Cryo Chamber is a label run by Simon Heath, who has been making dark ambient music under the moniker of Atrium Carceri for almost two decades. Born in Sweden and now residing in Oregon, Heath has focused the label on a similar style, with cinematic drones as well as soundtrack-like ambiance and effects. As a consequence, many of the Cryo Chamber releases have science-fiction, urban, or post-apocalyptic themes.
We have reviewed numerous Cryo Chamber releases over the last few years. These are gathered below.
Various Artists – Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Tsathoggua (2022)
Nothing says Christmas like a 2CD set inspired by an elder god from the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos. Tsathoggua was actually created by writer Clark Ashton Smith and later referred to by H.P. Lovecraft. Here, the Cryo Chamber label has once again – for the 9th time in 9 years – reappropriated Lovecraft in collaboration form. Not a compilation, but two 50-minute tracks jointly composed and recorded over the course of a year by a group of artists notable in the cinematic drone and electroacoustic ambient space (see below for a list).
Tsathoggua the album begins with a rumbling, heavy ambiance and percussion patterns that vary from martial to tribal to unstructured. In addition to layered synth, passages incorporate stringed instrumentation playing Middle Eastern styled themes. Bassy drones are nearly omnipresent including during more experimental and improvised passages of sculpted noise. Dark and haunting soundscapes emerge, evoking the utter emptiness of outer space. While probably not intentional, perhaps this can be taken as an allegory for some of humanity’s more pointless or destructive aims and inclinations.
Crackling effects emerge from these atmospherics, accompanied by washes of static. Eventually, the effects move from background to foreground, constructing and deconstructing forms at the quantum level. Muted guitar riffs provide gritty rhythms that manage to have enough variability to avoid repetition. Sounds of metal upon metal reverberate while the tone as a whole maintains an organic nature. Other moments have an airy character before descending back into darkness.
Tsathoggua will be released on December 27, and is nearly two hours of unholy bliss. Hang a Cthulhu ornament from your holiday tree, tuck in your tentacles, and have a listen.
Credits: Atrium Carceri, Kammarheit, Dronny Darko, protoU, Dead Melodies, Onasander, God Body Disconnect, Council of Nine, RNGMNN, Northumbria, Void Stasis, In Quantum, Alphaxone, Neizvestija, Skrika, Dahlia’s Tear, Gydja, Kolhoosi 13, Lesa Listvy, Tineidae, and Apocryphos.
Skrika – Soludenia (2022)
Monty Adkins returns as his alter ego, Skrika, for another foray into electroacoustic ambient (a review of one of his efforts under his own name is here). The dark and cinematic soundscapes on Soludenia follow the path forged on last year’s Fifth Nature. Nonetheless, Adkins’s approach just sounds different than most examples of this loose and evolving genre. In addition to synth chords and drones, he manipulates massive swathes of sound that shimmer and move through auditory space. Some of these structures resemble drones, while others are more similar to tone clusters. He eschews going full-on acousmatic, but these tracks exhibit more than a little of those techniques.
On top of all that (which is a lot), Peyee Chen contributes wordless vocals on several of the pieces. Case in point, Pantropic Adaptation includes a two-note chant over bell-like sounds and sculpted distortions. Machine-like rhythms pop in and out of the mix. Toward the midpoint, her chants evolve slightly as the music takes on a disorienting biomechanical character, with sweeping electroacoustics dominating the still-present synths. It is as if a chimeric cyborg is about to leap out of your speakers.
In contrast, Ice Fields of the Eidola begins with quietly intensifying waves accompanied by rumbling and crackling. The latter resembles the skittering of small creatures but more likely represents melting of the titular ice fields. The ecological doom loop signaled by these noises continues with long-held notes guiding distortion across the frequency spectrum, particularly in the low end.
Chen returns for Cerria’s Lament, with an approach more reminiscent of slow-moving song (the words, if any, are still hard to make out). This is the most conventional and emotional piece on the album, with lamentations of yearning and loss. Unlike the other tracks, the backing music is mostly drone and bassy pulses with minimal distortion.
All in the 8-10 minute range, these six tracks are a heady and gripping descent into existential dread. Adkins has established once again that he is not only one of the leading purveyors of this cluster of styles, but also is expanding it into new territory. In doing so, he has created colossal and abstract sounds that are best appreciated at high volume. Very well done.
Fractalyst – Watchtower (2022)
This debut from Fractalyst (Dimitris Valasopoulos) is a heady and disconcerting mix of dark ambient drones and electroacoustic elements. In particular, background noises and effects accentuate and often are the focus of attention over the layered synth. These sounds include crackling and hissing static, strange vocalizations and animal noises, and twisted looping melodies that lilt and oscillate. They result in a cinematic soundscape that nonetheless supports active listening.
