Saturday, 5 October 2019

Various - Dark Ambient Vol 18.


Album: Dark Ambient Vol 18
Artist: Various
Label: Sombre Soniks
Catalogue no: SomSon 140

Tracklist:
      1.      Akoustik Timbre Frekuency - Ὀϊζύς Rising
      2.      SIJ – Settle Clouds
      3.      Taphephobia – The Personification of the Dawn
      4.      Hellschreiber – Inside the Labyrinth
      5.      Cousin Silas – Tartarus Comes Up for Air
      6.      Babalith – Sapho
      7.      Tzii – Niké Itta
      8.      Temple Music – Io, a Fairytale Romance
      9.      Druhá Smrt – Nekromantaeon
    10.  Seesar – Hypnos
    11.  Alone in the Hollow Garden – Across the Abyss
    12.  Tribes of Medusa – Alone in Her Lair
    13.  Misantronics – Dark Areta
    14.  Black Seas of Infinity – Eruption of the Bleeding Oracles
    15.  Mørket – Nyx and Erebus
    16.  Bathory Legion – Ερμής
    17.  Grist – The Monster Inside thy Labyrinth (08.08.19)
    18.  Arcaïde – Hesiod’s Theogony
    19.  Embers Below Zero – Andromache’s Lament
    20.  Uzbazur – Battles of the Gods
    21.  [ówt krì] – Ascend to Light
    22.  Sheer Zed – The Sacred Lake of Crocodilopolis
    23.  Guy Harries – Minotaur


The latest volume in Sombre Sonik’s bi-annual compilation of the best of dark ambient has reached number 18, its coming of age so to speak. Most of the tracks I understand are unique to this collection, and some might even be foreshadowing future releases on the label. Any canny individual will discern from the track titles that its overarching theme is ancient Greek mythology, with all its attendant Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes. It must be borne in mind that, unlike say Ancient Egyptian deities who were remote and otherworldly, Greek deities were very much superhuman analogues of ordinary humans, especially in their actions and reactions, making them very relatable to us mortals (or certainly to ancient Greek mortals), their status as Gods and Goddesses the only thing that separated them from those ordinary human beings. Their lives were as complex and as simple as our lives were at that time, and that was one way for people to understand them.

Let’s plunge right in (but brace yourself because this is going to be a long one - apologies), and start at the very beginning with Akoustik Timbre Frekuency’s ‘Ὀϊζύς Rising’. Ὀϊζύς (Oizys) is the Goddess of Misery, Anxiety and Depression, being the daughter of Nyx (Goddess of Night) and the twin of Momos. Indeed, the atmosphere evoked here doesn’t much rise above subterranean rumbles and drones, eliciting an oppressive and browbeating weight that hangs heavily over the entire track. Strange disembodied voices emanate from beneath the black mists, presumably the denizens of some underworld realm. SIJ’s ‘Settle Clouds’ takes entirely a different tack, gloriously ambient chords launching themselves off a deeply elevating drone, to take flight and soar into a broad Mediterranean sky, the sun showering blessings on the Greek homeland. Greek myths could be full of cruelty, and yet could also portray incredible beauty and passion. The two tracks thus far encapsulate that dichotomy perfectly.

‘The Personification of the Dawn’ by Taphephobia carries us along on yet more high-flying chords and drones, as we float lightly and airily on invisible morning currents of wind while we witness the rising of the new day’s sun. Wispy white clouds brush our skin, their soft caresses as beautiful as soft maiden’s kisses. Hellschreiber offer us deeper, more sinister drones, as Theseus enters the Labyrinth, the domain of the Minotaur, whose grunting breaths are ever-present on this track. They’re a reminder of what’s in store at the centre of the puzzle, a bestial half-man, half-bull creature living in deep subterranean solitude, ready to accept tribute from King Minos every ninth year. Cousin Silas’ ‘Tartarus Comes up for Air’ burrows headlong into the earth on haunting drones, alighting in the deep caverns and chasms forever hidden from the light of day where souls are judged, punished, and tormented, the very same place where the Titans are forever imprisoned. It’s completely airless and subdued, a fitting dungeon for wrongdoers to find themselves trapped in.

‘Sapho’, by Babalith, is sinuous and snakelike, hypnotic and mesmerising like a snake-charmer’s flute. Sapho (or Sappho) was a female Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, who somehow became a symbol of lesbian love. Niké is the Greek Goddess of Victory (not a brand of trainers), and Tzii’s ‘Niké Itta’ track begins with a mass of reverberant tones overlaid with weird flute-like breathings, followed by forceful horn sounds shimmering through the air from afar. Perhaps a great victory has been won, and these are the annunciators of that triumph.

Next up is Temple Music’s ‘Io, a Fairytale Romance’ – the track is doubly appropriate here, as Temple Music is based on one of the Greek islands. As for Io, in legend she was one of Zeus’ mortal lovers, and became the progenitor of many kings and heroes. A voice from the depths of space and time emerges against a background of woodwind-type sounds, which change into drones and rumbles that build and build. The voice recites a story in Greek, presumably the story of Io and her divine romance. Druhá Smrt’s ‘Nekromantaeon’ presumably refers to the Necromanteion of Acheron, a temple devoted to Hades and Persephone. Suitably downbeat strings introduce the track, the chords as mournful and doleful as the region of death is itself, before the track opens out into grandiose sweeps of power and sound, indicative perhaps of the characters of Hades and Persephone. The contrasts couldn’t be more startling.

