AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Drone Islands – Stellar (2021; Eighth Tower Records)

Eighth Tower is back with another compelling compendium, this one entitled Drone Islands – Stellar. Not unlike the similarly named Drone Islands – The Lost Maps and Drone Islands – Land Raising, this is a compilation of new dark ambient works from artists who explore all things drone. If anything, this 2CD recording dispels any notion that drones are just about minimalistic sustained tones. Instead, the sheer variety of approaches herein incorporate drone techniques into larger musical structures, all invoking sci-fi / horror themes.

Case in point, the opening track from Infinexhuma is spacious and dark, with quietly chanting voices as well as rumbling and crackling electroacoustic elements that provide an uncharacteristic busyness. MLS provides a quietly sweeping piece with a haunting windswept tone, and occasional growls that could be from a natural or supernatural source. Grey Frequency also focuses on the subtle with a set of slowly moving notes. Kloob’s contribution has a rough beat as well as swelling and fading drones.

But where things take a turn for the even more interesting (at least to these ears) is on Simon McCorry’s Awakening, which layers sound resembling classical string and brass sections playing chaotically toward a crescendo over the obligatory drone patterns. While one of the shorter pieces, it is singular and powerful. Nihil Impvlse also provides At the Springs of Void, one of the denser and more heavy-processed tracks, with echoing manipulations of distorted structures and feedback. Blackweald’s Kapteyn’s Darkness is organized around ebbing and swelling waves of roughness that morph into a more subtle and unpredictable set of ambient noises and effects. Finally, a shout must be given to Veronica Moser and her laptop for Supernova, an amalgam of drones, grinding passages, and sharp, repeating beats that are as ominous as they are unconventionally rhythmic.

Needless to say, a compilation of this breadth and depth cannot be summed up in a few words per track. Do take a listen and prepared to be pulled in.