Wednesday 30 December 2020

My Dark Ambient 2020

My Dark Ambient 2020

By Casey Douglass

My Dark Ambient 2020

2020 is the first year that I think my dark ambient music listening eclipsed my partaking in heavy metal. Previous years, I viewed it as an about even split, but this year, I think the dark stuff has overtaken all other contenders. I’m sure the pandemic has played its part, but in nearly every way, my health issues have kept my life small enough, that even a pandemic hasn’t really changed much for me. I’m grateful for this in certain ways, but in others, I feel quite down about things. When the world comes out of the other side of Covid and people can get back to a version of normality, I kind of dread the bitterness and envy I'll likely feel. I’ll be happy for the people who get their lives back, of course I will, I just want a shot at a ‘more normal’ life too.

I have to rest frequently throughout the day, but my main rest period after lunch is when I always listen to a dark ambient album. Headphones on, eyes closed, duvet up to my chin. The drones and tones of dark ambient seem to give all those separate parts of my mind something to focus on. Maybe the ruminating part gets lost in the drone, maybe the part that thinks dying wouldn’t be so bad marvels at the crystalline high notes, and maybe the part that still has hope can chase the shimmering tones. It’s like a buffet where there is something for everyone. I might doze off, I might not, but the soundscapes usually fill my head nicely and it gives me a little holiday from this world.

Azathoth is still my most listened to dark ambient album by a massive margin. This year has been no exception. It creates such a feeling of swirling inky blackness, vast spaces and ominous presences, I never get tired of listening to it. It’s also my “go to” album for when I feel like I’m sinking deep into depression. If you are reading this and you aren’t really a dark ambient person, you’ll probably be thinking “Where’s the logic in that? Won’t that just make you more depressed?” The answer is no, it doesn’t. It helps mirror my feelings and lets them pass. I never expect anything going into it, but more often than not, I feel a space opens up, even if it’s just enough to wiggle my fingers around the boulder that has trapped me in a tunnel of murk.

I really don’t want to spend longer praising Azathoth, as I could quite easily make this whole piece about it. I guess that I’m just trying to describe how dark ambient can soothe, and that I’ve always used it in this way, even the more jarring stuff. This year has seen some great apocalyptic albums cross my inbox. After all, if you are worried about the world ending, entering a space where the worst has already happened kind of takes a load off. One that I’ve come to listen to quite a lot is the excellent Seclusion, from Dark Fields. Seclusion is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, one where humans seem to be long gone. One of its tracks, Nails, is extra brilliant. It creates such a feeling of being inside thick concrete walls, but hearing some kind of maelstrom raging outside... it made me feel really cosy.

Another of the albums that I really appreciated this year was Mombi Yuleman’s Storm-Maker Redhorse. This album is like a bottled dose of what a god-fuelled tornado might sound like. In a year where all sorts of whacky stuff hit the news, if someone is going to believe that 5G was the cause of the pandemic, you might as well make shit interesting and have gods driving the weather too. As I write this, the UK is suffering floods again. I wonder which god might be behind that?

As is often the way, dark ambient has watery themed stuff to suit your needs too. Shadows of Forgotten Legends is a wave-infested album from Alphaxone, ProtoU and Onasander, and it takes the mighty Kraken as its muse. The lapping sea, the pinging tones and drones, all suggest the presence of something scary and beautiful, something passing by that could destroy you, but in truth, really doesn’t care if you’re there or not.

I’ve dipped into the apocalypse and some of the sounds of nature. I don't think I’ve mentioned albums that feel a bit “evil” yet, besides Azathoth, of course. I recently described Psionic Asylum’s Rotting Dreamland as one of the most intense dark ambient albums I’d ever listened to. It’s an album infused with such malignancy, one of the tracks even made me think it was the sound of wading through a shitty sewer in Hell. It was so fun to listen to though. Another album that tapped into the “things are badly wrong” vibe is Kehseverin’s Awaken The Flesh. Think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and The Evil Dead, mash them all up in a big cooking pot and pour the contents into your ears. No, don’t do that, but you hopefully understand what I mean. It just made me think about those films, the uneasy atmospheres of dread they contained. Another really fun album.

I also want to mention that Cut The Light’s Outre’ releases in January. This is another fine album, one that is a little like listening to a mechanised version of Hell. One final album that I would also describe as having an “evil” atmosphere is Randal Collier-Ford’s Advent. While it depicts strange occurrences and stranger creatures roaming the Earth in a way that doesn’t bode well for humanity, the swelling string notes and melancholy give it a gentle air at times. The ritual drumbeats in the latter half of the album might even suggest a bit of a fightback, a “monster turning on monster” kind of situation. This sets it slightly apart from the other albums I’ve mentioned.

Something else that I find just as soothing as barren landscapes, hellscapes and blustery wind and water is space, particularly the kind of dark space ambient where you feel like you are trying to sleep on a spaceship that is breaking up around you. Kosmobushir is an ambient album from Anihila, one themed around a lost Russian craft and the strange events that seemed to befall it. Another tasty dose of sci-fi listening came in the form of Afnimaran’s Graveyard Orbit, an album on which each track is themed around a starship or space station. Well worth having a look at.

Well I’ve written quite a lot here, and I could still go on to mention cinematic dark ambient, such as Crier’s Bane, the radio-ambient of Mount Shrine’s Shortwave Ruins, and how I always have four of five of ProtoU’s dark ambient creations on my phone because I find them to be just the right amount of relaxing. But I’d still be leaving some fantastic albums out. If you open any of my linked reviews above, click the “dark ambient” label right at the bottom of the post to see all of the dark ambient that I’ve ever reviewed.

There is some amazing music out there and I feel very lucky to not only be able to get review access to the albums that intrigue me, but to also exchange the odd message with some of the great creators who are making the stuff. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, both this year and any year, and thank you to those who replied when I was the first to reach out. If there is any writing that I can do for anyone, maybe giving a little help with their album description or constructing a story to to theme the album around, I’m always around. I also want to say a big thank you to the people who read my website, for taking an interest in dark ambient music and what I have to say about it. I appreciate the time you spend reading my stuff and I hope that you might sometimes go away feeling that you’ve discovered a great new album or artist.

Happy New Year :).