Tagged: ambient

Cold Comfort

IMG147

Various
Vernacular
JAPAN WHEREABOUTS RECORDS WHACD-13 (2013)

Cold comfort is afforded in great measure by this tasteful survey of introspective sound art: fifteen furtive, frippery-forsaking fffffenquiries that collectively resemble a handbook on obscure natural textures, from thick and oily to seabed-dredged. With a line up that features Janek Schaefer, Lawrence English and their justly esteemed ilk, it bears familial resemblance to Virgin’s Isolationism collection, though is a good deal more polished than that rough-hewn basalt milestone, which these days sounds charmingly of its time. Track titles are a similarly predictable but pleasant blend of the obvious (‘Tenebrae’), utilitarian (‘Animate Structures #2′) and oblique (‘Extra Ordinary, Extra Regular’).

The term ‘Vernacular’ suggests both a linguistic and architectural locality, which is fulfilled in spirit and deed through the sourcing of sound and context in the fifteen artists’ home countries. Why one and all chose to express these associations so dourly merits consideration, but such is their stock-in-trade I suppose. This isn’t intended as a criticism: there is a palpable richness in the range of ‘dark ambient’ methodologies herein: from earthy field recordings to a handsome turnout of aching, treated strings, most notably on Hior Chronik’s arresting opener ‘Sketches of You’.Someone who has yet to disappoint me: Yves De Mey’s cauldron of electrickery ‘Lower Fracs’ sheds the bpm and shreds the night sky into crackling tatters. Another standout, Kenneth Kirschner’s ‘July 10, 2012’ finds a frail piano improvisation (reminiscent of the playing on ‘Drukqs’) that barely manages to wrest itself from a quicksand of fading memories. Among disc two’s higher quotient of naturalistic and elemental pieces, the refreshing audio postcard of Jos Smolders’ ‘Vangsaa: Revisited’ (a remote coastal spot in Northern Denmark) virtually deafens ears with sea spray.

I could go on, but truth be told, while bleak of countenance there’s nary a dull moment on here. And though for many an adventurous collection it will not be (a tough call these days), both the pedigree and provenance of this fine round-up should inspire many a calming interior monologue; one to which I’ll certainly be retiring for time to come.

No Stars, Only Full Dark: a self-assured release of black metal fusion

1362811477_1

Windbruch, No Stars, Only Full Dark, Canada, Hypnotic Dirge Records, CD HDR-037 (2014)

On first hearing this album, the second by Russian one-man band Windbruch, hailing from Nizhnevartovsk in the Khanty-Mansi region in western Siberia, I get an impression of  raw and sometimes angry music, ragged and sharp in tone with a full bass backing, shaped into actual songs edged with delicate ambient sounds and tones that add touches of ice coldness.

Lone Windbruch member Iluzii Optice brings skill and imagination to craft an album of self-contained and clearly defined songs that feature as much cold space-ambient synth, field recordings of nature and what might be termed “soundtrack music” as they do raw suicidal black metal. The path “No Stars …” takes might not sound different for the most part from what other one-man or two-men BM projects have done but it’s perhaps ideal at this early stage in his career for IO to get the balance between a more commercial style of BM rock pop and his more abstract experimental tendencies right, and to gain the support of a loyal fan-base, before he starts stretching the formula to his own ends.

The album begins strongly with “No More Entry, No More Exit” (taken together, the track titles suggest an arc of being enticed by the city, ending up being trapped there, reaching one’s nadir and experiencing a crisis) which is actually the second track, the first being an extended introduction. The music is robust and hard-hitting; as the album progresses, more ambience, especially at the start and end of each track, and melodic keyboard are brought in, and the album becomes more post-BM in style. Vocals, where they appear, are upfront in the music and are deep and gravelly, almost death-metal in style. The tension builds up through each track and flows into the next; ambient passages relieve some but not all of the tension so the suspense and momentum are still present.

Later tracks like “A City on Fire” and “Only Full Dark” are ponderous and include cold, forlorn space-ambient melodies and spoken-voice recordings. There is a definite urban-blues / post-rock feel which might seem surprising for a Russian BM band, especially one so far away from Europe and North America. The latter track throws away actual music and becomes entirely experimental in most of its second half; its reliance on near-inaudible drone rumble beneath a Russian-language radio monologue is daring. “Neswa-Pawuk” has a dreamy shoegazer atmosphere, a bit like a harder version of Alcest. From this moment on, the album has a sunnier and more positive outlook even if its central protagonist is still stuck in a grim urban environment.

