Thursday 21 January 2021

Dark Ambient Review: S.S. Moreau

Dark Ambient Review: S.S. Moreau

Review by Casey Douglass

S.S. Moreau

I’ve never read the book, or seen the films inspired by H.G Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, but I guess that the fact I know the general gist of it speaks to its pervasiveness in parts of our culture. While I remember watching a Simpsons’ Halloween special that tipped its hat to the tale, I’m not aware of having heard any music that was inspired by its species-meddling. That is, until now, as S.S Moreau is a dark ambient album from Scott Lawlor and Mombi Yuleman, one that takes the sinister idea of Dr Moreau and runs with it... all the way into space!

I quite like coming across stories or ideas that uproot something from its familiar setting, and that plants it somewhere quite different. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but others, it can take something that you previously felt quite indifferent to, and give it enough of a twist to make you realise that you really enjoy it in this form. The concept of S.S Moreau is that of a stranded spaceship crew who are rescued by the sinister doctor when his space station, the S.S Moreau, detects their distress beacon. Once “rescued”, and after a period of uneasy discovery, the crew eventually find themselves fleeing from his strange alien-hybrid creatures as they threaten to overrun the station.

I thought that the first track, The Biological Station, set this up beautifully. It opens with an eerie whistling drone, a little like what you might hear in the first Alien film’s score. A light beeping and a whirring tone looms, and what began as restful, grows into a more ominous soundscape. It starts to feel a bit swarm-like, and as if something big is coming. It is the audio equivalent of being on the verge of starvation and coming across a maggot ridden cow carcass. Salvation and doom all in one. A little later, the sounds and tones gave me the feeling of the stranded ship being swallowed up by the larger S.S Moreau, the creaking metal and cavernous feelings giving the impression that the larger ship actually licked its lips. Then you hear the organic, guttural sounds of strange creatures.

The tracks that follow feature a nice range of creature sounds. Some sound bird-like or monkey-like, others more alien. He Knows Something Of Science feels damn right tropical, with clicking trickling water, insect-like rattling and the hoots and chirps of who knows what. Monsters Manufactured is a different beast, one that feels more lab-like, more meddling. It opens with a deep male chant, a female one joins, and a third that warps up and seems alien... something other. An ominous beat and a tinny beeping rhythm create an enjoyable feeling of “wrongness”. It lightens a little later, with a female vocal and light, breezy tones, but the background sounds still hint at dark things. I thought that I heard faltering footsteps on metal floors at one point, and at another, a kind of trundling rising discord, like a mass breakout of warrior insects.

How The Beast Folk Tasted Blood is a clinking, smooth space, the slow beat soon joined by faster tempos. It felt a little tribal, a little “cannibal”, a little “exotic”. I liked the last third or so the most though, when things seem to darken, a sound like sea waves breaking on a beach of bones and a vibrating tone hinting at a line crossed that can’t be undone. The final track, No Desire To Return To Mankind, seems to give the protagonist a dark dose of grim determination. Its plastic-carrier-bag-rustling and throbbing bass tones giving it a “film end-credit” type feeling, one where the ending was far from happy and the scars and trauma will last in the survivor/s for the rest of their life. I particularly enjoyed the radio-chatter and the strange squawks and sounds that seep into things.

S.S Moreau is a dark ambient space treat for people who like their darkness with a sci-fi twist. Some of the sounds it contains seem close to their earthly counterparts, others seem warped and manipulated, which is a pleasing parallel between how tones are created for dark ambient albums, and the subject matter of hybrid-creation. If I was drifting in space and the S.S. Moreau offered rescue, I’d be game for that, even knowing how things would turn out. It sure beats starving to death or turning into an icicle as depressurization occurs.

Visit the S.S.Moreau page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Monsters Manufactured below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: S.S. Moreau

Album Artist: Scott Lawlor & Mombi Yuleman

Released: 8 Jan 2021