Wilt – Nocturnal Requiem (CD-R, No Part of It)

dark ambient, Noise, Review

Wilt is the project of Dan Hall and James Keeler, also members of Astronomy and Hedorah. This noise duo focuses on the dark ambient and drone side of the genre, and Nocturnal Requiem is six tracks of somnambulant tones that cater more towards the sinister side of drone and dark ambient.

The first track is “Wandering Echo,” and much like its title suggests, this is a very meandering track full of sustained drones and repeating patterns. However, those intersecting elements also create what I would consider a boiler room cacophony – there’s the clanging of pipes to add a percussive element to the ideas, and that keeps the listener intrigued.

That’s the key to good dark ambient, too – that the tracks ensure the listener gets caught up in the soundscape rather than tuning out of it because of its repetition. Wilt captures that on Nocturnal Requiem. “Even the Most Ancient Things Lie in the Weeds of Present Time” is relatively short, but its bass clicks and churns suck the listener into the frolicking patterns.

“Moon Diver,” the album’s middle track, adds a heavy maelstrom in the background as synth notes call out from the depths. However, this one tends to go on a bit too long – it has some alterations as it reaches the double-digit length, but for the most part it remains stagnant in its call-and-response drones, although it would be the perfect fit for a horror film’s stalking moments.

“Over Waters Hidden Below” brings it back, though, with a churning drone in the background and a subtle hiss in the foreground. Synth notes break in here and there to add emphasis to the sound as listeners get pulled into the tones. “The Autobiography of Dreams” brings it back to the clanging of “Wandering Echo” while adding a swirling windstorm and oscillating synth notes; this one’s my favorite of the six because of its execution and complexity.

“The Starless Vault of Heaven” ends Nocturnal Requiem on almost an upbeat note, with more ethereal synth tones and a house electronica beat. It’s an experiment, and quite different from the brooding offerings before, but Wilt captures the feeling of coming out of the dark into a celestial sea, and it’s a great way to conclude the album.

Nocturnal Requiem is my first Wilt experience, but based on the dark ambient material offered here, I would love to check out more. This duo is able to conjure up eerie tones, but the album shows their range with a couple of dynamic tracks that sees Wilt stepping out of its comfort zone.

 

KP Transmission/ Омутъ Мора – Split (C60, Ciel Bleu et Petits Oiseaux Records)

ambient, dark ambient, Noise, Review

Honestly, I don’t know much about KP Transmission or Омутъ Мора  besides what I can get from the Internet. KP Transmission is Karina Kazaryan from Moscow and Siberia, a dark ambient and self-described illbient artist; Омутъ Мора (AKA Omut Mora) is a Russian experimental/dark ambient/folk project as described by the artist’s VK profile. KP Transmission has had a couple of releases, mostly splits, and over the years Омутъ Мора has racked up a number of album credits. On this tape split on Ciel Bleu et Petits Oiseaux Records, they both spend about 13 minutes per side.

First up is KP Transmission, and it’s clear how she fits into the illbient subgenre tag; ignorant about what that was, I did a search of the tag to find it was first created to characterize Brooklyn DJs in the 1990s, describing a trend in ambient music that features both ambient atmospheric sounds and accompanying beats. KP Transmission works in dark, noisy textures, sometimes less ambient than they are droning and subtly harsh. The first track, “Pranicheskaya Ataka”, features a rumbling dark tone that marches forward, almost like the sound of a continuous roll on a snare drum with the snares untightened. There’s a quiet bass pulsation moving forward, and KP Transmission works in electronic alarums and gentle maneuverings to add rhythm to the drone.

Her next three tracks almost feel like continuations of each other. “Pristup I” and “Pristup II” are certainly titularly linked, but “Pristup II” has a direct lead-in to the vocal-tinged sounds of the longest track from KP Transmission, “Kain.” “Pristup I” is a crackling tone that continues to disassemble as KP Transmission unfurls ambient textures out of noise; then, “Pristup II” adds a layer of slicing feedback underneath it all that comes and goes within the rhythm.

