Shambler have returned with more music reviews

This is the same post I did in the January, but I’ve edited it according to the new stuff Shambler added. There are more reviews of the CDs and what’s most interesting the review of the Cold Meat Industry Festival that had place in the UK in april. I moved all new stuff separately for easy find, hope you won’t get confused. Enjoy!

Version 1.3 , 04/05/06, В© Shambler.

Introduction

I’ve been dabbling in the dark ambient scene for a couple of years, sporadically buying a variety of releases with guidance from The Russian. I find the scene and the music very interesting, particularly since, despite having broad music tastes, I’d heard little like it before. A new musical experience. Thus I’ve written a bit about what little I know, in case others are interested.

In fact this dedicated, underground scene is not focused specifically on one music, although dark ambient is a good blanket term. Dark ambient, black ambient, drone, industrial, noise, neo-folk, neo-classical, power electronics, martial all fall under the banner. What links them together and characterises this scene… I think two main aspects. Firstly, the music almost always creates a strong atmosphere, which varies according to the artists purpose (sometimes to promote an agenda or provide a social commentary too). It is specifically atmospheric music, stripped of the distractions of more popular forms. Secondly, it is serious music – it may be beautiful, inspiring, and positive as well as dark, nihilistic and oppressive, but it is never frivolous or comical. Again a respite from the crassness of popular music.

As one might guess the only real way to navigate this often bewildering scene is to explore it and try the music. Hopefully the links and reviews below will help with that. They are just my own views and experiences, of course.

Useful Links

Aural Pressure – reviews, gigs, radio station
Cold Spring – label and online store
Cold Meat Industry – label and online store
Eibon Records – label
Going Underground – online store and various labels including Dark Vinyl
Loki Foundation – label and online store
Malignant Records – label and online store

My CD list

NEW:
Bad Sector – Kosmodrom (Waystyx Records)- review
Hive Mind – Sand Beasts (Crionic Mind) – review
Kammarheit – The Starwheel (Cyclic Law Records) – review
Koda – Movements (Infraction Records) – review
Merzbow – Merzbird (Important Records) – review
Merzbow – Merzbuddha (Important Records) – review
The Protagonist – Songs Of Experience (Cold Meat Industry) – review
Raison D’Etre – The Empty Hollow Unfolds (Cold Meat Industry) – review

Cold Meat Industry Festival – Raison D’Etre, Deutsch Nepal, The Protagonist, Brighter Death Now, Ordo Rosario Equilibrio, In Slaughter Natives – review

OLD:
Band Of Pain – ?Que Amiga? (Cold Spring Records) – review
Beneath The Lake – Silent Uprising (Glass Throat Recordings) – review
Biosphere – Cirque (Touch) – review
Biosphere – Substrata | Man With A Movie Camera (Touch) – review
Biosphere – Shenzou (Touch) – review
Biosphere – Autour De La Lune (Touch) – review
Desiderii Marginis – That Which Is Tragic And Timeless (Cold Meat Industry) – review
Ex.Order – War Within Breath (Malignant Records) – review
Exsanguinate – The Black Acts (Crionic Mind) – review
Henrik Nordvargr Bjorkk – Vitagen (Essence Recordings) – review
Herbst9 – Buried Under Time And Sand (Loki Foundation) – review
In The Nursery – Composite (ITN Corporation) – review
Inade – The Crackling Of The Anonymous (Loki Foundation) – review
Kriegsfall-U – Kriegsfall-U (Cold Spring Records) – review
Kerovnian – From The Depths Of Haron (Cold Spring Records) – review
Nordvargr – Awaken (Code 666 / Eibon Records) – review
Novatron – New Rising Sun (Cold Spring Records) – review
PHD? – Resource (Dark Vinyl) – review
Profane Grace – Cast In The Mold Of The Ancients (Memento Mori) – review
R|A|A|N – The Nacrasti (Malignant Antibody) – review
Von Thronstahl – Imperium Infernum (Cold Spring Records) – review
V/A – Chamber (Cold Spring Records) – review

Cold Spring Records 15th Anniversary Party – Von Thronstahl, HERR, Kriegsfall-U – review

Reviews

A note on the reviews: I find it a bit hard to write reviews for these CDs, because for me, and maybe others who read this, there is no commonly understood baseline for comparison and judgement. So I’ve tended to write mostly my immediate thoughts as I listen to these CDs – the most prominent aspects of the music and the atmosphere I find it evokes. As for what is good and what is bad – I don’t know, with music that’s often very subtle, small differences can make something appealing or unappealing. For what it’s worth, my favourites are: Biosphere, Desiderii Marginis, Ex.Order, HNB/Nordvargr, R|A|A|N and Von Thronstahl.