Valasopoulos’s manipulation of samples is quite compelling, as he uses them to build haunting stories and to give each track a distinct character. For example, Burial provides footsteps and background voices, as well as ebbing and flowing waves, some smooth, others gritty. This evolves into a wistful yet foreboding melody atop the aforementioned effects.
Imagined as a post-apocalyptic journey, Watchtower is a promising first release that comes highly recommended. It is also one of those albums that requires experiencing at a relatively high volume to fully appreciate its attention to detail.
Alphaxone – The Infinite Void (2022)
Alphaxone’s Mehdi Saleh is back with a set of deep, pulsating drones accompanied by mission control recordings from the Apollo 11 launch that resulted in humankind’s first visit to the moon. The former involves dark, airy rumblings, as well as occasional higher-pitched notes or a stray mechanical beep, while the latter is persistent yet often so low in the mix that it is only on the edge of perception. Thus, much of the foreground of The Infinite Void is centered on bassy layers of synth with a somewhat forbidding tone. Sweeping and majestic, these long-held notes and chords evoke the infinite blackness of space as well as the dangers of leaving the pale blue dot we call home. Perhaps unintentionally, the release of this album coincides with the planned first launch of a series of missions that would eventually return U.S. astronauts to the moon.
Gdanian – Induction (2022)
Sergey Gdanian’s latest release is drawn to science fiction rather than pure science. Gdanian invokes a well-traveled trope, that of humans leaving Earth to colonize other celestial bodies and escape their self-inflicted damage to the home planet. These thoughts are characterized by shimmering drones, crackling electroacoustic elements, and brief strains of melody. As Induction progresses, the droning takes on different natures – windswept and slightly distorted with static and whispering, for example. The dynamics increase with quiet passages broken up by turbulent cinematic breaks. The result is a haunting exploration of far-future soundscapes that ask the question of whether we can escape the tribal, emotive facets of our DNA in order to establish a better, exoplanetary society.
Mount Shrine – All Roads Lead Home (2022)
Cesar Alexandre, the person behind the Mount Shrine persona, passed away a little over a year ago due to complications from COVID. Thus, All Roads Lead Home will be his last recording, one that was completed by Simon Heath of the Cryo Chamber label. The four tracks hereon consist largely of dark, airy drones, filled with static and quiet spoken-word recordings, spread across almost 35 minutes.
The first three pieces are each dedicated to a particular type of locale, with Foliage Floor employing rapidly moving waves of sound and rumbling substructures. The tones grow cosmic in nature without being retro. Peaking Cold begins with echoing (perhaps sequenced) patterns over bristling drones and synth chords that ebb and flow. These elements form a loose melody that builds at a tectonic pace. Forest Fire contains the expected crackling and exhibits more than its share of the spoken-word parts along with layered sonorousness. The album wraps up with the title track, a hazy offering with copious amounts of sculpted white noise and smatterings of voices. The drones simultaneously oscillate at varying speeds, making this the densest piece of the bunch.
This is one of those not-so-ambient albums with a great deal of detail that warrants repeated listening at generous volumes. It is a well-composed and compelling release, and serves as a fitting swan song for Mr. Alexandre. RIP.
Apocryphos – Phantoms Received (2022)
At surface level, this is a dark ambient release, though its instrumentation is largely processed guitar, martial percussion, and background sounds. This manifests as smooth, slow-moving drones with multiple layers shifting about one another. But starting with the second track, Uråldrig Sorg, the percussion kicks in. While its patterns are not unduly complicated, these beats are perfectly suited to add a moody sense of doom to the recordings. In other words, the elements used are familiar enough, but the combination thereof works remarkably well.
Case in point, the title track employs pounding rhythms with guitar loops and effects, as well as scratching textures (likely generated by rubbing the lower-frequency strings). This amalgam induces an almost trance-like state, though with enough baleful variance to be the stuff of nightmare rather than daydream. Child of the Charnel House continues this trend, while Where We’ve Bled and Anchored wraps things up with drones and crackling effects.
Phantoms Received is a slow grower. After listening to it in the background for several days, I became increasingly intrigued and settled down for more attentive sessions. During these periods, the album’s well-crafted details became apparent – as well as how they merge to form driving, cinematic soundscapes.
Apocryphos is Robert C. Kozletsky. This is his fourth album under that name, and probably the best one yet.
