As Halloween approaches, we express the darker aspects of our world and existence along a spectrum from the silly, comedic, and lighter aspects of horror to those that are truly meant to terrify. While most decorations, events, and media oriented toward this holiday are directed to the former, a handful of recent dark ambient releases are subtle reminders of the latter.
Taphephobia & IDFT – Kandu (2021; Reverse Alignment)
This collaboration between Taphephobia (Ketil Søraker) and IDFT (Behnoud) is a slow-paced series of layered drones and pulsing waves. Each piece provides subtle details in its combinations of sounds, with different tones and textures moving at varied tempos. Synth-oriented, the closest comparison is to the works of Steve Roach, but with more of a brooding approach. To that point, Sacrifice is an experimental track that incorporates rougher, sweeping textures, a sparse bass line, and a hint of voices. The 16-minute Lockdown ends the album with the features mentioned above as well as percussive electroacoustic elements.
Alphaxone – Ghost Machine (2021; Cryo Chamber)
Alphaxone (Mehdi Saleh) returns with a set of walled drones coupled with crackling textures and distant mechanical noises. Found-object percussion along with processed sounds provide patternless strikes and clashes. Oscillating rumbles undergird higher-pitched recordings and effects. As an example, Aftershock evokes irrhythmic operations of eldritch machinery accompanied by shadowy voices before evolving into haunting synth chords and ominous pounding. Ghost Machine could be a soundtrack for a film about how a biomedical experiment goes horribly wrong, resulting in chimeric beings that slowly pick off doomed protagonists. Regardless, it is a prime representative of how dark ambient accented with a touch of musique concrete can be a compelling mix.
Fionnlagh – What Came Before (2021; Ambientologist)
Speaking of cinematic music, What Came Before from Fionnlagh is a set of 15 deep, synth-heavy drones that swell and fade. These ebbing and pulsing melodies and windswept soundscapes are presented atop low-frequency patterns, resembling the scores of Jóhann Jóhannsson. Textures vary from smooth to rough. While rarely harsh, the tone is admittedly dystopian, with mildly distorted snippets inserted at various points. As the album progresses it gets increasingly abstract and foreboding, with disjointed electronics and percussion integrated with the drones. The dynamics can be jarring, with more delicate passages periodically drowned out by loud swells of synth.