Manchester’s Gizeh Records has been one of our favorite labels for years, and now they’ve stepped it up a notch with the sublimely shadowed Dark Peak series. The first installments, from Æmaeth and Anders Brørby, set the bar high, leaving nothing to chance. This isn’t just dark music; it’s majestic, lovely and deep. Add handmade packaging (in black, of course!) and the formula for success is complete.
Æmaeth (A-Sun Amissa’s Owen Pegg) has begun to expand into film work, and The Roman is his score to the silent movie of the same name. A moody, introspective work, the album is nonetheless gorgeous; despite the fact that the plot leads to death, the music manages to notice and celebrate life. This is never more apparent than in the soft female coos that first appear halfway through “And Then He Was Alone,” adding grace to the cautious piano and strings. Such moments allow the album to work without the visuals, a challenge the artist met by reworking the original material.
As the album progresses, it settles into a bleak and fatalistic mood. One recalls the music of Cold Meat Industries: icy, desolate and thick, dark in a way that defies darkness, as if to salvage something from the scene of a slaughter. While the music doesn’t suggest a silent film (and truthfully, how could it?), the music does suggest silence. And in its finest moments – especially the end of “Stalked by Death” – the violin produces a gleaming light that is remembered even after it is snatched away. The timbres peak with the percussive title track, retreating afterwards to a better-lit cove. The penultimate track again includes wordless vocals. Will all be well? Not at all, but the respite adds depth to the loss.
A different type of darkness descends on Anders Brørby‘s Nihil. More active and dramatic than its predecessor in the series, this album introduces the percussion right away and seems to branch from the center of The Roman into a blacker tree. By the end of “When You Look Into the Abyss,” crunches and booms have already indicated that something wicked has already arrived; the sound of an alarm in “As Dead as the Stars We Watched at Night” implies that it has burst its chains. Nihil of course means nothingness (as in “annihilate”), and the album serves as a warning to listeners: make your peace. At the same time, it’s a reminder that a lot has to take place in order to work one’s way down to nothing, and that even then, one might encounter the nothing that is.
Factory grindings, un-oiled squeaks, active birds and even a spectral choir grace portions of Nihil, as if to disagree with its thesis. But Nihil is about more than these. The album plunges head-first into the heart of despair, the thought that there is nothing beyond this, or that nothing matters. As the score to an existential crisis, it bursts its boundaries with electronic sighs and groans, simultaneously waiting for and dreading a response. Sometimes it’s harder to live with a purpose than without one, and that pesky abyss (Stop staring, already!) offers little relief. Brørby seems to embrace this conundrum, ironically filling his sonic field with as many glittering shards of light as slicing shards of metal.
Can two shades of darkness be opposites? If so, then Nihil and The Roman form such a pair: loud and soft, thick and thin, rising and falling. Yet they share two pertinent traits: neither is entirely dark, and each is richer as a result. May the Dark Peaks series continue to experiment with multiple shades until every hue has found its corresponding cave. (Richard Allen)