“Kain” features the most open ambiance of the four tracks, seemingly incorporating found sounds like bird calls, spoken word, and lilting, ghostly melodies that sound slightly muffled; notably, this is a collaboration between the two artists, and it certainly feels very akin to the dual natures of these projects.

KP Transmission’s tracks are often enchanting, and it’s interesting to hear how she works her way through rhythm and noise. These aren’t particularly difficult tracks, and often they can be quite beautiful. But there’s a layer of darkness winding its way through the first pieces that I find particularly attractive.

Омутъ Мора encompasses a similar technique on the second side, starting with “Chernaya Astma.” That’s a crumbling bit of static that eventually morphs into a filtered ambient texture, quite like KP Transmission’s “Pristup” series. The other two tracks are a bit longer to allow for the ambiance sonic space. “Nedra” is a ringing, often shuddering warble that builds to a loud climax in its last minutes, ghostly and sometimes shrill but featuring solid movement throughout – though it ends a bit abruptly. The final track “Kak Cherv” opens with some muffled instrumentation before introducing more sustained notes and echoing plunks in the background. It’s quite a bit different than the previous ambient piece, with a wind instrument carrying a sloppy melody while reverb effects threaten to overtake the sound.

The biggest issue with this release is not the tracks themselves but the C60 tape it comes on; it leaves a lot of blank air towards the end of both sides, and I’m not really sure why that was chosen. Otherwise, though, this split from KP Transmission and Омутъ Мора is a great offering for fans of dark ambient and noise, deserving of a listen.

Yen Pox – Between the Horizon and the Abyss (CD, Malignant Records)

ambient, dark ambient, Music, Review

I’ll be honest – writing for a noise/drone review blog, I hear a lot of dark ambient works. At this point, it’s difficult to get excited for most of them, even if the idea behind them seems solid. There are many artists working in the field who are prone to dropping a few long, sustained synth notes into a track and calling it dark ambient, and it’s the kind of oversaturation that is really hurting the subgenre. Yen Pox, however, are not newbies to this kind of music, and it truly shows on their latest album Between the Horizon and the Abyss. This isn’t a couple of notes alternated over an 8-10 minute track; it really is an ambient experience, full of moody sustained chords, swirled instrumentation, with a tension apparent from the first minutes of the near-80 minute album.

They start things off with “The Awakening,” which focuses on those sustained notes – the kind of thing that can often make for an underwhelming listen – and then integrates a wavering complexity to them. And morphing right into “White of the Eye,” it’s clear that Yen Pox understand that dark ambient’s atmosphere takes more than just dreary, held-note progressions; the swirls of sound ebb and flow, and nuance takes precedence here. There’s a reliance on the minimal within their sound that one should not mistake for a lack of complexity, because a close listen rewards with a number of subtle changes in the wavering tones of Michael J.V. Hensley and Steven Hall’s compositions.

It’s not always so quiet, though. “Cold Summer Sun” finds Yen Pox hammering on the chords, breaking out chains and rattling whatever metal was on hand – it’s almost like an updated version of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s theme from the boiler room scenes, even complete with ghostly giggles in the background.

The flaw with Between the Horizon and the Abyss, which I would argue is a flaw with almost every album of this style, is that the listener begins to get desensitized to the flowing darkness within each of these tracks. While Yen Pox spice things up with new ideas within each song, the central idea remains mostly the same – plodding tones, sweeps of sound, and an ambiance that forces the listener to feel uneasy. That’s really the intention, to overload the audience with the abyss, but Between the Horizon and the Abyss feels a tad overstuffed. The tracks are a bit too long, or, there are too many of them. At 80 minutes, this will be a difficult listen for all those save the lover of the subgenre.

