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Posts Tagged ‘dark ambient’

It’s always exciting when a new netlabel launches. Petroglyph Music is a fresh Norwegian label which intends to focus on ambient and experimental music and their subgenres. The label currently has two releases under its belt, having been launched just over two weeks ago. Some of Rune Martinsen’s earlier work can be found under the name Abhorrent Beauty; Øystein Jørgensen has also recorded fairly prolifically under the Ambient Fabric name.

To say that the minimalist cover of “Mysterium Cosmographicum” gives nothing away would not be totally correct. Indeed, it’s perfectly fitting in the case of such a satisfyingly dark ambient album as this, where the music is built upon a deep sense of isolationism and unease. Some of the track names refer to astronomical matters, and where this is relevant I’ve added links to Wikipedia for further information.

The title track immediately draws us into a desolate and uncomfortable space, dark textures stretched out, first to one corner and then all around. “SN 1604“, the longest take here at 9:04, is cold and unforgiving, its deep thuds in complete contrast to the waves it beams across the cosmos. “Ion” is very mysterious, phasing and swirling under ripples and sizzles which shoot off into the ether, like objects untethered by gravity.

Somnium” takes us to the album’s midpoint. It’s ominous and foreboding, with black drones under high-pitched, desperate skittering tones. This is almost musique concrète, and the effect is both baffling and dizzying. Perhaps the most conventional cut, “Spacewaves”, begins with drone and pulsating keys; high static shapes rise over an aural field of rotation.

My favourite track here is “Kuiper Belt“, with its breathy space pads unfurling over coiling bass stabs, effects, and an occasional bell-like clang; it feels barely under control, and bristling with malevolence. “Steel Rain” opens slowly with dark pads and plucked piano strings, rumbling and dramatic under metallic tones. Finally, “No Return” kicks off with question and answer synth notes, leaving a dark final trail on an exhilarating 43 minutes.

It’s a cracker of a début release for any label, taking the listener somewhere novel and uncharted. I’m already looking forward to listening to the label’s second release, SiJ‘s “Fragments of Memories“.

Label: Petroglyph Music   Cat: Petroglyph 01   Artist: Rune Martinsen & Øystein Jørgensen   Price: Free

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The newest release on the Ethereal Live netlabel, “Inner Place” is a project by an artist “IX” from Tehran, Iran. This seems to be his second album under this name. The first appears to be “Substratum” on the Russian Subwise netlabel. According to “Substratum”‘s page on Discogs, the first album was released in July 2011. The Russian Otium netlabel lists a number of other projects under different names: Alphaxone, Spuntic, Monolith Cycle and Altitude-X.

The album’s tracks are all named “Transition”, and numbered from “Transition I” to “Transition VIII”. I’ll shorten the titles to just their numbers here for the sake of brevity. “I” is a sweet opener, all wide open chords with slow, pensive changes between non-minor keys. It’s very peaceful and gentle. “II” is a mysterious wash of barely-present ambience, until delayed bells and a gentle hit appear and echo lazily around the periphery. NASA-style speech floats in and away again. “III” is a little bit darker; not dark ambient as such, but with more gravity and edge than the first two cuts. Lapping water opens “IV”, giving way to deep gurgles and tiny, uncertain sounds bobbing along on the surface.

“V” is metallic and droney, placed in a fog of uncertainty and hesitance. An organic synth makes occasional statements in reply to questioning pads. “VI” in contrast is dense, circling like a gigantic black hole or whirlpool, its long ambient tentacles grabbing anything that veers too close to the edges. “VII” is very much dark ambient, unsettling and uncomfortable; a machine-like hum hovers over dark chords, then leaves us as the chords draw out, feeling their way around in darkness like tendrils. The final track, “VIII”, draws the album to a close in an echo-laden environment with almost palpable, shimmering heat. Minor pads drag out, to be replaced by major, under an ever-present oppressive weight.