Onwards…

NEW:

Bad Sector – Kosmodrom

Dark electronica. More in line with glitch’n’bleep style electronica than traditional dark ambient, but combining strong elements of both. Themed around the Soviet space program, the combination of eerie melodies, delicately abstract beats, subtle drones, electronic/electrical sounds and cosmonaut samples, is appropriately spaced out rather than oppressive. Comes in complex hand-number packaging with extensive details of the Soviet space program.

Hive Mind – Sand Beasts

Dark ambient. A singular, substantial composition. A deceptively simple combination of subtle background drones and sparsely methodical echoing pulses, escalating and deepening as the track progresses, is rendered both menacing and captivating by the serration of sounds – everything rumbles, vibrates, or has sibiliant hisses. A well named release that is like listening to the slumber of monstrous reptilian creatures, initially peaceful, then increasingly disturbed as outside sounds interfere, and finally at peace again.

Kammarheit – The Starwheel

Dark ambient. An example of pure dark ambient with an emotional feel to it. String-like tones and swirling waves of sound float in and around deeper, darker drones beneath. These parts smoothly combine with a holistic balance. Sometimes the effect is epic, sometimes wistful, sometimes haunting, always it is atmospheric, although what atmosphere is left to one’s speculation.

Koda – Movements

Drone ambient. A simple and soothing release that combines various smooth drones, tones and strings in slow drawn-out melodies. Tracks melt into one another to form a warm but subdued composition that is simultaneously musical and minimal. The effect is quite human, and quite melancholy, but doesn’t evoke a specific atmosphere.

Merzbow – Merzbird

Beat-driven noise. As far as anyone can be a superstar in the noise genre, Merzbow is. After countless releases including some extremely harsh ones, recent releases have focused more on beats and more subtle noise used for atmosphere. However, subtle in this case is quite relative – the layers of howling white noise that coat the groovy industrial beats are pretty punitive by any standards. Yet the noise allied with strong rhythms produces fairly comprehensible walls / waves of sound overall.

Merzbow – Merzbuddha

Dub noise. Furthering Merzbow’s “mellowing”, this release tones down the noise and introduces calming dubby influences. It is considerably more peaceful than Merzbird! 3 long tracks based on weighty looped dub beats / basslines with varying noises – mostly subtle white noise – laid over the top. The noise is more insidious than aggressive. The continuity of the looped rhythms makes it quite repetitive, but equally quite hypnotic.

The Protagonist

Epic neo-classical / martial. A very powerful release that blends classical strings with military style drums, some drones, and occasional spoke snippets, all with a particularly dramatic and sometimes dark feel. Think of it as the soundtrack to mankind’s spiral down into debauchery and decadence and the subsequent almighty scouring of the earth by celestial forces. Consistent in quality, direct and stirring, and best listened to at thundering volume.

Raison D’Etre

Dark ambient. Another release that blends the sinister sound of pure dark ambient with the melancholic and melodic touch of classical. Rumbles, bassy drones and vaguely industrial sounds are combined with subdued but prominent strings and occasional choral snippets, to a gloomy effect. Some tracks tend toward a menacing industrial side whilst others are more relaxing, but the effect is a unified consistent whole.

OLD:

Band Of Pain – ?Que Amiga?

Melancholy dark ambient. This focuses on sadness as much as darkness, with drones that are less electronic and more drawn out strings. Full string sounds, sometimes wistful, sometimes dark, are punctuated by occasional fragments of static. Hazy and unsettling spoken vocals that lurk around the edges are laid over deep rumbles and eerie samples. Rewards further listening.