The album is very self-assured and demonstrates confidence in its combination of BM / ambient / post-rock. Most songs are well-defined with some allowance for experimentation. There is something to please most people here.

Contact: Hypnotic Dirge Records

Amulet: the deep and the commonplace in mystery ceremony revealed by iPhone recordings

1391283160_cover

Oren Ambarchi, Amulet, The Tapeworm, cassette TTW 65 (2014)

Korean director Chanwook Park made a short movie not long ago using a cameraphone so it was only a matter of time before a musician made an album with an iPhone. The surprise is that of all people I can think of who might do it first, Oren Ambarchi should have been the one. (Though he may have been preceded by others and I just haven’t noticed.) This is a really intriguing effort from Ambarchi: it’s an ambient soundscape, sometimes industrial-sounding, that includes what field recordings, whirring cymbals and other percussion or intrusive background noises that he opted to leave in.

In spite of its fairly short length, the recording seems expansive and blackly cavernous. We start with sharp metallic drone and buzz rolling across a huge flat plain in pitch-dark atmosphere on Side A. A rhythm of sorts is established with a loop of mechanical dolly clicks and there are other little noise effects that tinkle and thrum. The work or parts thereof must have been done live as indicated by audience applause somewhere in the middle of Side A of the cassette.

On Side B, the fragments of delicate metallic bell, gong and chime along with a quiet background and the static nature of the music, suggestive of a soundscape snapshot, give the impression of an ongoing mysterious ritual. You end up concentrating so closely that your mind becomes completely entranced and for a brief while you become part of the scene. Whichever side is played, and depending perhaps on the frame of mind you’re in, whether you’re tired and need soothing or you are just curious, the atmosphere can be quite intense and your anticipation of what might come with the drones keeps you hooked. A motor stutter vibration helps to concentrate your mind as well.

Anyone who is familiar with Ambarchi’s activities and the musical company he’s been keeping over the years might see the two sides of the cassette as representing the polar opposites his music has often straddled - Side A is very black and sinister, and Side B is tranquil – and the cassette and vinyl 7″ formats certainly lend themselves to such an interpretation more so than if the music had been released as a mini-CD. So I’d caution TSP readers not to allow a little knowledge about Ambarchi’s history and the choice of music format to influence their listening experience too much.

I don’t know how familiar Ambarchi is with recording music on his iPhone, if this is something very novel for him and if he will continue recording in this way on occasion, so I’m prepared to give him some leeway with the loose free-form structure of the music. The editing in parts can be crude – that audience applause cuts out very sharply – and any beginnings and endings are determined by the cassette format and the length of the tape. Had the musician and the label thought of the idea at the time, this music might suit a Moebius-trip cassette format, to be played continuously according to the whim of the listener.

Savage Pencil provides the odd(eye)ball cover artwork which plays up the voyeuristic role that the listener is forced into, in listening to this music that might serve as accompaniment to a secret ritual or ceremony. Whether the ceremony is a long drawn-out process involving animal sacrifices or just one’s bed-time routine being read to by a preschooler eager to show off by making up stories about a moon-worshipping rabbit family s/he sees in the picture-book, “Amulet” will be an ideal mystery backdrop. There’s something of the profound and the commonplace in these recordings.

Contact: The Tapeworm 

Polarlicht: giving us soothing low-key ambient electronic soundscapes

polar-digi-shop

Monolyth & Cobalt, Polarlicht, Time Released Sound, CD TRS041 (2014)

In spite of its name which translates from German into English as “Polar Light” and the artwork of cracking ice viewed from above, this recording is not really much of a cold and forbidding Ice Age ambient soundscape opus to be filed in among other Arctically or Antarctically inspired works; it turns out to be a slow, relaxing and gently immersive journey through glitch electronica worlds sculpted by one Mathias Van Eecloo, the man behind Monolyth & Cobalt. The recording was made in Brittany over a period of some 18 months from April 2012 to October 2013.

There may be allusions to maritime exploration on the album and the fact that the work was recorded in Brittany – an area with connections to the sea – might have some significance. “Blooming Stones” sets the tone releasing this listener to drift on gentle grey seas with rhythmic bell chimes and something of a slow undulating sea-shanty melody.  The tracks conjure up quiet landscapes of muted grey or light sandy colours where the sea raises barely more than a murmur of white wave froth and washes blue-grey up pale beaches. Even the skies are a restful pale blue colour. Not much happens and we are whisked from one track to the next to inspect new low-key soundscapes.

