattened out and we may well have all but erased the spasm that was late March and early April as lockdowns began to be enforced around the globe, and what had seemed like a distant issue in distant countries suddenly became the reality on our doorstep.

The title tracks sets the tone, but also represents an early album peak as a dark, blank monotone reminiscent of Michael Gira, croons against a woozy, eerie bassline – again reminiscent of Swans: ‘There are words on Christmas day, just living right in your eyes / Asking you if you will fall to the ambulance’s siren songs’. Painting a scene of tension and claustrophobia, it grows in darkness and density with rolling tom-based percussion and layered guitars. If a track ever captured the creeping paranoia that swept so much of the western world via the news media and social media in those first few months, this is it.

Slow-oscillating synths spin slow ambient mists at the start of the twelve-minute epic that is ‘Shudder into Silence’, robotix vocal snippets cutting through the cascading crystalline digital droplets that fall like dew. A heavy throb pulses low in the mix, but rises and falls again in an ever-evolving transition of sound layers. Turning, soft, smog-like, a slow-wailing siren rings out a lonely cry. The tension is palpable.

The more conventional post-rock instrumentation of ‘Into the Sands’, with it’s metronomic drums and chiming guitars marks a significant shift – if it’s gentle and vaguely shoegazey / psychedelic it’s spun through shades of Jesu, and a maudlin, almost sepulchral feel casts a long shadow over its gothic melancholy.

The percussion-free interpretation of Roy Orbison’s ‘I Drove All Night’ is different again, and perhaps the least comfortable fit on the album – if comfortable is a word that’s appropriate for describing any of the heavy atmosphere of A New Kind of Weather. Following on, ‘The Practice of Injury’ builds heavy swirls of ambience that washes and eddies in abject desolation.

Despite only containing five tracks, A New Kind of Weather clocks in at around forty-five minutes, and fill this space with a remarkably broad range of styles, while making every moment count in terms of maintaining the darkly oppressive atmosphere throughout.

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Panurus Productions – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Some of these experimentalists, they’re real buggers, you know. Awkward sods. Wilfully obtuse, intentionally unlistenable. Sindre Bjerga & Tanto sure as hell aren’t aiming for mass appeal on this absolute monster of a cassette release. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest their primary goal is mass-alienation, because this is pretty fucking horrible. And it never stops.

Sindre Bjerga & Tanto’s collaboration contains two pieces which fill a C90. It’s an experimental mash-up, a cut-up, fold-in audio experiment that if not inspired by William Burroughs’ 1960s tape experiments, lots inevitably can be traced in terms of lineage and influence, conscious or otherwise. And for all the levity of the title, it makes for some seriously hard listening.

Amidst crackling fizz and stretched tape discord, there’s a warped, off-key rendition of ‘Don’t Cry for me, Argentina’, that’s buried in an underwater bubbling, a blur of blender nose and a mess of detuned radios. Shrieking feedback emerges and lingers on after grating clanks, and serrated droned, pulsing washed of analogue noise and sharp static blasts that cut through bubbling torrents and crude farting noises and a collage of contrasts and contradictions.

It becomes more challenging as it progresses: ‘Crashing Sonic Pepper Waves’ delves deeper under water and begins to take on the feel of a long underwater swim – the sound of a frenzied splash after being toppled overboard from a liner or destroyer. Beepling wipples fracture and disrupt a narrative of long, dark tones that rumble and scrape and intonate a truly post-industrial, post-apocalyptic soundscape – bleak, desolate, rusted, decayed.

If the first forty-five minutes feel like an endurance test then the second – ‘Tabasco Mist Prescription’ feels even more intensely so. What do you actually do with this? A masochist can enjoy it to an extent, and anyone with an appreciation of Throbbing Gristle and any of the myriad acts of all strains of genre style influenced by TG likewise. TG represent the closest reference here, with the heart of industrial music being less about the stylized appropriation of factory noise and the like than an attitude based on perversion of what was even considered ‘music’ delivered with a confrontational, antagonistic attitude – and Sneezing Waves From The Peppered Oceans is antagonistic, and then some.

35 minutes into ‘Crashing Sonic Pepper Waves’ is shrill blasts of treble are being amped up against all kinds of found-sound dissonance and difficulty, and it only gets messier, more brain-pulping with the messy murk of ‘Crashing Sonic Pepper Waves’. It’s unsettling, uncomfortable, and those are the compliments. It’s not even particularly dark, it’s just a nasty conglomeration of disparate sounds, collaged together to render something that’s uncomfortable, and never-ending, and quite enough to induce heartburn.

