Konau – Speech from the Shadows

Eibon Records (Kon061), 2006

I’ve been listening to a notable amount of Italian dark ambient recently, eg. Hall of Mirrors, Vestigial, Subterranean Source, New Risen Throne. It was my interest in this latter project that led me to Konau, a collaboration between NRT’s Gabriele Panci and Andrea Freschi of the outfit Canaan. I detect a certain rawness to Italian dark ambient; I don’t mean this in a critical way, but in the approach these artists tend to take to the genre. The sound is typically stripped down, reducing the ambience to core components, and I find this old-school approach refreshing in the wake of more complex contemporaries. The directness results in an old-school listening experience that doesn’t attempt to dilute the ominous nature of the genre; what these projects may lack in adventurousness, they make up for with good old basic blackness.

Konau’s debut, Speech from the Shadows, is perhaps the best representation of this primal approach. Released on Eibon Records in 2006, it harkens back to the early days of pioneers like Lustmord and raison d’etre. While some may consider Konau unnecessary given its stubbornly grass-roots philosophy, such an attitude may ignore the fact that Speech from the Shadows, while certainly derivative, is some of the starkest and bleakest dark ambient I’ve come across in some time, and achieves this because of its careful minimalist structure. It makes no apologies, and plays no tricks; Konau dangles you right over the yawning lightless pit before letting go and leaving you to fall.

The first stages of your plummet aren’t particularly foreboding, but serve as a portent of what is to come. “Sadness Embrace” takes the somber minimal chords of raison d’etre and mixes them with muffled churning noise, and the brooding “endless loop” of “Repentance” is actually closer to soothing than ominous. “Contemplation” uses field recordings of rain and thunder to conjure a state of introspection that treads close to the shadows without becoming fully immersed.

It’s at the halfway point when the blackness intensifies. “Speech from the Shadows,” “Deep,” and “Crawling Darkness” are steeped in the same primal void where Lustmord’s Heresy first walked; it is darkness experienced by our ancient ancestors and passed down through the ages until it has settled deep into our modern bones, remaining dormant until drawn forth. These three pieces, which flow together with profoundly malicious glee, utilize cavernous drones and garbled voices – particularly on “Deep” – to create an atmosphere so thick, it’ll make you feel covered in layers of ancient dust. The sense of space is immense, and the vague loops and undefined scrapings and dragging are quite unsettling. If I was asked to provide a soundtrack for a haunted house, I’d loop these three tracks and be done with it, and I bet it would work famously.

Konau’s debut isn’t complex or particularly experimental. It uses dark ambient elements that are tried and proven. But Speech from the Shadows is supremely effective at creating a visceral and haunting listening experience, and it achieves this by relying on the basics rather than overdone effects. Genre enthusiasts may have heard this before, yes, but the sparse approach of Panci and Freschi makes Speech from the Shadows a definitive example of why dark ambient can be such a compelling genre. It’s foreboding, it’s spacious, and it’s satisfying in a basic-yet-profound manner that few genre albums are able to achieve. The Italian formula is proving to be quite an effective one.

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