We all know what a labyrinth is and how it differs from a maze (if you don’t I suggest you look up the differences because it will heighten your enjoyment of the anthology a lot). Eighth Tower Records has created a massive anthology detailing the journey through a (or maybe “the”) labyrinth. With twenty-two fantastic dark ambient artists, Eighth Tower records tells a complete story, with lots of human emotions, conflicts of all sorts, and or course a monster or two. The artists range from well-known ones like Alphaxone, Monocube, and Xerxes the Dark to relatively unknown, at least to me, like Psionic Asylum, Damballah, and Traansmutt. The journey through a labyrinth is one of patience and fortitude rather than ingenuity and quick wit. Labyrinths are seemingly endless pathways with only two ways to go: forward or backwards. In this anthology, we are witness all the possibilities, from attempting to cheat the labyrinth to giving up completely to finishing it and escaping. As you may have noticed, I’ve taken to calling this album an anthology rather than a compilation as I’ve done in the past with such albums. This is a recent development that came to me as I was taking my notes for the albums. If we, meaning I at least, look at the music as a piece of literature, we should look at a group of artists creating a single work of art as an anthology, a single artist creating a variety of rare, unreleased, or alternate tracks as a compilation, and an album of covers from various groups as a tribute.
First off, the album opens with Psionic Asylum’s When the Shadows Come. It’s not easy opening up an anthology like this one but Psionic Asylum does a good job. I have a feeling this project has been around for a while but this is the first time I’ve been able to listen to them (one reason I love anthologies both in music and literature). The track is full of droning reverb with lots of underwater ambience. It’s the beginning of a long journey. There lots of hesitation and nerves being frayed but there’s a sense of wonder underneath it. Excellent way to start off the album.
Next, we have Sysselman, an artist I’ve heard here and there on other anthologies but have yet to listen to on their own. Maybe that should be one of the first things I do after this review. Submarine is very similar sonically to Psionic Asylum’s track, continuing where it left off but adding a series of radar-like horns with what could sound like rain. I felt like this track could use some expanding, it was a good length but I felt like there was still something it wanted to say. My hope is that Sysselman puts this track on a solo album and expands on the ideas here. I want more of the rumbling drone and orchestration.
After this, we have Monocube, one of my favorite dark ambient artists. Luft is full of acoustic guitar drones and ritual atmospheres. This is the track that truly begins our journey into the labyrinth. Now the unease can truly begin. And no one does unease like Monocube. The track is slow and drony with lots of Theremin type wails added for good measure.
Up next, we have Necrophorus, whose name oddly reminds me of the Oroborus and Tre. With a blend of solid, haunting field recordings and traditional instrumentation. This track makes the listener feel the size of the labyrinth, the dread of time lost. It makes the listener see the hopelessness of their quest. Can we push on? Do we dare?
Sonologyst is next with system: maze of control. All I can say about this track is oh that reverb! I love it! Waves and waves of sound hitting me like ocean waves. One after the other. This track asks the listener a very important question: can we withstand the onslaught of dread, unease, and anxiety that we will face in the labyrinth? Can we control our emotions long enough to escape? Can we overcome our baser instincts and survive?
Warpness is up next with a track that feels thoroughly inspired by Star Trek (the Next Generation to be precise). The Labyrinth is a mixed of space ambient and horror ambient. This one was one of my favorites on the album, I felt connected to the music (by way of nostalgia) and engaged in the journey again. With its combination of sinister melodies and random chords it kept me on my toes. Always be aware of your surroundings in the labyrinth.
Xerxes the Dark is up next with the Omen. Keep in mind the movie (the first one obviously) with this track. It’s ritualistic and dark but also very human in nature. Like the film it asks the audience who and what the nature of evil really is. Is it an external force or an internal one? It’s an amazing track with found sounds and field recordings of people at their most unaware and delirious with a haunting buzz just beneath it all.
Damballah is next with the track Syél Lannwit. a strange sort of Haitian Creole French. The track is tribal, the first of a series of ethno ambient tracks that take us deeper physically and mentally into the labyrinth. What is the labyrinth, where is it taking us? Damballah gives us plenty of experimental percussion from drums to chimes to the natural thrum of the earth with lots of horror tropes mixed in to keep the listener on their toes.
Alphaxone appears next with Awakeness. I’ve learned over the last year to trust anything Alphaxone creates. I will never know where it is he’s taking me but I am sure as hell going to enjoy the ride. Awakening continues the ritual like sound but throws in several jazz elements, making the extraplanar journey that much trippier. Awakening is one of the best tracks on the album, easily.
SiJ is up next and SiJ is another of the giants to appear on the anthology. Like Alphaxone, SiJ will take you on a journey. You may not like how it gets you there but you will always feel better because of the journey. Few Sounds from the House Near the Sea is a long title but it’s an apt title. The track is quiet to start off with. In my notes, I called it the sound of life without life. I’m not quite sure what I meant at the time but the description still seems to fit. The end of the album is shrill and harsh, like the shattering of an illusion. In terms of the labyrinth this track was one of those times where we, the listeners, had to decide whether to keep going through the labyrinth or give up.
Taphephobia is another artist I have never heard of from this anthology but have been very impressed by, that’s not to say he f course that he hasn’t been around for a long time before I came around. Twisting Journey has an excellent drone sound that’s not too harsh yet not too quiet. The volume and the sound design are perfect on it. The sounds are soft but sinister, like something shrouded in shadow that haunts us just at the edge of our vision.
