Tuesday 16 March 2021

Dark Ambient Review: A Taxonomy of Grief

Dark Ambient Review: A Taxonomy of Grief

Review By Casey Douglass

A Taxonomy of Grief

Before I wrote this review, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what the word “taxonomy” really meant. Having looked up the meaning, and seeing that it is a way of classifying or defining things, I have a new appreciation for how A Taxonomy of Grief’s title relates to the track names, and to the theme that Sumatran Black’s dark ambient album contains.

What I found on A Taxonomy of Grief was a collection of tracks that seemed to capture the uneasy melancholy and shock of grief, the way that the sufferer knows things are real, and that they happened, but their body and mind don’t really “feel” it; it hasn’t sunken in. Certain of the tracks also had a great ability to present the feeling of time stretching, a little like the grief equivalent of boredom, when the night seems to never end, and neither does the emotional turmoil.

The first two tracks set the tone for me. A Day Like Any Other contains tones and vibrations that put me in mind of a car journey after a normal day. The sun is setting, the shadows cast by the trees that line the road grow harder and harder to make out as the sky darkens. God’s Hand Touched Him And He Slept carried on that feeling, but deepened it into night fall, with a dream-like warmth and quiet tones later joined by the sounds of an ambulance and the impression of flashing blue lights casting depressing lightning-strikes into the landscape around.

Whereas for me, the first two tracks were about a death coming out of the blue and turning a normal day upside down, a couple of other of my favourite tracks had their feet firmly planted in dealing with the aftermath. The track: A Taxonomy of Grief is one that taps into that “grief equivalent of boredom” I mentioned above. You can hear a papery scratching and turning sound, which made me think of someone hunched over a desk filling in an endless amount of paperwork. This track made me think of buzzing lightbulbs, stuttering radio interference, and even put me in mind of a church organ with some of its tones. It was very much an endless night embodied in sound for me, and I thought it was excellent.

Another track that I really appreciated was Deep Blue Sorrow. It opens with string-like notes and a faint shimmer in the distance, screechy tones and echoes soon joining the fun. There are electronic “burbles” and what might be something dripping, along with sounds that suggested someone moving. The image that came to mind when listening to this track was of someone sitting in a bedroom, a few doors along from a person that is a suicide risk who is taking a bath. That’s how I’d describe the tension I felt, a kind of watchful paranoia, the kind where you think everything will be okay but you don’t entirely believe that life is that forgiving.

The final track that I wanted to mention is The Rest is Silence, in no small part because it led me to think of a corpse on an autopsy table, a lone fly buzzing around it. The fly came from the buzzing in the soundscape, but the rest came from the mixture of tones and drones. It’s another track filled with a sense of tension, but also with a hollow kind of waiting, and later, what might be ghostly yells, or simply the wind. I thought it was a nice, strong track, and that it created a great atmosphere.

The tracks that I most enjoyed on A Taxonomy of Grief are those that tended to be nearer the type of dark ambient that I most often like to listen to. Those that featured field-recorded sounds and were more drone-based seemed to pull me in. The tracks that seemed more a mixture of electronic tones left me a little indifferent, even though I still got the sense of the “grief” theme through them. They just weren’t to my own taste. I did find plenty to enjoy with this album though, and if you feel like dipping into an album themed around grief and the many ways that it might manifest, you should definitely check out A Taxonomy of Grief.

Visit the A Taxonomy of Grief page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: A Taxonomy of Grief

Album Artist: Sumatran Black

Label: Sumatran Black Records

Released: 11 Feb 2021