Dark Ambient Radio Vol.3 or….Muzak For The Final Elevation

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“Will the 3rd volume from DAR live up to its predecessors and will it do exactly what is says on the tin? Going up? Let’s step inside and take a ride to find out…..” – Winter-Light 2013

Many of you may already be familiar with Dark Ambient Radio but if not let me give you a little insight…and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. DAR is, as the title above suggests, a dark ambient radio station streaming online from out of Hamburg, Germany (mostly solar powered too I should add!) It plays a broad range of dark ambient from earlier tracks through to new and current. While writing this review and listening to the station, we have already been treated to Desiderii Marginis – Nightraid, Ionosphere – Angular Momentum, Kammerheit – The Morning Tower and Mike VanPortfleet – In The Morning Sun. Great or what? It has an avid fan base of listeners and can accommodate up to 50 slots at any one time. Not only is DAR a radio station but it also produces some fine compilation CD’s and has a great take on who or what appears on the CD. The compilation starts out life as a project. There are a set of rules that act as guidelines and each artist can contribute one track between 5 to 7 minutes long. Each participant submitting a track will then be able to vote on his or hers’ favourite(s) and the top 11 tracks will appear on the final CD. The voting process is discrete e.g.  you don’t know which artist you are voting for so you can’t vote for your best buds tune. Also, worth mentioning the project is financed by the collective group. Pretty cool? I think so!

Ok, so down to the compilation itself. I make no bones about the fact that I LOVE a good compilation and of course a great one is even better. There are a lot of great compilations that have been painstakingly put together over the years; Nord Ambient Alliance is a good example. Some of the earlier Cold Spring ones and, of course, the Cold Meat Industry compilations also. The trouble with some dark ambient various CD’s is the compiled tracks can sometimes sound a little too similar. All good tunes within their own rights but when occupying the same CD – meehhhh ….. doesn’t always work. But I’m glad to say in this case with Muzak For The Final Elevation – it does – and very well too. Good dark ambient for me is total immersion, almost suffocating and from start to finish this CD will suck the air right out of your lungs.

The CD opens with Aspectee – The Element and straight away you are uplifted with angelic, choral pads and detached from normality with the other worldly chatter, light percussive elements and rasping tones. Here you become totally submerged in the music, floating and bubbling away all around you like heavy water, voices streaming through the chatter, resonating and vibrating all your atoms. This is no light weight ambient tune. The production is exquisite and the bass is just perfect, not too harsh but just enough to push the ears in a little. Absolutely great work here by Aspectee making it extremely difficult to move on to the next track – it’s had so many rewinds from me already! Next up is Nepenthe – The Inner Circle Of Endless Slumber, which flows very nicely in with the out from Aspectee. Sub-bass sitting in the background, squelches of noise pushing through to the fore, scrapes and pads joining together to make an excellent blend. This sounds like and has the feel of a very minimal piece but if you dig a little deeper there are many layers here. All the sounds gently effecting one another, creating different tones and builds. Very calming and unsettling also with the subtle use of sampled voices, whispering ghosts and something akin to a light piano piece playing over the top midway through the track. More dark rumbles, building up and washing over you with effected cymbal shimmers cutting through the sonic wall to poke out in the mix. Another great track.

Valerio Orlandini – Macerie is tune number 3. I have to say that at even this early stage in the compilation the track listing is perfect. All tunes blend nicely in to each other like a good mix should. This track has a very early CMI feel to it, something akin to early Morthound or Megaptera with a bit of Raison thrown in. Not that I think it has carbon copied these in anyway; just has a similar feel to it.  Scraping stones, shearing metallic shards and a bass rumble that gives my speakers a thorough work out make this a beautiful track. You have to give this one a bit of volume and let it fill your room – very doom laden! As the sounds fall away towards the end of the track, you’re left with a stripped down, stark horn sound, punctuating the air. Very nice touch.  Mortaja – Hypsoma begins with more shimmering scrapes, worked metallic sounds, bowls, cymbals and rising bass tones. A very rich sounding track this with excellent production. Within no time at all you are wrapped up in this music and – dare I say it – being elevated to another level? What begun as a very busy track is soon stripped down to harmonics and reactive sounds with treated vocals or chants in the background. The cymbal shimmers trickle back in, as keyboard washes rise up, pushing the listener further up. A bass heavy drum follows the chants, one solid thump, reverberating and bouncing off the other sounds and then the track fades out…and you want more…a minute more..maybe two? I’m left with a sense of loss. Rewind!

