Artefactum – Sub Rosa

15/06/2009 § Leave a comment

Title: Sub Rosa
Label: Drone Records (Germany)
Genre: Dark Ambient/Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 Rosa Alba
02 Rosa Rubea

Artefactum’s promo shots would give you the idea that her music is anything but dark and sinister. Normally dark ambient artists like to like to gear themselves up in rubber, sport some idiotic 80s goggles and pose meaningfully over a keyboard with a big whirly logo in the background rather than skip through forests wearing flowers, but this is exactly the way that Artefactum chooses to represent herself. Doing so doesn’t seem to be so much of an allergic reaction to the clichés of the ambient scene but a genuine interest – much of Artefactum’s imagery involving flowers, vegetation and the essences of the natural worlds. Her first 7” record, Sub Rosa, contains two tracks each respectively meaning ‘White Rose’ and ‘Red Rose’, the album’s theme apparently revolving around alchemy: it’s limitations and transmutations. Drone Records have held back with their thesaurus this time, being so economical with their language as to advise this be filed under ‘alchemistic drones’ rather than something like ‘botany-based ritualistic thaumaturgical drones’. I should be thankful, but at the same time I don’t want to give them too many ideas.

Again I’m slightly disappointed not to see the physical packing with this promo since it sounds particularly pleasing – apparently the disc comes as pink vinyl with handmade decoupage covers closed with a pink ribbon. It’s all a bit girly, but then everyone needs to get in touch with their feminine side occasionally: those who see femininity as a sign of weakness could especially do with a day trip to All Saints, a bucket of sparkling perry and an evening of The Break Up and Failure To Launch. See, there’s nothing to be scared of [apart from bad romantic comedies].

Artefactum has an understanding of vastness. Rosa Alba imprisons us in a black, empty space, while chimes, distorted wails and drones wall us in. Like its same suggests, it is the subtler and purer of the two tracks, more minimalist in execution than its counterpart. As we explore the aurals surrounding us Rosa Alba opens to reveal a larger, wondrous dark space as stars explode in the far distance and moans permeate the environment. If it all sounds rather bleak that’s because it is –Artefactum is able to build a wonderfully subtle and disturbing atmosphere without the whole thing building into some kind of intense mush. Rosa Rubea, which follows directly on from the theme of its predecessor, retains the subtle moans of Rosa Alba and slowly build them up into a suffocating intensity before bringing in deep, echoing percussive elements, leading the EP out in a mystifyingly ritualistic precession.

In spite of being only two tracks long, Artefactum has produced an exceptionally effective piece of dark ambient made all the most edifying by its short length. Sub Rosa is able to take the very best influences from dark ambient acts such as Raison d’etre, Inade and others from Loki Foundation and mix them into a stunningly composite and structured work. The presentation may be all floral, light and carefree, but what lurks behind the lush appearance of this vinyl is a very dark creature indeed. Artefactum may be little-known in dark ambient circles, but it’s clear she’s deserving of much higher reputation and praise.

Tome/Seven Morgues – Deep In Marble

15/06/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Split Album / Collaboration
Title: Tome|Seven Morgues – Deep In Marble
Label: House of the Last Light
Genre: Ritual Ambient/ Experimental

Track listing:

01 Tome – Horns Locked Deep In Marble
02 Tome – Achrit
03 Tome – Raising Towers On Shallow Water
04 Seven Morgues – Unspeaking The Universe
05 Seven Morgues – RetroTragedy
06 Seven Morgues – I Disappear When Autumn Comes

The human voice can be employed to elevating and angelic degrees or unsettling, distressing and disquieting ones. Tome know all about the latter three. Including one half of the dark ambient group Seven Morgues, Tome is a purely vocal collaboration between Arie Kishon and Oren Ben Yosef, so it’s only natural that the two projects should share a split album.

To say this stuff is disturbing is an understatement. Using incantations, clean vocals, screams and shrieks, Tome hum their way through three of the biggest aural blasphemies I’ve heard. But this isn’t loud, cacophonic white noise – it’s subtler, eerier, more malicious. Tome is a challenge for those who think they’ve heard everything in the ambient scene. Dissecting each song would detract from its magnitude, sufficed to say that throughout their three tracks Tome employ a mixture of soft, elegant chanting, pained wails, screams and even weeping. They have a perfect awareness of the strengths and abilities of the human voice, and they use this knowledge to tear out all the frustration, pain and torment within themselves, and deliver it with a hammer blow to the senses of the listener.