Dronny Darko & G M Slater – Dissolving into Solitary Landscapes (2022)
Dronny Darko (Oleg Puzan) has been a favorite in these parts for some time – all of his recordings are worth owning. Here, he teams with G M Slater for a set of tracks that explore a futuristic dystopia in which Earth’s remaining humans are forced to live underground due to a climate crisis. The synth patterns are more subtle than usual, quiet but often looping in mechanical patterns. A large degree of the activity on the album is in the objects and field recordings used in the foreground – footsteps, water, crackling, voice-like sounds, and environmental noises. These elements paint a dark and apprehensive picture of the hopelessness of a future that is all too likely given our current trajectory.
Various Artists – Tomb of Primordials (2022)
This is the sixth collection in Cryo Chamber’s “Tomb” series and is intended to explore Sumerian mythology. The six tracks all fall squarely within the cinematic dark ambient genre, with contributions by Dahlia’s Tear, Skadi, Svartsinn & Letum, New Risen Throne & Mortiis, Inner Vision Laboratory, and Desiderii Marginis. All of these pieces are excellent, especially those on the second half.
Dahlia’s Tear kicks things off with Crystal Scars Beneath a Bleak Sky, a brooding piece with layered drones and crackling electroacoustic elements. This general approach continues on Seed of Pestilence by Skadi, though with the addition of deep, echoing drum beats and well as patterns of martial percussion.
The offering from Svartsinn & Letum, One By One I Broke their Wings, is quiet and windswept, with abundant environmental noises. The other pairing, Chants for Isimud from New Risen Throne & Mortiis, provides a compelling combination of mechanistic percussion, string-like synth washes, and haunting vocalizations for a distinctly Middle-Eastern feel.
Inner Vision Laboratory’s Vermin Wiped Clean is a complex layering of drones that exhibit both doomy and brighter aspects, with low-frequency rumbling constantly in the background. Desiderii Marginis wraps up the album with The Faceless Bringers of Pain. This track begins with a thick, suffocating set of drones, some layers exhibiting insect-like noises, which evolve into glacially-paced synth chording and simulated chants.
Metatron Omega – ISIH (2022)
Metatron Omega’s latest release answers the question of what choral music might sound like in an intergalactic church. ISIH is the fifth album by this dark ambient artist, and focuses on smooth, sweeping drones coupled with layers of wordless chanting. Percussion either booms in the background or provides a focal rhythm. A significant portion of the vocalizations are deep, either Gregorian in nature or bordering on throat singing. From time to time, this is accentuated by distorted spoken word passages in the foreground as well as machine noises, scraping, and electroacoustics. The rhythms vary from simple to complex, with ritualistic patterns. ISIH is all about the majestic and the mysterious, and makes for a compelling late-night listen in a candlelit room.
Dead Melodies – Memento (2022)
Despite being on the Cryo Chamber label, it would not be accurate to categorize Memento as solely dark ambient. Instead, this set of lush, soft drones and atmospherics is comparable to the sleep concerts of Robert Rich, in that it captures a range of hypnogogic states.
Case in point, Welcome Delerium combines rumbling synth with the splashing of waves and ethereal vocalizations. In contrast, Eyes of the Sun employs slightly harsh waves of sound with gentle lines of undistorted guitar. Embers are Forever involves grittier drones that waft through a dim and cloudy soundscape, while Memories Lost is breathy with a melancholy piano theme. But what all of these distinct pieces have in common is how they subtlety immerse the listener in blankets of sound – some of which are comforting (at least at first), while others…not so much. Whether considered dreamscapes, waking nightmares, or accompaniment for a brief nap, these offerings stretch the ever-expanding notion of ambient in new directions.
ProtoU – Memory Alpha (2022)
Timing is everything. Dark ambient purveyor ProtoU (Sasha Puzan) releases her first album in several years as her home city of Kyiv is under attack by invading forces. We truly hope that Puzan, other Ukrainian musicians, and Ukrainians as a whole remain as safe as possible throughout this strife.
It is hard not to let current events color one’s interpretation of Memory Alpha, but suffice it to say that the album explores a sci-fi dystopia with perhaps a few brighter moments. Employing deep drones, layered synths, field recordings, and electroacoustic elements, this offering is a prime example of its genre. Case in point, Soul Machines absolutely pulses and throbs over strange noises from unidentifiable sources and crackling static. In addition, ominous melodies repeat through the foreground in a cinematic fashion. In contrast, the title track takes a more traditional approach, with sweeping, airy waves and textures. Replica is a menacing, alien soundscape that offers jarring processed synth that morphs into machine bleeping and indistinct voices.
Throughout Puzan maintains a cosmic listenability, evoking futuristic nightmares, massive dreadnoughts hanging in space, dying stars, and maybe a bit of hope now and again. Regardless, Memory Alpha is very well done and gets two thumbs up.
