Tuesday 16 February 2016

Dark Music Review – Aokigahara

Dark Music Review – Aokigahara

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Aokigahara Album Art

Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), known as the Suicide Forest is a 35-square-kilometre forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Aokigahara forest is dense, shutting out all but the natural sounds of the forest itself. The forest has an historic association with demons in Japanese mythology, and it is a notoriously common suicide site.

Duncan Ritchie explores the long journey to Aokigahara through soundscapes ripe with lonely pianos on textural backdrops. Duncan spent countless hours field recording on the voyage between Tokyo to Aokigahara which creates the perfect atmospheric companion to the intricate instrumental approach. This is a beautiful dark ambient soundtrack culminating in the final choice between life and death.

Besides the above album description giving me great holiday ideas, Aokigahara the album sees a fantastic concept or theme brought to life by Duncan Ritchie’s clever composition of the subtle and not so subtle. Piano, strings and drum all give the tracks their own atmosphere and feeling: some like a depressive sitting in the dark, others full of furtive movement or pounding beats. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for a variety of drones and field recordings, with a fair few tracks featuring all manner of sounds, from oozing dripping, to clanks and knockings that all seem to echo back eerily from unseen surfaces.

A number of tracks impressed me for varying reasons, and these I wanted to single out by name. The first is Field of Ink, a track that begins with gentle piano, delicately plucked strings and a distant knocking. What I particularly liked was the discordant relationship between the knocking and the more melodic instrumental notes, there is just something about the way they play off each other and keep the thing interesting to the ear.

The next track that I wanted to mention by name is Night Heroin, the longest track on the album. It begins with an uncomfortable bubbling mass of what sounds like boiling water. This is joined by a high pitched resonance and a chant-like noise that gave me the impression of someone walking through darkness and being plagued by pixie lights among the trees, our world bumping up against the next maybe. The sound of the track changes as the playtime continues, new sounds and instruments coming to the fore, before it returns to the bubbling water as it nears the end. Very enjoyable indeed.

The final track that I wanted to mention is also the final track on the album: The Games Foxes Play. A light resonance and gentle swell of sound gives this track a lighter feel, and I must admit that I took the title of the track quite literally. I mentally pictured two foxes playing and cavorting in snow as the golden light of the sun makes every dripping branch a mirror of rainbows. The track does change tone near the midpoint however, a dark rumbling and echoing space taking the place of the relaxing scene, as if the scene of foxes was only really being watched on a half-broken TV in a dark cave-like prison cell. Again, something that I found enjoyable in no small part due to the contrasts involved.

Aokigahara is dark ambient done a little differently to the usual, its delicate (or not so delicate) instrumental attributes sitting nicely with the echoing booming darkness that holds its melodies to its chest. If you like dark ambient and have any affection for Japanese flavours, Aokigahara might just be your perfect album. Even if you have no strong feelings one way or the other, the variation and theme of Aokigahara provides a welcome change of pace from other styles of dark ambient music. I give Aokigahara 4/5.

Visit the Aokigahara page on bandcamp here for more information and prices.

You can listen to Night Heroin by playing the YouTube video below too:

I was given a free copy of the album to review.

Album Title: Aokigahara
Written, Produced, Mastered - Duncan Ritchie
Artwork - Simon Heath
Label: Cryo Chamber
Release Date: November 3, 2015