Reviews: ambient

(ambient / soundscapes / ritual / drones)

Fear Falls Burning – I’m one of those monsters numb with grace

James Brown had the nick-name ‘the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business’. Dirk Serries from Belgium must be one of the hardest working men of the ambient music scene. From the mid 80’s on he filled dozens of albums with atmospheric music under the name of Vidna Obmana. In 2005 he started a new project, Fear Falls Burning, and the number of releases already cannot be counted one one hand.

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Fjernlys – Ascending Triads & Luminous Arcs

Fjernlys is a new project of Knut Enderlein, known for his work with Ex.Order and Inade. The first release as Fjernlys is directly a double cd, of which the second disc contains remixes by Bad Sector, First Law and others. You could say that Ascending Triads & Luminous Arcs is a typical Loki Foundation release: an otherworldy atmosphere, subtle ambient electronica, ritual rhythms…

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Letum – Broken

Broken is the second album by Letum. As before you are served dark ambient sounds with a very spatial feeling. Orchestral beauty and gloomy moods are passing over like clouds and spilled out over you as waves.

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1997EV – Dead.Ends.Sinful

Punch records keeps surprising lately with a variety of nice sounds. Now they come up with this amazing space age record by 1997EV. The listener is being served a brew of apocalyptic psychedelic drones and hymns.

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Drone Records special II

Drone Records from Germany has sent its latest offspring into the world. Five new releases, as always limited 7? singles in special packaging by experimental drone/ambient artists. Again the label has discovered some interesting new acts, including various musicians from countries east of Germany.

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Inade – Samadhi State

This cd contains unreleased material recorded in 2000-2002, but remixed recently. Originally this release was meant to accompany an Inade concert in Tokyo, but is now available outside of Japan as well. The album contains eight tracks, amongst which four parts of ‘Samadhi State’, ranging between 4 and 13 minutes. Inside the digipack is a text describing Samadhi, ‘a supra-conscious state of being that lies beyond waking, dreaming and deep sleep’.

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[haven] – Naos

“Naos” is a brand new child of Asphodel – the mastermind of the project [haven]. It’s the second production of the artist (after “The Last Breath of the Lonely Buildings”) and it definitely takes a more oriental turn in comparison to its predecessor. Though a categorization here is a hard act to follow, the most accurate would be to say that the CD merges the elements of electronics with those of magical psychedelia and industrial.

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Phelios – Images and spheres

Phelios is a new name in the dark ambient scene. On his debut Images and Spheres, Martin Stürtzer from Germany constructed seven deep and dark soundscapes. The photos of obscure stone structures on the cover already bring you in the right state of mind.

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Horologium – The fire sermon

Horologium is the project of Grzegorz Siedlecki from Poland. Lately he has been quite productive with various releases and collaborations on small labels, but The Fire Sermon can perhaps be considered as his ‘official’ debut. The music of Horologium can be described as ritualistic ambiance, with classical and industrial elements.

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V/A – Cryosphere

Cryosphere, the first release of Glacial Movements, is a “musical journey that transports the listener into glacial and unexplored lands where icebergs collide and where everything is frozen”. Nine artists were inspired by the glacial theme to produce fitting soundscapes, and they are not the least names in the ambient/drone scene: Troum, Oophoi, Northaunt and Tho-So-Aa are just some of the acts present.

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Othila – Continents

Othila from France left a good impression on me with their previous releases on Divine Comedy Records. Three years after their 10? Yula, they’re back with a new album. Continents comes in an elegant thin digipack, with lovely photos of mysterious nature, as before an important theme in their ritual ambient music.

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Fir§t Law – Chaos Structure

First Law is the project of Andreas Wahnmann, a dark ambient producer from Germany. Well, if you compare him to other Loki acts like Inade and Herbst9, then Fir§t Law definitely sounds less ‘ambient’. His mainly electronic music is too melodic and dynamic for that. Influences from krautrock, psychedelica and symphonic music also seem to play a part. “Chaos Structure” is already the fifth Fir§t Law cd on Loki Foundation, after the project started back in 1998 with a mini cd on Stateart.

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Zoät-Aon – Star Autopsy

It’s hard not to like Aural Hypnox – the Finnish label that specializes in dark/ritual ambient. They seem to be doing everything right, especially with their quality over quantity ethos. Zoät-Aon’s ‘Stark Autopsy’ gives us another reason to like the label.

