m.i.s.t. records (MIST105), 2015
I live in an area where the winters are harsh. Harsh, but somewhat beautiful nonetheless. The ice sheets gleam on the ground, and the snow drifts gently down to glitter in the light like tiny diamonds, beckoning you into temperatures that will be fatal without proper protection. Sometimes, the sky will be a wall of whitish gray, moving through differing filters of translucence, a slowly approaching thick fog poised to dump inches of snow on everything in sight. The best of these are at night, when the moon is visible only as a glowing smudge, fading in and out of sight as the shifting veil slides across it. Despite the stirring spectacle, these moments are also treacherous, for they’re typically an indication of particularly frigid temperatures and the constant threat of more snow to come.
I recently realized that this split sensation is part of why dark ambient music is so attractive to me: the implied wonder and danger carried in many things around me. And one of the strongest expressions of this dichotomy that I’ve heard recently is Ghost Picture by Argentina’s Bleak Fiction. Taking a cue from drone-based noise projects such as Terra Sancta, the album is six untitled tracks of heavily processed waves that feature a heavy and organic palette. I quite enjoy this sub-genre of ambient, for its potential to live simultaneously as music, mood, and noise, particularly when it is done well….as it is here.
Right away, Ghost Picture lets you know you are in the presence of something worthy of awe. The drones are enormous and bold, swelling into existence from zero and splitting into emergent waves that smash and blend against each other with thrilling energy. You begin to hear, too, that in places, Ezequiel Lobo has inserted gradual chord sequences, elevating his work from just noise into the musical sphere. Often, due to its non-specific nature, ambient music leaves you with indirect impression rather than a direct memorable sequence that plays in your head when you’re not listening to it, but there have been many passages from Ghost Picture that have welled into my consciousness hours or days between sessions. This is a sign of a successful exercise.
Beyond that, the album conceives a curious atmosphere. Despite its looming presence, it is not overly dreary or apocalyptic. It is noisy yet delicate; massive though beautiful. Lobo manipulates his drones in unusual ways, as well, sometimes dropping them out completely partway through a track, only to have them re-establish themselves after moments of complete or near silence. It is an odd structural decision, and can impact the flow and immersion, but the level of engagement remains high, as you’re never quite sure exactly how Ghost Picture will move next.
Bleak Fiction is a relatively recent project, but it is an exciting one that is full of potential. Lobo has shown a clear grasp of the genre, and isn’t afraid to experiment. The production quality on Ghost Picture isn’t as high as one might expect, but I believe this helps convey the transitive nature of the sound design; if it were clearer and sharper, it would lose something from its wondrous hazy sound.
This is an ideal album for listening to while watching my smeared blotch of winter moonlight swim behind the portentous cloud-bank roiling overhead, but it is easily versatile to be be applied to any such instance where things are not quite what they seem. An accomplished display of hypnotic noise reaching evocative heights, Ghost Picture is an unexpected discovery for me, quickly becoming one of the most enjoyable ambient albums I’ve heard this year.