Monday, 16 March 2020

New Risen Throne - The Outside.

Album: The Outside
Artist: New Risen Throne
Label: Cyclic Law/Old Europa Café
Catalogue no: 133rd Cycle/OECD 276

      1.      The Outside (I): Sunrise
      2.      What We have Seen
      3.      The Outside (II): Facing the Void
      4.      Corrosion of Pillars
      5.      The Outside (II): Structure
      6.      The Outside (IV): Bodies Float Silently
      7.      Birth of a New Disciple (II)
      8.      A Vision of the Hidden (Sysselmann Remix)
      9.      Echoes from the Loss (Visions Remix)
    10.  Breath of Growing Structures (Taphephobia Remix)
    11.  Humani Nihil (Phantom Ship Remix)
    12.  Sad Silent Prostration Before the Monolith (Vestigial Remix)
    13.  Sigh of the Soul (Apocryphos Remix)
    14.  Signs of the Approaching Wastefulness (II) (New Risen Throne Remix)
    15.  Withered Regions (TeHÔM Remix)

New Risen Throne, aka Gabriele Panci, has been a purveyor of some of the finest dark ambient textures for a long while now, and this latest opus is a follow-up to 2011’s Loneliness of Hidden Structures (Cyclic Law – 38th Cycle). As a quick glance at the tracklist will verify, it comprises seven new tracks and a further eight remixes created by some of the premier dark ambient acts working in the field today. As it’s such an epic aural tome I shall curtail my waffling and get straight into it.

As with most of NRT’s previous output, we are immediately beset with cold, dark, sweeping atmospherics on ‘The Outside (I): Sunrise’, perhaps at the coldest point just before the sun shows its face, yet ultimately one detects a streak of cosmic evanescence swirling throughout its length. Weaving in amongst the dankness are voices, ultimately overwhelmed by gargantuan tsunamis of oppressive, heavy drones. If I were to place this in any kind of geographical context, albeit a spiritual one, this would be Purgatory, a dimension suspended somewhere between the vaguely enlightened and the absolute damned, a piece of otherworldly real estate hovering between bright skies and an industrial wasteland of decay and filth, leaning heavily towards the latter though. Perhaps this is what the title refers to: a purgatorial realm where those on the outside are forever goaded and taunted by visions of the heavenly, knowing that they will never reach those heights. That is terrifying.

Next is ‘What We have Seen’, a slowly-pulsing, stealthy miasmic cloud of suffocation, an intangible and diffuse but sentient phenomenon that yet has a destabilising and destructive effect, perhaps like the slow onset of plague, feeling out the vulnerable and the doomed with its icy searching fingers. It starts off quietly, almost imperceptibly but, by turns, it gains a solidity and deadly weight that crushes both people and the light. A woman’s voice interrupts, perhaps a supplication to whatever saviour she believes in, until resonant tones like bells emerge out of the gloom – but what do they portend? Do they bring the promise of being saved or the harbinger of inevitable death in the wake of an immovable force? Choir-like voices only reinforce that notion, giving way to a massive wave of orchestral-style drones that threaten to subsume all before its onslaught. ‘The Outside (II): Facing the Void’ doesn’t give us any respite, wailing tones and drones blowing coldly across a barren landscape, that once was fertile and lush, yet now is nothing more than a paean to desolation. The only things that grow here are diseased and misshapen, perverted sculptures displayed in homage to a twisted vision of Nature. Not even high-flying orchestral sweeps manage to dispel the oppressive stuffiness, instead only suffusing the atmosphere with something monolithic and indestructible, demonic even.

‘Corrosion of Pillars’, track 4, is an exercise in lulling one into a false sense of security, beginning as it does with plangent, almost soothing tones, before a breath-like drone rips into the fabric of this reality wherever it may be located, dragging with it darkness and infection. It’s seemingly anchored in a foetid solidity, a slow-creeping flesh-rust, eating the body of materiality from the inside, sundering its very cells and constituents, corrupting and necrotising. The next track, ‘The Outside (III): Structure’, doesn’t pretend to offer us any shelter either, a dank, claustrophobic dungeon dripping with stagnation and ichor, replete with mysterious voicings echoing up from secret subterranean places. All we can do here is to shiver against bare stone walls, and attempt to find warmth and solace where we can. Almost as if closing a circle comes ‘The Outside (IV): Bodies Float Silently’, the final iteration of the cycle (but not the final track on CD1): the endpoint, when the ghost in the machine becomes a literal machine, an engine of de-evolution that ultimately sends us (and the world) back to a primitive state, or even to time of endless death. Light is very much in short supply here, but not altogether extinguished – hiding in some chasm somewhere, away from the clutches of darkness, biding its time for the right conditions for it to re-emerge. The hints are there, albeit extremely faint.

