Cryo Chamber (no catalog #), 2015
Monde Obscure is an album of technical overkill. While listening, I’m reminded of an interview where industrial legends Front Line Assembly discussed the recording philosophy for their 1995 album Hard Wired. Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber challenged themselves to leave no sonic space empty, cramming every byte of their hard drives with some sort of sample. At the time, it was a daunting yet cohesive experience, and a testament to FLA’s skill, but that was twenty years ago, and technology has since advanced a hundredfold.
The debut effort by Aegri Somnia (translated as “sick man’s dream”) follows a similar template, wherein every moment has multiple sounds and effects, fluttering and whirring and clanking and droning, both near and far. I can say one thing for Jurica Santek: he’s a master of sound design. There’s no debating that Monde Obscure is an incredible-sounding album. It’s dark ambient in HD, especially when experienced in FLAC via some capable headphones.
Notice I did say “overkill,” however. This type of structure is a tricky one to follow, because one runs the risk of the audio collage becoming a multifaceted haze, moving so quickly and unexpectedly that it’s nigh-impossible to get a clear vision, much less retain it. Subtraction by addition. FLA skirted around this by using classic EBM drum-and-bass synths as its foundation, but Aegri Somnia uses no such starting point. Each track is a dizzying collection of samples, field recording, and synthwork, cut-and-pasted with manic randomness, unwinding in an infinite fashion to make the mind’s eye gape wide in confusion. I’ll say one thing for Monde Obscure: you never know what’s going to happen next, and you’ll hear new sounds with subsequent listens.
But despite the bristling forest of content, there’s something missing here, something vital to the dark ambient experience. While many albums seek to immerse the listener in carefully executed atmosphere, Aegri Somnia aims to drown you in detail. While this may work for some listeners, it has the reverse effect for me: I’m so caught up in Santek’s frantic hurricane, there’s no room for me to settle in. I’m searching for a common thread, for patterns to recognize, for a place to nest, but I’m borne along, constantly exposed to crystal-clear minute motes of digital dust, fractured and buzzing, until my brain rebels and I’m left struggling to take it all in, to process the slipstream of mental images attached to the sounds. In the end, I’m left with an impression of being overwhelmed.
Aegri Somnia doesn’t use looped keyboard chords to ground the experience, and there’s little, if any, melodic content. There’s a nice bit of piano towards the end of “Les Temps Ont Change” which hints at the power contained here, but its impact is deadened against the walls of samples. The two-part “Sortie” and “Portal” tracks at the album’s close slow things down a bit – there’s some very nice atmospheric work happening at this point – but that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Monde Obscure is one of the most amazing tech demos I’ve ever heard. Santek is indeed a skilled audio producer. But there’s an aesthetic component to music as well, and it’s particularly important in a free-form genre such as dark ambient. Too much, or too little, and the experience is lessened. If Aegri Somnia can reduce the amount of static and provide some variation – or even better, a unifying undercurrent within each track and a clear identity for an album – the immersive interactivity that dark ambient is so adept at creating will be within reach. The tech aspect is down, now it’s time to focus on the art.