Saturday 23 October 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Nostromo

Dark Ambient Review: Nostromo

Review By Casey Douglass

Nostromo Album Art

Two of my most common internet searches are “dark ambient” and “alien”. Sleep Research Facility’s dark ambient album Nostromo has blipped on my motion tracker any number of times, but it’s only recently that I actually got around to checking it out. If you asked me why it’s taken me so long, I honestly have no idea. The album initially released in 2001 and was later remastered in 2007, complete with an extra bonus track. It is the 2007 version that I am taking a look at here.

Nostromo is an album inspired by the first eight minutes of the film Alien, the description setting the various tracks up as a journey through the decks of the ill-fated vessel. One of the things that I really enjoy about the Alien series of films is the harsh bleakness of the universe, a feeling boosted by the unnerving score, the industrial visuals and of course the unbridled hostility of the Xenomorph. It feels sharpest in the original trilogy but I still think it’s there in the latest offerings, to some degree. What I hoped for from Nostromo, was a series of tracks that tapped into this “bleakness”, hopefully by way of evoking some of the sounds and moods of Alien. It didn’t disappoint.

The album opens with A-Deck, a track that is based around a pulsing rumbling throbbing bass sound that feels like it’s rolling along narrow metal corridors and poking its way through the darkness. A growing, rougher tone and an airy shushing shimmer meld with it soon after, distant muted impacts creating the impression of vast machinery working. It’s toward the end of A-Deck and into B-Deck that one of my favourite sounds appears however.

By the time B-Deck arrives, the listener is listening to tinny, twisting electronic echoes, crispy static, and my aforementioned favourite sound, an understated echoing clicking. This clicking puts me firmly in mind of the small clicks of a motion tracker when it isn’t detecting any movement, just the quiet tick-tick-tick to show that it’s actually working. Other sounds swirl around this, with pulsing bass flowing and ebbing at intervals too. Again, another track that had me feeling like I was roaming a space vessel that is in hibernation mode, the barest glimmer of status lights all that shines from any reflective surfaces nearby.

C-Deck is a static-filled, quietly beeping track, one that shimmers and feels a little lighter. Maybe this is the deck where the life-support lives. At the least, the tones at times seemed a little like a mellow “ahh” tone to me, lending this track a more peaceful, though still dark quality. D-Deck starts with fast pulsing bass that is soon joined by quiet static, vibrating deep tones and flurries of subtle beeps. This feels more “engine roomy” than anything, the rotating whirring that comes later maybe even hinting at ventilation fans. It’s a very lulling track.

E-Deck sees us back in the static again, static that is soon punctuated by somehow sonorous chiming bass tones. It feels meditative, but even the static starts to pulse and react to the bass reverberations. There is also a high whining tone sitting comfortably behind things, one that again, seems to take on the general pulsing quality of the track. Narcissus is a bonus track that didn’t appear on the original album released in 2001, and it’s a great one to finish the album with. It’s a higher pitched, buzzing track, with sounds that fizz and roam from ear to ear. There is a light resonance to it, and a growing pulsing building agitation to the roaming tones. It feels like sanctuary, stress and hope. It deepens as it passes the midpoint, and slowly simmers with slow, possibly cryo-sleep breathing-like sounds as it plays out.

Nostromo is a lovingly dark yet peaceful tour of one of sci-fi and horror’s most well-known spaceships. It’s an album that serves up two things, depending on the listener. If you have never watched Alien, it gives you a deep, rumbling slice of space ambient to chill out to. If, however, you have foreknowledge of what befalls the Nostromo, the whole thing seems to have a calm before the storm feeling, or maybe, the sensation of the future haunting the past. However it might be described, I’ve listened to it every day for a week and I intend to listen again today.

Visit the Nostromo page on Bandcamp for more information.

Album Title: Nostromo

Album Artist: Sleep Research Facility

Label: Cold Spring

Released: 5 December 2007

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Dismal Dreams From The Witch House

Dark Ambient Review: Dismal Dreams From The Witch House

Review By Casey Douglass

Dismal Dreams From The Witch House Album Art

One of the things that I find most enrapturing about the dark gods and creatures of H.P Lovecraft, is the way that they still feel like nothing else out there, even when dragged into modern settings. Dismal Dreams From The Witch House is a dark ambient album from ElectronicDeathBlackDogs. It is an album that’s described as a modern take on Lovecraft’s tale The Dreams in the Witch House. What will the listener find in the album’s soundscapes? Read on to find out.

Wind. Not the “too much fibre in your diet” variety, but the kind that makes trees tremble and wooden eaves creak. Actually, there may be someone whose own “personal wind” does that, in which case, see a doctor maybe? Wind, whether rustling leaves or howling through jaggy openings, is a field-recording that sets the scene in almost every track on this album. I really like this. There is something ominous yet comforting about an audibly gusting wind, especially when you are indoors in the warm. The wind on Dismal Dreams From The Witch House’s tracks sets a barren, desolate scene. It’s further joined by other sounds that deepen this feeling of exposure to the elements.

