Classical music is a music that no other form or genre will ever be able to compete with. No other genre has the power and the range that classical music has. It has a longevity that precedes nations and religions, it transcends what we understand today as music. It has grown, progressed, and morphed into hundreds of different forms, all still deserving of the tag “classical.” Dark ambient and synth music have become a new form classical music over the last twenty or thirty years but I am convinced now that we are in fact reaching a new golden age, a new transformation period for the classical music genre. Enter Peter Bjärgö, a master craftsman in the field of dark ambient and neoclassical music. He’s been working in the genre for decades, so what, might you ask, makes his brand new album Animus Retinentia different? What makes it the start of a new age of classical music? Quite simply, because I’ve never heard something so tender yet so powerful and awe inspiring. I’ve never heard quite a combination of sounds and musical notes before that have come together in this sinister yet warm. Neo Classical Dark Ambient has been around for a while, but today something has come to shake the entire subgenre up, it’s no longer than a subgenre of dark ambient, with Animus Retinentia the genre has catapulted into the stars and deserves to be mentioned along with the Baroque Era, the Classical Era, and the Romantic Era.
Before this review, I never thought I would ever use the word tender in a music review. Tender is not exactly the kind of term one might use for black metal or dark ambient. Yet there it is. The music of Animus Retinentia is tender. The piano, the guitar, and the light drone are ethereal, they take the listener away from their present and allow them to explore… anything. This is not one of those albums that takes its listener to a specific place or time, it simply takes them away from their current place and time. It’s an album of exploration. Not of places or times, but of ideas and concepts. Things we cannot physically see or touch. This album allows us to see things in a way we can’t in our mundane, everyday lives.
Animus Retinentia is a Latin phrase that, roughly translated, means retention of feelings. Each song, despite the variation in length, tone, and instrument use, is exploring what the retention of feelings (positive and negative) does to us, our minds and our thoughts. The album lasts about 45 minutes but my first play through felt much longer. Music like this, played with such passion, skill, and reverence, transcends time. It takes up a temporal space but it doesn’t necessarily exist only in that space. Animus Retinentia, and neoclassical albums like it, like Schrodinger’s Cat in a way that they both do exists within their temporal confines, and at the same time (no pun intended) they don’t. They exist within and without time. While we listen to albums of this magnitude we, or just our musical consciousnesses are transported to a place where time, as we know it at least, does not exist, where the flow of time works differently. It can flow faster or slower, in reverse or forwards. It doesn’t matter. The music of Animus Retinentia is suggestive rather than demanding, the gentle spirit of the music offers the listener multiple pathways to discover what they will.
The music of Animus Retinentia, obviously, is something to be lauded and praised. When I said this album signaled the ushering in of a new era in classical music, I wasn’t just talking about the metaphysical meaning and the analytical goldmine it could produce. The music, the actual sound of the album, is breath taking. Sonically, the music exists in a place that could be called cinematic or symphonic. The music, even though it’s largely a single piano, a small combination of percussion, or an acoustic guitar, has an ethereal quality that jumps back and forth between epic and sweeping to intimate. The changes are barely perceptible even though they are vast. The changes happen without the listener truly being aware. It’s enticing. The music totally encapsulates the listener. And that doesn’t even include the power of the vocals when they happen to take center stage. Peter Bjärgö has the power and ability to completely entrance the listener. His vocal prowess is always in tune and harmony with the music. I don’t know which came first but the ability to be able to use the human voice as an instrument rather than a separate entity (as most musicians and artists do) is a rare gift. His atmospheric chanting, ululating, and singing have a ritual ambient feel without having to turn the music itself into ritual ambient. He is able to create an environment where his vocals influence the music instead of the other way around. Brilliant work, not just as an artist and musician but as a producer as well. Indeed, each sound, each stray drone or beep or lick of fuzz is intention, creating a pure, clean world in which this sound can exist. Each of these elements showcases the work of a master, a craftsman, a songsmith.
This is one of those album that I can recommend to anyone. I could recommend it to my classical music loving father, my new age loving mother, or anyone in between. It has an appeal and an accessibility that is a true rarity in the world of Resounding Footsteps. I’ve had the music playing the entire day as I write the review and the analysis. With every play, I feel like I am getting deeper into the music, and I think that will be a universal feeling. One cannot listen to an album like this and not feel as though they are being swept away. This is a meditative album, a cinematic album, a concept album, and at least half a dozen other kinds of albums. It is distinctly unique. It has a power that transcends music and alters the course of genres. If you only ever listen to one Neo Classical Dark Ambient album (though I don’t think you can with the likes of Randal Collier-Ford and Flowers for Bodysnatchers also making terrific albums) then you must listen to Animus Retinentia. It is one of those handful of albums that has the power to change your life, at least within the time you listen to it. If this is not a frontrunner for Ambient Album of the Year, I don’t know what it is.
Highlights: You Let the Light Shine Through, Transcend Time
If you enjoyed this album try: Flowers for Bodysnatchers, Randal Collier-Ford, Valanx, Corranach
Listen and support music!