Back in March, I published a playlist of Dark Ambient & Dungeon Synth recordings to help tide you over during the shelter-in-place order. Well – here we are – almost two months later and not much has changed, with the exception of a lot of great music being released. So, whether or not you’re still stuck at home, or have the ability to venture out, please enjoy this personal playlist of Dark Ambient and Dungeon Synth recordings that have been keeping me entertained lately! This is all great stuff so please support these artist and download an album or two!
We are living in dark times and whether we like it or not, we are witnessing a historical occasion that is effecting the whole world. Although many people still have to work, legions of the worlds population are under a strict shelter-in-place order. Not to make light of the situation, but what better time is there to check out some awesome artists that you may have never heard of before, or to revisit some newer albums that stand out amongst the others. These are some of my (current) favorite albums to listen to and I’m sharing them with you as a recommendation. Check out and support these amazing artists (and labels).
My love for the dark ambient genre goes back several decades. Although admittedly I started off as just a casual listener, I soon found a love for the eerie soundscapes & deep, ritualistic drones and the emotional state they put me in. Through the years, there have been many artists that have captivated me with their musical ventures, but one that stands out amongst my favorites is Ruptured World. Seamlessly combining dark ambient, piano sounds, and scripted narrations, Ruptured World emerges as a unique entity in a genre known mainly for its minimalism. Additionally, Ruptured World was one of the artists that inspired me to begin writing this blog and ‘Archeoplanetary’ became my very first review. I recently had an opportunity to interview Alistair Rennie – the artist behind Ruptured World – to find out the methods and inspirations behind his visionary craft.
1. First of all, thanks for the opportunity to conduct this interview. In 2019, you continued with the “Planetary” series and released the extremely impressive ‘Archeoplanetary’. Not only was it one of the first reviews for my site, it was also listed in my Dark Ambient Top 10 albums of last year. What what’s the writing/recording process like for this album? Do you have any plans to continue on with this series?
The process is one that starts off with a few nebulous ideas that begin to assume a more direct focus once the music and narrative elements start to form, and then it just starts to fall together and gather a momentum almost of its own.
Once the ideas begin to crystalize and take shape, I think that’s when I start to organise the music and spoken word narrative in more direct correlation with each other.
I never start with fully formulated ideas or a written narrative for the music to be written to. I find that too much planning in advance takes some of the excitement out of it. It’s a bit like getting spoilers before watching a film. So I try and leave room to allow for a certain degree of spontaneity. In saying that, once the first version of an album is done, I’ll go back over it making significant revisions and changes from start to finish. The idea or vision of the work gets clearer and more refined that way, until you have the completed work.
2. One thing that stands out for Ruptured World is the heavy use of commentary and spoken word. What influenced you to incorporate this into your brand of dark ambient?
It really comes from my activities as a writer. I write genre fiction (science fiction, horror and fantasy) and have a novel published and some short stories out there, mainly with US-based publishers and magazines. So it was very natural for me to create narratives that I could adapt to music through spoken word. Dark Ambient tends to be cinematic in terms of its characteristics, so it seemed a very obvious and quite normal thing to do.
3. Dr. Archibald Macrae is such a dignified and compelling character. What kind of research (if any) went into honing this character and his vast knowledge of archeology?
I have a good knowledge of ancient culture in Scotland, and, especially, the North of Scotland where I grew up. So I was able to feed a lot of that into the story through the character of Macrae. All of the places and some of the artefacts referred to in the album actually exist and serve as a basis for the fictional elements to be built on. These are places that I know intimately, some of them featuring also in my family history. So the knowledge mostly comes from lived experience and absorbing and learning over time rather than research. In saying that, I have studied aspects of the Picts at university, so there’s also some formal research that’s gone into it.
4. So, when you’ve created the albums of the “Planetary” series, do you write the music or narrations first?
I’ll start with the music but the narration starts to form alongside the music quite rapidly. It seems to happen as part of the same eruption of materials, overall, driven by the same impulse, both emerging simultaneously. I think there will be some music that has been created first, perhaps something that emerges from new material I’m working on, or something that rises out of periods of experimentation, that stands out and starts to go in a particular direction. And then the words and music will occur simultaneously. At a later point, I’ll start to do the vocal recordings and work on integrating those into the music using the appropriate sound design techniques.
5. I think I follow you on just about all of the major social media platforms and you seem to do a lot of field recordings. How important is this to your music?