Atrium Carceri & Kammarheit (2022)
Colossus is core dark ambient from the pairing of Atrium Carceri (Simon Heath) and Kammarheit (Pär Boström). Rhythmic pulses underlie ponderous layers of brooding synth as well as analog hiss and static. The former provides deep, dark soundscapes, while the latter includes a gritty noir feel. The percussive elements resemble attenuated mechanical pounding that originates from deep underground, while the synths are dense and claustrophobic. The title track puts these features together in a compelling fashion with percussion that slowly thumps, metallic tapping at higher pitches, and at least three layers of synth including one that resembles human chanting.
Tineidae – Mothership (2022)
A follow-up to 2020’s Exo, Mothership is the latest effort from Tineidae (Pavlo Storonskyi). While squarely in the dark ambient camp with its multitude of synths, sequenced rhythms, and processed mechanical noises, this effort has an emphasis on the majestic. Vast, sweeping tones etch out abbreviated melodic structures that suggest (as does the title) the sighting, landing, and/or abduction by an alien spacecraft. But rather than giving rise to terror, these events are represented by a mood of mystery and curiosity. The use of analog equipment and sequencers gives the album a retro feel, harkening to mid-70’s Tangerine Dream or mid-80’s Steve Roach. But these aspects are brought up to date with modern sampling and processing. The result is cinematic and strangely uplifting (no pun intended).
Mindwarden – Timeless (2022)
This is a very nice and mellow piano-based set of cinematic ambient pieces. As much in common with electronic pioneers like Tangerine Dream and Steve Roach as their darker successors, Mindwarden still provides a handful of ominous passages with sculpted staticky noises, as well as gentle scraping and slithering. Timeless can serve as a gateway for those versed in ambient and drone to the more extreme edges of the genre.
Various Artists – Cryo Chamber Collaboration – Dagon (2021)
Every year for the last eight, the Cryo Chamber label has worked with a slew of dark ambient artists on an extensive collaboration inspired by the horror works of H.P. Lovecraft. The difference between such a collaboration and a compilation is that this album consists of two very long tracks that were co-authored by all participants, whereas a collaboration is a grouping of individually composed and recorded material. As a result, Dagon offers up a sonically consistent set of drones, melodies, and effects that slowly explore a multi-dimensional musical space.
Indeed, these pieces are often as ambient as they are dark, with windswept features and plenty of softly-lulling synth waves. A more ominous mood creeps in from time to time with pulsing rhythms, bassy oscillations, voicelike constructs, and electroacoustic crackles. Some of this takes the form of quiet drones with the details hidden unless the volume is increased appropriately. Toward the end of the set, one of these more hushed passages morphs into the sounds of chanting and percussive elements folded upon one another before introducing the calls of seabirds to complement a haunted oceanscape.
Contributors include many names that might be familiar to those who read our reviews: Tineidae, Shrine, Dead Melodies, Darkrad, Northumbria, Dronny Darko, ProtoU, Council of Nine, RNGMNN, Wordclock, Randal Collier-Ford, Neiszvestija, Phonothek, Atrium Carceri, Alphaxone, Apocryphos, Gydja, God Body Disconnect, Flowers for Bodysnatchers, Beyond the Ghost, and In Quantum. These artists have created nearly two hours of music that makes for a satisfying experience whether one is engaged in active or passive listening.
Dronny Darko & Phaedrus – Quasi (2021)
Quasi is yet another compelling cinematic sci-fi / dark ambient offering from Dronny Darko (Oleg Puzan), this time teaming with Phaedrus (Johan de Reybekill). Giant synth waves crash upon alien shores, leaving bubbling electroacoustics in their wake. Repetitive mechanical noises echo in the background, evoking a sense of isolation and danger. Of course, the expected dense and stifling drones are also omnipresent, accompanied by shimmering and crackling. Puzan and de Reybekill collaborate with other purveyors of similar styles on four of Quasi‘s five tracks, namely Pavlo Storonskyi, Bryan Hilyard, Martin Stürtzer, and Pavel Malyshkin. Each of these individuals adds their own color and textures to their respective pieces.
Alphaxone – Ghost Machine (2021)
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.
Ager Sonus – Niflheim (2021)
Ager Sonus (Thomas Langewehr) is back with another percussive ambient excursion. This one also focuses on heavy use of flutes and synthesizers. Aiming to tell a story of battles and Nordic mythology from the 9th century, Langewehr’s rhythms are both tribal and martial. The synths, combined with effects and recordings, create a complementary sonic environment. The flute, coupled with occasional use of stringed instruments and throat singing, adds gritty primordial textures and a few jagged moments. Nonetheless, the synth work is smooth and layered for the most part. The feel is not overtly warlike, but gives rise to the impression of preparation for war – a small army readying for battle by torchlight in a darkened stronghold. I’ve made comparisons between Ager Sonus and Robert Rich before, and such similarities hold.