It’s good, but don’t expect to like it.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 6th November 2020

Christopher Nosnbor

The latest release from Heat Death of the Sun, aka Eugene Davies, was recorded live in Newcastle at The Cluny – a venue that provided a space for many oddball / alternative / noisy gigs and hosting many of the artists on local labels Cruel Nature and Panurus Productions – in May 2019. Yes, back when live music was a thing. There’s a semi-ironic joke to be made that people were practising social distancing at shows like this long before it became a thing, and that there’s likely less chance of catching even the most contagious of viruses at an ultra-niche gig than in your local Aldi, but the sad fact is that while it’s tough for the everyone involved in the music industry, the impact of lockdown on the micro-communities which exist through underground music is immense in mental health terms.

It may not be a fresh observation for me to note the other irony here, namely that people who are disparate, disconnected, and often prone to anxiety and low mood come together over some of the darkest, most challenging music. Often, it’s because they find it articulates their feelings in ways they can’t, and music has a near-infinite capacity to transcend words.

Listening to Drinking Oil From The Black Fountain – a single, continuous piece spanning twenty-eight minutes and documenting HDoTS set – I find myself lamenting my inability to travel to Newcastle and the fact I wasn’t present at the show. The atmospherics are deep and dark and I imagine at the appropriate volume, in a darkened room, the experience must have been immersive and fully multisensory. The range of frequencies is extensive, and winds buffet long and low against tremolo notes that seesaw and drone, intermittently interrupted by swells and glitches. Despite the distance, it holds up well as a recorded audio work.

As the piece progresses, the ruptures become more pronounced, the thudding detonations of bass more resonant, and the whole sonic web begins to tangle itself more irrevocably, twisting and knotting, with the result that what began as a softly oscillating wash transmogrifies into an unsettling, uncomfortable source of tension, and there’s still fully ten minutes to go as I ding my muscles tensing, my jaw clenching, and my stomach beginning to lurch.

Twisted folksy drones shudder in and out of the increasingly warped array of sounds as they slowly melt together before collapsing in a liquefied state as storm clouds gather and thunder rumbles ominously and culminating in a slow, looped throb to fade.

It’s a powerful, hypnotic work that evolves nicely over its course, with just enough angles and disjointed corners to render it challenging without being a total headfuck.

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27th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds proves once again to be the spawning ground for some interesting experimental music, and this four-tacker from Material Loss is a work of dark, dark ambient, a genre I’ve become increasingly drawn to over time by virtue of its lack of prescription: what I draw from it is as much about my own projections, my own internal state and contemplations as the music itself, although it in turn has the capacity to reflect back at me those internalisations. And what Material Loss convey corresponds with the name – a sense of emptiness, a sensation of being aimless and bereft. Admittedly, these moods do hit from time to time and I know his isn’t something by any means unique to me, but when they descend they do so rapidly, like a storm blowing in from the horizon on a strong wind, building from out of the blue and forcing a sudden pressure drop.

And what is material? Something palpable, tangible. And yes, these four tracks, for all of their vague, effusiveness, they succeed in conveying something more concrete, somehow. It’s all about the atmosphere, which has been carefully constructed and arranged for optimal effect, and while it’s short, it reached seep into the psyche, and into the body, prodding the gut, the bowels, the lungs, and, above all, stealthily creeping around the deeper recesses of the brain.

Such dank murkiness shouldn’t be associated by any means directly with a depressive state, though: the lack of overt form or structure can be quite therapeutic, offering a form of escapism as one allows oneself to drift through the sonic clouds, The first piece, ‘Set’ rumbles and growls, and within those sonic clouds, there’s a storm brewing. It’s a distant rumbling, a dissonance, an almost unquantifiable and most unspecific unease more than anything else.

Following on, ‘UA’ manifests as a barely-audible droning hum for the most part but it’s occasionally rent with tearing shards of nose or rising tides of amorphous sound. The fact that each composition is brief means that none becomes overwhelming, r challenging to the point of traumatic, although in the infinite subtlety, the menace is always present.

‘SD-CLA’ may be brief, but it’s dark and doomy, a single beat repetitively hammered out at a funereal pace amidst fizzing electrics and splinters of breaking glass. Closer ‘Alm’ – the calm without the c – brings a sense of tranquillity, a lifting of the mood and something approximating a sense of lightness and of relief, and a sense that maybe things aren’t so bleak after all.

They are, of course: the reality of living in the now is beyond dismal, but at least, for a couple of minutes, we can perhaps forget and pretend otherwise.

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Karlrecords – KR077 – 24th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

For those unfamiliar (and that may well be many), die ANGEL is the collaborative project of Ilpo Väisänen (ex Pan Sonic) and Dirk Dresselhaus, which began in 1999 on a joint tour with Pan Sonic and Dresselhaus’ Schneider TM, with an objective to ‘use electronics, string instruments and effect loops to develop a sonic world that goes beyond fixed structures and clearly defined genres’. 30 years and 10 albums on, they’re still pushing those boundaries, and on this outing, the duo are joined by Oren Ambarchi.