There are other field-recorded sounds, such as creaking, rattling and the pattering of grit against window panes. There are also deep vibrating notes, warbling distorted tones, drones and abyssal rumblings. Each track feels like the listener is sat on the edge of a precipice, whether gazing through a window at a dark valley, or metaphysically rubbing up against forces that aren’t usually so close to our reality. Forces, I’m sure, that Lovecraft would insist that it would be better that they remained unaware of our existence.

Oppressive Nature is one of my favourite tracks. It opens with the sound of wind and a deep rumbling drone. There are small clicks or rustlings, and the simmering rattling of a cymbal. String notes grow and flow in a forlorn gyration, the rumbling stopping briefly to give way to a peaceful moment. The strings fade over time as the other sounds reappear and depart, doing their own thing. I must admit that the way that the strings seem to take an age to fade before they sing out again, only to fade slowly once more, is the element of the track that my attention always seemed to latch on to. It’s very pleasing. This track, for me, gave me the feeling of gazing at the Moon through skeletal, wind-swept tree branches.

Ominous Impacts is a track that gave me a wholly different environment to delve into, being a track that felt like it was unfolding underground, possibly in an old mine. It begins with a rumbling and a recurring distant impact. A low vibration rises in what feels like a claustrophobic soundscape. There is the metallic rattling of what could be vibrating mesh or metal sheeting, a staticy water-like sound, and after a short while, a heart-beat that echoes amongst the reverberations. This is a low track, oppressive. The relaxed beat of the heart though, suggests it’s not the heart of the listener, but the thing in the shadows that is watching.

Finally, The Cryptic Cross is a track that I wanted to touch on. It starts with a buzzing radio voice and a pulsing juddering that swells against a backdrop of hammers hitting something. What came to mind was a rundown apartment block, one that is backed by a communal green or park area. Someone is sitting, watching a crackling TV, every now and then looking out through their window, down at the construction being completed on the green. The cross of the title maybe. Later comes a guttural voice, along with a kind of barking vocal, something that put me in mind of the fishy residents of Innsmouth. Smoothly piped tones seem to round out this impression, bringing to mind a conch-blown summons and a call to the deeps. This felt the most modern soundscape to me, the images it brought to my mind at least.

Dismal Dreams From The Witch House is a dark ambient album that provides the listener with a fine dose of the trembly, insidious apprehension that Lovecraft’s tales seem to nurture. The swaying string-notes, wind and strange voices sit pleasingly uneasily in ominous rumbling soundscapes, soundscapes that seem on the verge of tipping over into rotting, corrupted deeds and events. If you like your dark ambient Lovecraftian, check out the link below to find out more about the album.

Visit the Dismal Dreams From The Witch House page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Ominous Impacts below: 

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Dismal Dreams From The Witch House

Album Artist: ElectronicDeathBlackDogs

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 21 August 2021

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Abductee

Dark Ambient Review: Abductee

Review By Casey Douglass

Abductee Album Art

When I briefly flirted with New Age instrumental music, before I discovered dark ambient, one of my favourite CDs was about UFOs and aliens. It even had a shiny-eyed grey alien on the cover. Looking back, it was quite a dark album, but if you compared it to Mombi Yuleman’s dark ambient Abductee... well, its a little like comparing a pink unicorn to a denizen from one of the levels of Hell. That’s a good thing, in Mombi’s favour, just to be clear. Unless you have a thing for pink unicorns of course.

Abductee takes its inspiration from the many stories of human and alien interaction that can be found in the Fortean media, and sometimes, in the mainstream. I dare say that there are some notions from horror and sci-fi films and novels in there too, as the subject often provides fertile ground for creepy tales to be told. Abductee contains ten tracks that seem to take the listener on a journey with a hapless abductee, beginning in a forest and taking in hurried chases, furtive exploration, and being returned home at the end of things.

Mombi does a great job of weaving in sounds that seem to embody the subject matter wonderfully. The foremost comes from a number of tracks that feature a kind of ‘rustling plastic’ aesthetic. I don’t know about you, but for me, with the theme of the album in mind, this has the feeling of something medical, something experimental going on. Another prominent stable of sounds are the hissing, beeping radio-like swirls of static and electronic tones. Technology certainly plays its role. And of course, there are those fleshy, screeching, biological sounds that hint at strange creatures and other humans nearby. These three elements meld together so well to create a feeling of being onboard a dank alien craft, a new horror lurking around almost every corner.