Beyond the Ghost – The Desolation Age (2021)
Beyond the Ghost (Pierre Laplace) returns for his third(?) album, this one imagining a war-torn Europe of the near future, with nationalist armies, cyborgs, and drones issuing in a new dark age. Sonically, The Desolation Age is a modern take on the late 70’s work of Kosmiche pioneers, such as Klaus Schulze. Many of the tracks involve ominous layers of synth accompanied by sequenced beats and rhythms. A handful of other instruments make smaller contributions, with guitar being one of the easier to pick out. Both spacious and propulsive, this is cinematic sci-fi ear candy that makes one yearn for Laplace to be able to work on a movie or video game soundtrack that gets him wider exposure.
Gdanian – Submersion (2021)
Sergey Gdanian incorporates pulses and subtle beats into his dark ambient. As its title suggests, Submersion invokes underwater soundscapes, and these rhythmic structures play nicely with drones, machine noises, effects, and bubbling subaqueous sounds. As a result, the nine pieces on this release are largely based on establishing a theme, some repetition thereof, and then moving on. This provides a sense of listening to a documentary or movie soundtrack.
Something about the simple, throbbing nature of this work is compelling. For instance, The Core features a wave-like rhythm backed up by ominous and sweeping dronelets. The Lowest Point relies on a piano melody that morphs in a sequenced pattern amongst gentler washes of sound. Paradox is a rumbling drone with echoing notes and a bassy thrumming.
Submersion is about exploring the depths – the inherent dangers of the ocean itself as well as the mysterious creatures residing below. Gdanian creates his tracks by combining various types of musical building blocks in a catchy yet forbidding manner. Well done.
Skrika – Fifth Nature (2021)
This is one of those dark ambient albums that just does everything right. While there is no clear sound or texture that you can point to as being the most innovative, the combination of features undoubtedly is. Skrika is the stage name of sound artist and composer Monty Adkins. Adkins has released quite a few albums of ambient and acousmatic works, but Fifth Nature is the first under this moniker.
In addition to drone and synth layers, Adkins employs crackling electroacoustic elements, sound samples, and multi-tracked wordless chanting from both female and male voices. In some tracks, the latter takes a form resembling a Gregorian chant or Baroque chorus, and is coupled to menacing waves of gritty synthesizer. The voices are also processed into demonic murmuring. This is music straight out of a psychological horror movie, with hauntingly tuned percussion and industrial rattling. Rough gurgling sounds suggest alien life forms being hatched from glistening egg sacs in dark caves.
Dronny Darko & Ajna – Radioactive Immersion (2021)
As far as I can tell, this is the second collaboration between dark ambient purveyors Dronny Darko (Oleg Puzan) and Ajna (Chris F). As might be expected from the title, the sounds on Radioactive Immersion combine drones with electroacoustic noises and field recordings. The rough theme of its seven tracks is an exploration of an old reactor that is somehow still operational and may have given rise to something worse than a few rads. For example, on Bottomless Gorge, the duo evokes metal fatigue and repetitive machinery cycles through manipulated mechanical sounds and echoing synths. Electromagnetic Pulse combines an ominous drone, electroacoustic crackling, and distant booming. Uranium 235 appropriately incorporates sounds like a Geiger counter with rolling drones, and indiscernible spoken vocalizations. The result of all of this is a compelling soundtrack for a nuclear nightmare, perhaps one that is haunted by supernatural elements in addition to humankind’s own folly.
Hilyard – Division Cycle (2021)
(Bryan) Hilyard offers up this album of deep and slow-moving drones, waves, and lush atmospheres. He has been making this form of dark ambient for the better part of a decade, and Division Cycle is his 12th or so release. Hilyard begins this journey in a style that is not unduly harsh, with plenty of airy layers. But by the third track, Of Hatred and Wrath, an ominous presence begins to rear its head in the form of background patterns that resemble animal noises. Feed the Earth continues down this path with chants and vocalizations, evoking a primeval or alien landscape. The finale, To the Warmth of Pyres, is a collaboration with fellow dark ambient artists Dronny Darko and ProtoU. It includes subtle echoing elements over a mound of drones, some with voice-like characteristics. In a sense, this represents a return to the initial structure of the album, coming a sonic full circle.