Beneath The Lake – Silent Uprising

Melodic ambient field recordings. An sometimes uneasy combination of field recordings and dark ambient drones, with traditional instruments and melodies. The effect varies from intimate, to intense, to intimidating – which defines the progression of the album. The focus changes from emotive melodies to grittier field recordings and to more menacing drones, enlivened by the occasional reappearence of calmer sounds. An interesting album that is best listened to as a performance in parts rather than as seperate tracks

Biosphere – Cirque

Uplifting drone ambient. An earlier album the shows Biosphere’s electronica roots, and is more closely allied with dance and more conventional ambient music. Thus as well as the drones and soothing melodies, trancier effects and beats are used more frequently – even including a subtle amen/apache break. Rest assured that is it still has ambient depths though. As well as electronic drone melodies, other curious samples crop up, and this album feels more diverse, perhaps because of the livelier sound.

Biosphere – Substrata | Man With A Movie Ca mera

Peaceful drone ambient. A twin CD pack combining the classic Substrata album with a composed soundtrack for the silent film A Man With A Movie Camera. The consistent Biosphere style of deep melodic drones and tones is spread across both CDs, but each has their own style. SS is characterised by evocative pianos over deep drones giving a delicate yet weighty feel. MWAMC has a more diverse and appropriately cinematic feel – the tracks hint at places, people and events.

Biosphere – Shenzou

Peaceful drone ambient. A typically soothing album. Biosphere deal with more accessible melodies than most dark ambient, but the depth of their sound and it’s creation from various drones enhanced with occasional methodical beats, and fuzzy samples, means this is a suitably deep release. This music does not create any particular atmosphere, but instead allows the listener to ponder and meditate at their leisure.

Biosphere – Autour De La Lune

Minimal drone ambient. One of the most minimal releases I have – it’s hard to describe that it as there isn’t much to describe. A collection of consistent, stripped down, deep bass rumbles, high pitched tones, and occasional fuzzy samples, arranged in simple loops. In some ways the directness and simplicity of the sounds make this a proper noise recording, even though it is smooth rather than noisy.

Desiderii Marginis – That Which Is Tragic And Timeless

Melodic dark ambient. The beautiful side of dark ambient. A serene combination of dark ambient drones and noises, along with melodies from more conventional instruments – occasional slow drums, faint bursts of electric guitars, uplifting strings, and strumming acoustic guitars. The latter being surprising and very effective – this is clearly a more natural and evocative role than in twangy pop music. The effect is captivating, moving, and very enjoyable. Comes in a appropriately beautiful CD case.

Ex.Order – War Within Breath

Rhythmic industrial noise. Gets to the heart of the industrial sound – pounding machinery and layers of noise. Throbbing rhythms, searing sounds, looped static and occasional distorted vocals (used as another sound). However, the overall impression one gets from this pulsing wall of sound is not that of unlistenable noise, but of raw power – and engaging, captivating power at that. This is fine music….that it is created with noises rather than traditional instruments is a secondary concern.

Exsanguinate – The Black Acts

Thrumming industrial noise. A series of bleak and urgent tracks that takes one through the full tonal range of industrial noises – deep bass rumbles and thumps, howling mid-range static, bursts of piercing high pitched noise – and thus the full range of aural pain. Steady, relentless rhythms provide the necessary structure that allow one to appreciate the intense, distorted power that is on offer. Potent.

Henrik Nordvargr Bjorkk – Vitagen

Black ambient. The refined sounds of pure darkness. Consistent, high quality, pitch black atmospheres, only enlivened towards the end with some �lighter’ rhythms. Subtle rhythms and loops create currents through a bottomless sea of undefinable but very listenable sounds. These are often mechanical and electronic in origin yet strangely welcoming, whilst sometimes more organic sounds creep in and fit in naturally. This is dark music, but definitely not unpleasant music.

Herbst9 – Buried Under Time And Sand

Exotic dark ambient. Very similar in ethos to RAAN – the soundtrack to ancient civilisations and lost worlds with a middle eastern / north African origin. Thus there is an effortless flow of tracks with drones, chants, chimes, and ethnic samples that fade in and out of the depths. However where RAAN is particularly gloomy, H9 take a more soundtrack-like approach. It’s still appropriately deep and dark, but with a slightly more upbeat atmosphere that encompasses tribal, epic, and ritual aspects.

