Kave – Dismal Radiance

Eibon Records (KAV 085), 2012

Dark ambient is a genre that spans a wide range of styles.  On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got howling swaths of blaring noise that evoke yawning chasms of horror and black apocalypse; on the other, quiet introspective tones of melancholic beauty.  While some artists and releases combine both extremes (often with differing levels of success), others keep themselves rooted squarely in one place or the other.  Such diversity is what makes the genre such a fascinating one to explore, and even when you know what to expect, the method of execution is one that creates a powerful sense of awe.

Kave is a Dutch ambient project that’s firmly rooted in the calmer and more subtle edges of the dark ambient realm, one shared by notable acts like Kammarheit and more obscure projects such as Subterranean Source.  The first official release by Kave, Dismal Radiance, shares the basic structure of its counterparts, but the way that Bram Gollin arranges his tracks gives Kave its own singular voice.  This is a low-key dark ambient release, but that’s not to say it isn’t highly immersive and effective.  Showing a sense of poise that’s remarkable for a first release, Dismal Radiance is a finely tuned collection of down-pitched analog tones and touches of field recording that quietly finds itself among the best that this style of dark ambient has to offer.

Dark ambient acts often utilize naturally sourced sounds as part of their palette, but here, they’re part of the whole rather than the focus.  “Corridors Under the Sea” and “Vault of Mysticism and Desolation” use trickling water and rain to establish a haunting tranquility, which is then enhanced by minimal buried synth tones that edge their way through gentle successions of chords without tipping the balance too far into self-indulgent mourning.  You’ll hear reversed bell-tones and sampled choral voices here too – nothing new for the genre, yes, but they’re delicately placed, and don’t usurp the half-lit reflective mood.  There’s nothing to fear in the places Kave is showing us (at least, not now), but there air tingles with loss and wonder.  The emotional traces are strong, and sink into your consciousness in the gradual delicious way that the best dark ambient manages to do.

Dismal Radiance shows a good deal of variety too, albeit within the same shadowed spectrum.  “Bleak Phantasm” is quite beautiful, with its flowing sequence of chord tones and minimal wind, and “Encompassing Emptiness” is a fine display of drawn-out and buried drones that manage to speak volumes beyond the basic structure.  This is where Gollin’s aesthetic touch shines strongest; even with the reduced content of these tracks, the sense of progression and evolution remain.  The title track continues this formula with a bit more grandeur, though I’d call it more radiant than dismal myself, and “Laatste Schemering” follows its example like a drifting shade backlit by a sickle moon.  Kave is undoubtedly dark ambient, but it’s neither soulless nor taut with despair; it’s a soothing twilit gray rather than a lightless black.

The album closes with a gorgeous flourish.  “Dark Monoliths Rising” is soaked with subtle evocative power, courtesy of reversed tones married to the dulled atmospheric undercurrent Kave is so adept at creating.  Field recordings make their triumphant return here, with layers of wind, rain, and distant clinks.  This is a sliver of dark ambient poetry that brings to mind a seabound revelation: passengers on some storm-flung ship bear witness to a majestic revelation in a forgotten corner of the ocean.  The beholders do not understand what they have seen, perhaps, but they are certain it is deeply significant in some profound and indescribable fashion.

Dismal Radiance is a stunning debut.  For a genre as diverse as dark ambient, Kave has maintained a firm and consistent balance between convention and unique identity.  Bram Gollin presents deep mystery without over- or under-defining it, which is a concept that even genre veterans can struggle with.  While Kave’s debut might not cater to those who crave the genre’s more aggressive and chaotic side, if you’re hunting for a strongly conceived tour through the quieter corners of the desolate dark ambient kingdom, you’ll be hard pressed to find a release that better fits the bill.

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Kave – The Language of Stones

bandcamp, 2015

Although The Language of Stones is a 2015 release, it’s actually a precursor to Kave’s 2012 debut album, Dismal Radiance.  On Kave’s bandcamp site, sole member Bram Gollin states that the content was recorded in 2011 when  he was “experimenting a lot.”  He goes on to say that “the sounds found on this recording completely differ from what Kave has become now,” and he decided to release the early material for historical perspective.  He’s exactly right, of course.  While The Language of Stones isn’t full-blown dark ambient, and doesn’t feature the confidence of Dismal Radiance, it’s still a quality EP that provides interesting perspective on how Kave has evolved.

The Language of Stones centers around field recordings such as trickling water, rain, birds, frogs, and insects.  Coupled with the iconic carved stone figure on the cover, and the connection to mysticism is obvious.  The title track ventures close to New Age territory – it’s similar to Gydja’s Umbilicus Maris in this regard – but the atmosphere is a bit too haunting.  It offers a state of reverence, but to something that’s not immediately apparent; something just out of reach of normal perception, but permeating the surroundings nevertheless.  “The Ancient Gardens” explores this a bit more overtly, with the natural sounds backed by a strange sampled loop, a single drone, and distant bells.  “Lunar Calling” carries a stronger sense of space, and a good deal of added weight, and the sounds of the surf conjure an isolationist and reflective moment on the beach beneath a watchful moon.  There’s not a lot of question about what Kave is trying to accomplish here, and yes, it’s been done before, but it’s handled with admirable finesse despite its minimal structure.

The last two tracks change the approach, stripping away most of the natural sounds and allowing the synthetic ambiance to expand.  It’s here that the bridge to Dismal Radiance is clear.  The rain and forest atmospheres of “Nature’s Last Breath” slowly fade, leaving only a mournful drone; it’s obviously a dirge to what has been lost.  “The Veil” is the EP’s gloomiest track, and follows the Kammarheit school of deep chords surrounded by synthetic wind and sampled crackles.  Like Kammarheit, however, the melancholy is beautiful, reflective, and almost soothing.  It would have been easy for Gollin to drown his compositions with overly eager moods, but he’s studied the genre well, and exercises appropriate restraint.

At twenty-five minutes in length, The Language of Stones is perhaps a bit light on content.  It’s not lacking in talent, however, and as it loops wonderfully, it’s more than well-suited for background listening or for enhanced introspection.  Gollin went from here to record an album that separates itself from its influences, but this EP provides ample evidence of Kave’s evolution.