This actually follows on nicely from the previous question. I’m now finding that field recordings have a much greater influence on how the music starts off and takes shape. It’s become one of the crucial elements of the music and is increasingly central to much of what I aim to do. In more recent stuff I’ve produced, I’ve aimed to capture the atmospheric detail of specific locations and to use this as the core sound around which to develop the music. I’ve also started making short video productions in which this music is featured, bringing everything together in one setting of audio-visual representation.
6. Where are some of your favorite places to record sounds?
There are certain locations around the coastline of the Northeast of Scotland where there are all sorts of rock features, including wave cut platforms, sea stacks and sea caves, where I’ve started collecting some fantastic ocean sounds from fascinating acoustic settings. It’s a common subject matter in field recording but for a good reason. We never tire of hearing water and the sounds of the sea. The specific kinds of rock formations will present unique sounds and amplifications. The sea caves are my favourite, though. As you can imagine, the way the sounds of the sea resonate within these enclosed geological spaces is fascinating. And I’ll often create additional sounds and percussive sounds using whatever stones and aquatic vegetation presents itself within the caves.
I also like to go inland towards the mountainous areas, particularly in and around the Cairngorm mountains. The glens and hillsides present all sorts of interesting sounds to capture. There’s a lot of wildlife making some great noise. There are rivers and streams constantly flowing. The plant life makes an abundance of sounds you’d never imagine until you actually start listening through field recording.
It’s also a good idea to take things with you to record in the outdoor spaces. Instruments will always sound incredible when you play them outside. And so will playing a digital synth through a portable amp or speakers.
7. You also seem to have a high regard for the visual aspect to your work. Does this also influence the mood of your music?
I’d say it was the other way round, certainly where video is concerned. It’s more the case that the music influences and often shapes the editorial choices and stylistic tenor of the video-making.
8. Speaking of visual art, you have a keen eye for photography and videography. Do you do this as a hobby, or incorporate it into your business ventures?
With video, it’s more like an extension of the music, really, with a definite aim of making it part of the whole aesthetic. It’s something I’m working on more, now, and something I’ve had some formal training in, which always helps.
That’s not the case with photography, which is more of a supplementary activity, always good for putting online. In saying that, I have a friend (one of a few mysterious accomplices of Ruptured World!) who is a very fine photographer with a great knowledge and approach in what he does. Those really great photos you can see on my Instagram page, for example, are his. He did the photo for the cover of “Frontiers of Disorder” on the Ruptured World Bandcamp page.
The not so good photos, the ones taken on a cell phone and put through a filter, those are ones that I’ve taken. I try to take photographs of some of the places I go to for field recording or video footage trips, just to share for interest and fun. Fans of Dark Ambient are almost always people who have an interest in the natural world. So anything I can capture of any atmospheric or dramatic scenes, I’ll put it online in the hope it’s of interest.
9. Getting back to your music; What is your recording setup like? Do you use mainly VST’s, analog/digital equipment, analog instruments, or a combination of them all.
It’s a combination of different things—digital synths, a lot of sampling of sounds, voices and acoustic instruments, as well as objects. A lot of the piano sounds I’ll use are recorded live on a really nice Roland digital piano I’ve got. It can bring some really good room ambience, and sometimes the noise of the keys, that I really like, giving it a sort of haunted feel. Samples and sounds derived from field recordings, as well as voice samples, are things I use more and more. I have some percussion instruments, too. I’ll have some core sounds or samples that I tend to use regularly, but with lots of room for experimentation and trying out new things.
10. Other than your Ruptured World project, do you have any other main musical ventures?
Just Ruptured World! I did dabble with some horrorsynth stuff a while back, and it’s a type of music I enjoy. But it’s not where my interests lie, really.
11. I know that you recently contributed to the ‘Hastur’ Cryo Chamber collaboration album – which was phenomenal by the way. Have you been featured on any other collaboration projects?
Glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t yet featured on any other collaborations, but there may be a couple of things in the pipeline to look out for!
12. Do you have any recording plans for 2020?
Yes, I’ve actually got another “Planetary” album currently under production, so look out for that one. And I’m also working on music for video productions like the ones I’ve already produced and put on YouTube, with an aim to putting together an album at some time in the future. And there’s one or two top secret collaborations that may soon be underway. So a few things going on.
13. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Do you have any final thought for anyone that may be reading this?