From the first track (“Totem Owl”) onward this album throws the listener into some strange dimension. Anyone who has tried to make music knows that this is not always such an easy accomplishment, but Jaakko Vanhala seems to have it down. On ‘Star Autopsy’ he makes use of electric, acoustic, and field sources, melding these diverse sounds into a cosmic whole.

There is a relation between the tracks, but not monotony. I tend to think that finding the right balance here marks the great ambient artists from the mediocre. The album is mixed to perfection for this style, combing both complexity and subtlety, with mood changes that are smooth and effortless. Excellent!

Encomiast – Havens

I really like this album. Encomiast’s ‘Havens’ comes from the Crucial Bliss division of Crucial Blast Records, a label dedicated to mostly indie, underground, and noiserock from what I’ve seen so far. The Crucial Bliss series is dedicated to short-run and limited releases from experimental acts, and ‘Havens’ fits right in here with its unique packaging and provocative content/material.

There are only three tracks on this one, but they are all extended play, and each is its own journey. I was really impressed right away with “Lunaire”, which starts out with a brilliant Arnold Schoenberg excerpt performed by Megan Garland and Joe Skinner, the duo behind Encomiast. Things get even more abstract from here for the rest of the trip with “Sanctuary” and “Jasli”.

Each song floats further into deep moods and light atmospheres, with compelling sounds that never seem to stop moving, keeping a real pleasant consonance, very listenable. There is definitely an art to making good ambient music, and Ecomiast has found it.

Moljebka Pvlse – dvnkl

Moljebka Pvlse from Sweden has never disappointed me with its experimental, organic soundscapes. This time the project run by Mathias Josefson releases an album in a wonderful packaging on a rather unknown label, Fifth Week Records.

As I said before, the packaging looks nice: ‘Dunkl’ comes in an A5- format sleeve with artwork consisting of dark branches, that almost look like barbed wire. The cd contains three tracks, of which the middle one takes up more than 50 minutes. For this release Josefson is joined by Karin Jacobsen of a band called Les Issambres, who takes care of ‘instruments and voices’.

The first track ‘Rvin’ is a gentle floating ambient piece which sounds quite harmonic. The title track has a more experimental musique concrete-like approach, with a soft background drone, heavy manipulated field samples and crackling sounds. The track starts rather minimal, but gets louder and more densily layered after a while. Quite noteworthy are the prominent role for looped voices, not in a conventional singing style, but in a twisted whispered manner, as well as spoken word samples. It gives the music a very spooky character, evoking images of nervous walks through dark forests. Quite an intense affair and as the song evolves it only gets darker and noisier, with new sound ingredients from obscure sources coming and going. It seems to head for complete cacaphony, but it slowly comes to a more controlled ending. In comparison the more restrained final soundscape ‘Sprl’ seems to be almost melodic and moving.

‘Dunkl’ is not one of the more accessible creations I’ve heard of Moljebka Pvlse, but it is certainly a well-crafted album, which forces you to listen with a lot of concentration.

Artefactum – Chaos elements

Untill some months ago I’d never heard of Artefactum from Poland. But recent split cdr’s on Beast of Prey (with Moan and Desiderii Marginis) and Old Europa Cafe (with Horologium) and their debut album “Chaos Elements” on the respected French label Athanor have put this ambient project around Merissa d’Erlette in the spotlights.

As often with Athanor releases, this album (which was already created in 2003) is not only interesting in its musical elements, there’s also a clear conceptual aspect. Chaos Elements has nice alchemical artwork and is dedicated to the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. Perhaps a concept that has been used before, but the always surprising elements never cease to stimulate our imagination.

The album contains six long tracks. There’s an introduction and a conclusion, and a track devoted to each element. In general the music can be described as ritual ambient, with deep drones, moody keyboard layers, organic sounds and repetive loops. The elements are used literally sometimes, like the watery sounds in ‘Aqua’.

The soundscapes of “Chaos Elements” are well-constructed and convey the right atmosphere. They’re relatively accessible and melodic, and contain enough variation, from the dark and mysterious ‘Terra’ to the floating and hypnotic ‘Aer’ or the dramatic classical sounds of ‘Ignis’. The female spoken vocals by Merissa give the opener ‘Aurora over Labyrinth’ and ending ‘Hermetic triumph’ an original, haunting touch. Artefactum proves certainly to be a project to follow.

Raison d`être – Metamorphyses

After a few recent releases with old material Raison D’être is finally back with a new album. Metamorphyses is filled with six newly composed pieces. Of course in a way this seventh full lenght album is more of the same. Still Raison D’être is able to surprise the listener.

