Eyre Transmissions XII – Interview with Dark Ambient / Necrochill Producer, Sumatran Black

These days, Bandcamp is my go-to platform for a wide assortment of music. I love how it’s given artists unlimited creativity and the ability to showcase their musical aptitude regardless of style, genre or other unconventional standards. One artist that demonstrates this capability is Sumatran Black. Not only is it the name of the labels flagship artist, but it also represents the Bandcamp page itself – Sumatran Black Records. This Dark Ambient/Necrochill page is also home to Black Box Memories and Ataşehir – two other fantastic creations of the Sumatran Black composer himself. The albums produced by Sumatran Black Records are some of my favorite in recent years and although each project is different, they bring a needed variety of memorable compositions to the dark electronic community that are eagerly welcomed. I recently had the opportunity to interview the composer behind the label to find out more about each project and what the future holds for Sumatran Black Records.

1. Thank you so much for this interview opportunity. I’m constantly amazed by the impressive and unique projects that you have going on with your Bandcamp page. Have you always had a vision to create multiple projects, covering an array of themes and sonic adventures?

I’ve always really enjoyed other artists who have released music under pseudonyms or side projects etc for example, I really love the Smackos project by Dutch artist Legowelt, and in terms of dark music I think the Lurker of Chalice project by Leviathan is a really good example of how using a different project name can open up a whole range of opportunities for musical expression.

To be honest when I started out, I didn’t really have any distinct vision or plan for either the music releases or the label. I just wanted to record some music after very long hiatus from having anything to do with music creation and just take it from there. I tend to believe that once you get the ball rolling on something artistically, it will often guide you in its own direction and you can kind of shape the overall ideas into something more focused and concrete. Which I think is an accurate description of what happened with the Sumatran Black Records label. As I began to take it more seriously and produce more music it was obvious there would have to be different names for different projects just to maintain a sense thematic clarity.

2. If I had to guess, I’d say that Sumatran Black was your flagship project. Was this your first endeavor in the Dark Ambient arena or was there something else before that?

Sumatran Black was the first.

3. Were you involved with any other musical endeavors prior to Sumatran Black? If so, what were they and what led you to Dark Ambient?

I’ve been involved in lots of projects before but most of my music endeavours previous to Sumatran Black involved writing music for theatre (Opera and Musical Theatre). Unfortunately despite my best efforts, nothing made it to the stage. I still have hopes to resurrect some of these ideas in the future.

With regards to my journey towards darker music and dark ambient, I guess my character helped steer me in that direction. And I should add that I wouldn’t really class myself as a purely Dark Ambient composer. I think what I’m trying to do is often less textural and less static in terms of movement than a great deal of Dark Ambient. I would also add that I’ve tried to avoid presenting my music with an overly polished sound (in terms of production) in general. Which is something that I would associate with a lot of Dark Ambient. Hence the term Necrochill. As the genre has become more popular through the good work of labels like Cryochamber and the inclusion of Dark Ambient music in mainstream video games, it seems that the Dark Ambient sound has become more homogeneous and less distinctive between artists. I want to avoid this.

Of course my music does have many elements that are common with Dark Ambient and I have no problem with it being categorised in those terms.

4. ‘A Taxonomy of Grief’ (by Sumatran Black) is one of my favorite Dark Ambient experiences of the year so far. Can you tell us a little bit about the Necrotrilogy and how this album came about?

The Necrotrilogy is a trilogy of releases under the name Sumatran Black designed to be thematically and musically linked, and to introduce the audience to my concept of necro chill. Which is essentially just a funny name to categorise my main musical interest which is dark music that is cathartic, emotional and has strong elements of lo fi and some elements of the 2nd wave of black metal necro sound but reimagined in a more ambient context.

