It’s starting to feel like I’m repeating myself here, but “Cinematic Dark Ambient” specialists Cryo Chamber remain one of the most consistently engaging and accomplished in any genre, and one of their more interesting qualities is their themed collaborations between artists. For a Metal label these would likely be little more than indulgent acts of vanity, but Cryo Chamber’s collaborations are always among the most distinctive and evocative of their releases, the artists combining their disparate approaches to create a shared atmosphere, often based around a narrative or themed.
Putting his Hoover noises where his mouth is, label boss Simon Heath has elected to start 2018 not only by releasing two new collaborations but by playing on both in his long-running guise as Atrium Carceri.
On Miles To Midnight, he’s joined by labelmates Cities Last Broadcast (who worked with AC on last year’s brilliant Black Corner Den) and God Body Disconnect to make an album of smoky, sinister “Jazz ambient” that explores a noirish theme. As the fearful J-word suggests, this is a more instrumental work than a newcomer to the genre might expect, with looped piano melodies that combine with GBD’s live drumming and post-Rock sensibilities to create music that’s often surprisingly melodic and.. well… musical. If the phrase “easy listening” is anywhere near your thoughts, though, throw it out – all three artists deal to some extent in Horror with their own albums, and it’s followed them into the hotel that decorates Miles To Midnight’s cover, darkening the more laid back moments with dissonant shadows and in other places dominating the sound with huge blocks of discordant drone. It’s noir crime theme more than just packaging, Miles To Midnight is an unsettling album, but one that realises that horror can be more effective when disguised in beauty. [8.0]
Leaving hotels and detectives behind him, Ur Djupan Dal sees Heath work with masters of the unpronounceable Herbst9 to tell a story of middle-eastern mysticism and sorcery. If the artwork and font raises concerns of twee “folk” elements and cultural appropriation, however, don’t worry – musically this is more about capturing the barren emptiness of a desert, or the dread vastness of a starless sky, than with sounding “ethnic”. There’s a hallucinatory quality to Ur Djupan Dal, a sort of blinking madness stretched out between languid synths and claustrophobic background noises. It’s closer to the typical image of Dark Ambient than Miles To Midnight, but Cryo Chamber’s enormous, Hollywood-budget sound transforms it into something vaster and more evocative than most of its peers. The pitch-shifted spoken word readings (Lovecraft, of course, because if there’s a genre that leans on him even more heavily than Metal it’s this one) are well-handled, but the music itself is so rich and powerful that it’s questionable how much they really add. [8.0]
Though separate albums, Miles To Midnight and Ur Djapan Dal make an interesting pairing, not only as a statement of intent for Cryo Chamber in 2018, but also as a demonstration of how broad a range of moods and themes this music can evoke without losing its “Dark” origins. If your prevailing image of Dark Ambient is forty minutes of whoosing noises and a field recording of the local park at night, Cryo Chamber show how much more the genre is capable of when invested with cinematic sensibilities, and these two collaborations are an excellent place to start.