My pleasure. Thank you! I would just encourage people to keep listening, keep supporting the artists, and keep searching the skies for the gods of Dark Ambient, who must surely be out there, watching over us as we speak.
The term Pandemonium has several distinct meanings. The first definition that may come to mind is sheer and utter chaos, to the point where anarchy and uncivilized disorder can no longer be maintained or controlled. However, there is another meaning that is equally, if not more horrifying than the aforementioned. It is the habitat of a gathering of demons, simply known as hell. The characteristic for this definition is that the word Pandemonium is typically spelled out in all caps, is in the latest offering by Harrogat. ‘Pandemonium’ is a deep space, minimalistic narrative that will haunt you with its extended drones and creepy vibes. With a playing time of an hour and forty six minutes, this journey to hell will be a slow, agonizing descent, as Harrogat is determined to test sanity of all who are doomed
“Morning Star” is like the calm before the storm as the warm drones take you from a serene and peaceful existence into a realm of uncertainty. Like the dawn of a hazy sun on the distant horizon, this song gets brighter and continues to add more texture as it ebb and flows with soft velocity. The warmth ends there, however, as “Caronte” starts down the dark and grim path toward the evil destination. With field recordings that resemble the swaying and rocking of an old, wooden vessel, the drones in this track continue to build in layers, as if it is crossing the river Styx to deliver lost souls to the gate to the underworld. “Dite” continues to play on the psyche with eccentric pad effects on top of buried, rhythmic drones. During this twelve and a half minute bludgeoning affair, the tone stays constant for the most part but every so often, a frequency shift in the back end drones – which are barely audible at times – breath both life and death into this morbid manifestation. “Your Shadow, Your Name” features some towering soundscapes that provide an eerie depth to the overall theme for this album. Just like the deliverance of souls to the gates of Hades, this track signifies that there is no turning back and that the entrapped souls now belong to eternal abyss. “God’s Hypocrisy” uses broad soundscapes to set a true feeling of emptiness. It’s like a bleak space ambient tune set in a blackened void, where there is no sense of time or speed. “Evocation Of Lucifer” begins quiet and reserved but soon crescendos into an accelerated drone as if there is no inevitable way of escaping an anxiety-filled battle with faith. Random soundscapes in the background bridge the monotonous apex reached by the massively layered low-end noises. “The Death Of God” is a near twelve minute track of harrowing polar ambient sounds, set out to soothe the subconscious as the darkness prevails all around. There are several spots of inaudible spoken word recordings that are a cause for concern and angst. “The Shape” is a soundtrack-worthy ambient tune that provides a dark and emotional prelude to the massive ending for which is about to happen. The final track on the album, “Pandemonium” isn’t just the final stretch of the journey to hell, it is a colossal forty four and a half minute epidemic of dark ambient wizardry that sets the bar for long-play ambient tracks. Combining elements of dark, space and polar ambient, “Pandemonium” is a high-caliber dirge that is relentless from start to finish. The massive drone sounds escalate in volume, only to decrease – at times – to make way for other insanely penetrable commotions. At around the eight minute mark, the cacophonous space drones give way to a singular, grim polar ambient tone, deviating from an interstellar theme and bringing it back to and icy cold vibe. Incidental soundscapes push the boundaries of this section and give it a rather frightening foundation. At around the eighteen and a half minute mark, a barely audible deep frequency plagues the airwaves in a sense that it gives off an almost warping effect. It’s soon followed by added synthesizers, making it an absolutely gloomy section to fathom. At around the twenty nine minute mark, the reluctant droning tone is not as dark as usual but is in a subdued state, as if preparing the listener for a climactic ending. That’s exactly what the final four minutes of this track are, as luminous synths provide a final touch of melody and volume, like the souls finally reaching their gruesome destination of ‘Pandemonium’.
Harrogat has conceived quite an impressive album with ‘Pandemonium’. Not only does it take you on a spiritual, ritualistic and emotional journey, but there is enough depth to each track to provide a sense of realistic vision for the quest that is intended for the album. With each new album that is released, Harrogat’s exposure to the dark ambient elements become more impressive. This album is mind-blowing in the sense that it is nearly two hours long and the detail throughout doesn’t seem to repeat itself. Show your support for this exemplary artist and download ‘Pandemonium’ from the link below.