There’s an odd warm hiss in parts of the album, particularly so on the first track, which makes it sound slightly dated, and hence it’s difficult to tell exactly when the album was recorded. This may have been added deliberately, or it’s perhaps simply an unintended artefact. Whichever is the case it’s by no means an unpleasant sound. Altogether, a fascinating listen.

Label: Ethereal Live   Cat: EL023   Artist: Inner Place   Price: Free

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Matthew Barlow is a guitarist and ambient synthesis sound artist living in Asheville, North Carolina. He also hosts a radio show called “Notes From the Underground” on Asheville FM. At the time of writing, he has five releases listed on Bandcamp.

“Fields” has two tracks, and is just shy of half an hour long. Both are named after letters of the Greek alphabet. On his Bandcamp page, the artist describes the music as being “created & inspired largely from processing two 15 min sessions of electric guitar recorded to tape”. The album is available to buy as a limited edition cassette (only 5 remaining), and can be streamed and downloaded freely.

The first track, “ψ” (Psi), fades in with a gorgeous ambient wash, gentle guitar textures glimmering off to one side, and opens out into a lovely haze of sustained chords. Glittering guitar work is laid over the top, and the chords move from major to minor, and from simple to complex, under soft high delayed notes; the chords slowly shape themselves into dark ambient drones. Delicate guitar work shifts across the high end, creating an immense wall of sound. The drones drop out, leaving us in a bright, ethereal space. It’s breathtaking.

Track two, “ϕ” (Phi), starts with a deep drone and ominous cavernous sounds, before a slow seven-note pattern appears and begins to repeat. There’s a much darker atmosphere here than on “ψ”. Just after five minutes in, a pulsing rhythm starts, and it echoes and bounces around the soundfield. Deep dark drones draw out, pinning the music down with their sheer mass. It’s dark, yes, but almost like being wrapped in a cocoon; it’s not uncomfortable listening at all. The music fades with a whine, and is suddenly gone.

We’re left with one question: what have we to make of the track titles? “Sci-fi”, perhaps? A Ramachandran plot? Only the artist knows for certain. Whatever their meaning, this release is highly recommended.

Label: Bandcamp   Cat:     Artist: Matthew Barlow   Price: $5 / free

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I’d like to start this review on a personal note. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has been my charity of choice for the past seven years. Every year, we sponsor a dolphin called Rainbow who lives in Scottish waters, and it’s lovely to be kept in touch with her progress. So I was delighted to see this album on Sound for Good’s page at Bandcamp, where you name your price for buying their releases and 100% of what you pay goes to a nominated charity, in this case the WDCS. The label is an excellent initiative from the artist Jack Hertz, who has already helped to support Trees for the Future with the label’s two earlier releases.

The opening track, “Spiral”, starts with an ominous rumble, static, and then an immense drone with iridescent bursts of almost rhythmic organic sound textures. It’s very complex and dense, glimmering like a strange multi-faceted crystal, and it strikes an odd balance between dark ambient and experimental music. The latter half is terrifying, yet utterly compelling listening. Next up, “Flow” begins with a cavernous descent into a soundscape of alien forms chattering and crackling. Dense pads hover and swirl around an axis which is almost impossible to locate. The track lightens somewhat around halfway through, where the music becomes briefly more conventional, albeit overlaid with intricate patterns of what sounds like alien speech. A rhythm evolves briefly before a series of organic shrieks, pummels and crackles draw us to a blistering close.

“Lens”, the album’s longest cut, pulls the listener in with heavily-effected soaring synths off to left and right and a repetitive pattern of ring-modulated tones at the high end. A metallic riff builds above deep lengthy organic swoops and pulsating drones. Everything begins to slide off-kilter around the six-and-a-half minute mark, where glistening complex sequences of notes hang above something more foreboding. Rapidly pulsing notes pan left and right and are joined by a fascinating, almost conversational series of sounds. Metal groans onto metal under a buzzing, driving pattern which zips across the listener’s ears. Mangled chords appear towards the end in a distant bow to conventionality. The experience is absolutely spellbinding.