In The Nursery – Composite

Film track style classical. A variety of tracks, some strongly atmospheric, some dramatic, some cheerful and easy-listening, some cheesy. Tracks have immediate prescence and succintness, this is music that makes an emotional point straight away, rather than drawing the listener in over repeated listenings. Traditional classical instruments and proper, but rarely dominating, vocals. Definitely for fans of Craig Armstrong style classical.

Inade – Crackling Of The Anonymous

Rhythmic dark ambient. A potent record that takes the dark ambient atmospheres and beefs them up slightly with rhythms and a vaguely industrial depth. However this is still deep and dark rather than noisy. Occasional percussion is powerful and offers a counterpoint to eerie melodies and samples. Inade explore the further realms of psychology and this lends the music a mystical but contemporary atmosphere.

Kerovnian – From The Depths Of Haron

Varying dark ambient. A right mixture of tracks from the sinister to the abstract to the vaguely epic, but all within the dark ambient field. Darkish drones and minimal rumbles are enhanced with combinations of gurgles and drips, obscure background effects, soaring vocals, or distorted readings. The effect is often more strange than atmospheric and deep.

Kriegsfall-U – Kriegsfall-U

Martial industrial. Described as “sacral post-industrial” and insofar as I know what that means (not far), it sounds about right. K-U have a strong moral/social agenda supporting a return to European glory and respect for historical figures, and this comes across on this short but evocative album. A blend of classical/medieval melodies, pounding military percussion and distorted industrial noises with chants, narrations, and spoken words featuring prominently. Varying in effect but at it’s best stirring and powerful.

Nordvargr – Awaken

Black ambient. Classic album, the artwork should let you know what you are in for. High quality compositions of darkness that manages to be minimal and deep at the same time. Created from a mixture of subterranean sounds, eerie tones, occasional strings and haunted samples. The last track in particular is probably the darkest I’ve heard, an epic in 4 parts….listened to alone at night the final part will have you sleeping with the light on.

Novatron – New Rising Sun

Varying noise compositions. A mixture of ambient-ish and industrial-ish tracks, that all use harsh but not overpowering noise to some degree – sometimes used on it’s own but usually layered over beats, drones and other loops. Not always very engaging, but occasionally gives rise to intriguing compositions using noise as another instrument.

PHD? – Resource

Electronic drone ambient. A nice album that combines various welcoming drones and occasional drum rhythms to provide a warm yet powerful sound. There are shades of Biosphere, but more prominently shades of high quality trance music – trance without the dance perhaps. Strong electronic sounds and sci-fi atmospheres give an effect that is less intimidating than some dark ambient albums, but no less engaging.

Profane Grace – Cast In The Mold Of The Ancients

Sinister dark ambient. The sound of the graveyard, the desecrated chapel, the summoned demon. Eerie strings, clanging bells, and moaning choirs are layered over sparse drones and slow percussive noises. Guttural gurgling and occasional unholy invocations (albeit with an unatmospheric American accent) complete the picture. Unsubtle in it’s style and sometimes lacking depth, but an effective horror film soundtrack.

R|A|A|N – The Nacrasti

Exotic deep dark ambient. Thick drones, rumbling bass and ominous pounding provide the weight, whilst eerie tones, chimes, and distant chants complete the effect, giving the music a mysterious, ancient feel. Consistently deep tracks blend seamlessly into each other like a sea of sifting sand. A rich release that evokes atmospheres of lost civilisations and distant lands.

Von Thronstahl – Imperium Infernum

Epic martial classical/industrial. Powerful strings, military percussion, political samples are arranged in stirring compositions that provide a sountrack to VT’s neo-facistic manifesto of political upheaval and the glory of national identity. There is the occasional industrial or more melodic folk track, but the main thrust of the album is strong – catchy, anthemic, martial music. Very powerful and attention grabbing.

V/A – Chamber

Various. A compilation from the renowned Cold Spring records, featuring pretty much all their main artists at the turn of the millenium, including the CS artists reviewed on this page, and acts like Folkstorm, Schloss Tegal, Sleep Research Facility, A Challenge Of Honour etc. As such it’s a full mixture of tracks from minimal dark ambient to stirring classical, via industrial and God knows what else. A good introduction to the sound.