Track 4 promises to be a bit more interesting than previous pieces with a mechanical rhythm loop and some off-kilter noises suggesting all’s not quite calm and serene, and any moment we may run across some rusted toys or machines still able to play a melody after years of disuse and deterioration. Following after is a track where instruments seem to be more recognisable yet still unidentifiable – there could be a banjo in the music – and a sighing siren vocal is present as well. As the album progresses, the music broadens to include acoustic guitar, harmonica (or something very like it), violin and field recordings or found monologue in tracks like “Et Ces Arbres” and “Verhaal”.

The most interesting track on the whole album turns out to be “Birds (Are Some Holes in the Sky Through a Man can Pass)” which features some beautifully resonant string instruments, one of them possibly a harp or a zither, delicately trilling against a seesaw rhythm.

True, the general tone of the album rarely rises above mildly stimulating and the criticism could be made that the whole recording is just too mild and placid to hold most people’s attention. Sooner or later, someone will start wishing for something pacey and exciting, like a great white shark lurking in the unassuming grey sea. Folks with short attention spans will drift away leaving a few willing to follow Van Eecloo and to let him take his own time describing the vistas before them.

It doesn’t really matter that I fail to see the polar connection this music makes: it’s very soothing, low-key and minimal, and there are some interesting acoustic surprises in later tracks that add individuality and a distinct folksy flavour.

Contact: Time Released Sound

Dragon’s Kitchen

JULY180

KK Null + The Noiser (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO054) is a meeting between one of Japanese noise-rock’s heavyweights and the French electro-acoustic anarcho-poet loon Julien Ottavi, with results every bit as fractured and unpredictable as poisoned sushi wrapped in a crepe suzette. The album’s first half is seven short-ish experiments in grotesque electronic rhythms and crazy samples intercut with each other in ways that make no sense; after you’re reeling from that onslaught, they finish you off with a 25-minute monster that’s just chock full of playful edits so as to resemble an episodic, cartoon-like composition in the form of an acid trip. Free jazz piano, birdsong, unhinged electric noise and odd percussive gamelan doodling are just some of the elements you can expect from this garbled spew. While it includes some live recordings made in Vienna, this is mostly a fun-filled and semi-dangerous studio concoction – which is evident from all the half-mad control-freakery that’s going on here. From October 2013.

JULY179

On the face of it, CMKK’s Gau (MONO065) is a pretty sickening proposition – four artists producing a single 47-minute meander through some surreal sludgy ambient drones while one of them recites their strange poetry using plenty of pastoral images like black water, swans, fields, and mist. There’s Celer with laptop and samples, Machinefabriek with laptop and tapes, the guitars of Romke Kleefstra and the poetry of Jan Kleefstra. However, listen to the end of this slow dampened odyssey across joyless and sunless flatlands and you’ll feel the rewards as your brain is softened into malleable mush, fit to be sold as Sten Hanson’s Canned Porridge. Not unlike hearing Polwechsel after they’ve swallowed a dose of Mogadon, with added zombified electronics and a stoic TV announcer trying to remain calm while he watches the whole world being flooded. From October 2013.

JULY182

Here’s some French heroes of indefinable music and sound art: Eric Cordier and Jean Luc Guionnet, discreetly rubbing their organs together in a deserted temple in Metz. By “organs” I mean the hurdy-gurdy of Eric, which has been amplified and processed while he squeezes it, and the amplified organ of Jean-Luc – an instrument which he’s previously played to great effect in various church and cathedral settings. De Proche En Proche (MONO061) comprises live recordings from 2004, mostly rather uneventful and slow droning. Things liven up from the third piece onwards as vaguely menacing machine-like qualities are exhibited – it sounds like a milking machine going wrong and the cows are moaning in complaint. Or perhaps reaching a cow-like orgasm of some sort as they feel the errant mechanical clamps around their udders. From October 2013.

JULY181

Unearthly slab of live electro-acoustic music here from Charles-Eric Charrier, who is manipulating two musicians – their instruments, at any rate – on C6 GIG (february 2012) (MONO059). Martin Bauer is playing the viole de gambe and Nicolas Richard plays percussion and accordion. From this we derive 45 minutes of continual, mysterious sounds, at times approaching the shape of a nightmarish cloud of purple filth descending on the belly of the fitful listener. I’d have liked a tad more commitment to sustaining this crapulous mood, but I can understand why Charrier feels the need to layer this inexplicable composition with long silences, pauses, and other existential longeurs. Still, when the strings pluck bass throbs from the lower registers and the percussion rattles its cage like a snoring gorilla, you’ll find me there with my concrete pillow. From October 2013.