Still, Yen Pox delivers exactly what’s expected of them, with some seriously dark and brooding tunes. The vocal deliveries and the clangs of distant metallics combine with the swarming synth textures for an album that is brimming with ethereal darkness. With Between the Horizon and the Abyss, the listener finds oneself in a limbo that feels tense and uneasy – an album that showcases the best of the dark ambient genre.

Stone Wired – Something We Should Endure (Early Death 1997-1999) (CD-R, Exabyss Records)

dark ambient, death industrial, Noise, Review

somethine we should endureStone Wired is a death dark ambient project from Gyorgy Turoczy, also known as Human Vault and Mortum Exabyss. He’s been re-releasing some of his older output as part of his record label Exabyss Records, and much like the Human Vault Tears of the Quiet Ones/Souls Inflicted double-CD-R album, Something We Should Endure is a collection of tracks from Stone Wired’s early days. This is meant to coincide with Something We Never Endure, another series of tracks from 1997-1999. If you check both of them out, that’s about 28 tracks and over two hours of material, something that might overwhelm when talking about death and dark ambient.

Something We Should Endure is a relatively immense release, and it covers quite a bit of ground throughout its running time. This is certainly well-rooted in death industrial; there are quite a number of vocal interludes sounding the death march, or synth-heavy sustained notes held out while percussive tones punctuate the darkness.

Stone Wired does these well, however. There’s an abundance of death and dark ambient music that often falls short of the mark because of the ease in which it can be produced – hit a note, hold it out, and pull in some sort of heavy breathing or marching beats for a concise approach – and yet Stone Wired’s feels somewhat different. Part of that is the style of Something We Should Endure – as a compilation of tracks, it feels loosely connected instead of recorded at the same time. It is also heavy on the atmosphere, and that’s something that can’t really be copied; it’s simply felt by the artist and listener, and when it’s there, it works.

The variety helps things significantly. There are regular ambient tracks, there are vocal interludes like “Regen” that carry right into much harsher songs like “Ode to the Catafalque.” The ordering and pairing of Something We Should Endure provides room for Stone Wired to showcase his abilities, and as a compilation, one can’t go wrong checking out this album simply for the hour of death ambient and dark industrial thematicism of Stone Wired’s work.

Mark Van Fleet – Veiled Front (CD-R, Little Miracles)

dark ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Music, Noise, Review

veiled front

Veiled Front is one of Mark Van Fleet’s only solo works (that I can find – I’ll have a review up of his other release Alien Versions soon), but he’s been around in the noise community for a while. In fact, he was part of Sword Heaven and a bunch of other monikers – and I love jamming to Sword Heaven. On Veiled Front, the spastic drums/vocals/guitars/etc. of that former project are dropped in favor of tape manipulations, synth, and the clanging of miscellaneous machinery.

The release starts out with the excellent whir and warp of tapes, plodding along and fading within a wall of sound that best summarizes Veiled Front – it is an experiment in texture, and it should be apparent to the listener fairly quickly that the expert combinations of keyboards, tapes, and other sounds have been carefully constructed with an ear for the formulation of hypnotic noise.

It is “Verde Fog,” Veiled Front‘s third track, that hits hard – Van Fleet destroys the calm with blaring horns, the kind of thing that could be cloyingly dissonant. But they aren’t; instead, they’re another great moment in a series. And then the most despairing moment follows with the lengthy finale “Version Flop,” a weaving soundscape of melancholy notes that ends Veiled Front on a high that eventually can lead right back into the opener.

Mark Van Fleet’s solo work is as excellent as his group efforts, and it certainly is recommended you check out Veiled Front from Little Miracles. It’s a shorter, mesmerizing listen.

recommended

Mors Sonat – Comforts in Atrocity (CD, Crucial Blast)

Black Noise, dark ambient, doom metal, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

comfort

From the opening track “Holy Holy Holy Nil,” Mors Sonat’s new album Comforts in Atrocity feels like it’s set up be a release full of dark doom metal – cello chords are scraped, guitar is fuzzed and drums are struck slowly, tenderly, and with a focus on cymbal tinkling. And yet the end of this track builds up to a huge crescendo of static that threatens to overtake the melancholy rhythm heard before – there are screams in the rumble and feedback in the electronics.

