R|A|A|N – The Nacrasti

Malignant Antibody (TREATMENT*02), 2001

From the very first intonation, you’re steeped in mystery.  A simple sound, it seems, following a three-chord progression, and you wonder if the source is synthetic or traditional instrumentation, or something else entirely (organic?).

What IS that? your brain cries, searching for answers.  The odyssey has begun.

From there, dull chimes wander through the speakers, accompanied by low rumbles and waves of droning, with a smattering of samples that sound, crazily, like some kind of animal, hooting mournfully in the distance.  And the very title of this opening track: “Passage Nacrastan.”  What does that mean, exactly?  A cosmic wormhole?  The first downward slope of a subterranean cave complex?  A carefully hidden pathway through a noisome jungle lost in the veils of time?  You have only scant clues, and your imagination is left to decide.

R|A|A|N is the brainchild of one Stig Berg, and it definitely has its influences.  And lofty influences they are:  raison d’etre, Lustmord, Inade.  But Berg is no mere copycat; rather, he has taken bits from each of these dark ambient powerhouses and fused them into something utterly unique, while adding his own ingredients.  This is a stunning journey into uncharted territory and of the secrets buried within.  It is an experience not to be missed.

The Nacrasti (released on a sub-label of the superlative Malignant Records, called Malignant Antibody) is dark – quite dark – but it is more than that.  The darkness of The Nacrasti is not evil or threatening, but mysterious.  It is the darkness that exists before profound discovery; darkness that comes from lack of knowledge.  Somehow, Berg has injected his synthetic tapestries with an undeniable sense of age.  Whatever or whomever the Nacrasti may have been, they seem undoubtedly to be part of the distant past – a past that has been uncovered for perhaps the first time in millennia, and Berg has invited us to be witnesses.  “Arrival of the Sek” is anchored by a pulsating heartbeat while whirs and pulses announce some unimaginable presence.  “Sandrin” is beautifully contemplative, a realization of time long past.  Other tracks feature similarly nebulous titles –  “Mirivm,” “Lilin,” “Tizh of Runn” – and one can only imagine what these words might mean: places, objects, entities.

Herein lies the genius of Berg: by supplying us with only pieces of the puzzle, he involves us directly, appealing to our sense of adventure, coaxing us to fill in the blanks.  What emerges will vary from listener to listener, but I’m willing to bet each one conjures up a vivid tale, each wildly different from the next.  There’s a strong sense of narrative here, as if each track is the chapter in a tale painted by the mists of history, but it’s up to us to decide.

At its surface, The Nacrasti does not appear to tread new ground for dark ambient.  It is composed of a constantly shifting melange of drones, deep thrums, and hisses.  Most of the tracks feature some sort of percussive element, and several feature traditional wind instruments.  Where Berg excels is how deftly he fits everything together; where he chooses to fade out and bring in, how delicately buried the samples are, the haunting simplicity of the melodies.  When the near-tribal drumming begins in “Circle of Two,” almost six minutes into the nine-minute track, it does not seem arbitrary or forced, but a natural part of the progression that seemed somehow inevitable.  The pipes and horns, when they emerge, give the music added depth that completes rather than distracts.  The repeating blare that dominates the portentous final track, “The Atuvvi Culmination”, could be a distorted horn, a warning klaxon, or the mournful cry of some awakened beast.  It’s up to us to decide, as we flesh out the skeleton Berg has provided.

The Nacrasti has something of a reputation as an underrated dark ambient classic, and for good reason.  Few albums in the genre are this creative and evocative.  It is effortlessly diverse, but cohesive; a sign of Berg’s crystal clear concept and execution.  Its gritty sound only adds to its ancient, organic feel – this is no slickly overproduced affair, to be certain.  Stirring, involving, and timeless, The Nacrasti embodies the potential of ambient music.

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