JULY183

Bartek Kalinka concocts some fairly bonkers music on Champion of the World Has No Monopoly on the Legions (BOLT RECORDS BRK003), through overdubbing meandering acoustic guitar strums, wonky synth tones, and arbitrary percussuon bashes. These ten tracks feel all of a piece and sonically they occupy the same zone of solitary, intimate conversations – except I feel like the conversation is taking place with a balmy loon who doesn’t even speak my language. By time of eighth track, called ‘King Is Approaching’, my mind is reduced to small lumps of gravel and any sense of proportion has been sapped by the tropical, heat-cooking weirdness that boils the brain slowly. By the end, I give in and am prepared to admit that the King is indeed approaching, and that creator Bartek Kalinka is in fact Napoleon.

ION (self-titled): awe-inspiring and soaring post-black metal psychedelic transcendence

a1837365767_10

ION, self-titled, independent release on CD (2014)

At the time of writing this review, I knew very little about ION apart from the fact that this trio is based in San Francisco and that this self-titled album is the band’s debut recording. The musicians’ days of being obscure may soon end if this album becomes better known. With each passing day, that happy state becomes all the more likely as “ION” is a soaring example of post-black metal psychedelic transcendence.

That the music is intended to be a totally immersive experience is apparent from the way the five tracks are linked together to form one over-arching work that encompasses many contradictions, dualities and polarities in musical structure, atmosphere and sound. Bursts of blast-beat aggression chaos give way to wide expanses of space interrupted only by squiggles of tone and echo background wash. Starkly sorrowful melodic riffs ebb and flow like waves upon a beach before dissolving into seas of buzzing guitar noise and frantic percussion. In short, the ION musicians range far and wide exploring their musical territory – and what a vast and varied territory that is, taking in wide plains of ambience, hills of frenzied tremolo guitar chord squiggle, chunky melody and rhythm mountain ranges and blast-beat torrents.

As the music progresses, the contrasts become ever greater: the loudest, angriest hyper-blasting black metal can calm and reduce right down to the softest acoustic-guitar twang, at times inaudible save only for reverb effects. Tones and effects may be suspended in a murky space, their connection to one another uncertain and occurring randomly, until with effort a melody may form as if from spontaneous generation from sound fragments. On occasions the music can be very pretty and shapely but this is not shoegazer post-BM: its ambitions are much grander and the path it must take tends towards high and low extremes in emotion and atmosphere.

Interstellar space ambience (“Embers”) proves to be no barrier to ION’s musical quest and aspirations; listeners may be confronted with the immense nature of the sonic universe looming in their heads and their own place within it. The music is at its most psychedelic, abstract, improvised and disorienting in later parts of the album where we are thrust into deep inner (or outer) space. As the space trip nears its destination, the guys exert themselves heroically to deliver an exhilarating and dramatic summation of all that’s gone before. The one thing that’s a little bit lacking here is a very thunderous percussion back-up as the drums at this point are a bit thin and tinny, and the guys have to rely on chunky guitar barrage and UFO lift-off and landing effects to make their way through the climax.

Fittingly for such an awe-inspiring musical landscape, there are no fewer than two lots of vocals, one typically BM-raspy and the other a deeper guttural death metal vocal. At this point in the band’s history, I am not sure what the lyrics of three tracks are intended to refer to and listeners are at liberty to interpret them as they wish: they hint at some dissolution of an individual’s material state to reveal that which is most essential about that person and whether s/he ascends to a higher plane of existence or something much lower, darker and baser.

The band that most often comes to mind for me when I hear this music is the UK-based Fen, especially in ION’s sound when the guys are at their most melodic and melancholy. Other bands that might be referenced as points of comparison include Altar of Plagues (their White Tomb phase), Wolves in the Throne Room for passion and drama, and other North American BM bands like Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Panopticon and Skagos who deliver strong BM with ambient elements and mystical, shamanistic themes or social messages. A non-BM band that springs to mind is Samsara Blues Experiment which engages in similar psychedelic space metal head trips but ION far out-strips that band for risk-taking. Fans of all these bands should listen to ION’s debut if they can get copies. At this time of writing, the album was self-released but Aquarius Records in San Francisco may still have some copies.

