Despite the essential differences of the music, Dark Ambient does share a number of things in common with Extreme Metal – one of the most obvious is that, from the outside, it is often perceived as all sounding the same. Without understanding the particularities of the genre, it can all sound like pigs grunting over feedback/hoovers exploding in a wind tunnel (delete as appropriate), but to the trained ear the skill of individual bands and artists makes all the difference. In Dark Ambient, which mostly lacks the obvious paths to individuality offered by guitar sound or vocal style, the key is in the skilful and effective placement of sounds and tones – in this field, Randall Collier-Ford is nothing less than a master.
His third album for the label, Promethean (Cryo Chamber) continues his story of the alien Architects devastating arrival on Earth, and the altered wasteland they leave behind them, and it also continues his tradition of sounding different to what came before. Revisiting neither the crushing enormity of The Architects nor the spidery fragility of Remnants, Promethean is the weird one, achieving a tone which is both meditative and hallucinogenic, blending some genuinely sinister field recordings with artfully deployed drones, beats and instrumentation to create rich and intriguing soundscapes.
The sheer breadth of Collier-Ford’s palette on Promethean is so diverse that it can sometimes be difficult to identify his particular voice – a bit of smoky jazz here, some ambient noise there, pianos used as confidently as drones. This is particularly apparent on Apotheosis, a collaboration with label-mates Northumbria that could sit comfortably on one of their albums. In the context of this album, however, it helps us to understand that it’s his deftness of touch, his ability to draw disparate elements into a consistent whole, that marks Collier-Ford as an artist, rather than any one sound or tone. The presence of a live track – The Fruitless Lands pt.II – also shows off his range without feeling like an outlier.
A subtle, artfully constructed suite of sounds that rewards listener investment with depth and resonance, Promethean is highly recommended for anyone who likes their Dark Ambient to be more than background music.