Seven Morgues’ dark ambience is slightly more subdued and utilises occasional piano and guitar segments, albeit minimally. Oren Ben Yosef’s vocals are now familiar, though just as disturbingly strong and sinister as before. This is the first time I’ve heard a piano used to this degree in a dark ambient record: short, staccatoed melodies play in the background, perfectly adding to the eerie elements of the music, especially in “Unspeaking the Universe”. “RetroTragedy” is the longest track on the album, beginning as a Litegi-esque incantation with deep vocals, faint piano and guitar feedback and climaxing into a dizzying series of drones. It’s perfectly fitting that Seven Morgues take the second side of this split – any dissimilar act would have totally spoiled the effect.

There’s no hesitation in saying that Deep In Marble is one of the most harrowing experience I’ve had through music and reinforces the fact that the most extreme material isn’t to be found in the various incarnations of the metal genres, but in the ambient ones. Both Arie Kishon and Oren Ben Yosef have created a pained siren of the musical realm, an auditory vine that twists and constricts its way around the listener’s subconscious producing something genuinely solemn and disturbing – and the more familiarly it resounds with us, the more unsettling it becomes. Deep In Marble is a potent and fascinating work, but one which you’ll only be able to come back to once you’ve prepared yourself.

Ovro – Horizontal/Vertical

15/06/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Ovro
Title: Horizontal/Vertical
Label: Drone Records (Germany)
Genre: Dark Ambient / Experimental

Track Listing:

01 Horizontal
02 Vertical

They must have a great time over at Drone Records. Not only do they get to sign some – I’ll be honest – quite decent drone and dark ambient bands, but then they get the lustrous opportunity of writing product descriptions and sending them out to reviewers. It seems that the synonym factory has been on overdrive at Drone and this 7” [technically, it came to me as a CDR] should apparently not be filed under dark ambient, experimental or even glitch, but “subconscious travel drones”. I, for one, know that this is extremely useful for a magazine like Heathen Harvest who, when overloaded with gluts of promos and demos, tearing their collective hair out about where the hell to file the next obscure release from an underground label, will be beset with glee at being able to go right to their famished “travel drone/subconscious” pigeonhole and bung the thing in there for the next eager reviewer. I managed to get to the front of the line with this one, but that’s only because I camped for two successive nights and bribed the admin with promises of Fornicator and Waco Jesus first editions.

Ovro’s Horizontal/Vertical is limited to a pressing of just 300, which is a shame because it sounds like rather a nice package. Obviously they’re trying to keep them aside for the purchasers only so I didn’t get to see they physical packing. According to sources in and around the Ovro website, the disc comes as white vinyl with handmade covers pasted with newspaper sheets and filmstrips – sounds novel indeed – and it’s good to see another label recognising the importance of physical presentation when it comes to marketing a release. Aurally, Ovro’s music falls somewhere between dark ambient music and experimental glitch, mixing drones and ambient washes with various samples. The music tends to favour the dark ambient genre more than any other, but giving it a fresher tinge than most of the dime-of-the-dozen ambient projects that come out of Scandinavia. Ovro has been hailed as ‘the wonder-girl of Finnish experimental music’, an epithet which seems to get banded about a lot but which doesn’t really mean anything. It would have been far more useful to call her “the innovator of pioneering entrepreneurial dark ambient” or something like that. Work with me here.

Ovro’s compositions are quite clearly multi-layered. “Horizontal” comprises of pulsating, washing drones brushes, punctuated by the short slap of sampled bass strings. It has a very straightforward, linear feeling of movement inside a massive, enveloping space. “Vertical” has a far more direct approach to it, generating an atmosphere of being trapped or lost inside an abandoned factory with machines and automatons clicking away close by. Ovro uses much more obvious samples here from computerised clicks and glitches to doors opening and closing somewhere in the background. In both tracks she’s careful not to bog down and sully the ambience with too much sampling, knowing when to segregate the aural sections and make them active and when to include long, pleasing sections of enigmatic ambience, leaving us desperately guessing where we’ll be taken next.

At only 12 minutes it’s easy to be slightly disillusioned by Horizontal/Vertical’s short length, but this is exactly the reason why listeners should keep coming back to it repeatedly. I don’t know about you, but more than once have I got fed up and drenched with boredom at prolix, self-indulgent ambient albums that drawl on and on for over an hour. Horizontal/Vertical is a perfect package of something relievingly different and its layers will unravel themselves exponentially the more time you give to it. With an impressive back catalogue spanning six years it’s good to see an ambient artist who can put out mature, fresh and modest releases, and this EP is no exception.

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