Wolfskin – O Ajuntar das Sombras

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Wolfskin
Title: O Ajuntar das Sombras
Label: Malignant Records
Genre Dark Ambient / Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 The Body of Chaos
02 The Wild Hunt
03 Cart of Light
04 The Yew Colum
05 Rex Sacrorum
06 A World of Veils
07 O Ajuntar das Sombras
08 Iron Unfolded
09 Throne of Stillness
10 Head of Clarividence

“O Ajuntar das Sombras” is apparently the final work from Portugal’s Wolfskin, and it’s slightly odd to think that something so dark can come out of a country which is almost perpetually bathed in light. Almost a year ago I found myself in Lisbon, and though the people I met there were kind, accommodating and attractive, the city itself was in dire need of a facelift. It was like someone had managed to pick up Birmingham, stone by stone, and airlift the entire horror of the city – Barratt helicopter style – across the English channel. The main streets were generally grey and littered, the backstreets fetid and in disrepair, and the ghetto slums put City of God to shame. So maybe it’s not altogether surprising that some dark vibes throb in the historic ruins of Portugal. The climate may be warm but the heart of the place can beat with an emotionally glum cadence.

The visual presentation of the “O Ajuntar das Sombras” is pretty stark and, once again, bearing a heavy emphasis on trees. I know that these bands want their works to come across as dour, moody, atmospheric and thought-provoking, but please, can’t we have another theme? I’ll admit I love trees too, OK? So much. And I can’t wait to go outside after writing this, pick my favourite one and smear myself all over it in some ritualistic sexual frenzy as the boundaries between man and plant dissolve into one big chlorophilic miasma, but please, we all need a break from them. It’s getting as tiring as people using the word ‘soundscape’ to describe dark ambient records. “Oh, beautiful soundscapes”, “the soundscapes… they’re so lush” and “wow, intense and dark soundscapes” may as well be macros on every reviewer’s keyboard.

It’s a shame that “O Ajuntar das Sombras” is the final work of Wolfskin. Having not been familiar with any of their previous albums, I wonder exactly in which corner of the dark ambient world I’ve been living over the last few years. This album is a humbling and splendid work, mixing some of the glummest visions from the scene and stirring them together thickly into one viscous soup. There are drone elements and heavy incantations, as well as instrumental work done on bagpipes and flutes, which makes some of the album come across as the bastard child of Kammarheit and Daemonia Nymphe. The bagpipes, for their part, are not played in a tuneful style befitting of your average Scottish tattoo but whirring, disorganised wails punctuated by the odd line of melody. At first its unusual and unexpected, but on repeated listens it almost makes sense, breaking up some of the longer droning sections of the album and providing some spiked relief from the more sinister moments.

The album lets you in gently with the airy, atmospheric drones of “The Body of Chaos” and “The Wild Hunt” before the whispered incantations begin on “Cart of Light”. Wolfskin occasionally incorporate percussive sections, which, rather than giving the album a tribal or industrial flavour, are done with enough subtlety as to fit perfectly with the ritualistic theme, even mimicking some of the more sinister moments of The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud. The album then takes a break from its ritualistic side, moving back into dark ambient territory with the background wails and airy rushes of the excellent “Rex Sacrorum” before the incantation proper begins once more. There are many times when “O Ajuntar das Sombras” feels like a perfect fusion of the some of the more minimal and disturbing dark ambient ensembles such as Blood Box and Troum but without any of the prolix self-indulgence.

“O Ajuntar das Sombras” pulls together some of the very best influences from the dark ambient scene and spreads them evenly over the musical smorgasbord with perfect depth and execution. The artwork may be a little misleading – smacking of small town American backwashes or the kind of moody landscapes that Agalloch like to exploit – when the album is about so much more than just that. “O Ajuntar das Sombras” has the ability to exploit every kind of sensation in the dark ambient subgenre and glibly pull it off with triumph. It may well be the last offering that Wolfskin plan on providing, but it’s an excellent one to go out on.

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