Comforts in Atrocity is not your average doom album, although you’ll often find those components within. Mors Sonat have a tendency to move from quiet ambiance to cacophony in a matter of seconds, and those climaxes are the best part of this album. But the duo of Mors Sonat aren’t always using the blown-out bass and static patterns of typical harsh noise; “Sanctuary in Soil” actually does feel like the listener might bet getting buried, slowly, with the sand making a perfect staccato against whatever wooden box we’re housed in.

These tracks are often matched up with louder ones; “The Vengeance of Embrace” is the longest on this release and also one of the most interesting as a straight-up noise track. It’s got huge bass drones and a pattering rhythm at the forefront, but it also has a ton of industrial sounds and whispered voices in the background – not overly harsh or off-putting, but complex with a hint of rhythm.

Mors Sonat’s tracks often feel like they could fit in multiple genres; “The Sweet Long Legs of Hate” has a nice droning groove to it, with off-key piano and a sustained chord leading the track throughout its length. Then, there’s an absolute crushing noise track after with “So Shall I Weep in Liberation Within the Ecstasy of Decay.” There’s something for everyone, and Mors Sonat do all of it well.

Richmond Tape Club Vol. 4: Anduin (C20, Richmond Tape Club)

dark ambient, darkwave, Drone, Music, Review

anduin

Anduin is the project of Jonathan Lee, and on this tape it’s sort of a revolving door of artists that stop by to help him out. His sound is primarily characterized by droning rhythms; Anduin is not quite noisy, but it can also feature tones considered unsettling. Whatever the label for his project’s music may be, it’s clearly built on ethereal synths and a focus on soaring textures rather than noise extremes.

Opener “Ginter Park” is a short track with a dark synth pulse; it’s only a minute in length, so the sound quickly disperses into the next track. Unfortunately, I wanted to hear a little more of this, because the transition is abrupt – it’s not the best lead-in to “Sleeper” despite being a hypnotic track. The lengthier “Sleeper” is a beautiful droning melody, with a wavering, echoing tone mixed with quiet percussive elements. It’s joined in the middle of the track by a smooth saxophone improvisation, and I can’t imagine anyone hearing this piece and walking away unhappy. The final track for side A, “Fever Dream,” captures its title rather well – it’s a dark, slow-burning drone, the kind of unsettling sound I mentioned in the introduction to this review.

Side B starts out with “Strangers,” a steamy track with only a couple of note changes from the synth. That’s more of a background texture, as well as the percussion chimes, that is meant to accompany the sax solos and the heavy string chords; it’s a track reminiscent of what you might hear during an 80s movie about the grittiness of the city. “First Life” ends the tape with a dark flow of sounds – the rustle of leaves or brush, the melancholy chords of a wavering guitar. Then it shifts into a percussion-heavy pulse.

Anduin weaves fantastic instrumentation into this tape; his use of sax, strings, and found sounds add a lot to the basic drones, leaving the listener with excellent floating pieces to get lost in. It’s a fitting end to the first set of the Richmond Tape Club: sometimes melancholy, never dull.

20130505-205303.jpg

Richmond Tape Club Vol. 2: Slow News Day in the Vampire World (C20, Richmond Tape Club)

dark ambient, dub, Music, Review

slow news day

Slow News Day in the Vampire World is a dub project from John and Tara Morand. On this tape for the Richmond Tape Club, they have a couple of guest appearances from friends, and the tracks are titled to signify whose track it is. There are five tracks on this C20, and each of them have the plodding bass drones you’d expect from a dub album.