Contact: Aquarius Records, ION

It’s a thin line…

DEVINDISANTO

Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Progressive? Moi?

krabbe

Skadedyr
Kongekrabbe
NORWAY HUBRO HUBROCD2536 CD (2014)

The press release for Kongekrabbe is, it has to be said, slightly over-the-top and prone to hyperbole, although the idea of a twelve-piece democractic/anarchistic band from Norway is an exciting one. It’s difficult to deduce from the publicity sheet whether this is improvised in the studio or not: there is mention of two musicians being ‘the driving force behind the inventive material on [this] debut album’ and also mention that ‘the members of the band rehearse and arrange all the music jointly – without notes, but with wide-open ears and eyes’. Maybe I should just listen?

A noisy introductory piece leads into an almost ska-driven track, ‘Linselus/Due’ which also fleetingly recalls some dreadful 60s bands with its use of wordless vocals, a mad kind of Swingles Singers, if you know what I mean. These voices, a little more focussed this time, also appear in ‘Kongekrabbe’, the next track, weaving through some precise and careful brass arrangements. It calls to mind not only the dense arrangements of Terje Rypdal’s early works, but the jazz band Azimuth, and perhaps odd moments of Henry Cow (which is high praise indeed).

‘Partylus’ arrives like a demented ragtime song, before swiftly turning the corner into a more minimal moment which is then interrupted by the arrival of a brass band who are pushed aside by some violinists. In fact it’s hard to shake off the idea of musicians being elbowed aside by the next musician; the track is a kind of endless procession of moments that are never allowed to develop, are merely interrupted and pushed aside, although a female singer is allowed to outstay her welcome. It’s a confusingly structured and thought-out piece that to these ears lets down the album.

‘Lakselus’, which concludes the CD is a more intriguing piece which slowly develops from abstract soundscape into apocalyptic noise then unfolds into a new musical spectrum underpinned with percussive rhythms and then distant piano. The by now expected wordless vocals make an entry and spoil this otherwise standout piece.

If Skadedyr can roam their ‘broad musical landscape’ a little less, and perhaps talk to each other more about the type of music they want to play, they will produce even more original music. As it stands it’s a little bit pick’n’mix at the moment, underdeveloped and unfocussed, but exciting nonetheless.

beatwings

Gushing Cloud
Beat Wings In Vain
USA INTANGIBLE CAT CAT-18 CD (2013)

Whilst the press release for Skadedyr mentions ‘an appreciation of psychedelic, progressive and outrageous’, that for Gushing Cloud’s new CD prefers the ‘realms of groovy electronic, thoughtful ambient, and noisy/experimental.progressive rock music’. It’s hard, however, to hear much of interest on this CD, which mostly sounds like bedroom synthesizer doodling.

Simplistic programmed grooves and beats underpin simplistic approximations of Tangerine Dream guitar and/or keyboards, which meander on towards promised aural epiphanies which never arrive; instead, each track drops away into another rhythm which gradually returns to the starting point.

The hyperbolic press release’s comparisons with Eno and Faust do nobody any favours, neither does the claim of ‘an organic earnestness’, as though some kind of honesty, truth or well-meaning intention might make the music good. This is dull, second-rate ambient noodlng that needs both disrupting and focussing to get anywhere with. When I say that I mean it has neither the chaotic freshness of Faust, nor the kind of focussed process or concept which often underpins Eno’s own work. I have no idea what Gushing Cloud is trying to do here, and I don’t think he has either.

Silence: plenty to say but a better and more powerful form of expression is needed

Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com
Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com

Echo of Emptiness, Silence, Depressive Illusion Records, CDR cut 1061 (2013)

For an album titled “Silence”, this recording turns out to have plenty to say over some 49 minutes. This is atmospheric and creepy black metal from Russian duo Echo of Emptiness. It can be an ideal record to play late at night if you’re in the mood: it has a very dark and intimate feel and you can easily think yourself the only human existing on this tiny planet as you listen to this music of melancholy and loneliness. The band’s sound is distinctive: the guitars seem to have a very compressed shrill and steel tone almost reminiscent of very reedy woodwind instruments even when playing tremolo. The texture of the music is furry and crispy at the same time. The vocals are a mix of grim BM style and clean-toned and the members sing in English.