I reveiewed Seesar’s Ghoul-Kin earlier this year for this blog and, of all the tracks on show here, this project’s contribution is the most unique, insofar as it takes a very abstract approach to music. His ‘Hypnos’ is no exception, beginning with a series of reverberating scrapes and howls, personifying Hypnos’ role as the God of Sleep. However, sleep has many different states, from peaceful, to dreamful, to agitated and on to nightmarish, sometimes in the same night. This is reflected in Seesar’s lengthy track (coming in at just under 38 minutes), meaning that one can legitimately see this as a portrait of the God himself and his powers, in all his moods and caprices. This might just be one of my favourite tracks on here.  

Now comes an act I’ve heard of but not actually heard yet, Alone in the Hollow Garden – and their ‘Across the Abyss’ is a beautiful drone and voice affair, as if saying that if one speaks to the void then it will answer you. Following on from that is Tribes of Medusa’s ‘Alone in her Lair’, a sparkling fuzzed up guitar and drum paean to some unnamed female deity brooding in her secret sanctum. And broody it is too, the kind of brooding that certain-types engage in when they’re convinced that they’ve been wronged – there’s anger, envy, jealousy, and rage all wrapped up in here. Misantronics, another act with a recent release on the label (Initium), bring us ‘Dark Areta’, which initially starts with a low growling drone accompanied by howls and voice. This is a frigidly cold piece, reminding me of freezing winds blowing across a forsaken landscape.

Next up is Black Seas of Infinity’s ‘Eruption of the Bleeding Oracles’, a deeply Lovecraftian piece, with strange calls, rattling bones, and chill winds. This sounds as if it’s emerging from some deep pit, one that’s filled with poisonous vapours and sulphurous aromas. Mørket’s ‘Nyx and Erebus’ is next, a slow machine-gun electronic beat that echoes endlessly over its running time, oscillating, ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning. Nyx is the Greek Goddess of Night while Erebus personifies darkness and shadows, an appropriate companion to Nyx. Seemingly random notes serve as a prelude on Bathory Legion’s ‘Ερμής’ (which means Hermes), the God of trade, heralds, merchants, commerce, roads, thieves, trickery, sports, travellers, and athletes. He also acted as an emissary and messenger for the Gods. Stirring strings then pick up after the intro, focusing on the deity’s swiftness, before reverting to those random-appearing notes (they’re not, but give the appearance of being so). Australian outfit Grist is next with the second-longest track on the album, ‘The Monster Inside thy Labyrinth (08.08.19)’, announcing its presence with looping flutes and other woodwind instruments. Gradually these metamorphose into competing drones, reminding me somewhat of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Beyond that it’s a complex, ever-changing track, forever evolving, roiling and coiling, having morphed into an entity far removed from what it was at the beginning.

We’re on the home straight now (and I thank you for your patience) and our next focus is on Arcaïde’s ‘Hesiod’s Theogony’ (Hesiod, by the way, was a poet active between 750 – 650 BC, contemporary with Homer of The Odyssey and The Iliad fame), which is a poetic work concerned with the origins of the world and the Gods. Indeed, the start sounds like the deep time before creation, the period when matter was diffuse and undifferentiated. Gradually, forms coalesce and assume their familiar shapes. The Gods become embodied too, and thus is our first mythology created.

Andromache was the wife of Hector, a soldier who was killed by Achilles, and here in Embers Below Zero’s entry she’s in the depths of lamenting his death. Swirling, plangent drones float on a breeze of grief, that same breeze taking Andromache’s tears with it. Uzbazur’s ‘Battles of the Gods’ burbles its way into existence on fierce winds, whilst being bolstered by a crackling hammered percussion, as Gods and Goddesses hurl thunderbolts at each other. [ówt krì]’s ‘Ascend to Light’ states its intentions with deep drones and ringing sheets of high-end sound, a spiritual flight through layers of gross matter that becomes diffuser and cleaner the higher we ascend. Grainy looping structures provide the bedrock for Sheer Zed’s ‘The Sacred Lake of Crocodilopolis’, which was a religious centre for the worship of Sobek, the Egyptian crocodile-headed God before it was taken over by the Greeks. It later became Arsinoë, named after Ptolemy 2 Philadelphus’ wife when he declared her its protector Goddess. Vaguely Eastern-style drones and figures elicit a sense of the exotic and mysterious, alluding to both the city itself and the sacred lake it sat next to.

And now, here we are at the very last track, Guy Harries’ ‘Minotaur’. We’ve already encountered the half-man, half-bull creature before in Hellschreiber’s track described above, but Harries describes the beast in very abstract terms, using resonant, oscillating drones and tones that convey the threat the creature represented. It ascends into a helicoptering blast of noise, a giant behemothic presence representing cruelty and danger, a block to anything resembling beauty or culture.

I apologise for the overlong review, but with compilations I feel that all participants’ efforts should be acknowledged. Luckily, however, I can honestly say that there were no duds on this one, but I would place as my particular highlights the contributions from Seesar and Guy Harries. I would venture to say that there’s something that will appeal to everyone on here, and as a name your price release, you can’t really go wrong, plus it represents excellent value. I urge you to pick this up, and give it a thorough listen – it deserves a careful listen and a lot of appreciation.

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Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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