Wednesday 11 August 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Yōkai

Dark Ambient Review: Yōkai

Review By Casey Douglass

Yōkai Album Art

It’s always interesting to see how various cultures experience darkness; the forms that their ghosts and demons take. Yōkai are spirits or entities from Japanese folklore, and Visions of Ulnahar’s Yōkai is a dark ambient album that presents some of these beings, in soundscapes that only dark ambient can really do.

In general, the soundscapes on Yōkai make a great use of insidious sounds: cold and hollow textures, ghostly high tones and shimmers, and echoing, throbbing spaces. Something that a good number of the tracks also do is take advantage of harsher, or at the least, unexpected sounds. These keep the listener focussed but also probably rule Yōkai out as an album to drift off to sleep with, which is something I often like to do.

An example of the kind of unexpected sound that you might hear, can be found in one of my favourite tracks: Your Ghost Danced in the Shadows of Old Trees. The track begins with an undulating vibrating tone and the sound-waves of a cymbal or gong reverberating. Sparkling static and sweeping notes convey a feeling of sadness, and these give way to crackles, a roiling synth tone and a low drone. A number of the sounds on this track end abruptly, before you think they will. Once you pass the midpoint, alongside the piano melody that is playing, a sudden female gasp cuts through the soundscape. It happens a number of times and every time it did, it made me jump. It’s quite rare for anything I’m listening to make me jump, and it’s used very well in this ghostly track.

Summoning is the next track, and also another favourite. It opens with a strange shimmering clattering, one that’s clipped and bedded on rumbling bass. The echoes of said clattering have a kind of digital fuzz at their edges, like you’re listening to data corruption occurring. A low drone begins with muffled crackling in the ears. This is a deep and brooding track, one in which the sudden swells of sound fizz and agitate the soundscape. This track feels like the agitating sounds are stirring the atmosphere, helping whoever is summoning a spirit in their endeavours.

The final track I’m going to mention is Confrontation. It starts with a beat that twists down as it echoes. It feels a little plastic, a bit vibratory. A broken metallic sound joins it, a sensation of a ripping or rendering happening. Then come short snippets of muffled melody and an uneasy feeling of metal under strain. This is another abyssal track, the whistling tones, warm synth, and roaming drones setting up a feeling of protoplasm, beeping technology and sparkling lights in the aether. Fast string notes emerge in the second half, lending the whole thing an urgent feeling of time running out. A fun, spooky track.

Yōkai is a dark ambient album of ghostly manifestation, the battle for control, and quiet roaming sadness. Some of the sounds seem fully under the sway of the Yōkai being evoked, while others seem like the environment or surrounding atmosphere reacting to their presence. Whatever is going on, and however the sounds trigger images in your own mind, the underlying feeling of the supernatural comes through nicely.

Visit the Yōkai page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the title track Yōkai below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Yōkai

Album Artist: Visions of Ulnahar

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 3 July 2021