The album consists of seven tracks but the ones that will be of most interest are tracks 2 to 6 as these are a mix of black metal and ambient. The other tracks are purely ambient tone pieces: wintry, cold and minimal, with no more than a bass melody or ominous sub-bass drone being audible, they perhaps take up more space on the album than listeners might like but I suppose their length is in keeping with the album’s themes of hopelessness, depression and shuffling off the mortal coil.

While they have a good sound, the black metal tracks tend towards slow and plodding in pace. There’s not much energy in the songs and for a good part of the album they drift in the grey zone between comatose and barely sitting up. A big part of the problem is the limp drumming, thin and soft in sound and not featuring much variety in playing, let alone power and speed. The vocals carry all the emotion and anguish and veer dangerously close to melodramatic hysteria. Songs like “Melancholy” resemble mini-operas in the way the voices alternate between BM and clear, as though a conversation in a dark cave is in progress. The band’s potential is revealed on “Exhausted by Life” when at long last the music speeds up but even here this has the unfortunate effect of revealing how much EoE misses out on not having a strong, focused and driving rhythm section.

I realise the album aims to recreate the feeling of suicidal depression, the lack of energy and motivation that accompanies it, and the fragmentation of identity but EoE have a lot of work to do to convince us listeners that their work is worthy of our time. The guys have atmosphere down pat and a good sound, and they show ability in experimenting with sound and mood. They need to work on developing a more powerful sound with forceful percussion that pushes the rest of the music and inspires them to create and play urgent music with a large range of emotional expression.

I don’t get much sense of the angst and pain of living with depression, and the torment it causes to sufferers. That is something the album should have tried to capture.

Contact: Depressive Illusions Records

La Mort du Soleil: a highly emotional and intense depressive rock album

Sombres-Forets-La-Mort-Du-Soleil

Sombres Forêts, La Mort du Soleil, Sepulchral Productions, SP035 (2013)

I reviewed the debut album “Quintessence” by Sombres Forêts for TSP several years ago and since then this Canadian act has had quite sparse output with follow-up albums released in 2008 and 2013. “La Mort du Soleil” seems an introspective, contemplative effort with a strong emphasis on atmosphere and intense emotion. Melody and riffs dictate the nature of the songs with less busyness and more space within. SF main-man Annatar allows the mood and subject matter of each song together to dictate its direction.

The music has a soft edge and a deep cavernous echo effect gives it a three-dimensional sculptural feel. Annatar’s singing is fairly dominant in the mix although his voice can be thin and a bit ragged. There may be post-BM influences in some of the music – certainly the BM tremolo guitars seem less constantly noisy though they are always present. Montreal’s famous children Godspeed You Black Emperor may be one source of inspiration. Sometimes the pace is relaxed, allowing for plenty of emotional drama to burst out. Lead guitar solo break-outs appear but don’t usually dominate the songs where they are present.

By themselves the songs are quite good but bunched together on the album they tend to sound very similar and could just about run straight from one into another; you would not notice much difference between one and the next. Riffs and melodrama are packed into each song densely and considerable anguish and agony are expressed as well. Over 52 minutes, so much unhappiness and personal torment delivered can either be exhausting or a complete turn-off depending on listeners’ mood. Very few songs let rip with explosions of BM anger and rage at an unforgiving and indifferent world that looks askance at individuals’ pain as they struggle through life. There is more melancholy and passive acceptance of dire fate it seems than there is of fury against so much unfairness. One stand-out is “L’Ether” which includes a thumping drum introduction, clear guitar melodies as well as tremolo BM-string texture streams and passages of acoustic guitar wistfulness. Other instruments prominent on the album include piano (especially on one of the middle tracks, “Au Flambeau”) and possibly violin and mandolin in some parts.

All tracks are long – quite a few go past the 9-minute mark – and arguably they could have been edited for length as within them there’s not that much escalation of emotion or other conflict that would result in a dramatic and memorable climax. The songs bang on the turmoil straight away and the emotion stays much the same from then on. Entire tracks are pretty much ongoing purges of sorrow and intense feeling.

For Sombres Forêts, this album builds upon previous work and extends the act’s range much farther into melodic post-BM territory. However many BM acts have progressed from depressive BM to depressive melodic post-BM rock in similar ways so this move for Sombres Forêts doesn’t come as a surprise. I think though if Annatar wants to stand out from the pack with Sombres Forêts and not give the appearance of following the herd, he must now consider sticking his neck out into musical territories far from BM.

Contact: Sepulchral Productions