Fall Music Preview ~ Dark Ambient & Drone

Dark Ambient and Drone provides a score to sinister nights, and is perfectly suited for the month of October.  For the first time, we have enough releases to split into a separate installment.  This is the place to find music for haunted houses, or simply for the dark nights of the soul.  God and the Devil battle with ancient religions; a murderer’s brother contemplates his life; noise and aggression pummel everything in their wake.  The colors are blood red and black.  And just when one thinks they have survived the conflict, the shadow of climate change rears its head, and we realize that fictional horrors are no match for real life.  This music helps us to face our fears, so that we might overcome them.

Photography provided by Holly Holdredge Bangert at Holdredge Images.

Rich’s Pick #1:  Various Artists ~ On Corrosion (Helen Scarsdale, October 25)
“Oh, come on!”  That’s what other artists and labels are going to say when they hear about the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s 10-cassette box set:  seven hours of new music from Kleistwahr, Neutral, Pinkcourtesyphone, Alice Kemp, She Spread Sorrow, G*Park, Relay For Death, Francisco Meirino, Fossil Aerosol Mining Project, and Himukalt.  It’s hard to compete against something like this.  The set is the label’s 50th release (or perhaps its 50th-59th release), and includes photographs from Jim Haynes and copious essays on the topics of decay and disintegration ~ just in time for Halloween!

Rich’s Pick #2:  Dino Spiluttini ~ Heaven (Editions Mego, October 11)
Hearing that Heaven contains “contemporary church music” does little to prepare the listener for this onslaught of decidedly untraditional sound.  Sure, there’s an organ here, and a harp, and choirs ~ but seldom have they been used in such a way.  The contrast between dark and light, clear and distorted creates new shadows, while tough subjects (such as aversion to touch) are handled in a surprisingly affecting manner.


Just try to pronounce Trepaneringsritualen‘s ᛉᛦ — Algir; eller Algir I Merkstave!  This ritualistic work features runes and ruins, producing a sense of dark poetry (Cold Spring, September 9).  The new release from Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith shares this ritualistic sense, but is the yin to Trep’s yang.  Listen Without Distraction features guided meditations and holy Buddhist bells (Smithsonian Folkways, September 27).  In Daniel Menche‘s Melting Gravity ritualistic drone is “the weapon of music to defeat back the devil” (SIGE, September 13).  Claustrophobic horror and noise collide on Gnarled Ritual of Self Annihilation, from Spanish industrialists Black Earth (Cyclic Law, September 27), while Beyond the Ghost plunges listeners into a “city of fog” on You Disappeared (Cryo Chamber, September 3).  Meanwhile, elements of free improv dance among the drones on Dark Myths, from Nebulosa. “Sign of the Eclipse” is the early highlight (Pomperipossa, September 25).


Sky Burial continues to develop his sound on The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance, now concentrating on the liminal space between ambient and industrial (Opa Loka, September 14).  “New age industrial” is a new term to us, introduced by Ross Alexander‘s Memorias Vol. 2: High Atlas to the Sahara Desert. The music reflects the undulating landscape and hidden dangers of the wide Moroccan outskirts (Discrepant, September 6).  After appearing on the Jollies Crash Klang Bang Thang compilation, Ale Hop returns with the full-length Apophenia, which splatters percussion, Peruvian field recording and noise across an immersive soundscape (Buh, September 20).  DVKA uses sound clips, dialogue and harsh waves of sound to produce a disorienting tone on P E L A G E A, which flows as a single piece and lies on the border of industrial without toppling over (September 1).  The true-life backstory of Whettman Chelmets‘ Long Read Memories is difficult to hear.  The artist’s brother served 17 years in prison for murder.  “How do we love someone who has hurt others?” asks Chelmets.  The album helps him to work through the process, and challenges listeners to do the same (Aescape Sounds, October 11).

MMMΔ‘s EGOISMO may be even bleaker than their score to Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse.  Freed from narrative structure, they are able to concentrate on mood, as seen in the video for Awogans (Antifront, September 13).  Francois J. Bonnett (Kassel Jaeger) & Stephen O’Malley create claustrophobic atmospheres on Cylene, which is even more foreboding than their other solo and band works (Editions Mego, September 13).  Speaking of O’Malley, Sunn O))) is preparing to release the thick Pyroclasts, the companion album to Life Metal, released earlier this year (Southern Lord, October).  Another intriguing matchup is that of Gareth Davis & Duane Pitre, who combine bass clarinet and drone in Nótt, a 34-minute tribute to Thor’s mom (Midira, September 20).

Clarice Jensen‘s Drone Studies approaches the genre from the angle of modern composition.  The cellist sets repeating themes against slowly developing variations to create an enveloping mood (Geographic North, September 6).  Drone with vocals and strings?  We weren’t sure that it was possible until we heard 9T Antiope‘s Grimace, a compellingly bizarre set that keeps the listener’s attention by strolling through genres as if they were forest trees (Eilean Records, September 9).  Ose offers a blend of ambient and drone on Ellipsis, but just when one thinks they have the album figured out, beats jump in (Sine Language, September 27). Bright tones populate PCM‘s Attaverso: four tracks of ambient drone that sound like the sun poking through the clouds (n5MD, October 18).  Mixing light and dark hues is solo artist Floating Spectrum, whose debut album A Point Between is based on a dance performance and includes “household objects and handmade synthesizers.”  The swirling cover is a perfect fit for her music (Temporary Residence, September 20).  Madrid’s Edith Alonso is another outlier wedged between genres.  Χώρα alternates between beauty and aggression, and is all the more appealing as a result (Truthtable, September 25).  Quiet spaces are sprinkled about El Tamaño de Mi Silencio, as suggested by the album’s title; but when YYYY‘s drones arrive, their density is intense.  Inspired by the troubadours of Argentina, the music is comprised of manipulations of the human voice, nearly unrecognizable in these settings (Eerie, October 1).  Tsunxmi‘s New Life Now begins as ambience before diving into drone.  Strangely, it’s one of the few fall releases to mention the season (via lead single “Autumn Fog”) while sporting a seasonally-appropriate cover (Give/Take, September 6).  We’re used to hearing dark drone from Only Now, but Captivity promises an expansion of timbres that include field recordings, tribal drums and noise (Discrepant/Souk, October 11).


Perhaps the biggest surprise of Emptyset‘s Blossoms is that it never turns into a dance album, despite the fact that beats lurk at the edges of the entire set.  Instead, the album becomes a study in harsh textures, compromising nothing (Thrill Jockey, October 11).  Not harsh enough?  Try Hecker‘s Inspection II, which revels in red level abrasion (Editions Mego, September 27).  Or push far beyond the limits with crunching, piercing factory noise on the new split from Gridfailure/Feel Happiness.  The album has a heart, which is apparent in a discussion about having kids in the era of climate change.  But with track titles like “All You Are Is Meat,” it’s clear we’re not in Ambient Land anymore (September 13).  So ~ are you ready for Halloween yet?

Richard Allen

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