‘A Taxonomy of Grief’ is the third and final part of the Necrotrilogy. Musically it’s supposed to be a summation of the sound of the previous two albums. Thematically it’s the most personal of the trilogy and is in the simplest of terms an album about loss and recovery.

https://sumatranblack.bandcamp.com/album/a-taxonomy-of-grief

5. What are the other albums that make up the remainder of the Necrotrilogy?

Part 1: In the Dread

Part 2: Fathomz

Part 3: A Taxonomy of Grief

Not part of the trilogy: A Page of Madness Soundtrack, Elegy for a Lost Cosmonaut.

6. Do you already have plans for any upcoming Sumatran Black albums?

Not an album but I have an EP ready to go into the next stage of recording. The demos are complete, and the EP is a spiritual successor to Elegy for a Lost Cosmonaut. Its working title is Broken Timelines.

7. Let’s shift gears to Black Box Memories. Another stellar project that combines Dark Ambient and lo-fi electronica. I’m so intrigued by this project but how did it come about?

Usually when I’m in the final stages of a project in terms of mixing and mastering I tend to get bored of listening to the tracks over and over again and so I often do some recordings in the middle of this process just to give myself some variation almost like a palate cleanser if you will. And so when I was finishing off In the Dread (which took a long time), I had a lot of other tracks I had been working on which would not fit that project but I thought was strong enough musically to stand alone in a music project in their own right. Those tracks would form ‘Transmissions’ the first Black Box Memories album.

8. Although the Black Box Memories recordings are very modern, they have an excellent retro vibe to them as well. Is this a sound that you were planning for or did it just come about through experimentation?

I don’t really know where the sound came from first and foremost it was initially probably a reaction to the sound of In the Dread. That album is very claustrophobic and employs some quite extreme audio processing and I guess Black Box Memories is sonically just more open and less demanding of the listener. And as I said before musical projects often dictate their own outcomes. So in the case of Black Box Memories the first demos had a very nostalgic and lo fi vintage sound to them and so as more tracks will created they became influenced by the initial demos. I think also at the time I had access to more sounds, I’d upgraded my system and invested in some 80s retro synth clones and my thinking was how can I create a musical idea that uses the nostalgic sounds of my musical youth but recontextualises them in a kind of more dark arena. if you can imagine how vaporwave manipulates old samples in a way to produce something that has a completely different emotional flavour. I thought maybe that would be possible with say for example a Yamaha DX7 VST. Could I take a very recognisable electric piano sound and then sonically manipulate it in a way that sounds even more vintage/lo fi – almost like a musical exaggeration – and then use this sound design in more dark and almost psychedelic musical compositions.

https://sumatranblack.bandcamp.com/album/this-loving-presence

9. On ‘This Loving Presence’, you use a lot of narrative samples – which blend perfectly with the arrangements. Is there an underlying story with these, or are they used to create a particular ambience for the listening experience?

I guess ‘This Loving Presence’ was greatly influenced by my mood and habits at the time of composition which involved lots of late nights and lack of sleep and watching YouTube videos to try and remedy the situation. Most of the narrative samples are heavily edited ASMR style video quotes. I took those snippets of dialogue and then edited them in a way that would create sentences that had a very sharp and poignant emotional resonance immediately.

10. Now, I definitely have to bring up Ataşehir, because out of all of your projects, this one is probably my favorite. This project is a bit more minimalistic and desolate that your others; what were some of the influences for creating this one?

Although it probably sounds nothing like it, the main influence at the beginning of the Ataşehir project was the work of Stars of the Lid and also GAS. Probably my two favourite drone and ambient artists.

https://sumatranblack.bandcamp.com/album/when-the-time-comes

11. I reviewed 2020’s ‘AVM’ album and I loved the theme that was represented within. Are all Ataşehir albums created with a concept in mind?

I think that I can safely say that pretty much every album and EP I’ve recorded (not only Ataşehir) has been what would broadly be described as a concept album. Sometimes I give an explicit explanation in the liner notes, sometimes the concept is hidden in the album and song titles. 

