Tuesday 2 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Megafauna Rituals

Dark Ambient Review: Megafauna Rituals

Review by Casey Douglass

Megafauna Rituals

Before I discovered the dark ambient genre, I listened to some New Agey stuff. The only kind of New Age music that I was actually able to glean some enjoyment from tended to be shamanic. The rest left me feeling a bit nauseous if I’m honest. The non-shamanic variety often contained a mixture of panpipes and saccharine notes that not only bored me, but made me a little angry for some reason. Anyway, moving on. A short while ago, I purchased three of Paleowolf’s dark ambient albums, albums themed around prehistoric times and primal feelings. Here, I’m reviewing the one that I’d say is my favourite: Megafauna Rituals.

When I was previewing Megafauna Rituals on Bandcamp, I was impressed with the meaty, earthy feel to the tracks. Everything has such a massive heft and presence, and there is certainly nothing fluffy or saccharine about these soundscapes. The tracks are themed around various kinds of megafauna, those massive beasts that populated the earth during the Ice Age. Each track is the embodiment of the animal it gains its title from, and all of the tracks are fat with tribal drums and various kinds of drones and chanting.

One of my favourite tracks is Direwolf. It opens with a rising drone that’s met with a kinetic drumbeat and another, deeper drone. It isn’t long before the tribal vocal “huffs” begin, the soundscape blurring at the edges, like a massive rush of fuzzing wind. A low growling or snarling can be heard, and you just wonder when the first wolf howl will come. The chanted drone has a hard edge, feeling like it’s shredding the air. It’s not long after this that the first wolf howl sounds, the soundscape echoing this back in various ways, even when the howl hasn’t been heard for awhile. I enjoyed the fast drum-beat of this track, and the way that the soundscape seemed to quiver with energy at so many times. I would have kind of liked a more meaty wolf howl, but that’s only because the other sounds felt so strong and powerful. A fantastic track.

Direwolf had a faster drum-beat in comparison to most of the other tracks on the album (Sabretooh is also fast-paced). This is because Paleowolf does a great job of matching the speed or energy of the sounds to the animal involved. A wolf is far fleeter on its paws than a cave bear, for example, and the track, Cave Bear, is another of my favourites. It opens with a low, gritty, echoing drone, one that does conjure up feelings of being in a cave. A massive, muffled impact whumps and the rushing sound of breath flowing in and out of a big chest can be heard. A lumbering drumbeat begins with a hollow tone faint in the distance. An “ahh-like” chant sounds, and then fades into a hissing space. The deep grunts and chuffs of the bear are all suitably powerful and scary, and you get a great feeling of what this animal might have been like to be close to.

Totem is a track that focusses more on the humans in the Ice Age landscape, the shamans and the spirituality around these great beasts. Totem opens with some lovely, echoing tribal singing, the undertones flowing off into the shadows. The echoes seem slower than the chant, reflecting back in a very cool way. A massive drumbeat sounds at a slow interval and a drone grows. Later, we hear animal sounds, grunting and snuffling. Flurries of faster drum-beats fall. The rumbling of thunder and a howling wind can be heard a short time later. The second half of the track is a darker, deeper, rumbling affair, multiple chants and rushing sounds melding with dark drum-beats and worshipful drones.

While I appreciated the tracks that focussed on the more predatory animals, the kind that you wouldn’t want to be chased by if you were out for a walk in the woods, Megaloceros (a variety of deer) is a track that, for me, depicted a different kind of majesty. It opens with a kind of tropical birdsong and a gentle shimmer. There is a slow drum-beat and the sound of the megaloceros grunting or calling. The beat picks up and a horn note sounds, with lighter tones and a windy, exhalation kind of feeling. I felt there was a kind of sadness to this track, the melodies, when they appear, mournful that such a creature is no longer wandering the land. It’s a peaceful track, more gentle than the others, but just as graceful and powerful.

Megafauna Rituals takes the listener back to a time where life was so much harder and briefer, but also far simpler. Survival was linked to food, warmth and safety, rather than the continual mental masturbation inherent in modern society. Our ancestors knew how to survive, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to moan about so much. I wonder what they’d make of us now? I really enjoyed the time I spent taking an audio trip back to a different time. I’d like to think that the more ancient, survival orientated parts of my brain, heard something to set them churning too.

Visit the Megafauna Rituals page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to Direwolf below:

Album Title: Megafauna Rituals

Album Artist: Paleowolf

Label: Prometheus Studio

Released: 23 Aug 2017