Cocoons is a track that depicts the creepy exploration aspect mentioned above. It begins with a swirling, pulsing sci-fi tone and a hint of trickling water. There is a faint, distant high tone and a drone that begins with a sparkle for accompaniment. String-like notes sway and flow, a light melody begins, and a sense of chittering things flying around came through to me. Towards the end of the track, groans can be heard as the atmosphere begins to judder. It probably comes as no surprise that this track conjured visions of rooms full of strange cocoons to my mind, rooms complete with victims begin absorbed into their fleshy walls.

Medical Examination (feat. Noctilucant) is another fine track, one that, for obvious reasons, felt the most medical of them all. The opening sound is the thump of a beating heart. There are bubbling sounds, mechanical equipment whooshing, and an echoing beat that seems to take on the mantle of a clock ticking. There are swells of tone and hiss. There is an impression of juddering, and around the midpoint, a hollowness. Certain of the tones seem to embody a kind of sharpness, their clipped, metallic nature sitting nicely in a soundscape of whirring, pulsing, chiming activity. Flowing beneath all of this are the deep roaming droning tones that bathe everything in an atmosphere of darkness. I really enjoyed this track.

Finally, Grays is another track that I wanted to single out, as it has a majesty all of its own. It opens with a deep drone and a sparkling chime. There are plopping sounds, strange cries and an airy, sinister feeling. A chant-like droning begins, a whistling quality at its edges. It feels very meditative, but also otherworldly, as someone might feel when witnessing something never before seen. Bass impacts reverberate and agitate the soundscape into more strange cries. A rattle-snake hissing and echoing knockings emerge, with radio swirls and a low gritty clicking. As the track reaches its last third, a kinetic, pulsing rhythm begins, tinny squeaks nestling into the wall of drone. For me, this track was about someone finally seeing the answer to a question that they had half feared to know.

Abductee is a dark ambient album that simmers with interplanetary threat, but rather than the “space will crush you” variety, seeds its soundscapes with beings that have a more personal, a more fleshy interest in the targets of their attention. The fact that they seemingly don’t want to kill but simply to experiment or alter, adds an extra layer of mystery and uncertainty to what might actually be happening. This feeling, taken with the sounds Mombi has woven into his ten dark tracks, makes Abductee an album well worth checking out.

Visit the Abductee page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Abductee

Album Artist: Mombi Yuleman

Released: 24 September 2021

Friday 8 October 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Creation of a Star

Dark Ambient Review: Creation of a Star

Review By Casey Douglass

Creation of a Star Album Art

Creation of a Star is a dark space ambient album from Planet Supreme, his first release on the Cryo Chamber label. The album and artist names both embody a very apt sense of vastness, as this is also aligned with the feelings evoked by the music itself. Warm sci-fi tones, sweeps, and drones, create impressions of large expanses, gigantic mega-structures, and technology sculpting the worlds it reaches.

An example of said technology and vast feelings is described well by one of my favourite tracks: Scanners. The track opens with the impression of a big, rotating thing, one perforated by the squeals and flares of electronic signals. Things settle into a gently droning space, deeper swells of tone nestling into a machine-like hum. For me, this track brought to mind a space-based vista, maybe a planet looking out on an asteroid belt being mined by gigantic refineries. It’s a little melancholy with the distance it contains, and the latter part of the track seems to have low tones that put me in mind of an old man grumbling. Maybe he’s a miner who lost his job to the bright, new, automated future.

Speaking of robots and automation, another track that stood out for me was Machina, a track that seemed rife with android-based gurgles and growls. A faint shimmer joins them, and a gentle throb that shoots into the distance at times. High tones sit above a low vibrating buzzing, with steadily climbing electronic tones offsetting the shimmer. There is an ah-like feeling around the midpoint of the track, a gentle state of affairs agitated by an irritated tone, and a whooshing, pulsing soundscape. This could be the junk yard where the obsolete models of robot end their “lives”, even our successors getting to experience the pain of being surpassed.

Genetic Cargo is another track that served up some pleasing imagery, something that I noted down as “egg-shell ambience”. It opens with a low drone and dripping, rain-like crackling echoes. Small electronic warbles and tones judder, with longer, deeper tones soon joining. A warm tone takes up residence in the soundscape, a low rhythm and synth notes coming along for the ride. This track felt like it depicted some kind of wet, moist, likely smelly, cargo hold, one with who knows what living in the containers in the shadows. The crackles of this track, and the two tracks that follow, put me a little in mind of the ways that artists Mount Shrine and Proto U sometimes treat rain or wind field-recordings too, so if you enjoy either of those musicians, you should take a closer listen.

Creation of a Star is a chilled, yet warm slice of space ambience. It’s the kind of album that’s an ideal accompaniment for relaxation, as there is little here that jars or agitates the mind. My mind at least. If you are looking out for some space-based sci-fi ambience, you should head over to the Bandcamp page below to check it out.

Visit the Creation of a Star page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also check out the track Scanners below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Creation of a Star

Album Artist: Planet Supreme

Label: Cryo Chamber

Released: 31 August 2021