Saturday 19 November 2022

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris

Dark Ambient Review: Solaris

Review By Casey Douglass

Solaris Album Art

I often find it funny how the darkest or most sorrowful music often feels the warmest, to me at least. Sasha Darko’s drone ambient horror album Solaris is full of tracks that embody this kind dichotomy, the bleakness seemingly swaddled by the warmth in some way, maybe in much the same way as the golden light of the Sun gently heats up the cold bodies of the dead in some kind of horror flick.

The tracks contained by Solaris are themed around the idea of a Telegram channel of the same name. Each track represents a strange and unsolved cold case, with the album description mentioning people dabbling with time-travel and disappearing, or answering the phone to their future selves and being warned about how they are set to die. I went into my listening sessions very much primed with a horror and sci-fi “thought anchor” nestling into the murky bottom of my mental swamp, and this is something that shows in the imagery I've used to describe the tracks that grabbed my attention the most.

Opening track Flight to the Sun had a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe to me, no doubt due to how the first film ended with a break for freedom at sunrise. Flight to the Sun opens with a low, gently distorting ominous rhythm. Warm, easy synth notes rock back and forth over the top. Darting jaggy tones flit bird-like in the higher reaches of the soundscape, softening a harsher whine that sits behind them. After a short while, these tones plummet like falling stars. As the midpoint approaches, things turn into a more juddery, distorted space, like reality being twisted and shredded by strange alien fingers. This is a pulsing, windy space, one that ratchets up over time. As the track reaches its end, the easier synth tones return with plucked notes along for the ride, maybe signalling a return to “almost” normalcy, but having changed something that cannot be undone.

The Mutation is another track that stood out for me, in no small part because it makes deft use of uncomfortably high tones throughout, which is something I’m not sure I’ve come across before. It opens gently enough, a sustained high drone with gentle fluctuations and beeps nestling into it. It feels like a meditative robot playing a quiet church organ. A higher pitch begins to emerge, turning into a sustained, slightly twisty, resonant whining echo as time progresses. It feels part hearing test, part dog-whistle, but not as harsh. The high tones are met by a throbbing pulsing tone after the midpoint, and this also sets up a kind of off-balance, off-kilter feeling in the brain. By the end of the track, my ears felt quite strange, like they had been echo-pulsed into a different phase of being. If nothing else, check out this track on Bandcamp, just for the experience.

Wake Up is another track that tapped into my horror fan-ship. For me, this one had Freddy Kruger written all over it. Being called Wake Up probably played a role too! It begins with a pulsing high-pressure shimmer that instantly brought Mr Kruger’s boiler room to mind. A short time into the track, a bell-like tone holds a sustained chime; the effect tapping into the 80’s horror film synth part of my brain. Things slowly grow more ominous until the end of the track is reached. A track with a simple charm for a horror fanatic.

I'll end my review by talking a little about Suspiria (feat. Corpoparassita), one of the darkest tracks on the album. It starts with low creaking echoes and a roaming, pulsing low drone. There are judders and strange echoes, and a sense of pregnant expectation. Some of the judders almost seem like creatures exhaling in a dark underground space, waiting and biding their time before they flood into the daylight world and shred everything they find there. This is a creepy, dark ambient horror soundscape, and it was a great place to visit.

Solaris is a dark collection of ambient and synth-based tracks, one that, for this listener at least, takes you on a tour of horror nostalgia alongside fresh terrors. I really liked the idea of a mysterious Telegram channel and how the tracks related to sinister cold cases, and it really helped to wrangle the variety of feelings evoked by the sometimes quite different moods each track embodies. As I said in my opening paragraph, I felt a sense of warmth that ran through many of the soundscapes, a fuzzy “look at this” feeling that was no doubt heightened by the cold harshness that creeps into the tracks at other times. I like horror films, books etc. that depict terrible and scary things that happen in the daytime, partly because it shows that evil doesn’t just come out at night, which makes it all the more dangerous. Solaris, for me, is horror by daylight, and that’s great!

Visit the Solaris page on Bandcamp for more information. You can also visit Sasha Darko's own website here.

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Solaris

Album Artist: Sasha Darko

Released: 30 August 2021