Various Artists – Yig (2020)
Billed as being a “Cryo Chamber Collaboration”, Yig is not an actual compilation. Instead, it is a pair of hour-long tracks that close to two dozen artists worked on together for over a year. Thus, distinct contributions of each artist cannot be distinguished, are not labeled, and presumably would be difficult to map out. These collaborators include a number that we have written about previously, including Dronny Darko, Dead Melodies, Atrium Carceri, Northumbria, Beyond the Ghost, God Body Disconnect, Randal Collier-Ford, Dahlia’s Tear, Aegri Somnia, and Alphaxone. This is actually the seventh(!) such collaboration put out by Cryo Chamber in the last several years. These musicians cover a lot of ground, including tribal ambient (some with a Middle-Eastern flavor), spacious drones, and breathy soundscapes. In general, the tracks are more percussion-heavy than your typical dark ambient but still include the expected synth layers. Where Yig goes in a surprising direction is with its incorporation of noir ambient – with steady beats and hazy piano melodies.
Flowers for Bodysnatchers – Infernal Beyond (2020)
Infernal Beyond is (give or take) the tenth album from Flowers for Bodysnatchers, a solo project of Duncan Ritchie. An amalgam of dark ambient, field recordings, and electroacoustic manipulation, the album tells the story of a tragic fire in the fictional Ravenfield Asylum of Fairhaven, Massachusetts – and its possible supernatural origin.
Plot aside, Infernal Beyond explores the twin themes of madness and occult, how they dovetail and intersect. In a similar fashion, the music blends several distinct voices encompassing bassy walls, percussive elements, oscillating waves, and various other processed effects. The latter, in particular, is a source of constant change and shifting focus, and includes static, animal sounds, footsteps, mechanical noises, etc. As a result, this form of ambiance does not lull or relax – instead it maintains a heightened sense of tension. Put another way, the album contains a fresh approach, if not in its underlying sounds then in the combinations thereof.
Needless to say, this is not easygoing fare, as a sense of doom and foreboding percolates throughout. But even without this nod toward Lovecraftian horror, Infernal Beyond would still be a stimulating exploration of organic and synthetic sounds. The unknown and unknowable terrors are just icing on the cake.
Randal Collier-Ford – Advent (2020)
Just when you think that you have a grasp on the expanse of dark ambient music, another artist comes to your attention. Such an artist might not only have a new album out, but also a long discography built up over the years. With 30-plus albums from the last decade, Seattle-based Randal Collier-Ford fits this description.
Advent, nonetheless, goes beyond the standard fare. Not only does it feature the expected ominous drones and waves, but also strings, vocalizations, and clever use of percussion across its three long tracks. The combination of these elements is not only spacious but also post-industrial. Further, there are numerous clear themes that repeat enough to recognizable without becoming tedious.
The strings are textural and the voices chant rather than sing. Indeed, the album is intended to tell a science-fiction story, with echoing mechanical processes hosting weird organic life forms. These sounds get increasingly haunting, as the final track, The Second Wound, includes a plaintive and forbidding piano theme that evolves into martial drumming before fading to silence.
Ugasanie – Freedom and Loneliness (2020)
From the cover art, it is not clear whether Ugasanie’s Freedom and Loneliness is attempting to evoke a distant past or a post-apocalyptic future. But as a main progenitor of polar ambient – a style of dark ambient that musically interprets the vast, cold expanses of the far north – the latest release from Belarusian Pavel Malyshkin is a welcome addition to this niche genre.
Despite its theme, Freedom and Loneliness is not a set of empty soundscapes. While it consists primarily of deep, rumbling drones with subtle background variations, Malyshkin also incorporates field recordings and even what sounds like processed acoustic instrumentation. Nor are these windswept and cinematic atmospheres bereft of life. Ritualizistc chants permeate some tracks, as does running water and animal noises. There is a barely-perceivable sense of foreboding, as if danger – human or otherwise – is present for the unwary. Nonetheless, the album ends on a melancholy note, with a gentle piano melody accompanied by soft background drones.
Tineidae – Exo (2020)
Sometimes musical innovation is in the development of new sounds, palettes, techniques, textures, and orchestrations. In other cases, the innovation lies in taking a pre-existing set of sounds and combining them in a way that is unique and compelling. If anything, the latter is often the harder task, as there may be a large body of works using the same or similar sounds. Case in point, Tineidae’s new release on Cryo Chamber manages to make use of traditional elements of dark ambient, synth, and drone music in a novel and appealing fashion.
Tineidae is Warsaw-based Ukrainian Pavlo Storonskyi. On Exo, he explores science fiction and cyberpunk themes with deep drones and sweeping synth washes. Contrasting with these more organic sounds are the programmatic precision of sequenced runs of notes. The catchiness of these pieces is often due to each having a discernable motif that they are built around. For example, Abandoned Mothership features a multi-note echoing synth pattern surrounded and accentuated by slow-moving keyboard melodies, rhythmic thumps, as well as what sounds like a bit of processed voice. The result is a cinematic feel, evoking the operations of futuristic autonomous machinery.