I have given a previous interview where I go into detail about the Ataşehir project https://ambientmusic.com/interviews/sumatran_black

12. On the latest album, ‘When The Time Comes’, the drone work is absolutely fantastic and has a wide range of melody in it. How did you go about creating these sonic soundscapes?

I think with Ataşehir I always have this overriding influence of abstract expressionism and then I’m always trying to find ways of manifesting that musically. I was lucky with ‘When the Time Comes’ because I found a very particular VST that I used throughout the whole process. I won’t name it because I don’t want to give all my secrets away but the person who designed the instrument is aware of the fact that it was used for the entire album.

Maybe I can just describe the overall composition technique that was used. Most of the tracks consist of maybe three or four drone layers that are intersecting with each other to create a musical foundation – and this is the drone element. Then on top of that the melodic element you refer to are improvisations with a synth or a guitar. These improvisations are cut and edited and looped in an asymmetric way to create kind of melodic tension across the pieces.

13. I love the song titles that you come up with for this project. Do they have a particular meaning, and how do you come with those?

I usually take a long time with song titles I really enjoy that aspect of creating music and it’s something I have a lot of fun with. In the case of the album ‘When the Time Comes’, the titles definitely all have a meaning and maybe I can try and clarify that. The album is supposed to describe a near future or alternative future Istanbul after some strange cataclysmic event. Therefore, the song titles refer to numerous locations in the city but some of those locations are real and some of them are imagined future locations. So, for example, the Istanbul Canal does not exist but it might do in the near future. Also, Levent 4.2 does not exist, but Levent 4 exists. If anyone is interested, on the bandcamp album notes I have included a location guide which kind of explains everything.

14. I recently became familiar with one of your older projects, Haram Tapes. These albums are a lot of fun and seem to defy genre limitations. What makes this project so different?

The main reason that project is so different is because it involves two people. Myself and my collaborator See Safari. It would take a long time to go into detail about all the concepts and ideas behind Haram Tapes, but here is a recent interview we did.

15. Are there plans for more Haram Tapes releases?

Yes, we are discussing the concept for the next album at the moment.

https://haramtapes.bandcamp.com/album/scorpions-fountains

16. Speaking of “releases”, do you have any physical releases (I.e. CD, Cassette, LP..) of any of your projects?

Yes, there are cassettes available for Haram Tapes. Logistically, it hasn’t been possible for me to produce physical releases for Sumatran Black Records. However, it’s my plan that all Sumatran Black Records will have physical versions available from now on. This will begin with a new dungeon synth project I’m currently working on. I also plan to slowly but surely add physical releases to the entire back catalogue.

17. Do you have a home studio in which you record and produce your work?

Yes I do. It’s quite minimal and now I also have made it portable. Before all my music used to be created in my home studio desk setup with big monitors etc but recently I’ve tried to do all my initial work just on a laptop so I can be portable add more flexible with my workspace. ‘When the Time Comes” and “This Loving Presence” were recorded and mixed almost entirely on a small laptop with headphones and they were only moved to my larger studio area (the big computer as it were) during the mastering process.

18. What is your gear setup like? Do you have a preference of analog equipment over digital (VST’s etc..)?

I tend to avoid talking about gear and setups too much because I’d like to encourage all musicians to just use whatever they have available. You don’t need expensive analogue gear you don’t need the latest DAW, you just need ideas and some dedication. the first Sumatran Black album was recorded on GarageBand with no third party VSTs for example.

But to answer your question I really do love both analogue and digital but my priority is practicality and pragmatism. So, I can tell you at this moment I own two or three very good analogue synthesisers but they’re not in the same country as my studio (and not one note from them has appeared on any of my records). I’m doing everything in the box just using vsts because that’s what I have available. I’m planning to build something more substantial in the near future with the aim of implementing some more outboard gear.

19. Again I appreciate this opportunity for the interview and I’m always looking forward to new music by you. Do you have any departing thoughts for your fans that may be reading this?