To round off CD1 we have ‘Birth of a New Disciple (II)’, a track suffused with occult meanings and invested with a deep spirituality, even if it is itself wrapped in a kind of darkness as if to hide itself from the world. It soars and sweeps, occasionally creating sparks and clashing bolts of power and light, swooping to the ground only to veer upwards at the last moment. It is power personified, self-contained and confident in itself, knowing that it has ultimate control, and that its boundaries are limitless. Its worshippers know that too, and seek propitiation and appeasement, hoping to win its friendship in a bid for survival.

I won’t dwell too much on the remix disc as, although these tracks are ‘new’ in the sense of new interpretations of selected pieces of NRT’s previous output, this is a bonus adjunct to the new material. Nevertheless, I think they deserve a little time to be listened to and appraised.

Norway’s Sysselmann (Thomas Narverud) gives ‘A Vision of the Hidden’ even more of a sense of the occult streams behind everyday appearances, injecting some cosmic expansiveness into proceedings. Frédèric Arbour’s Visions project reinvents ‘Echoes from the Loss’ and transforms it into something etheric and deeply seismic. Taphephobia (Ketil Søraker) takes on ‘Breath of Growing Structures’ and reimagines and reshapes it into something uplifting, poetic, and mesmerising, a call from the depths of time, space, and dimension – a soundtrack perhaps to accompany the cooling of the universe and the subsequent coalescence of all matter into familiarity. Definitely a highlight.

Roberto Faloci, aka Phantom Ship, drags ‘Humani Nihil’ into the deep realms of some bottomless ocean, where it appears there are wonders to behold. Droning chords swirl effervescently, light appears to dance even at these watery depths, and colours and alien shapes cavort in profusion. This one is another highlight, and left me with a smile on my face. Vestigial’s reinterpretation of ‘Sad Silent Prostration before the Monolith’ is subterranean, burrowing deep into the strata of earth to reach the primordial chasms and caverns below our feet. Rumbling drones do a magnificent job of stirring the lizard brain right here. ‘Sigh of the Soul’, remixed by Apocryphon, delves even deeper if it’s possible, assailing us with deep bass drones that appear to echo endlessly around the bowels of the earth. Whatever lives down here wishes to remain there, and to be left alone.

No we’re on the home straight with the last two tracks. First is ‘Signs of the Approaching Wastefulness (II)’ remixed by New Risen Throne himself, and what we’re treated to is a masterful essay in creating disturbing, unsettling atmospheres, without resorting to overwhelming noise or drone. A barely audible distorted voice, placed against scratchings and disembodied noises, plus the occasional swelling and strategically-placed drone, are enough to create a vivid picture. Many would do well to study this. Finally, TeHÔM take the honours of rounding the set off, with ‘Withered Regions’. A lone bell, treated and distorted, accompanies a male voice, a ritual being enacted in some dark and secret place that isn’t anchored in any particular time or place, a sourceless Everywhere that somehow pervades all of existence but yet is not part of it. This is an incantation to manifest isolation, separation, distance, and ultimately, detachment from all that is material and earthy.

It seems highly appropriate that I am currently reviewing this whilst much of the world is in lockdown to guard against a contagion: although where I am people are still free to go wherever and to mingle with whomever they please, this album somehow gives a foretaste of a deserted world, where the streets are empty, and the human voice and spirit has been stilled. It almost seems as if this album and its release form a kind of focal point, a nexus, wherein all the fears and hopes of mankind have converged. Perhaps it’s even a tad prophetic – even if it ultimately isn’t, it’s a magnificent album. Was it worth waiting nine years for? That’s for you to decide, but it’s arrived at a very propitious moment.

Available as a 2xCD in an edition of 500 in an 8-panel digipak and as a digital stream from here:

And also from the Cyclic Law and Old Europa Cafè websites:

Psymon Marshall 2020.

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