In short, if you find yourself liking Lustmord, the heavier moments of Steve Roach, or dark ambient in general, Exo will be a welcome addition to your collection. Strong recommendation.
Alphaxone – Dystopian Gate (2020)
Alphaxone is Iranian Mehdi Saleh, a dark ambient composer and performer, who brings his own twists to that expanding genre. Dystopian Gate is his 11th or so solo release, though he has recorded several joint releases, singles, and EPs, and has also contributed to compilations.
The album focuses on deep drones and washes, shored up by dissonant waves and walls. Underneath and around are shifting background elements, echoing percussion, and crackling static. There is a distinct lo-fi feel. The result would not fit comfortably into the outer space or primaeval ambient buckets. Instead, this is industrial / urban ambient. In it, buildings have walls that breathe, while menacing thunder reigns over dark cityscapes.
Alphaxone is just one of many unconventional modern arrangers from Iran who are slowly coming to prominence outside of their home country. Compilations such as Visions of Darkness and Anthology of Persian Experimental Music are great overviews of modern Iranian experimental music, where ambient, industrial, techno, and electroacoustic stylings mix with more traditional influences. It is terrific to finally be able to hear what these artists have to say.
Dronny Darko – Origin (2020)
Despite its curious name, this outfit (a one-man effort of Kievian Oleg Puzan) focuses herein on the sculpted sound side of dark ambient – at least initially. Puzan takes the listener through a journey of intentional strangeness with processed and warped structures, reminiscent of the output of GRM artists. This involves a wide range of elements – crackling, static, bubbling, looping, shimmering landscapes, and watery manipulations. The four tracks of Origin, ranging in duration from 8 to 15 minutes, explore these spaces. The result has the feel of a dystopian nightmare, and would be a fit soundtrack to a science fiction or horror movie.
But as the album progresses, the drones come to the fore, often bassy and heavy in the background as well as long and deep in the foreground. Sweeping lines drift and oscillate through chunks of frequencies. The musique concrète remains, taking a less aggressive but still important role.
Origin comes easily recommended.
Beyond the Ghost – Eternal Drift (2020)
France’s Beyond the Ghost produces a broad spectrum of sounds, including deep drones, lighter synth washes, some mildly discordant ambiance, and piano-based pieces. Throughout these, cello contributions come and go and wordless vocals emerge from time to time. There is a distinct cinematic / soundtrack quality to Eternal Drift that results in it being more easily listenable than some examples of this loose genre. However, it is still impactful and full of ideas and trepidation. Most pieces are beatless, but others exhibit sequenced rhythms or synthesized percussion. This album covers a lot of ground, all of which is tightly composed and performed.
Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, and God Body Disconnect – Miles to Midnight (2018)
An Atrium Carceri release with a title like Miles to Midnight invokes dark ambient jazz, and the release thereof does not disappoint in this regard. Atrium Carceri is Simon Heath, Cryo Chamber label head, and here he teams with Cities Last Broadcast (Pär Boström) and God Body Disconnect (Bruce Moallem) for an 8-track noir excursion.
Indeed, the first several tracks combine synths, processed sounds, and drones with slow, steady bass and drum beats, as well as an occasional soft piano theme. Far from a dark ambient vibe, these pieces evoke a lonely bar or city street well past midnight. After these, the album progresses toward the abstract, with jagged rhythms and angular pianos, as well as quiet unstructured improvisation, all under the fogginess of soft ambient pulses and waves. The beats return in the final tracks along with tortured, distant vocals.
The overall result is a strange and compelling addition to these artists’ discographies, one that crosses genres without comfortably fitting into any.
Dronny Darko – Black Hive (2018)
Black Hive is the third album of a trilogy from Dronny Darko (the moniker of Ukrainian sound artist Oleg Puzan) that includes previous releases Outer Tehom and Spira Igneus. His material seems to have slipped under the radar, or at least under my radar, as this 2018 release just came to my attention. Mea culpas apply.
Still, it is all too easy for an effort such as this to become buried under the endless supply of dark ambient music that is rearing its menacing head these days. But Puzan is one of the few that is going beyond just sinister synth work and drones. He incorporates effects, voices, clattering, and manipulated sounds in a fashion that has as much in common with GRM-oriented electronic and acousmatic composers as with Lustmord, Steve Roach, or the Berlin School.