Thanks for listening and reading. If you got this far, please consider following Sumatran Black Records on Bandcamp as this is my main hub for all news and info about new releases. New Dungeon Synth project coming soon.

Links:

https://sumatranblack.bandcamp.com

https://www.sumatranblackrecords.com

https://www.facebook.com/sumatranblack/

https://youtube.com/user/reevespeterson

https://haramtapes.bandcamp.com

Vandalorum Surpasses All Expectations On The Extremely Diverse ‘Maewyn’

Vandalorum is an artist that needs no introduction, especially if you’ve followed the Dungeon Synth genre for the past couple of years. Quickly establishing himself as one of the premier acts in the community, Vandalorum has persistently released a number of exceptional albums, garnering a huge following amongst musicians and fans alike. Vandalorum is also no stranger to The Dungeon In Deep Space either, as I reviewed the 2019 album, ‘Flagellum Dei’. That album erupted with enormous Medieval anthems and made me an instant supporter. Although I didn’t get the chance to review the massive follow-up release, ‘Mesopotamian Death Cult’, it was also a work of art that surpassed its predecessor. That leads us to the latest release called ‘Maewyn’, the gallant story of the life of St. Patrick; from the trials and tribulations of his actions with bringing Christianity to Ireland to his lasting impression on history and story telling throughout the ages.

Jubilant album opener, “A Saint Lays Claim To The Souls Of The Irish” is light and vibrant and immediately presents colorful layers of energetic electronic music that transcends Dungeon Synth. The warm drum patterns and vigorous synth leads catapult this track down a genre-less path and exposes it to boundless sources of musical universal acclaim. From the very first note of “Rise Of The Fomorians”, I realized that this album was going to be special and once again eclipse its predecessors. After a short keyboard intro, a drum beat fuses with expansive synths and showcases a groove that is completely mesmerizing. Traditional Dungeon Synth keyboard effects have a few spots that are commendable and gives it a bit of flare and variety, but the real winner is the choir-like vocals and the bombastic drum fills. I can’t get enough of this track and it may be my favorite one on the album. Next up is the short, symphonic piece,“Moraltach”. Although at just under a minute and a half long, it plays an important role by continuing this voiceless story and shows just how powerful good music really is. “Children Of Lir” continues the passion set forth in the previous tracks and offers even more melody as layers of synth effects meld together to form a memorable composition. However, once the drum beats are engaged, this Crypt Hop track soars to chilling new heights. Retro synthwave vibes with a touch of reverb keeps it old-school while maintaining a modern appeal. “Enslaved By Celtic Raiders” takes us back to a more traditional Dungeon Synth style, but powerful percussive parts and soaring guitar leads makes this one of the most ambitious compositions yet. The synth break in the middle – complimented with natural sounding field recordings – is beyond extraordinary and it completely exudes tons of emotions. “Exodus Of The Tuatha De Danann” commences with an immaculate piano lead that builds up to a serene duet with a soaring synth. As other instruments are betrothed, you can sense a maniacal presence taking over as this early-dawn, synthwave track soars beyond the stratosphere. “Cu Chullain” is another musically diverse piece, as it begins with a peaceful and somber intonation. As various instruments assemble to form a harmonious arrangement, the track ascends to new heights as black metal vocals are introduced at the same time the drum beats come in to play. “The Nymph Of The Forest Of Neri” is an elegant cantata that has some of the best melodic moments on the album and the brisk drum beats are a welcomed treat. “The Cave Where He Saw Hell” takes us back to a more traditional Dungeon Synth sound, specifically in the layered synth effects. However, this one would easily classify as a Crypt Hop track as well, especially when the smooth beats start up at various times. There is a velvety shine throughout this emotional song and it serves as a spiritual uplifting guide, as this magnificent album comes to a close. The final track on the album is the near ten minute long, “A Prayer In The Fields, and God Answered”. Not rushing a single thing, it begins with a simplistic synth drone, with layered leads filling in with some lush details that sound very emotional. This structure remains throughout the track, although the synth effects change style a few times to maintain a curious introspective. This song is so mellow & beautiful and provides the perfect ending to this amazing album that has provided so much variety.