Ashtoreth needs no introduction and neither does their track Uncertain Path. It’s a cold, polar ambient track that takes the listener on a journey outside the physical labyrinth and into a mental one that feels torturous and painful. It’s filled with volume and atmosphere that makes the journey to continue a very uncertain one. The journey stands on the edge of a knife, to paraphrase a favorite story of mine. The sounds of the wind and cymbals is relaxing and maddening at the same time.
Globoscuro is an artist I need to find out more about. The name of the project alone is weird and fascinating, a combination worth exploring. The sound is grainy but the chimes come through perfectly. Dedalo’s Architectural Liver is a strange name at first but as the track plays it makes almost perfect sense. The chimes! Oh, the chimes! I felt a little like Lovecraft must have felt as he wrote down his dreams and turned them into horrible nightmares for others, I can imagine Globoscuro creating these chiming melodies from his dreams as well.
Stigmate is next with Verminephrobacter eisenias. Before you ask, no I have no idea what it means. I thought about looking up what it meant (or could mean) but thought against, deciding to keep the mystery alive. Like Globoscuro before it, the sound design is excellent, producing maddening repetitions and loops that feel as though they must have come from a Lovecraftian dream.
Silent Chaos is a project I recently became familiar with through their album micro [review found here]. Their track here, Daedalus of possibilities is one that comes from that same album. While it drips with significance on their own album, forming a very important part of their catabasis narrative, it forms an equally important but very different piece of the puzzle here. We are finally given some mythological connection in the anthology to the most well-known labyrinth of all time and the man that helped engineer an escape. The track grounds the listener once more, after spending several tracks meandering through our subconscious.
IOK-1 continues the story with We’ll return to our departed selves. At this point the listener can begin to feel that we are nearing the end of the labyrinth. That makes it dangerous. We are almost in sight of the exit and our hope is soaring but it’s at its most fragile moment as well. Every emotion floods through this track. It’s a mixture of calming, philosophical sounds with therapeutic tones. It’s a great deep breath before the plunge, one of my favorite tracks here.
Soliloqua is next with Hostile to the Past. It’s the inverse of everything we heard on the previous track. Where IOK-1 was calm, Hostile to the Past is violent and angry. It’s cinematic and gothic, brimming with darkness and shadowy melodies played on an ancient, atonal organ.
Traansmutt follows with the lengthy HehBethKaphDaleth, a ten-minute track that feels and sounds like a behemoth lurking though the fog. It takes the narrative away from the listeners running through the labyrinth and takes us to the labyrinth itself, how it came to be. Enshrouded in fog and shadows, the track is filled with low, droning horns that echo off the walls to help us see the truth of the labyrinth and the obscene age of the structure.
Knobstat’s Dirac is next. The pace is frantic and manic with sounds rushing towards and past the listener before we have time to react to them. One thing is clear to the listeners though, the beast has awoken. Every labyrinth needs a guardian, a monster that stalks the corridors, hungry and wild. This track is that beast.
Monica Vlad, one of the artists I’m just now hearing about, continues the story of the beast in Distant. The beast has awoken and now it’s coming for us. The wind plays a strong element in the song, along with a single whistling drone played from beginning to end. The listeners’ dread increases as the volume reaches a crescendo of buzzing and thrumping.
vÄäristymä gets us closer to the gateway with ei muistiinpanoja alkuliemi. I need to brush up on my Finnish, as I have no idea what the title of the track means but I think plenty of metaphysical meaning can be taken from the sounds displayed on the track. It’s static-y. buzzy, drone-y, and very uncomfortable. The sound sits like an itch between your shoulder blades that you just can’t reach. Out of context I might not like this track but in context I think it’s fine addition.
Finally, bringing up the end of the anthology we have SKR Project’s Death in Nibiru. This track is by far the best track on the album, bar none. It closes out the narrative of the escape from the labyrinth, whatever the listener wants to decide happens to them along this journey (escape or death). It wraps all the sounds and music we’ve heard over the last hour or so into a single, spacey yet ritualistic track. The concept of Nibiru is both metaphysical and scientific, being a hypothetical planet and another plane of existence. The sound is scratchy and sinister, a deep thrumming just at the edge of hearing fills out the foundation while silence makes up a lot of the sound, perfect for reflection and narration. The atmosphere is clever and thick, rich with a humming sound we can never quite rid ourselves of.
Labyrinth is a damn good anthology, perfect for any collection. The narrative is strong and present throughout the entire album, something I marvel at given the number of artists participating. It has low points and it has high points like all stories do but most importantly it has a story. Labyrinth cannot be missed out on.
Highlights: Death in Nibiru, Awakeness, Dedalo’s Architectural Liver, Luft
Support the artists!
Listen, Like, Share, Spread the Word
- Psionic Asylum – When The Shadows Come
- Sysselmann – Submarine (feat. Radio Feskslog)
- Monocube – Luft
- Necrophorus – Tre
- Sonologyst – system: maze of control
- Warpness – The labyrinth
- Xerxes The Dark – The Omen
- Damballah – Syèl Lannwit
- Alphaxone – Awakeness
- SiJ – Few Sounds From The House Near The Sea
- Taphephobia – Twisting journey
- Ashtoreth – Uncertain Path
- Globoscuro – Dedalo’s Architectural Liver
- Stigmate – Verminephrobacter eiseniae
- Silent Chaos – Daedalus of possibilities
- IOK-1 – We’ll return to our departed selves
- Soliloqua – Hostile To The Past
- Traansmutt – HehBethKaphDaleth
- Knobstat – Dirac
- Monica Vlad – Distant
- vÄäristymä – ei muistiinpanoja alkuliemi
- SKR Project – Death in Nibiru
Labyrinth will be available through Eighth Tower Records on July 14th, 2017