The penultimate track “Absence of Matter Pt. 1” is something of a slow burner, in direct contrast to its predecessor. An industrial buzz and rotating drone form a core on which organic and metallic sounds tussle for position. The track tilts and shifts, disorienting the listener before suddenly giving way to a synthetic rhythm which drops in, then out, and is replaced by another. Huge glistening leads crawl across the music, in a vain attempt to settle. Its partner, “Absence of Matter Pt. 2”, closes the album with cold, fragile jitters above mid-range, breathy pads which are then swallowed by fractured burbles and a colossal, whirling centre. A glitchy pattern kicks off around half way through, panning rapidly around left, centre and right. The pattern gives way to a bass which copies the rhythm. Vocoded speech patterns then take over this same pattern, and the music is propelled along at a fair pace, until all we’ve experienced disintegrates into complete uncertainty at the eight-minute mark. The album ends as its title suggests: everything solid has left us.

Label: Sound for Good   Cat:    Artist: William Spivey & Aos Crowley   Price: NYP

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This double-CD equivalent from Jarguna is fresh from the Earth Mantra netlabel. With seven previous releases listed in the Italian artist’s discography, this is his debut release for EM.

“Waiting for a Call From the Unknown Part 1” is the longest cut on the album, running at just over 36 minutes. Long slow drones set the pace for the first four and a half minutes, before being joined by a single note repeating pensively over the drones as they begin to circulate restlessly. Dark synths begin to weave in and out, and mysterious burbles float around the soundspace. There’s a sense of slow, tentative movement as a quiet rhythm starts around the nine minute mark.  Twenty-two minutes or so in, it seems as if contact might be made, but there’s no certainty.

The second track, “Dark Side of Calliope” is the shortest of four, but still weighs in at nearly sixteen minutes. It’s discordant, and dark as the title suggests. Great swells of synth washes veer off to left and right; there’s little in the way of comfort here. Long metallic drones clash with one another in a struggle of titanic proportions. Around half way though, chords begin to form, and the mood lightens, though only a little, as the sound changes from conflict to a feeling of wonder. As we float towards the end, it really feels as if we’re suspended in the vast coldness of space.

“Commutator” starts out on something of a lighter note. There are some major chords here, overlaid with percussive metallic sounds and long bass rumbles. But there’s something very otherworldly about the music; something not human. It’s almost as if we’re inside a giant machine, witnessing activity taking place that’s too difficult to comprehend. A rhythm begins around a third of the way in, and starts to shape the music into something we might be able to understand. The beat grows thicker and denser, propelling the track forward with malevolent intent. Snatches of alien speech appear, vying for our attention against a scattershot, almost Berlin School synth sequence.

The closer, “Waiting for a Call From the Unknown Part 2”, is the second longest track on the album, at just shy of 32 minutes. An eerie drone throbs underneath a minor chord and they begin to fold and unfold, like a double helix. Around the sixth minute, the drone and chord fall away leaving us with breaths and organic noises. The buzzing of unfamiliar machinery pans rapidly left and right, disorienting the listener before suspending us in darkness. Seventeen minutes in, and it feels as if the awaited connection has finally been made. Communication takes place; there’s an exchange of knowledge and information as two species, light years apart, share their experiences. The album closes with a bright, positive view towards the future.

Jarguna explains in the notes that the album is “a distillation of my musings when I focus my thought on empty spaces, the Universe, and its mysteries”. For me, it strikes a fabulous balance between space music and ambient, though leaning heavily towards the former.

Label: Earth Mantra   Cat: earman194   Artist: Jarguna   Price: Free

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Fresh from Webbed Hand Records is a new EP from the mysterious Van Aken Project. I can’t find anything by way of background information about the artist, who describes the release as “a deep and dark journey in the dreadful corners of the soul”. Upfront, there’s an expectation that the listener may be in for something bleak.

