There are certain times–early mornings, late nights, studying, or writing–where I prefer my music with a minimal amount of stimuli. No data, no information, and especially no words.
Sounds that become so deeply a part of the background, to the extent that that they are now the space within which you exist. Music which summons imagery and energies that both unnerve and entrance, and engages the mind in such a way that the listener is transported to realities outside the confines of their own space and time.
A cavernous alien construct, floating through the void of space. Industrial creaks and groans, the monstrous pressure and eerie whistle of wind through airducts. The bleak dread as you contemplate the cold stars, utterly alone. The stark terror that besets you as strange, hollow sounds reverberate and echo throughout the craft, the deep bass and unnerving thrum of a heartbeat much heavier and older than your own.
A dark moon, a murky invocation. Dense shadows and fog, the low drone of wordless chants dwindled to a buzzing murmuration. The rattle and reedy thread of dying breaths. Desperate howls and unearthly shrieks as the veil of night is rent in twain with a vision of the unnameable. The sound of things that may best remain unknown.
Or if you please: lying alone on a darkened hillside, surrounded by enormous weather-worn stones, these rocky behemoths stretching to the midnight sky, humming with ancient power. The wind sighs an indeciperhable threnody through the trees. Between the earth and the moon lies you, a conduit for all things beautiful and terrible, vibrating with those simultaneous realities.
If you find yourself sufficiently creeped out but perversely intrigued by these menacing, melancholic scenarios, it may please to you know that there are musicians similarly inspired, whose creations fall into the dark ambient genre of music. Sounds of eerie abstraction, dissonant drones and resonances, and unsettling snatches of melody, evocative of solitude and horror and even an austere bliss. Should you wish to hear more, continue reading for my personal map through the realms of sinister soundscapes and sonic oblivion. There are obviously many more artists than are listed here who fall into this category, and there are many different pathways upon which to summon the glooms. Begin your journey with these five ghostly transmissions from the abyss.
Widely credited as the originator of the dark ambient genre, Lustmord’s Brian Williams has worked with inconoclastic industrial acts such as Throbbing Gristle, as well as contributing his own brand of unsettling sounds to countless cinematic scores. The persistent creep and shadowy paranoia of O T H E R was my first introduction to his eerie œuvre, and while everyone is certainly entitled to a favorite, this album remains my go-to for an evening alone, manifesting dread and drinking deeply of the dark.
Swedish dark ambient project Kammarheit’s The Starwheel was re-issued in 2016, and offers lush, deep drones and gentle washes of reverb that produce an effect nearly spiritual in its unexpected profundity, and perfect for conjuring meditations upon the immense night and one’s very small place in a universe quite vast.
Bohren & der Club of Gore
German ambient/jazz crossover Bohren & der Club of Gore describe their sound as an “unholy ambient mixture of slow jazz ballads, Black Sabbath doom and down tuned Autopsy sounds.” Evocative of a lounge-noir, Lynchian atmosphere, the solemn mood and lumbering melodies produce a nauseating unease in the listener, and yet with repetition lulls us with its slow, soothing dullness, narcotic in quality, and a luxurious balm for the senses.
Enigmatic Belgian artist Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) is an avant-garde alchemist of sound and maybe about whom the less we know, the better– and as far as dark ambient albums go, Kreng’s Grimoire is as spooky as you can get. Ominous strings, brooding horns, and creaking percussion ratchet up tensions to an unbearable, nearly punishing degree, and combined with guttural breaths and operatic vocals, creates a disorienting cacophony, a feverish nightmare from which you fear you may never wake.
I’m not certain there is much known about the audio/visual/performance project known as ɗʉɭʈ. A meditation on dark mysticism, medievalism, and the macabre, and inspired by Irish mythology, old ritual and nature, it draws its energy from the inherent esoteric elements in all that is ancient and wild, sacred and savage. And indeed, when one hears this excerpt from “LeftHand in thee Dense Thicket,” one perceives something weighty and full of inconceivable gravity, and gets the sense that they are listening in on the birth of the gods, perhaps even the amniotic fluids of the cosmos itself.