Cold Meat Industry Festival – Various Artists

The second dark ambient / industrial / martial / neo-classical gig I’ve been to, and this is about as big as it gets in a rather small scene. The Russian told me I absolutely had to go to it, and he was right =). Despite my initial trepidation about going on my own, it was very enjoyable and interesting. It was held in the Koko Club (ex-Camden Palace), which was a cool venue, an old theatre with an impressive stage, floor level and good viewing circle above (unfortunately the club made the stupid decision to close off a relaxing seating area). The crowd was small but reasonable and consisted of the same usual goth/military-style suspects found at the ColdSpring gig =). This was a long afternoon / evening festival, and contained an good variety of music styles, ensuring there was something for anyone who is into this scene:

Raison D’Etre (photo) kicked off proceedings with a dark ambient set that was very representative of his Empty Hollow Unfolds album. One man, a laptop, and various random metal objects that were stroked, caressed and generally interfered with, with the ensuing sounds processed, echoed, and laid over the top of the dark ambient drones – quite interesting. This set didn’t really grab me immediately, but later on as the intensity increased with some dark rhythms, I liked it, and it was a good gradual introduction.

Deutsch Nepal (photo1, photo2) was up next, with a more interactive industrial-style set consisting of the frontman singing and shouting over backing tracks. This took the music into harder realms but not really harsh or noisy, just nicely industrial. Unfortunately there were some problems with crackling due to the volume or something, the guy seemed pretty pissed off but he did a good job despite this – the music had some really good tracks with a strong industrial groove, darkly hypnotic and funky, and his vocals fitted in well.

The Protagonist started to show the true variety of the night, with a blisteringly good neo-classical / martial set, with heavy emphasis on drums and violin. I had thought from the CD descriptions that Mr Protagonist would be quite mellow and seductive, but no the music was really powerful and stirring and epic. The soundtrack to almighty conflict and scenes of true spectacle. This music works so well in a live (or semi-live) enviroment, and I was quite moved – I had to buy the CD after this. They also had good images on the backdrop screen, of medieval mysteries and old pornography.

Brighter Death Now (photo1, photo2 – note audience colour scheme =)) I guess were the headliners, they certainly got the biggest audience response and provided the most entertaining show. Men in blonde wigs, skirts and dressing gowns, a gimp in slippers and a bra attacking the BDN frontman and getting stripped on stage, balloons being thrown around, the frontman taunting the audience, all to the soundtrack of merciless industrial noise, speaker-melting bass, and plenty of aggressive shouting. Musically it wasn’t my favourite although there were some fun bits, but the overall effect was amusing enough and a good part of the night.

Ordo Rosario Equilibrio were quite a surprise – much more of a proper band with a distinct goth / romantic feel. At first I was thinking “WTF is this pop bullshit?” but as their set progressed and the military drums kicked in, I got into it more and more. Their music had a good, consistent, atmosphere and some of the proper songs were properly catchy, with quite an epic feel in places. Some of it was a bit mellow but the darker tracks were impressive and powerful enough to work well in this festival.

In Slaughter Natives (photo) well I can’t remember much at this point as I was too busy worrying about my music taste after liking a gothic band, admiring various industrial chicks, and wondering how many Protagonist CDs to buy. But I found the ISN set to be quite typical industrial with vocals over the top – loud and dark without being too harsh and noisy. It seemed to be a good balance to the other acts on during the night and the frontman had good stage presence….but I was tired and it was time to go brave the London Underground.

A good night =).

Cold Spring Records 15th Anniversary Party – Von Thronstahl, HERR, Kriegsfall-U

An evening of martial industrial / classical music, interspersed with noise and dark amb, celebrating the prolific Cold Spring records with 3 of their prominent artists. This was held in one of the many rooms of London’s Marquee club on a Saturday night, leading to amusing scenes later on as house and r’n’b clubbers wandered in, bemused at the esoteric music and indeed crowd. The room and gig was pretty small, despite Cold Spring’s claims that it was sold out with 300 people, the crowd was small, only to be expect for this music I guess. Certainly an interesting crowd – shaved heads, goatees, monk-like bobs, black clothes or military uniforms de rigeur. Civilised though!