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For those of you that keep up with my blog must know by now that I have a particular formula for writing reviews and I rarely stray from that. I try my best to come up with a captivating headline that will grab the attention of the audience. Additionally, I write an introduction that relates the album (being reviewed) to a particular topic based on the imagination and emotions that are felt from the music, provide a detail of each track, and then close it with a final statement that summarizes all of the above. In most cases, my headlines come pretty naturally, but on Disen Gage’s tripped-out, experimental dark ambient outing called ‘Nature’, that wasn’t the case. Although this is quite the compelling album, I was almost at a loss for words when giving a quick synopsis of how to describe it. Then, after repeated listens, it hit me. This Russian duo goes above and beyond to eliminate the conventional means of producing dark ambient music by providing theme-based samples and soundscapes. The result is three tracks of nearly forty nine minutes of impulsive and experimental greatness.
“Planets” suddenly blazes through like a space craft coming out of warp speed, only to find itself in a harmful situation. As the space craft starts taking devastating hits from surrounding shrapnel, system alarms begin pulsating with anxious volumes as this song restlessly generates abrupt noises that match the situation. As this emergency condition draws to an end, the track eases into a hollow, deep space anthem that breeches the lines of industrial and black ambience. Horrifying sounds and effects throughout signify that danger isn’t over for this mission and the onboard systems aren’t under human control. Finally, toward the end, the madness winds down and deeps space ambience prevails. A strange song sample plays cautiously in the background as if it’s a long lost transmission that’s been accidentally intercepted. “Trains” is a dark and perplexing tune that features various train sound samples, arranged perfectly to create a particular despondency. The drones are creepy and sound as if they are long, drawn out screeches of locomotives trying to come to a sudden stop. As the train samples continue to make their presence felt in various ideas and speeds, one final pass of a lengthy caravan closes out this stunning and unique track. The final brilliant track is “Animals”, and if the bleak sounds of these oppressive drones don’t have you on edge, then how about the sixteen plus minutes of manipulated animal sounds. Twisted into bizarre tempos and speeds, this can seriously creep you out if not prepared for it. However, there is a massive amount of genius behind this idea and it works amazingly well for this track. The final few minutes include metal guitar riffs played with an echo effect and provides an off-the-wall psychedelic vibe to close out this extraordinary & unique song and album.
Disen Gage take musical experimentation to a whole new lever on ‘Nature’ by providing theme-based samples for each song that they go with. These three tracks travel through space, in rural city scapes and in natural habitats where animals are the alpha predators of the area. The substance of theses tracks is massive and the creativity is top notch. I will definitely be spending more time getting to know the music of Disen Gage. For those of you that are new to this artist and have a love for ambient and experimental music, don’t look past ‘Nature’, as this is an excellent starting point. I highly recommend checking out this album.
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It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a great space ambient recording so saying that Sumatran Black’s latest EP, ‘Elegy For A Lost Cosmonaut’ is out of this world (no pun intended) is a huge understatement. Consisting of three cosmic tales that takes us on an ill-fated mission through the voids of deep space, this is one trip that is filled with atmospheric drones, planetary keys & synths, and an unavoidable race through the universe that warrants no return. The grim album cover resembles an old Soviet Union astronaut that may be in a distressed situation, in which the music from this EP provides the perfect soundtrack to his grisly fate.
The opening track, “The Mission”, is a soft, textured drone that really tells a compelling story of the cosmonaut that is bound for the outer realm of the universe, but unbeknownst to him, will never reach his destiny. As various keys and pads sway in and out of the mix, subtle details of random noises can be heard as if some sort of mechanical failure has weakened his spacecraft, causing him to abort his mission. Unfortunately, it’s too late as his spacecraft is mechanically unstable and unable to return to Earth. Toward the end of the track, the bleak tones of the synths and pads become less stable and present an agonizing sound, signaling that the end of the cosmonaut may be near. “Is This Heaven” is the shortest track of the three but wastes no time in offering a multitude of discordant vibes that fade in and out like a broken spacecraft passing through nebulas – and various other space anomalies – at a breakneck pace, even though everything appears to be in slow motion for the cosmonaut that is still in shock from the events that have unfolded before him. “Elegy For A Lost Cosmonaut” is the final song on this EP and it represents the cosmonauts acceptance of being eternally vanished from Earth. These long, drawn out spacey drones are unique in that the tones suddenly elevate and then dissolves out every so often. This must be the cosmonaut getting down to the final levels of oxygen as he fades in and out of consciousness. In the end, deep space wins and the cosmonaut takes his last breath as the song abates out for good.
