Desiderii Marginis – Hypnosis

Cyclic Law Records (71st Cycle), 2014

Hypnosis, the eighth album from Desiderii Marginis, Johan Levin’s long-running and respected dark ambient/industrial hybrid project, is a two-disc behemoth caught between worlds. Shedding the distorted-beat elements of early works, such as the highly regarded album Deadbeat (2001), in favor of a more classic dark ambient design, Hypnosis aims to express the shadowed corners of the dream-world through a variety of singular pieces.

At the outset, this concept seems to work both for and against the album. On one hand, it would appear to allow Levin the freedom to switch styles to best fit the experienced (or imagined) dream in question, but on the other, it runs the risk of having the album appear disjointed. However, Hypnosis drifts somewhere in the middle. The sound design of Desiderii Marginis has typically adhered to the cinematic side of dark ambient, with recognizable synthesizer pads and washes rather than processed drones of uncertain origin. This identity remains on Hypnosis, and throughout the album, the tracks largely fit the same mold of keyboards backing a single repeated and sampled element.

For example, “Paralysis” uses a sample of plucked guitar strings as its central theme. On “The Ghost Box,” it’s a brief sequence of harmonica, and on “Lazarus Palace,” it’s a single sitar chord. “Black Feathers” (which also samples crows) and “The Monkey God” both utilize a horrific and disturbing distorted animal-like call – a croaking cry that’s never issued from the throat of anything born on Earth. “Rain On Your Dreams” centers around, yes, the sound of rain, while “Unmasked” is inspired by the sound of steady footprints on concrete, and the single chime of “Night Slept On My Arm” opens the track and closes it in measured time. As Hypnosis plays, the trends loop upon themselves, and as there’s little variation in the running time of the fifteen tracks (most of them are six to eight minutes in length), they wind up becoming predictable – the last thing you want in a genre built on the freedom to experiment.

Not every track follows this template, and it’s these cases where Hypnosis works best. “The Fog Closing In” is a foreboding piece of open-sea ambiance, and the thick pads of “Bright Dead City” are adept at creating a thrilling atmosphere. “Drive” is the album’s strongest and most mysterious moment; the grand mood, bold drones, and formless flow are a departure for Levin, and its subtle build follows an exhilarating sense of progression. Here, the dream-sense is particularly potent, and powerfully communicated. The sound of Desiderii Marginis has always tended towards the mechanical, and while most of Hypnosis is no exception, these tracks provide evidence that the project still has plenty of room to expand.

I want to like Hypnosis more than I do. I’ve devoted plenty of time to it, and have always emerged with the same reaction: it feels like a missed opportunity. The sampled elements repeat a bit too often, the tracks feel too similar to each other, and the basic structure of the music doesn’t change often enough. This is solid dark ambient, but Hypnosis will sound familiar to genre fans. I don’t intend to convey that what’s here is poorly done; there’s no doubt that Levin is a talented and capable producer, but he appears to be not quite as experimentally minded as some of his peers. While Hypnosis shows multiple signs that Desiderii Marginis is poised to move beyond its established comfort zone into uncharted territory, it tiptoes close to the borders, unwilling to commit to crossing over.

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