There are as many genres of dark ambient as there are genres of film. There’s horror, sci-fi, drama, suspense and about a hundred other more nuanced and snobbish genre names. In both film and music, these genres can be broken down into further subgenres until the categorization becomes more than a little ridiculous. I like it though. While I freely admit that categorization has a very obvious limit, I can’t help but love running full steam ahead to that limit. One genre, in both film and ambient music, that has gotten my attention a lot recently has been horror. A few weeks ago, half of my Facebook feed blew up in pseudo intellectual anger over the term “post horror” and its application to the film “The VVitch.” I laughed at their fury of course because I loved the new terminology and thought it fittingly applied. What does this have to do with a review you ask? Well horror has been gaining ground in the ambient world as well. It’s always been there of course, but over the past few years more and more artists are experimenting with a cinematic style that enhances the atmosphere. Instead of the atonal bang, clang, and crash of industrial ambient (and all its subgenres) this version of horror ambient feels as though it is really attempting to create a storyline, a narrative. As much as I’ve come to appreciate industrial ambient, I feel as though I have to pull the narrative out the music rather than let the narrative open up for me. Is this (somewhat) new cinematic horror ambient the music world’s version of post horror? It’s hard to say, though I’m sure some purists will tell you that it shouldn’t be considered ambient if it’s “post” anything. Entitled to their wrathfully small minded opinions, they have forgotten, seemingly, that art in all its forms progresses, grows, sheds its skin, and transforms. Take Urs Wild if you will, an ambient artist from Switzerland and multi-instrumentalist. His work spans genres, going from audiobook soundtracks to dark ambient. Hidden Universe, his latest opus, mixes deeply psychedelic drone-y tones with a sinister harmonic horror atmosphere.
Standing at around seventy-five minutes, Hidden Universe is not a short listen. It’s not a casual listen either. Each song has separate movements that tell an individual story but still relate to the overall “plot,” if you will. “Sea of Unnatural Presence” and “Mardröm” start the album off with a very strong cinematic, cosmic horror feel with what I believe to be some Theremin wobbling in the foreground. The music reminds me of the space horror films I enjoy like Alien and Event Horizon. Each of those films made me feel very small and vulnerable to the unknown, to whatever lay underneath our reality. I felt the same kind of awe and unease with Hidden Universe.
There can be issues if an album uses the music to manipulate the emotions of the listener by using a strong sense of nostalgia though. Instead of build its own tension and atmosphere they rely too heavily on what the listener already knows to create a story or a feeling. Hidden Universe is a little guilty of this in the beginning, but Urs Wild steers away from going too close to anything familiar. His music is very good but I don’t want to be lead down a path where I already know all the turns. He salvages the album with my favorite song on the album, “Hidden Matter.” I would call this the focal point of the narrative and the music. It’s not the climax where everything explodes or the monster bursts out from behind the wall, it’s the tension builder, the realization that the universe is not what we thought it was, we were so wrong. The song is subtle but has a strong underlying intensity that really brings the music together.
The world that Hidden Universe exposes the listener to is one that we both want to explore and run screaming from. It’s a place vastly different from our own yet it also unsettlingly familiar. It feels like a dreamworld, a place we are somehow familiar with but also to which we are completely foreign. This world is simultaneously beautiful and decrepit. Don’t look too close and don’t stay too long. This is a universe that wants to kill you for no other reason than to kill you. Urs Wild does a very good job portraying said universe in all its twisted glory. It’s not a place I’m unfamiliar with, many space ambient projects will try to lead you to it, but it takes someone like Urs Wild, with a strong background in music that tells a story, to really take you there.
The production of the album is pretty damn good too, I was expecting a lot of scratchy, frantic sounds that muddled together more often than not but I was pleasantly surprised by the harmonic tones. The sound quality added to the vividness of the story, the narrative was sharper because the sound was crisper and cleaner and it doesn’t distract the listener. Each shrill drone or fuzzy interlude is on purpose and the listener must question why and what it means to the story.
Hidden Universe is a good album from a good artist. It’s full of familiar sounds that are used to new purposes and new ends. The album was thoroughly entrancing, invigorating and fresh. Horror ambient, especially when you blend it with space ambient, is a genre with great potential for growth. Artists like Urs Wild can lead the genre into new territory if they wish. It all starts with a good story.
Highlights: Hidden Matter, Horizon of Tranquility, Ritualized
For Fans Of: Ruairi O Baoighill, Alphaxone, DeepDark
Support the artist!
Listen, Like, Share, Comment, Recommend, Spread the Word!
- Sea of Unnatural Presence
- Hidden Matter
- Construction of the limitless
- Machine without mechanisms
- Hidden Energy
- Horizon of tranquility
Hidden Universe was released by Eighth Tower Records on July 22nd, 2017