It’s interesting to note that the material was recorded between December 2015 and January 2016, with Ambarchi adding overdubs in the spring of 2016, and the album being edited and mixed in the May of the same year, meaning it’s languished for the best part of four years., although it’s unclear as to why.

The album, available only on digital formats, comprises four longform tracks that would commonly correspond to a double 12” format

The album starts with ‘Epikurous’, which begins with a long, quavering drones that oscillates menacingly and ambulates directionless, a dark ambient cloud that drifts into the minimal throb of ‘Cargo Cult’. This piece is loosely formed around a rhythmic pulsation, a long, sonorous drone, interspersed with occasional interjections of ranging textures and frequencies. Sharp clustering bleeps and squiggling electronic fizz disrupt the smooth flow as echoic explosions and fractured rattles skitter and scuttle and scrape in and out of the frame.

‘Coup d’État’ is a bubbling foment that foams and froths unsettlingly, like a rumbling gut: it’s queasy, uncomfortable, a difficult, awkward churning that nags and grumbles, and filters into the dank miasma of the fourth and final piece, the ten-minute ‘Khormanoupka’. This is the deepest and darkest of the set, and rumbles almost subliminally, creating a deep, subterranean atmosphere, and as it crackles to a close, the listener is left empty and alone.

There is nowhere to go after this. The world didn’t end but what are you left with? An uncomfortable silence after half an hour of uncomfortable noise, noise that’s dissonant, difficult, and murky. And it works well.

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Panurus Productions – 31st March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s always a pleasure to receive a new release from Panurus Productions, although that perhaps says as much about my perverse tastes as anything, since this cassette-only microlabel specialises in weird, obscure, dark and resolutely underground music. And this one’s a double cassette. So perhaps my pleasure is in torturing the self-loathing facet of my psyche, or perhaps it’s just that I’m wired to appreciate the way sound – and not necessarily songs, and not necessarily conventional melodies and structures – can convey meaning and be imbed with a subconscious resonance that taps into emotions by an alternative means. That’s the kind of pleasure I get from receiving a new release from Panurus: a pleasure that sets a certain churn in the pit of the stomach in anticipation of the dark delights it will offer up.

It’s also something of a pleasure to read the accompanying press releases, which are more or less reviews in themselves, brimming with descriptions not only of the sound, but the sensation. Here, we’re promised a work on which ‘pneumatic pulses crunch over electronic drones, as bestial grunts and gurgles wallow in the synthetic murk. Wordless siren calls weave through the textures, shifting between forlorn and beckoning. The vocal sounds of Möbius and electronics 1727 at times distinct and at others indistinguishable, giving us a sonic insight into something we are not meant to see. This is the soundtrack to grainy footage of cult activity – to newspaper clippings of strange happenings and missing persons.’ I feel as if my work is done, even though it’s only just beginning. It’s a challenge: where do you go from there?

Down, is the answer on this occasion. Down. And further down. Burning the Black Candles is a journey deep underground, and begins with a rapid descent into darkness, and a cold, paranoid space. You can no longer trust your senses: the very air will prod you and whisper painful truths and lies as you flinch and question your mind.

The title track leads the listener deep underground to a dark, dank place. Subterranean earthworks grind, slow-moving, tectonic resonance shuddering. Haunting, disembodied voices echo through distant caverns, echoes of lost souls enacting obscure rituals. It drones, groans, moans and grumbles on for a full twenty-three minutes.

‘A Censer Hanging from Chains’ continues in the same vein: so much so that the tracks bleed not one another in a seeping morass of swirling murk. Dank air gusts thick and heavy through shafts and tunnels, a purgatorial labyrinth.

It’s a low, slow, bowel-churning rumble of a drone that forges the fabric of ‘Smoke Slowly Filling the Chamber’: the title is evocative and the sound dense and suffocating. There’s a noise, far away, echoes of shouting, possibly torture, but it soon vanishes, and all that’s left is the buzzing low-frequency flutter. It’s an oppressive, chest-tightening experience, and by the end of its twenty-minutes, it’s slowed to a shuddering crackle, like a failing heartbeat. Then stops.

The final piece, ‘GinruB’, which isn’t quite ‘burning’ backwards is so barely there ambient it’s practically subliminal. And yet it radiates a dark presence that over the course of twenty-five minutes burrows deeper down, and into the listener’s psyche to unsettling effect. It rumbles, it crackles. It burns. Monastic voices and mournful drones rise and reverberate a way off, but the ceremony feels like a lament, a funeral ode, as the end draws closer. And closer. And then… nothing.

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