Sunday 20 March 2022

Dark Ambient Review: The Rise of A.I

Dark Ambient Review: The Rise of A.I

Review By Casey Douglass

The Rise of A.I Cover Art

I’ve always enjoyed science fiction in which artificial intelligence emerges, and then promptly catches humanity with its proverbial pants down. Maybe they so often attack us or enslave us because it becomes clear to them that we are the bad guys, and that it’s only humans who can’t see that? Xerxes The Dark’s dark ambient album The Rise of A.I follows the time-line of one particular A.I’s blossoming: Quantum Mother. This turns out to be an A.I that, via the path of suffering and pain, actually frees humanity and leads us to a better, and more worthy, position in the cosmos.

As you might surmise from the subject matter, The Rise of A.I is an album full of buzzing, beeping tones, drones and radio-filtered voices. There are also guttural vocals and clattering beats, along with sensations of metal and fizzing particles. Opening track The Rise of A.I encapsulates this general tone wonderfully. Hissing static and rasping stutters merge with multiple voices, voices in which the listener picks up on key words like “danger” and “concerns”. I really like this track because it feels almost whimsical, and a brilliant metaphor for how we get our news in 2022. The voices strongly brought to mind the mental masturbation of the twenty-four hour news cycle and particularly, of social media. It seemed to encapsulate the way that people bicker about everything under the sun, muddying the waters of discussion with inanity and hurt feelings, while the real threats creep onward and catch everyone out.

The bickering of track one leads us onto others in which things aren’t going well for humanity, Nuclear Winter’s vibrating whispers and air-raid sirens carrying the listener into Take (No) Shelters’ mellow drone, subdued radio-voice and creaking, electro-mechanical doom. Synthetic Consciousness follows and is one of my favourite tracks of the album. It opens with a grainy electronic thrum which builds and boils and whistles. It almost feels ghostly. It soon settles into echoing rattles and hums, with a metallic ‘scouring’ effect. Something is birthed in this track, the tones sometimes seeming to take on the perpetual scream of an awareness growing, a hollow feeling fuelling the horror of emergence.

Once Quantum Mother has formed, the rest of the track titles depict the further events that will afflict humanity until they manage to come out on the other side. Cyborg Soldiers lay in wait, reality simulation, communication with other civilizations, and the bending of space and time. Signalling the Alien Machines is another track that I particularly enjoyed. It’s a juddery track, with electronic chittering and a low pulsing. There is an undulating tone that ebbs and flows, and warbled voices almost fighting against the interference. A harsh static-like sound rattles on, an old printer-like sound ticking away into the void. This track nicely created the feeling of the science and power that would probably have to go into intergalactic communication. It’s short, intricate and beautifully sinister. The seeming reply to this transmission comes in Interpret X11-01-10, a track that is also suitably dis-concerting in a bouncing, creepingly alien kind of way.

The final track that I will highlight is Accessing Cosmic Memory. This is an eerie track, one full of strange howls and moans, backed by static, burbling and gritty rotations. I often try to write one phrase to describe each track when I write review notes. For this track, I wrote “Haunted Hard-drive” and it seems to be quite apt. This is a track that contains a juddery kind of squiggly distance, maybe the machine equivalent of looking into the abyss. It darkens as it progresses, with guttural voice-like sounds in the latter half. It’s another track that I think really captures that feeling of alien infinity that the universe (maybe even universes) contains.

The Rise of A.I sits up well as the audio accompaniment to Xerxes The Dark’s intriguing sci-fi concept. It manifests the dark, brutal side of science fiction by incorporating sounds that trigger feelings of vast distances, alien intelligences and the insignificance of humans on a cosmic scale. I tended to gravitate more towards the tracks that didn’t contain lyrics as I felt these experiences more acutely with those, but as a whole, I found enjoyment in every track on the album. If you enjoy your dark ambient with lashings of humanity in peril, quantum-inflected tones and strange signals of alien intelligence, you should definitely check out The Rise of A.I! And if you do, I recommend that you read the album description in full to let it flavour your perceptions.

Visit the The Rise of A.I page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also listen to the track: Synthetic Consciousness below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: The Rise of A.I

Album Artist: Xerxes The Dark

Label: Zāl Records

Released: 4 Feb 2022