Even though this is a relatively short EP with just three tracks, Sumatran Black have created a very unique experience that is memorable, unique, and with a great theme. As I sit back, close my eyes, and listen to this album, I envision the events unfolding just as I have described them above. That’s the power and beauty of dark ambient music – to tell a story without words and vocals and allow the listener to imagine the scenario taking place. Please support this exceptional artist and download this spectacular cosmic adventure from the link below.
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I’ve been a huge fan of dark ambient for quite some time now but this is the first time that I’ve had to put together a Top 10 list of my favorite albums of the year. If the truth were to be told, this could have easily been a Top 50 list as there were so many exceptional releases this year. Instead, I want to give props to the following 10 amazing albums that have impacted me in multiple ways. Although there were many more astonishing dark ambient albums that were released in 2019, these are the ones that (in my opinion) have set the standard for modern dark ambient.
10. God Body Disconnect – The Mist Between The Mirrors
What a way to start this top 10 list. Right from the opening field recordings and narrative remarks, I knew instantly this was going to be one of my go-to dark ambient albums! Themed around emotional subjects such as disappointment & isolation, this recording is as therapeutic as it is relaxing.
9. Xerxes The Dark – Tower Of Silence
Xerxes The Dark is in my top 5 favorite dark ambient recording artists of all time, but XTD didn’t make my list based on a biased decision. ‘Tower Of Silence’ is simply XTD’s best release to date and one of my most listened to albums this year. Every track is haunting and addictive and will give you the feeling of being trapped in a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland.
8. Melanohelios – VII: Warmth Within Endless Emptiness
When it comes to space ambient, Melanohelios is one of the best in the business. On ‘VII: Warmth Within Endless Emptiness’, the drones are longer, chilling, and gives the sensation of relentless confinement on a doomed space mission. Seventy two minutes of vacuum filled incarceration will leave your senses void of all intelligible emotions.
7. Ruptured World – Archeoplanetary
I’m such a huge Ruptured World fan and the second album of the Planetary series, ‘Archeoplanetary’ is as good as they come. Whereas most Dark ambient recordings leave room for the listener to provide an imaginative scenario to match the music, Ruptured World prepare a captivating narration throughout the whole recording.
6. øjeRum – Without Blood The Sun Darkens
‘Without Blood The Sun Darkens’ is one of the most haunting and mesmerizing dark ambient albums I’ve ever heard. Consisting of a single, fifty nine minute track of repetitive and impassioned synths and pads, this song is about reflection and memory. This is still one of my favorite meditative albums to listen to.
5. Winterblood – Finsternis
‘Finsternis’ is a very enthralling and hypnotic work of art that will leave you in a trance-like state throughout the hour long recording. Winterblood is like a dark ambient accomplice to the black metal band Paysage D’hiver, as I receive the same type of ardent pleasure from both artists. This album is a MUST HAVE for any true fan of dark ambient.
4. Neraterræ – The Substance Of Perception
Alessio Antoni has summoned an all-star line up for his debut project Neraterræ and the result is the impeccable recording, ‘The Substance Of Perception’. Each track is sonically different, yet they are produced as a seamless dark entity that is fathoms above most others. I cannot wait to hear more from this amazing project!
3. Ager Sonus – Mithra
‘Mithra’ is probably the most musically diverse album in my top 10. Taking us back to Ancient Rome, Ager Sonus uses subtle stringed instruments and grandiose drones to create a vision of enchantment and fascination. I still listen to this album on a weekly basis and although it was released in March, it continues to grab my attention with each and every listen.
2. Monocube – Substratum
Monocube has to be the dark ambient sleeper artist of the year. With almost no attention drawn to this album prior to its release, I downloaded it solely based on the reputation of the Cyclic Law label lineup. One of the best decisions I made all year, as ‘Substratum’ is a mammoth of an album. The hollow – but frightening – drones will make you feel claustrophobic and uneasy and will leave you with a sense of uncontrollable anxiety. Although very minimal and austere, I tend to find new ambitious elements every time I listen to it.
1. Metatron Omega – Evangelikon
Metatron Omega is another one of my favorite dark ambient artists and anytime there is a new release available, it’s an instant purchase from me. ‘Evangelikon’ is a mastercraft in ritualistic dark ambient music with beautiful Gregorian-style chanting and unnerving drones. I listen to this album continually and it’s without a doubt my favorite dark ambient album of the year.