Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast, God Body Disconnect – Miles to Midnight

Cryo Chamber, 2018

Collaborations are nothing new for the prolific Cryo Chamber label, but Miles to Midnight is notably different. Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast return, fresh from last year’s Black Corner Den, and are joined by God Body Disconnect for what is described as a “foggy noir” album. There’s a skeletal conceptual narrative on Cryo Chamber’s bandcamp page for the album – a downtrodden detective and a hotel harboring secrets – but it wisely leaves the details to the listener. It’s an immediately intriguing angle on the dark ambient formula, especially given the contributors, but Miles to Midnight is not what one might expect.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the album is how natural it sounds; a remarkable feat, given its minimalist structure. Immediately apparent is its attention to tempo, set by light snare drums that give the music shape. The title track sets the tone perfectly, as the shuffling percussion is draped in a wispy veil of toned and dusty ambiance. “A Thousand Empty Rooms” is graced by a delicate piano loop that, when mixed with the drum’s lazy tempo and sparse atmosphere, creates a surprisingly relaxing atmosphere, guiding us through drifting dust motes and dusky light trickling through yellowed windowpanes. Its sparse elements belie the thick mood, and it startles with its unified vision.

The tension tightens ever so slightly on “Scene of the Crime,” but this is the only place where Miles to Midnight ventures into familiar dark ambient territory. It’s understandable, given the title, but this is the exception. “Floor 6, Please” returns to the established template; it’s largely sly bass tones and piano backed by strolling distant drums, with clever atmosphere emerging and fading like buildings glimpsed through dense fog. Given its powerful feel, it’s too bad the track’s just three minutes long. Crowd samples abound on “The Other Lobby,” and it’s here that the album becomes its most spectral, drawing clearly from The Humming Tapes, the static-drowned, electro-seance album from Cities Last Broadcast. Even here, the tendencies aren’t as bleak, eventually morphing seamlessly to meditative rather than haunting via calming synths, though the spirits do linger nearby.

Miles to Midnight becomes increasingly alien as it progresses. “The Sleep Ensemble” is a strange collage of looped tones, bizarre samples, and distant scuttling, but like the album as a whole, it’s draped in a sepia warmth, muting any foreboding elements and replacing threat with mystery. Plucked guitar headlines the dreamlike and hypnotically rendered “Quiet Days on Earth”, merged organically with reverential keyboards and nudged along by subterranean bass chords and fragile snares.

Miles to Midnight challenges and guides the listener, revealing its hidden secrets one track at a time, as we wander its dim halls and explore its forgotten corners. Repeated listens reveal its clever sound design and arrangement, and new details present themselves as elusive fragments of the overarching enigma. Miles to Midnight is an ambient journey that is neither ominous nor foreboding, but unusually and irresistibly inviting.

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Various – Cthulhu

Cryo Chamber (CRYO 009), 2014

I don’t normally listen to (or review) various-artist compilations, because they’re often so fragmented due to the, well, variety of artists and styles on hand.  I also consider it a little unfair (not to mention difficult) to write about an artist based on a single track.

For Cthulhu, however, I made an exception.

First and foremost, this collaboration, composed of artists from the Cryo Chamber dark ambient label, is one eighty-minute track.  Nice, right?  Rather than having each of the twelve artists contribute a single track, their work was merged together, fused under the notorious banner of Cthulhu, perhaps the most well-known of H.P. Lovecraft’s ravening alien monstrosities.  This album is even being described by the label as a single; cute.  Now here’s a different kind of collaboration, I thought, and beyond the fact I’m a long-time Lovecraft fan, the unusual format of Cthulhu made me immediately curious.

Here, then, is a list of the twelve contributors:  Alt3r3d Stat3, Alphaxone, Aseptic Void, Atrium Carceri, Cryobiosis, Halgrath, Neizvestija, Ugasanie, Mystified, Asbaar, Dark Matter, and last but not least, Sjellos.  The only artist whose music I’d heard prior to this release was Atrium Carceri (aka Simon Heath, the head of Cryo Chamber), and the only other I’d heard of at all was Dark Matter.  As a result, it occurred to me that without separate track listings, I’d very likely be unable to discern between artists as the single track progressed.  For the record, I’m assuming the artists appear on Cthulhu in the order I listed above, as I took the list directly from the Cryo Chamber website.

However, I can now say that without prior knowledge, I’d have guessed Cthulhu to be the work of a single artist.  Lengthy one-track dark ambient albums are nothing new (Phaenon, Tholen, etc), and while Cthulhu follows the same format, the effect is very different.  Perhaps I’m just not schooled enough to be able to distinguish between the technology or styles in use, but it sounds to me that Cthulhu doesn’t feature very much diversity, despite having a diverse roster of artists on board.  Or so I thought; perhaps the artists here just aren’t as diverse as I imagined (or hoped).  There are lapses into silence during the eighty-minute playtime, too, which makes me wonder if the artist was switching, while also wondering that perhaps Cthulhu really isn’t a single collaborative track anyway, and…..

Perhaps you can guess where I’m going.  The music on Cthulhu just doesn’t hold my attention.  It’s solid dark ambient, true, but it does little to separate itself from the melange of genre norms:  expansive drones, drawn-out bells, flickering atmospheres, and massive slow keys.  If you’ve heard any good dark ambient album, you’ve heard Cthulhu.  Surprisingly, too, Cthulhu doesn’t seem to mirror the cosmic amorphous horror of its namesake; the mood is remarkably tame.  It’s almost peaceful in places, which makes me think this is an album of reverence, but I wouldn’t think reverence of Cthulhu would sound quite so….calming.

Only during its last twenty minutes does the album wander into oppression and chaos, and even then, it doesn’t stay for long.  Cthulhu also has very brief moments of garbled vocals and sampled weirdness – in particular something that sounds like an enraged elephant around the 70th minute – but these are too few and very much far between.  To my ears, acts like Flint Glass and Maculatum are able to reflect the Lovecraftian with a good deal more accuracy.

I want to like Cthulhu more than I do.  When it comes to dark ambient, the concept is right up my alley, and the format is intriguing enough to pique my interest in a major way.  Taken at face value, however, this album is a by-the-numbers dark ambient release that doesn’t involve me enough to keep my mind from wandering….which is the last thing I’m looking for in this genre.