This is one of those albums that can be listened to from start to finish without ever skipping over any tracks. I can’t think of a single song on ‘Maewyn’ that I would skip during a play through. Since it contains so much diversity on every track, I wouldn’t want to miss any of the intricate details contained within because at any given time, any of these tracks could easily become my favorite song on the album. The vast improvements in musicianship and songwriting over the past three albums or so is just unreal and Vandalorum should be proud of such an amazing accomplishment. Please show your support for one of the genre’s best and download ‘Maewyn’ from the link below.

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Links:

https://vandalorum.bandcamp.com/album/maewyn

Two Obscure – Yet Groundbreaking – Genres Collide On The Unfathomable ‘Crypt Hop Compilations I’

Who would have ever thought that two musical genres at the farthest ends of the sonic spectrum could provide so much listening pleasure when combined? Well, quite a few obviously, because it’s definitely a thing. Crypt Hop was born out of the enigma known as Dungeon Synth and the ambiguities of Memphis style hip hop from the early 90’s. If you’ve not heard artist from that genre such as Manson Family, Gangsta Pat and Three 6 Mafia (among others), you’re missing out on some of the early, most innovative artists from the Memphis Horrorcore genre. If you strip away the gangsta rap, hip hop beats and underlying samples, you’ll actually hear an early 90’s rendition of Dungeon Synth, that typically features lo-fi production and the structural hissing of vinyl and cassette tapes. Fast forward to 2020 and we have the Dungeon Synth-led ‘Crypt Hop Compilations I’, which features thirteen daring tracks from various artist that intend to leave their mark not only in the Dungeon, but also in the Crypt!

The track that begins this morose phenomenon is “Poltergeist Manifestation At Midnight Cemetery” by Kravtun. Ghastly lo-fi synths compete against background static before a stunning hip hop beat immerses to synchronize everything. A swift breakdown in the middle with layered synths before the massive beats and bass tone reignites to finish out the track. “Astrals” by Leneaux has the warm sounds of fantasy synth that is soon accompanied by smooth drum & bass with a constant clap track. The background organ tones throughout add a nice texture to the track. “The Horla” by The Spirit Of Luvenium begins with a traditional Dungeon Synth sound then is bombastically merged with a mid-paced trap beat that is right on point. “Unterwelt Pt. 1” by Orcaluv is more of a hip hop track, as it features some grime style rap but the music is undeniably cemented in Dungeon Synth. “Tenebris Et Spiritus” by Lurk starts with droning synth notes that tip the creepiness scale. Barbaric percussions are interlaced to give a big, theatrical sound as layers of instrumentation continue to build. As soon as it reaches that “wait for it” moment, narrative samples take over, leading the anticipation, then it happens – slow, doom-like hip hop beats explode onto the track for the final minute. “Towers Of Time” by Moon Druid is truly unique in that it features an early 80’s style hip hop beat and clean sounding synth tone. Soon in, it changes to a more modern sound with a lush atmosphere. The track then morphs back into its original beat to close out the track. “On The Darkest Occurrence That Has Ever Happened By Right Of My Own Hand” by Pharanick is a straight up horrorcore rap track with eerie backing music and with medieval rapping about wizards and daggers, what can go wrong? “Windy Night (Crypt Hop Remix)” by Francis Robert is another superb fantasy/forest synth-based track with manic hip hop beats and throbbing bass lines. “From The Ashes Of Bael’s Kingdom” by Erythrite Throne is my favorite on this compilation. The multi-layered synth work is amazing and the quality Of Dungeon Synth in this one track is unmatched. Not only is the production spot-on, but the beats are amazing as they consistently ebb and flow with the tempo change of the music. “His Crimes Against The Realm” by Poodle Knight is another amazing track as it has multiple genre influences. Not only hip hop and Dungeon Synth, but I also hear influences of early synthwave on this track and it fits in perfectly. “Skull Bong” by Resinator begins with ambient undertones, Tibetan bowl sounds, and narrative samples before introducing a dark dub beat and discordant sound effects that are reminiscent of early-90’s pioneering electronic experimental artist, Scorn. “Noblesnatch” by Were-Panther is one of the most unique tracks on this compilation as it features medieval times centered rapping, 8-bit sound effects, chorus breakdowns, and a whirlwind of strange instruments. However, as weird as it is, it’s also a highly addictive listen and probably my second favorite track on the album. The final track, “Belabored With Mysteries” by DJ 行者, is a three and a half minute trip hop, psychedelic adventure that properly closes out this astonishing compilation.

