Thursday 12 December 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Birds of Naukan

Dark Ambient Review: Birds of Naukan

Review by Casey Douglass

Birds of Naukan

I often like to listen to some dark ambient that has a shamanistic or ritualistic element, so when the opportunity to listen to Creation VI and Ugasanie’s Birds of Naukan fell into my inbox, I was easily intrigued. Birds of Naukan is a re-issue of an album originally released in limited form back in 2015. It’s a collaboration between the two artists and is dedicated to some of the sacred places of Chukotka, the northernmost region of Russia, with spectacular tundra scenery and history.

As you might expect from an album that is focussed on that kind of landscape, the music is laden with field-recordings, tribal sounds, chants and a feeling of cold exposure. The opening track: Nuneangan is a great case in point. It begins with the sounds of birdsong and trickling water, a bit of thunder and an echoing quality that seems to hint at being in the mouth of a cave. It isn’t long before other notes and tones emerge, from one that sounds like the shushing of a boiling kettle, to horns and a kind of guttural gurgling. It’s a texture-laden opening track, and I particularly liked how the soundscape darkens as it progresses.

Track two is Yttygran, a track that has a quite ominous quality, with scraping and rustling sounds, playing along with the boing-boing sound of a mouth-harp. This track felt like it was a slow build-up of forces, the sounds taking on the nature of the wind inhaling before it screams. Near the midpoint, footsteps can be heard making their way through the landscape, walking the listener into a different space of high shimmering resonant sounds and an insect-like swarming buzz.

Track three is Souls of Whales, and it begins with a deep, whispering rustling, and a sound similar to someone running a finger-nail along a plastic comb’s teeth. About one third of the way in, drum-beat and bone sounds make way for the sound of the sea, crashing waves and piped notes. Things turn a little more ominous towards the end as some of the calls and cries that can be heard take on a wolf-howl aspect, to me at least.

Next up is Pegtymel, the longest track on the album. Something about this track hinted at a “fever dream” like quality, the dog-like barks and pleasing mouth-harp tune sitting amongst a drumbeat and voices that take on the element of screams as the track plays out. A track with quite a ghostly feel to it.

The final track is The Keepers, the shortest track at just over five minutes, and one that eases the listener back to the real world by way of more mouth-harp, the rise and fall of drone, and a furtive ethereal quality that is chased away by hints of birdsong at the end.

Birds of Naukan is a pleasing album, probably containing the most mouth-harp of anything I’ve ever listened to, but that’s no bad thing. The instruments and field-recordings used in each track really do create a feeling of an ancient culture in an even more ancient land. I also think it’s a great antidote to the mind-numbing Xmas music that is plaguing much of the Western world right now. Who needs a fat git in a red costume squeezing down your chimney when you can have the stark beauty of the Russian tundra filled with the voices of the ghosts who once lived there. There’s no comparison as far as I’m concerned.

Visit the Birds of Naukan page on Bandcamp, and check out Yttygran below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Birds of Naukan
Album Artists: Creation VI & Ugasanie
Released: November 21, 2019