Aspectee and Sjellos turn in a fine collaboration for track number 5 entitled Deep Stare. A real droner; a circular whirler from the outset and with tell tale signs of Aspectee’s presence on the track instantly recognisable. This will really push you down in to your armchair. Oppressive? No, just a real heavy thinker. Big sub sounds, with circular verbs, and keyboard rises, pushing and pulling the mind this way and that. Must have been very pleasing putting the finishing touches on this track. It’s the perfect isolator. Crepuscular’s contribution to this compilation of fine ambient muzak is Mechanised Cataclysm. I like Crepuscular. There have been some pretty fine recordings made in the last couple of years, on a number of different labels. This track is NO exception. Great samples, slick production, sounds snaking out of nowhere to throw the listener off balance and wavering synth hooks to pull you back again. Genius track that turns itself on its head halfway through with some harsh metallic slamming sounds. Jail doors? Dragged metal across floor? Radio chatter in the background? Old B-Movie samples? Who knows, you can only begin to guess. The secrets lie with the musician; the interpretation is open to the listener. This is a dark ambient slammer. Is that possible? Yep, I think so and so does Crepuscular. Another collaborative effort next is Myth Industries and Sjellos’ – Miasma. Howling wind, tolling bell, metal shakers, sounds like hell! Irregular percussive elements play in, out and around the sounds. Intermittent squelches of transmitted keyboards noises, bowl tones and bells with the howling wind in the background makes this an intriguing track. Staccato-ed arpeggio percussive elements, come to the fore and play out the track. Very nice piece indeed. Great work here all round really.

Now we get to hear Sjellos – in collaboration with er… himself – on Fainting Memory. I love this because now you can hear the influence that Sjellos has imprinted on the two earlier tracks that he appears on. This is an amazing piece of music. I mean REALLY amazing. This is for me what dark ambient is about. No spoilers for this one. Has all that I want in a dark ambient track. Something different, something familiarly comforting, drones, the unexpected and just great atmospherics. “Post-It note to self on fridge door – must seek out more music from Sjellos!” Babylon’s Strange according to Stephen Parsick and if this track is anything to go by he is right. The intro has an intensely paranoid alien feel, more other worldly than Babylonian perhaps? Sets you on edge straight away, nerve shredding in a comfortable way. The comfort being supplied by vocal pads lifting out from the paranoia, bass rumble to accompany the voices. Another drifter this, another isolator, another world captured in minutes, a Babylonian cycle of weirdness. A very strange track indeed but then it does hint at this in the title doesn’t it …..?

Winterbound – Fearing The Dawn is the penultimate track. Icy overtones, icy pads, menacing bass tones and occasional drum beats sounding through. Plenty of verb and delay on this track and busy work behind the scenes make a sparse track in terms of sounds seem complex and full. That’s what makes this track – the minimalism. It affords you the space to think between the sounds. I do get the impression though that maybe this could have been a longer piece perhaps constrained by the time limitations requested for the project? Maybe I’m wrong… Mytrip – Small Humyn is the final piece of this complex compilation puzzle and one that builds in to a wall of sound in no time at all. This is a very bass heavy track and not for those feint of heart. Maybe not the most accessible of tracks but then that’s also OK too right? Wall of bass, shot through with shards and tatters of sonic waves. Maybe its just effected and coincidental or behind the wall lies a delicate chant, almost like a mantra. A light distorted touch adds to the ambiance as the reverb wave comes to the fore and bass rumble falls away, the sounds decaying as the track and CD comes to an end. 11 tracks in total, running time 72:44. Not bad going at all.

OK, so this is just my take on the compilation. We all have our own angle and maybe some of the artists here will think “What the hell is he writing about?!!” Personal perception. The artist has their vision when they are constructing the music and the listener perceives something else. All in all this is a great compilation and I am eagerly awaiting the next! A big thumbs up to everybody involved, DAR, artists and avid listeners alike.

You can purchase the compilation here as well as the two earlier compilations from www.winter-light.nl. You can find Dark Ambient Radio transmitting some of the finest ambient tunes here. Give them a visit. You might just hear something very different….

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