There are oscillating drones, to be sure – Numinous is a prime example thereof with its deep rumblings and walls of sound, though these are punctuated by scattered percussive elements. In contrast, Devourer begins with sculpted noise and distant hammering, which slowly transforms into a combination of subtle synth layers, distorted waves, and breathy scraping. The Knot of Time includes tuned percussion, static moving from channel to channel, and giant, pulsing waves coupled with unstructured crackling.
There is a gritty, cinematic terror evoked by these pieces. Indiscernible voices and animal noises haunt dark forests and ruined buildings. Wandering through an abandoned city brings for unknowable horrors. If this sounds like your cup of dissonance, do not hesitate.
Ager Sonus – Book of the Black Earth (2017)
Ager Sonus is the dark ambient project of Germany’s Thomas Langewehr. On Book of the Black Earth he offers up an amalgam of flutes and synths with electroacoustic elements that is sure to please purveyors that genre.
Timing in around 50 minutes, Langewehr tells a tale of a doomed journey. As just a few examples, the first three tracks reflect this theme. Through the Desert features the aforementioned flutes over ominous synth tones and lightly-distorted waves of electronics. The Dead City consists of oscillating drones and echoing percussion, while Discoveries incorporates crackling distortion resembling the movement of rubble, voice-like elements, and baleful drones.
Book of the Black Earth ends with the 12-minute Awakening, which begins in a pastoral fashion, at least when compared to its predecessor tracks. This interlude ends, however, with the creaking of doors and melancholy piano that finishes the trek on a note of despair.
This album is a solid effort and sure to please those who enjoy the darker works of Robert Rich and Alio Die. Recommended.
Creation VI – Deus Sive Natura (2017)
Dark ambient music can go in so many directions, but Creation VI has a new twist on the genre, at least to these ears. First, the recording medium is analog tape, which gives the album a subjective richness and warmth often not apparent on pure digital works. Second, the instrumentation is unusual. Blockflute, Chinese flute, shruti-box, harmonica, ocarina, kazoo, bells, chimes, seeds, and seedpods are present in a drone- and wall-filled excursion. The result is a percussion-based, aboriginal feel spanning five long tracks.
But unlike others (notably Steve Roach) who explored the tribal ambient space, Deus Sive Natura is primarily foreboding, with dense chords and distant bells subtly combining with the wind instruments to create a slowly-shifting, ominous soundscape. In several tracks, the percussion plays a significant role, contributing to a haunting atmosphere rather than supplying a rhythm for the drones. Voices combine with these drones in hypnogogic chants, as do boiling electroacoustic elements.
Deus Sive Natura (translated as “god or nature”) is an exploration of ancient places and peoples therein, the latter seeking to understand their place in the universe through ritual and music. Aside from any such imagery, it represents a strong contribution to the dark ambient genre. Recommended.
Northumbria – Markland (2017)
Northumbria sounds as if it is a place from Game of Thrones, but it is actually an ancient English / Scottish Kingdom that was eventually incorporated into England proper. Northumbria the band consists of Canadian duo Jim Field and Dorian Williamson. Markland, their third full album, is thematically based on the Norse discovery of Canada. Geography and history aside, the music herein is a compelling slice of deep-space ambient spanning ten tracks of varied length.
The album is a live-in-the-studio improvised recording involving only guitars and bass. While the overall feel of the Markland would not be outside of the Lustmord / Steve Roach vein, the lack of keyboards and synthesizers sets this effort apart. Field and Williamson lay down long chords and drones, combining into shifting landscapes with rumbling undertones. Sustained notes evoke primordial forests, rocky hills, and unpopulated lands. Despite a familiar sound, the unusual instrumentation adds unexpected color to the mix.
Randal Collier-Ford – The Architects (2015)
A compelling factor present in the music of Randal Collier-Ford is how he manages to straddle the line between dark ambient / drone and processed electroacoustic sounds. Indeed, there is more than a nod toward acousmatic and musique concrete pioneers herein. While The Architects is one of his older releases, it is a prime example of how listenable this unconventional approach can be.
Each of the eight tracks, varying from 4 to over 13 minutes, explores various points on this axis. To that end, Eye of the Watchers offers slowly brooding synth layers accompanied by intricate mechanically-oriented sounds. On the other hand, Construction of a Demon focuses primarily on sculpted samples, found objects, and electroacoustic percussive elements, perhaps representing the tools and processes of an infernal workshop.
But where Collier-Ford really shines is in his use of suffocating and jarring blasts of noise as a recurring feature across multiple tracks. These bassy drum / synth bursts form as slow-moving staccato shock waves in A New Age and The Return. They accentuate the aforementioned drones and percussion in a decidedly cinematic fashion. While some of the other pieces might be described as at least somewhat ambient, these tracks are decided not.
The Architects is a highly recommended effort from an underappreciated source.