Metamorphyses is built around six untitled tracks. The music is more drone-like as before with unpleasant sounding scraping and rattling sounds in the background and some haunting sounds on top of that.

This new work by Raison D’être seems to be insprired by the brilliant releases of Atrium Carceri. The mood and the sounds show a lot of comparisons. Despite the fact that Metamorphyses is more of the same if you are familiar with Raison D’être, this is a good album, as it is done in a very convincing way.

Archon Satani – Mind of Flesh and Bones

The story of Archon Satani may be known by now. In the early 90’s this dark ritual project lead by Tomas Pettersson and Mikael Stravöstrand from Sweden created various intense releases. After 1993 the duo separated. Pettersson concentrated on Ordo Equibrio, Stravöstrand made some more Archon Satani on his own and released as Inanna. In 2002 Cold Meat already released the double cd Of Gospels Lost and Forsaken, which compiled various LP and tape tracks. Now Cold Spring reissues the remastered cd Mind of Flesh and Bones, originally released in 1993 on Staalplaat.

The booklet does no make you much wiser. The album contains five untitled tracks, and there are no liner notes or other information. The music of Archon Satani does not take long to get me in it suffocating spell, with minimal and hypnotic sound structures. Deep drones, monotonous percussion with ritual hammering on metal, eerie sounds & evil voices, you get the picture. Most impressive part of the album for me is perhaps Part 4, with a dark dungeon atmosphere and very loud percussive blows.

Though much similar industrial ambient music has been created in the decade, Mind of Flesh and Bones stands out as one of the more convincing creations in the genre. It’s truly dark and haunting, without becoming kitsch or cliche.

Foundation Hope – A call to all redeemers

Foundation Hope left a good impression on self-released cd-r’s with atmospheric soundscapes. Divine Comedy Records gave this Dutch one-man project the chance to release his first ‘official’ cd. The music is described by the label as ‘sad and bleak soundscapes for a depraved religious institute, pretending to give comfort and light…’

“A call to all redeemers” contains 8 tracks in just over 50 minutes. The artwork photos of the nice looking digipack show heavily wrecked rooms. The quotes in the booklet of Houellebecq and director Roberto Rosselini also ask for attention for the uglier aspects of life and society, to which this album will hopefully bring some redemption. It comes as no surprise that Foundation Hope treats us to a darker type of ambient.

The first piece ‘Gelatenheid’ stands out as an epic composition with various phases. To the obscure ambient ground structure of the first half, speech samples in Dutch and choral snippets are added amongst others. It makes me think of some Ildfrost material. Towards the end more percussive elements and ethereal synth lines enter the sonic picture. ‘Seul contre tous’ has rhythmic outbursts, metal sounds, synth lines and more speech samples, but also a dragging guitar melody, which evokes some post-rock productions.

The other tracks continue in this varied vein. Part of the material on this album sounds like the religious catheral-like feeling evoked by some of Raison D’être’s work, while other pieces have a more suffocating industrial ambient style. At times “A call to all redeemers” sounds very dark and dense, but there are also lighter, semi-classical or atmospheric electronic elements with moving abilities.

The music on this well-produced album consists of many different elements which often surprise you, which is best perceived when listening with headphones. At times I experience the soundscapes as a bit too restless, but in general I find the atmosphere and sounds on this album very enjoyable. I won’t be surprised if we hear more of Foundation Hope in the near future.

His Divine Grace – Le Grand Secret

This new His Divine Grace album is all about the “Dots and Bars” conspiracy. The discovery of this conspiracy, by Sekens Murdock, led to the death of Leontin Voigt Abilgaard. Leontin is also known as the mastermind behind the obscure act Taciturne. The strange circumstances around the death of both Leontin and Sekens are the theme of this absolute great dark ambient record.

His Divine Grace sounds darker as on Die Schlängenkönigin and the split with Novy Svet. The sound has grown and is more majestic as before. Only the way the record opens is already impressive. It reminds me of the earlier work of Raison D’être and maybe even of some more tranquil pieces by The Protagonist.

Thus prepare yourself for some industrial sounds. But don’t worry; the beautiful tranquil and magical elements are also still there. These are perfectly mixed with the harsher sounds. As both within the tracks as on the record as a whole the blending of louder industrial elements and soothing sounds is done with precision.

Le Grand Secret is an impressive record. I can recommend it to any (dark) ambient fan. The compositions are of the highest quality and done with eye for details.
And… if you want to know more about the “Dots and Bars” conspiracy, search for Samantha Nuller on the internet. She discovered Leontin after his presumed suicide…