Sometimes it is difficult to find a cohesive or coherent storyline in dark ambient albums. Sometimes that’s because no story really exists in the music or maybe sometimes we are simply not looking deep enough into the music to see it. Dark ambient is not a melodious genre, I love it for that reason. It is a disconcordant note followed by an atonal sound. It will always have something to tell us. Each album, each artist, each song. There will not always be overarching themes from album to album or from song to song necessarily; there will, however, be certain things we can follow.
Look at Solemn Embrace’s new opus Arc. Upon first listening to it the sounds, and the emotions they produce in the listener, are pretty self-contained from song to song. Think of Arc as a compilation of different stories all written with a specific theme in mind. Going at the music from that point of view will open up a lot for you. I won’t look at each song to dissect the meaning because that severely inhibits what the artist and what he is attempting to accomplish. The theme of Arc is, well, the arching change from one form into another. The track titles give away a lot of that with titles like “Lycanthrope,” “Transformed spirit of a fragile identity,” and “the tides of beckoning.” It’s hard not to see the theme but beyond the theme is the intent of the artist and the message. What is the message on Arc?
The sounds are cavernous and organic; I get the feeling a lot of the sound recording was actually done in natural settings like caves or swamps. I could be wrong, I often am after all, and maybe it’s just a trick of the recording process but whatever the means, the results here are pretty damn good for dark ambient. The clicking and chittering is joined by an electronic sounding drone that pervades everything. It’s hard to ignore. From song to song the drone changes pitch and volume a little but it never really goes away. It’s so pervasive that on more than one occasion I felt as though I was listening to an alternative soundtrack to the Mothman Prophecies (fuck you don’t judge me I loved that movie). It’s creepy intense but it does so quietly and unobtrusively. Now I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but if you listen to the sounds there I think you’ll get it.
Over time the drone takes over and encompasses the entirety of the sound on Arc. This shift is emblematic of the story, the change from one thing into another. What does that mean though, and, given dark ambient’s nature of looking at the nastier side of things, is it a change from positive to negative or negative to positive? There are two ways to look at this. One, I think that change is not inherently positive or negative (I avoid the words good and bad completely here) but rather what happens because of the change or what triggered the change so therefore the metamorphosis within Arc is not a positive or negative thing, it is a change that, looking at the broad picture of the album, is something completely new and unseen. What that change results in we don’t really get an opportunity to see but we can be assured that because of this change, the surrounding world will never be the same.
The second way of looking at the metamorphosis is that it, whatever it is, is changing from something animalistic and chaotic, something unruly and destructive, to something more human and civilized. Look at the song title “Lycanthrope and things about what it represents. The beast, the animal nature within man, chaos, violence, destruction. The album’s field recording sounds are very strong in the song, very vibrant and organic but as the album continues and the change itself takes place the drone takes over, the more synthetic, unnatural sounds take over the album, especially in “The tides of becoming” where the potential for humanity (and whatever moral and ethical shit that brings with it) takes over. The sound on the album is pretty clear that something dark and sinister is taking place, despite the potential and therefore we can assume something truly terrifying is the final result of the change.
On a whole I felt like the time I spent listening to the album was well spent, the sounds and production were clear and didn’t intrude on the experience but maybe they could have been stronger and give the field recordings a deeper, richer feel. This is my first encounter with an album from Cromlech Records and while I will hold off judgement of the label until I have a better sample I will say that they have room to improve in places and they have a lot of potential as well. I feel like there is a vision within the label that is going to come to fruition and I am eager to find out what that vision will entail. Arc has intrigued me; it has allowed me to have an inner debate between my literary theoretical and philosophical sides, which is always a blast, and I gained an experience for which I am grateful. There is work to be done, yes, but with effort, drive, and focus it will result in some amazing music.Check it out November 14th!
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