I’m a huge fan of history. I enjoying being able to look back on some event and compare it, and the progressive (or lack thereof) society has made since that’s point. While that’s especially relevant for today, I don’t mean politics at the moment. I mean, of course, music. Looking back at music, seeing the roots from where it came and comparing it to what the genre has blossomed, or fizzled, into. Dark ambient, for example, has grown out of several different movements, from folk, metal, an industrial. Since dark ambient’s “birth” the subgenre’s have split into different categories but every once in a while it’s fascinating to look back at the early days. Think of it as looking and the Old English version of Beowulf while taking an English course. Cyclic Law, fast becoming a favorite label of mine, has released, or rather re-released, a classic dark ambient album, “Songs over Ruins” by Desiderii Marginis from back in the dark ages of 1997. So what can I learn about dark ambient from this album? What can I learn about Desiderii Marginis? What can I learn about the creation of dark ambient literature?
Songs over Ruins uses a lot of different techniques over the course of the album, from spoken word and audio samples to neo folk to classical. Each song, each style and technique, adds flavor for the narrative. Each technique has a sort of “proto” feel to it, primitive, exploratory, and experimental. Listening to this album was like listening through a time machine. The techniques don’t really blend as well as they do in today’s music but I don’t give any negative points for that. Each technique, for the most part, is confined to separate songs so they don’t have a lot of chances to interact. They do, however, really help with the narrative of the album: the catabasis.
The songs detail someone’s death, though as I write this now I believe the “death” of the narrator subjective, and their subsequent descent into the mouth of hell, the underworld, the abyss, whatever you’d like to call it. Usually a descent of that nature was a desperate attempt to gain knowledge, understanding, wisdom, so what is the narrator looking for in Songs over Ruins? Each song, each layer of hell that we descend through, we learn something. We see beauty in darkness, we learn things that we couldn’t otherwise. Until we get to hell and it’s as nasty, horrific, and terrifying as we would imagine it would be. As a side note the use of industrial noise here is absolutely perfect, it captures the chaos, disorientation, and overall sense of pain that I could imagine hell would be like. The sound, even though it’s industrial, wasn’t overly mechanical, nor was it organic in nature. It was sort of halfway in between.
The production of the album is pretty good, it’s different on each song, giving a hard edge to the industrial noise but a softer edge to the folk like music. Each song is unique; each song is able to stand on its own.
Songs over Ruins is a great way look back on dark ambient, a reissue of this album was exactly what I needed to understand dark ambient and where it came from. If we can understand the sounds of our past, we can better determine the sounds of our future. I could continue to wax philosophical about the album and how amazing it is that Cyclic Law has made a reissue of Songs over Ruins but I think I’ve made my point: grab it while you can!
Listen and support!