Acoustics are important. There’s no way around that. What the artist intends to be heard and what the listener actually does here can be wildly different, to the detraction of the experience of both parties. Nowhere are acoustics more important in music than in dark ambient music. Because dark ambient music relies so heavily on drones, atonal instruments, and field recordings it is susceptible to sound loss and therefore its purpose is diminished. Dark ambient relies on the nuances of sound, both amplified and subtle. The latest release from Human Larvae, “Behind Blinding Light,” is an excellent example (as well as the album that pushed this issue on my mind).
First of all, Behind Blinding Light is a triumph of noise ambient and death industrial (I’m not really sure which to call it since it seems like it could sort of fit into both categories). The drone is nasty and chaotic, it’s like the buzzing of a hundred thousand wasps all compressed into a single, infinite point. It has an effect like nails on a chalkboard; however, instead of making the listener shirk away from the sound, the listener moves forward, inexplicably eager for more. If the acoustics were wrong in the recording or in the listening the effect would be entirely lost. It would just be noise with no emotional draw. There is a mystery in the drones, like some sort of supernatural presence behind the blinding light (Yes I am aware of what I just did).
There is something else in the sound of the album, something that we don’t get very often with dark ambient music: a voice. Yes, there are vocals to this album. I’m immediately reminded of 1349’s spoken vocals on their album “Hellfire.” They’re heavily distorted and industrialized, almost to the point that they aren’t from a human anymore. The sound is part animal, part machine but what does that make it? The vocals on Behind Blinding Light are, I think, its biggest draw. They aren’t standard and given the way the drone and distorts warp around them, clearly the cornerstone of the album. The vocals are the glue that pulls all the elements of the album together; they tie the droning in with the field recordings and the atonal instrumentation.
The drone though, is the important thing, it’s the force from which all the music of Behind Blinding Light comes from. It’s powerfully hypnotic, it’s what is known in literature as a “Christ like” figure, a character within a story that draws the curtain and reveals the truth to the protagonist. Often in the stories these figures exist they reveal the truth in the most devastating ways possible. They are not purveyors of truth per se, but they know how to use truth. The truth is often devastating to the protagonist of the story and puts them at a crossroads, to rise again or to falter and fail in their mission. What does that mean for the album though? Who is the protagonist in a dark ambient album? How can there even be a story within a bunch of chaotic noise?
As to the first few questions, the listener is the protagonist (which is why of course the acoustics are so important, how else can a protagonist get their power?), the listener is the one that chooses the direction the story goes based upon the environment we are presented with. Behind Blinding Light offers the listener a desolate, dystopian landscape, a world of corpses and decay. What should we choose to do here? What is behind the blinding light? How did all of this happen?
While we cannot know what or who is behind the blinding light, we must hear the message it has for us; the who is not important in this case, the what is. So here we are, desperate characters in a desperate landscape, trudging through decay and filth so often that we hardly know we are doing it anymore. Suddenly the voices come and we are alerted our decay. As a listener and as the protagonist to a four dimensional story, we can climb out of the muck and death around us. We can revolt against the tyranny of complacency and degeneration. But do we? While that might be the noble intention of this listener and protagonist the same cannot be said for anyone else. That is the beauty of the four dimensional story, a concept unique tailored for dark ambient music. The listener, not the artist, controls the story. While my inclination is to fight, another’s idea might be to join the ruling class and crush any opposition, or perhaps run away and let the world continue on as it had been. The value of the music changes with perspective, and perspective can change with every individual listening experience.
So there we have it, Behind Blinding Light is a four dimensional story featuring the thrum and voice of a Christ like figure who deems the listener-protagonist fit to know what the world really is beneath all the smiles and pretty flowers. Can the listener-protagonist comprehend this? Can they take action? It’s all up to them and what they can hear in the music.
Industrial ambient, if you asked me four months ago, has never been my strong suit when it comes to reviewing. However, through the “tutelage” of Malignant Records, the gold standard when it comes to all things industrial or chaotic, I think I am finally starting to see a new way to look at it. Human Larvae and Behind Blinding Light is a triumph of the genre. It’s deeply intricate and nuanced album with an undeniable hypnotic draw. The production is raspy thin and raw, mechanized to the point where it seems no human could make these sounds. A must have for fans of industrial dark ambient.
Listen and support!