First Fallen Star (ffs004), 2009
The apocalypse is nothing new for dark ambient. For a musical style that thrives on imminent downfall in all its myriad forms, The End is familiar territory. How dark ambient artists approach their apocalyptic themes, now, lies the thrill of the listening experience….for those inclined to explore. Many albums take a subtle and creative route to examine their various means and methods of portraying The End that will eventually claim us all; you could make a convincing argument that dark ambient as a whole is largely concerned with expressing the anxiety of knowing that our time is finite.
Then there are albums that approach this all-encompassing theme with stark directness. One of the most blatantly apocalyptic albums I’ve heard is Three Days of Darkness by the duo known as Innfallen. Doyle Finley (aka Invercauld) and Kevin Scala use Catholic doctrine as their inspiration. The “Three Days of Darkness” is a prophecy stating that the powers of Hell will have two days to wreak havoc among the living, but on the third night, the darkness will lift and the scattered survivors will remain to behold the aftermath of God’s ultimate judgment.
It’s grim stuff, to be sure. It’s somewhat enhanced by the (very attractive) A5-format digipak decorated with classic artwork such as Ryder’s “The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse)” and Fussli’s equally famous “Nachtmahr.” What’s interesting, however, is the path the music takes; despite the album’s ominous title, things are not quite as foreboding and nihilistic as they might appear.
The music itself, for the most part, is standard dark ambient fare: extensive brooding chords, haunting creaking, scattered whispers, fearsome passes, reversed tones, etc. “Prologue (Inner Locutions)” has some nice touches, such as unfiltered bells and rhythmic pulses, but things are unrelentingly bleak, which makes sense, given the source. It isn’t until the latter half of the ten-minute “Day Two (Gnashing of Teeth)” that things get really interesting, with lamenting voices and wailing punctuating what is supposed to be widespread demonic indulgence. This added detail gives the familiar sound much-needed focus and character; I wish we’d heard more of this before this point. If the denizens of Hell have been unleashed upon the land, I bet it would sound much different than the tones and washes I’ve heard in many other dark ambient releases. Give me a chorus of souls crying out, from horizon to horizon; flames and smoke; the fear-evoking presence of the Hellbound – that’s what a Catholic apocalypse ought to sound like.
From there, however, things take a turn. The instant “Day Three (Closing the Well)” begins, the tone has clearly shifted. Things are no longer dark, but dim, and my interest is piqued: there’s definite narrative structure here. The atmosphere has expanded, and the mood carries, dare I say it, a glimmer of hope. Of course it does, given the prophecy. The following track, “Light Returns,” is, obviously, even brighter, with the chords becoming more prominent and warmer. This is, ironically, the most effective track on Three Days of Darkness; it feels more natural and less forced; Finley and Scala don’t seem to be trying so hard to lacquer on the blackness as thickly as they possibly can. It’s still dark ambient, mind you, but it’s handled in a more delicate and aesthetic fashion.
But this newfound aura doesn’t last. We’re soon sliding back into the abyss for “Epilogue (Scattered Remains),” a highly cinematic piece that can’t help but conjure images of a smoking ruined city, its streets choked with charred corpses. It’s a little strange that the album returns to the pit from whence it emerged, especially after the shadows were momentarily lifted, and the buried “demonic” laughter doesn’t help (in fact, it’s dangerously close to cheesiness). By the time the track ends, we’re back where we started, with claustrophobia and hopelessness dominating the scene. It’s as if Finley and Scala wanted to make darn sure this was dark ambient. “New Dawn” finishes the album with classic electro keys fringed by the ever-present bed of doom and gloom; the Days are over, but all is chaos and loss.
The concept of Three Days of Darkness doesn’t quite match its execution. It’s frustratingly close to being a narrative powerhouse, but it can’t quite seem to slip the shackles provided by the producers. I can’t shake the thought that if Innfallen hadn’t been so bent on making a dark ambient album, they might have really had something remarkable; it sticks so close to genre convention that it ends up failing to separate itself. Three Days of Darkness certainly has its effective moments, especially when displacing the shadows, but each time I listen to this album, I find myself wishing it had approached its theme with more creativity and flexibility.