Who Listens to Dark Ambient Music?
Written By Casey Douglass
"Who listens to dark ambient music?" is a question that I’ve come across a good many times while browsing the web. Another variation is “What kind of person listens to dark ambient music?” often by someone who listens to ten seconds of a track than promptly spits out their incredulity dummy as they fail to click with it. I can’t answer for anybody else, but I have spent some time reflecting on my own reasons below.
If someone asks me what dark ambient music is, I tend to describe it as resembling the score to a horror movie, but that glosses over the more peaceful or sci-fi varieties. Dark ambient is a kind of music that touches uncomfortable feelings and features harsh, often cold soundscapes, that bring you out of your safe mental space and into something more melancholy or challenging. As far as I am concerned anyway. As far as why I listen to it, read on.
The first thing that comes to mind is the variety of dark ambient out there, and that’s if you ignore the larger parent genre of ambient music. One dark ambient artist might use the kinds of drones and bassy rumbles that might accompany the summoning of Satan himself, another might use field recordings of cars passing in the rain and birdsong, mingling in a little melancholy piano for added effect. Yet another might revel in creating massive fuzzy walls of noise that trick the ear into conjuring other sounds deep within the staticy mass. It is always a great pleasure to find a new artist, or to hear a new release from an existing artist, that makes you sit back and go “Wow!”
With the mentioning of Satan in the previous paragraph, I suppose I'd better address the perception of dark ambient listeners. There are certain genres of music that just bring out the hysterical in some people, people who might think that heavy metal fans are Satan worshippers, all rave music lovers are druggies etc. Dark ambient is very dark, and I have no doubt that there will be some Satanists listening to it, along with a whole heap of Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans and whatever-ists. Personally, I don’t mind the fact that people might be shocked by the darkness contained in a dark ambient track. I’m a horror writer after all, it adds to my cachet. I also don’t particularly care how people view the things that I enjoy, be it the music I listen to, the books I read or the TV series I watch.
Speaking of writing, dark ambient is a tremendous tool for a horror writer to find some inspiration. Even the most directed of tracks (e.g. something called “journey into the forgotten temple”) can send me on a totally different tangent, maybe into space, hell or a strange reality of bog creatures. If you are a writer of fiction that has even the smallest amount of darkness to it, it would be well worth your while investigating dark ambient as a genre. I’ll mention a range of artists at the end of this piece.
While we are delving into the mind, dark ambient serves another purpose for me, and that is one of catharsis and relaxation. I have suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for decades, an anxiety condition that floors me at times. I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an illness that leaves me exhausted 24/7. Most days are a teeth clenched struggle for me, even with various therapeutic approaches in play such as CBT, ACT and mindfulness. When everything is turning to shit around me, tension building in my neck and shoulders, heart hammering; listening to a bit of dark ambient while resting on my bed gives me a mental holiday when few other things will. This gives the stress response in my body time to ease off, lets the anxious thoughts drift away, and very often, gives me a little sleep too. When I was younger, I dabbled with the New Agey types or relaxation music, whale song, birds and that kind of thing. It was okay but nothing great. I did notice that I clicked more with ones that had darker undertones. Phil Thornton’s Shaman is one that comes to mind: wolf howls and drum beats the order of the day. When I discovered dark ambient, it was like “This! Holy shit this!”. For the record, the first dark ambient I knowingly heard was one of Atrium Caceri’s early albums.
So there we have it, my reasons at least, for why someone might listen to dark ambient music. There are countless other reasons, I have no doubt, but these are the main ones for me. I’d love to hear the reasons someone else might have too, so if you are reading this and feel compelled, feel free to comment or just find me on social media and say hello. Oh, and before I go, here is a small collection of dark ambient artists you might like to check out. Many of them will have a Bandcamp page where you can freely stream some, or all, of their tracks. Others might be on Soundcloud or even YouTube. Wherever you look, if the website has the feature, like YouTube, pay attention to other suggested videos or sounds if any are recommended beside what you are watching, you never know where it will take you.
Okay, here are a few artists that you might like to check out: Atrium Carceri, CryoChamber (a dark ambient music label), Hoshin, Randal Collier-Ford, Terra Sancta, Lustmord, Cities Last Broadcast, Creation VI, protoU. Dronny Darko and Zalys.
Thank you for reading.