Anyway, my friend and I arrived early and found a nice little alcove to sit in and soak up the bass (sound was a bit variable in the room). After a bit of DJing with some noise and industrial, Kriegsfall-U appeared. First the vocalist and one drummer, then two other drummers, released a barrage of tribal / industrial drumming, over backing recordings of drones and other noises, with shouted and distorted vocals. The latter were delivered by the vocalist staring intensely straight ahead – in fact the whole perfomance was very robotic, which seemed quite appropriate – but didn’t overwhelm the music. Musically this was my favourite performance, the industrial sound and tribal rhythms, both more intense and consistent than the K-U CD, were really appealing.

After a brief break and more DJing, it was HERR, who took the music into more martal/classical territory, and the performance into much livelier realms. Consisting of members on cello, synths, drums and vocals, they combined epic martial music with hints of classical and industrial. This was more variable and musically interesting than K-U, but personally it was less to my taste but still good. What I found nice, was the style of the performance overall – HERR have a strong uniform, and a charismatic frontman who looked surprisingly cheerful as he introduced the band. Their performance was crafted well, starting with a spoken word intro, and finishing with a proper chanted anthem “Enemy At The Gates”.

Finally, after a brief sound check, it was the headliners, Von Thronstahl, whom I was excitedly anticipating since their CD is a favourite of mine. Unfortunately this was a disappointing performance in a couple of ways. Firstly, VT struggled with serious sound problems and a recalcitrant sound engineer – their backing soundtrack kept skipping, and eventually their drummer had to give up. This spoilt early tracks and took the edge off the performance. Secondly, their live performance is a lot more metal than I expected – much more focused on rock guitars than the album, in fact some album tracks were rockified live. This may have made good metal music but was not so good for martial/classical music. On the plus side, some of their anthems did shine through, and the frontman Josef K did put on a strong performance, standing on speakers and getting involved in the crowd. But the crowd thinned down a lot, and eventually we left too. Overall the gig was fun and interesting and inspired me for more dark ambient / industrial / martial gigs :).

End.

7 Responses to “Shambler have returned with more music reviews”

  1. Gom Jabbar Says:

    Now that’s nice, exactly what I was looking for.
    Shambler you rock! Vondur you do too, a bit.

  2. Pauk Says:

    Excellent stuff. I shall be keeping my eyes on it. Top work Shambler (and maybe Vondur) :).

    Will it always be one long post or will it be split into sections at a later date?

  3. Vondur Says:

    pauk: well i’m not sure yet, depends on shambler’s activity… :)

  4. popka Says:

    Nice bits there Shambler, feel free to inquire with me about other noisy bits as I as well have deeply succumbed to it’s leathery tendrils. However lately I’ve started exploring a lot of esoteric folkish stuffs, with a lot of heavy experimentation. Nevertheless I’ve a few artist suggestions you’d not want to miss the opportunity to at least give a listen.

    I also vote it be its own section. With individual entries for each post.

    nice work fellas

  5. Shambler Says:

    Cool glad people like it ;).

    I’m not going to update it as a column though, it’s just like an information thing in honour of the Russian who’s fault this all is.

    If I get some more CDs or go to another gig (Coldmeat in April, hopefully), I will write about that though…

  6. Vondur Says:

    yay! that’d be cool
    i’ll think how to organize it better so it’d be more visible rather than decay in the obscure ‘miscellanous’ section

  7. Zero Credibility » Blog Archive by Vondur » Nordvargr - Vitagen Says:

    […] Finally! Got the long awaited HNB’s album Vitagen! It was released on the excellent brazilian label Essence Music, which pleased me with another fine release already (Wolfskin). As usual, good old Nordvargr didn’t fail expectations and produced proper evil dark ambient. This CD features some distorted guitars, dark speeches and other tricks to make it sound sinister and satanic. Once again Nordvargr proved who’s main dark ambient hero in the scene. btw, here’s shambler’s opinioin regarding this cd. On a side note, I had to enable comment approval (only once for each author), because spam activities polluted site quite badly, even Akismet plugin doesn’t help much… sigh… […]

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