The first side consists of two tracks, the first being “Stephen Funky.” It’s a repetitive song with huge bass, and there’s a buzzing element locked into that groove that works rather well as a noisy offshoot to the rather minimal textures. “Delia Dub” and “Bobby Dub” are short tracks that allow Slow News Day in the Vampire World to play with different sounds while keeping their initial beat intact, but the most apparent experiment is the final track “Animal Talk,” a mid-paced beat with echoing drum slaps and a swirling sample that sounds sourced from some vocal clip. There are more sonic changes in this song than any of the others combined thanks to the track’s vignettes. The sound continues to grow, the synths get more defined, and vocal samples echo along with eerie woodwind effects.

The result is a quiet and deliberate effect. Some of these tracks, the liner tells us, were used in an Irish horror film called Portrait of a Zombie, and they do sound like the plodding moments of a film that is slowly building to show us how zombies have taken over the world, as though we’re viewing it on top of a skyscraper and the horde stretches for miles. Some might find the slow progression of these tracks off-putting, however, and those who don’t like dub will probably not find anything here to change their minds.

Roadside Picnic with John Byrne – Nightlitter (C70, Red Light Sound)

dark ambient, Drone, Noise, Review

roadside picnic

Roadside Picnic’s sole member Justin Wiggan joins forces with John Byrne of Cindytalk on Nightlitter. The album is a solitary track at 35 minutes in length on a single-sided cassette tape, and the titular track weaves its way through ambiance and minimalism during its runtime.

Nightlitter is a very quiet recording, and that has as much to do with the dubbing as it does with Roadside Picnic and John Byrne’s original intent. The track is certainly minimal enough, with quiet droning synths that ebb and flow with low bursts of bass to help punctuate. In a sense, this is music to listen to when you have a headache, or taking a bath – some soothing salve for a bad day, perhaps. I could see Nightlitter playing in a really swanky cafe, the patrons commenting how serene it is while sipping their tiny cups of espresso.

And yet it’s difficult to tell whether that enduring quietness of the tape is actually supposed to be, or if it’s because the cassette’s dubbing is poor. Listening to Nightlitter on the Red Light Sound’s Bandcamp, I’d have to go with the latter – the mix on the tape is so much lower than normal, to the point where I had to turn my stereo all the way up to hear it. I’m not complaining about the quality of the tape, because I don’t really get into that nor do I care about it; but when the volume starts to affect how the track is interpreted, that’s kind of a problem.

It’s unfortunate, because Nightlitter often sounds like it could be a jet flying high overhead, cutting through the air with sharp shudders. When you hear it so minimally, though, that affect doesn’t register as it should.

World of Metal and Rust – Songs for Prisoners (CD-R, Not On Label)

dark ambient, Drone, Industrial, Noise, Review

world of rust and metal

World of Metal and Rust makes beat-driven drone and noise; sort of like dusty, dirty jams and down-tempo percussion. Songs for Prisoners is a self-released collection of tracks meant for different, unnamed prisoners; each of them gets their own song, all of them melted into a dark abyss of beats and repetitive rhythms.

World of Metal and Rust isn’t focused on completely obliterating the idea of a “song”; instead the project combines an industrial, echoing vibe with slow percussive rhythms, and most of the songs on Songs for Prisoners morph into a hybrid of what a hip-hop song might sound like if it was slowed down extensively and then fed through a guitar pedal. These songs don’t always include drums, but they’re all very slow and plodding.

They’re also very repetitious, and that can be a good or a bad thing depending on the track. Sometimes the tracks go on for too long, like “Prisoner G”‘s unending factory tones or the pulsating beat of “Into the Night.” The best cuts on the album are the shortest, the ones that use the rhythms repetitively, then slowly change the sound towards the end. Frankly, some of these tracks feel too similar to each other, using the same format with different noise and a slight mix of beats.

Songs for Prisoners definitely has some potential, but the length of this disc – nearly an hour! – and the repetitive nature of each track make it difficult to sit through. There’s a lot of content on here that could probably either be discarded or conjoined to make fewer but more interesting songs.