Sunday 11 August 2019

My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums

My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums

By Casey Douglass

My Top Dark Ambient Relaxation Albums

It occurred to me the other day, that the selection of dark ambient albums I carry around with me on my smartphone really have become mainstays of my ambient listening. While I enjoy the more jagged variety of dark ambient, those albums that contains clanks, bangs and screeches from the netherworld, they aren’t the most conducive to relaxation. Relaxation is one of the main purposes that my music listening serves, which is possibly why dark ambient, as a genre, has even begun to push heavy metal down my pecking order. The albums listed below are all dark ambient albums that have been mainstays for me, many of them for years.

Azathoth – Cryo Chamber Collaboration - When Azathoth came out, I was a tiny bit “It’s not as good as Cthulhu”. Little did I know that over the years, Azathoth would slowly supplant Cthulhu as my most listened to dark ambient album. In a large part, it’s my “go to” depression album. That’s not to say that it depresses me, but that there is something about the soundscapes on Azathoth that really suck me in and spit me out feeling a little bit better. In one particularly bad spell, I remember it was winter, but sunny outside. Naturally I closed my curtains. I got into bed under the covers and laid a variety of pillows across my body and face, leaving just the smallest of gaps for my nose to take in fresher air. I had my headphones on and Azathoth playing.

The opening swirls of Azathoth are like an inky blackness that just pull the listener down. For me, it’s the audio equivalent of burrowing through the earth, sliding down to dwell where the dark gods live. Rusty chains swing from caves that are seen for only an instant, nebulous mists billow and waver and the very air tastes ancient and yet sustaining. If I drop off to sleep, and I often have, I am woken by the swells of sound at the end of track two, swells and sways that make me feel like a lost ship buffeted on a roiling sea. I genuinely feel renewed after its two hours of darkness, so it easily goes at the top of this list. One thing I will say though, as a warning, is that some way intro track two, there is a segment of what sounds like a pebble being thrown hard at a cave wall. It happens a few times and, if I am half asleep, occasionally it does jolt me with adrenaline.

Cthulhu Cthulhu – Cryo Chamber Collaboration - Cthulhu was my previous number one... but we are still on good terms. If you always wondered what it would be like to listen to Cthulhu rising from the deeps, this is the album for you. Wet feet patter on stone, water glugs and leviathans moan as the listener delves deep into the sea. I think one of my favourite parts is when the soundscape begins to warp and judder, like a strange distortion has settled over things, twisting sounds and muffling the various bassy rumblings. I often doze off after that part hits me, maybe it does something to my brain. As with Azathoth, there is a part that sometimes jars me. A voice begins to intone the well-known Cthulhu R’lyeh prayer at one point, and that often stirs me to wake up. On the plus side, this means that I get to hear the sirens and screams that sound near the end, just as Cthulhu rises and scares the crap out of people.

The Edge of Architecture
The Edge of Architecture - Proto U – To be honest, I could have picked a number of albums by Proto U to add to this list, but I think The Edge of Architecture edges it. Ha! The first track is a little ‘harsh’ to relax to, featuring the chatter of air traffic controllers as it does, but the tracks that come after are smoother. One features the audio effect of notes popping like soap bubbles, another contains the clever use of radio static. Others feature some kind of field-recording that adds a pleasing layer to the tones and drones that stitch everything together. I find The Edge of Architecture a very peaceful album, and this is why I think I listen to it as much as I do. Another album that is also well worth looking at is Earth Songs, one in which Proto U teamed up with Dronny Darko to give us an album that follows the evolution of our planet. Earth Songs has dark soundscapes, but also ones alive with the bustle of birds and nature, and it’s a very pleasing ‘chillaxing’ album.

Myth About Flat WorldMyth About Flat World – Creation VIMyth About Flat World is a more shamanic-feeling album to me, especially with regard to some of the rattlings and beats it contains. It has meditative, whimsical soundscapes, ones that conjure the images of myth and legend, the shamanic tree of life, chanting, sighs and whispers. It’s a rhythmic foray into more primal themes and archetypes, and an album that I find enraptures my mind. It feels a bit like going on a holiday, but the kind of holiday where you get stuff done and aren’t just lazing around by a swimming-pool, watching tourists' fat backsides chewing on overly tight swimming costumes. The kind of holiday I mean is where you explore, go off the well-trodden paths, and learn something about yourself along the way.

Ghosts on Broken Pavement
Ghosts on Broken Pavement – Mount ShrineGhosts on Broken Pavement is the most recent album on my list, but one that has quickly established itself in my permanent listening habits. If you find rain relaxing, take a listen to this album. Mount Shrine does stuff to rain that makes it sound even better! In my opinion of course. Each track on Ghosts on Broken Pavement seems to take you on a slow stroll, from the inner city and out into nature, the wind and traffic giving way to a lonely train-station and the mountains beyond. The field-recordings that pop up are soothing and scene-setting, from a "wind blowing around a courtyard" to the gentle ting-ting-ting of said train-station's bells. It just feels very soothing, and again, like a pleasant stroll away from the cares of everyday life.


There we have it. Scanning back, I see I wrote the most about Azathoth, by some distance, but I feel I gave a good accounting of why I like each album that I’ve listed. I genuinely listen to most of these albums at least once per week, and considering some have been out for four or five years... that’s quite something. There are plenty of other albums that I’ve reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, but it’s not always easy to guess which ones will end up in my continuous listening pile. These ones have, and here I stand, shouting about their virtues to all who’ll listen.

Thanks for reading. If you have any other dark ambient albums that you find particularly relaxing, please feel free to let me know what they are called and why they appeal to you. You can do this below in the comments or by finding me on social media :).