“Crawling Rapture” kicks off with a clambering bassline which pulls the listener into a slow, loping trip hop rhythm, fuelled by spooky organ stabs, and with scattered snatches of what sounds like a police radio scanner. It’s very short, but it’s an excellent opener. Dark, but not in a dark ambient sense.

“Kira”, the centrepiece of the album at over fifteen minutes long, starts with a distant, pummelling beat and ethereal voices, and quickly takes us into a series of single piano notes, before moving into a beatless void of dark ambience. A ticking sound, like a warped clock, moves in and across the soundfield. A slow, almost funereal organ plays a sequence of notes while the ambience shivers around us. A mid-range metallic thud begins underneath a repetitive wind instrument. Clarinet, perhaps? A dark pad brings in a descending motif, and an angelic choir fades in and overlays the top of the music as the pad makes way for gentle piano. Discordant strings push the piano aside, before it returns with more urgency. The track fades out with ghostly, distressed voices. It’s quite a journey.

Mid-way through the album in terms of tracks, “Room22” has a much more industrial feel, with a clanking machine-like beat. Odd snatches of spoken word and singing appear; a different room in the same building. The penultimate cut, “Outside”, is set in a big, dubby space, with harp and far away birdsong. A minor series of synth chords pulls us forward relentlessly. Strings and trumpet move in as the dub beat leaves. It feels as though we’ve been placed right inside a story where we don’t understand the rules. Lovely stuff.

The EP finishes with the oppressive “Entombed Colony”. A relentless buzz of alien insects draws the listener into a dark, factory-like hive. A solid, complex rhythm propels the music forward; the rhythm gives way to quiet, delayed synth stabs, which float the track towards the final closing of the hive-tomb’s heavy entrance.

Label: Webbed Hand   Cat: WH230   Artist: Van Aken Project   Price: Free

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The netlabel We Are All Ghosts, based in Motherwell, Scotland, launched in April 2012. They’ve released two albums to date; this was their first.

Cousin Silas’s “The Path Between the Trees” opens with “In One Corner of the Sky (Jupiter Sings)”, which has some lovely stereo cracks and glitches overlaid on peaceful piano, and immediately gives feelings of innocence and fresh, icy air. “Of Ancient Ways” has electric guitar and piano, set in a wide space, occasionally overlaid with children’s voices; again, some nice stereo delay washes across the soundfield. The two opening tracks are both soundscapes rather than ambient music. “Beneath the Foundations” definitely is the latter, though, and it’s dark, too; dense, and probably best not listened to alone in the dark. Prepare to be startled a couple of times during this one.

The title track leads us on something of an ambient journey, and evokes its name well. “Rediscovered” is the first music on the album that has a percussive rhythm, and it carries a lopsided, almost cinematic feel to it, with clear guitar over a muffled piano. “Strange Qualities” spans across the album’s half-way point, and is eerie, claustrophobic, and once again very dark, with snatches of grim, almost demonic processed speech. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling, which is just how it should be. In contrast, “Lost Images” starts with a clear, almost hymn-like piano, overlaid with relaxed electric guitar notes which seem to offer answers to the questions posed by the piano. It’s very easy on the ear, and very restful.

On “The Sealing of the Pothole”, we’re drawn back into territory similar to “Beneath the Foundations”. Deep bass rumbles of dark ambience drag the listener down with their gravity, while alien chatter heightens the experience of being dissociated from our everyday surroundings. The second of two rhythmic tracks, “Diversions”, is a moody, bluesy and almost conventional diversion. Finally, we close with “Lowland”, where comfortable electric guitar merges with some Fripp-ish overlay and little backwards sounds. Fascinating. It’s a very pretty end to an interesting mesh of light and darkness. I look forward to hearing what else the label has in store for us.

Label: We Are All Ghosts   Cat: WAAG_REL001   Artist: Cousin Silas   Price: Free

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