What more is there to say? This compilation album is pure fire! The artists selected for this project have a gift for fusing two seemingly incompatible genres of music and making it sound like a band of gangsta’s should be raiding a castle with 9mm’s instead of swords. At any rate, this compilation is an incredible body of work in which these artists should all be proud to be a part of. If this is any indication of what’s to come, then I can’t wait for what the future has in store for Crypt Hop! Show your support for these artists and download this album from the link below.

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Links:

https://crypthopcompilations.bandcamp.com/releases

Audioalias Fuse Elements Of Downtempo and Drum & Bass To Form Mystifying Electronic Ambience On The Intelligent Offering, ‘Birds Of Prey’ EP

The atmospheric sounds of ambient music is a transcendent phenomenon. Although it doesn’t (normally) contain a rhythmic beat or percussive pattern, this mainly texturally layered music is mixed with soundscapes and the occasional field recording to produced an empowered and emotional music brand that is very addictive. However, due to the open-ended realm of the song compositions, it leaves a lot of room for experimentation and genre mixing. That being said, what do you get when you take the rooted consistency of ambient and combine it with the smooth vibes of downtempo and drum & bass music? You get the supreme recordings of Audioalias, the experimental electronic project from Melbourne, Australia, and on ‘Birds Of Prey’, you get four songs of magnificent electronic culture that combines the dreamy elements of ambient & soundscapes with the upbeat and rhythmic pulses of downtempo music.

To get things started on this EP, “Awkward Serenity” fades in with a looped drum beat and low end bass lines. Simple but effective digital piano arrangements can be heard providing a melodic balance. Additional sounds and keyboard effects augments random spots throughout, creating a spacious groove. The title track, “Birds Of Prey” begins with a haunting keyboard segment that loops, providing a cadence for the harrowing bass and beat to catch up with. Once all in sync, this fluid jam lay ground to additional sounds, tones and catchy vocal lines. Just as your mind and soul start to sink into the music hysteria, it fades out to the end of the track. “Port Park” has moments of darkwave and synthwave, showing versatility and the willingness to cross additional musical paths. Aside from a couple of spots of spoken word samples, there is a lot of looping elements to this track with some beautiful mixing moments. This one is probably my favorite song on the album. The final track, “Waiting For You” contains the most ambience as well as some killer vocal effects. This track is a slow builder, as it layers instrumentations and sounds practically one at a time until there is a conglomerate of musical ideas going on that form a chilling and climactic ending. This really gives me something to look forward to with future releases from Audioalias.

I really like the direction that Audioalias is going with electronic experimentation. Having the ability to combine elements from multiple genres of music takes talent and skill and there is no doubt that Audioalias has both. Audioalias also recently conducted an interview with Emanate Community, where he discussed his inspirations, collaborations and recording gear. I’ve included that interview link below so please check it out as it’s a wonderful read! In the meantime, you can check out ‘Birds Of Prey’ by clicking on the Bandcamp link below.

Please Like/Follow my blog so that you’ll get first hand updates every time I post a review. Thanks for visiting the Dungeon!!

Links:

https://audioalias1.bandcamp.com/album/birds-of-prey

Audioalias Interview With Emanate:

View at Medium.com