Sunday 18 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Nusquam

Dark Ambient Review: Nusquam

Review by Casey Douglass


One of my favourite films is Alien. I like it for a number of reasons, but one element that I really enjoy is the duplicity of Ash the synthetic. As if it’s not enough to have to worry about the strange acid-bleeding alien, the crew of the Nostromo also have to contend with a malicious product of human ingenuity too. Nusquam is a dark ambient album from Aegri Somnia, and it delves into the feelings and notions of transhumanism and the interfaces between our technological and biological selves. When I listened to it, it brought about the same kinds of mixed feelings that Ash did in me, especially about how amazing technological advances might lead to evil. Although Ash is a robot that mimics being a human, I’d imagine the ability to create such a robot would be part of the wider tale of transhumanism in general. That’s my thinking at least.

Nusquam creates this same feeling of unease by mixing sounds that you might not think of mixing. Many of the tracks feature rain or dripping water, but also the sounds of machinery that seems to have a life support function: beeping heartbeats and sighing breathing apparatus. I guess it’s the difference between imagining a patient in a state of the art, clean hospital, and one in an underground tunnel with flickering lights above and water pouring down the walls. I must admit it brought out a kind of Frankenstein’s monster notion in my mind, some kind of clandestine, immoral experiment being conducted at the fringe of society and dooming us all.

The opening track Throne encapsulates this feeling nicely. Crackling and signal-sweeps meet dripping water and scraping. A drone fills the soundscape with ominous threat and a sound like a warped dot-matrix printer rises and falls. A little later some beeps can be heard that sound like a heart rate monitor, with snaps and hisses that might just be electricity dancing through newly awakened muscles and synapses. Other tracks create this feeling too, in their own way. I particularly enjoyed the ones that seemed to contain a breathing analogue, maybe rasping hisses or prolonged exhalations that seem to permeate the soundscape.

One of my favourite tracks is Antithesis. It opens in a bassy space, with rustling wind and a kind of “opening out” feeling. A faint heartbeat-like rhythm emerges, and what sounds like deep, tech-assisted breathing, but prolonged and hissing. Later comes a gentle, tickling puttering sound, a little like cockroaches scurrying around. Near the end of the track, a crackling egg-shell type sound can be heard, with a few sounds that just might be swallowing. The images created in my mind by this track were of a new form of technologically enhanced human, wandering the night-time streets of a large metropolis, finding, and dragging off, a sleeping hobo, to delve metal fingers into the unfortunate’s brain.

Many of the tracks caused this kind of imagery to float through my mind, dark and brooding, with the augmented brushing up against the “normal”. A track that stood out as being a little different was Archetype of Fraud. This track felt a little trippy, like someone being caught in a digital house of mirrors, the data and impressions falling past their eyes, feeding into each other in a destructive feedback loop. The sounds seem warped, and have a power-building dynamo aesthetic. Maybe the newly augmented human is stuck in a software error, or maybe its creator is trying to shut it down before it kills again. Who knows? It’s fun to think about though.

Nusquam feels metallic, wet and ominous, and paints an emotive atmosphere that could well be the soundtrack to humans being the creators of their own obsolescence. This is another impression that I really enjoy, and it also gels with my opening thoughts about Alien and the greedy corporation-led technological future it plays out in. It’s a dark ambient album full of clanking metal, data-transmission squeals and biological functioning, and it’s a fantastic, brooding listening experience.

Visit the Nusquam page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out Throne below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Nusquam

Album Artist: Aegri Somnia

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 22 Sept 2020