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.
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.