Friday, 29 July 2011

ANCIENT SPACE


Title: Ancient Space
Format: Cassette tape release on Depressive Illusions Records (Ukraine) in 2011, cat ref cut132. Glossy colour inlay, and a split release with Brazilian band Arvorar.
Edition: 100 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:

Arvorar
01. Transitoriedade 7.51

Saturn Form Essence
02. Ancient Space 5.31

A quick post today to discuss a short - but nonetheless excellent - release on the prolific Depressive Illusions label. This tape features our old favourites SFE (as ever, piloted by the enigmatic S.) and a new band for me: Arvorar from Brazil.

The limited information I have on this latter band (mostly gleaned from their MySpace site) shows that they are most typically described as a 'dark ambient' formation. That description - broad brush as it is - serves to give sufficient information to identify a likely style of song on this release. And indeed, some Vinterriket-esque opening synthesised sequences pave the way to a really fine song, crafted over a background noise of crashing waves and sounds of the ocean, and with an interesting mixture of up-tempo percussion and some nifty keyboard riffs. The end of the song, swathed in silence with that gentle sound of crashing waves, is a very enjoyable experience.

I think it fair to say that the most appropriate complement I can give Arvorar is that I've thoroughly enjoyed their song on this release and will now actively seek out other recordings of theirs.

The SFE song 'Ancient Space' is very short by the usual standards of the band, but lacks nothing in quality or enjoyability for all that. Rather than draw out the track with epic expanses of near-silence or a recreation of the vacuum of space, there is quite a lot going on with its five and a half minute duration for the listener to get a handle on. Interesting wind effects and enigmatic keyboard impulses start proceedings off well, and a moody sense of foreboding and mystery slowly envelops you as the song progresses.

The cover artwork on this tape is rather excellent too, as I hope the photographs at the top of this post will illustrate.

For two bands on either side of the globe to collaborate this successfully is an excellent achievement: whilst both stare out into the abyss looking through very different night skies based on their hemispheres of origin, the unmistakable kinship of ambient art unites them together in a triumphant release.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

ENIGMA


Title: Enigma
Format: Four-way split CDr and tape release from 2010. The CDr pressing was released on the Nazgul Productions & Distro label (Brazil), cat ref NDP002, and the tape on Bosque Produções label (Brazil), the latter label run by Kevera of Northern Forest.
Edition: CDr pressing limited to 20 copies. Tape version unknown

Track Listing:
01. Northern Forest * Summons Winter Night 04:14
02. Vorkh * Agartha 04:26
03. Vorkh * Evoria, The Garden 02:48
04. Saturn Form Essence * Galaxy M31: Andromeda 08:10
05. Levrij * A Fine Line... ( part 2 ) 07:24

This four-way split release brings together an interesting variety of bands from around the globe, revealing some memorable dark ambient soundscapes within its 27 minute duration.

Northern Forest (ironically from the southern forests of Manaus, Brazil) have been around since 2008 and in recent years have put forth a positive deluge of demos in their dark ambient / black metal fuelled attack, covering in their misanthropic lyrics the themes of the seasons, nature, landscapes, and the night-time. I confess to knowing little about fellow Brazilian band Vorkh (save that they managed to sneak two songs onto this release), or Argentinian horde Levrij, but between all three of these bands a splendid racket is created that combines some atmospheric twists and turns with some creative drumming (a pleasant change from the overdone blast-beats too many bands employ) and interesting ambient sections in amidst the hate.

Saturn Form Essence pitch up with the track 'Andromeda' or, to give it its full title, 'Galaxy M31: Andromeda'. Originally released in unusual packaging back in February 2010 (a format that has so far eluded my collection), this track has popped up here and there across other releases - the "Cosmogony" split with Ablaze Eternal being another - and is something of a minor classic of recent SFE recordings. Varied instrumentation - more so than, say, many of the very ambient , ethereal solar-wind style SFE releases can be - gives this song more groove than other tracks from this Ukrainian project, and with that comes a more rounded listening experience. It's still very quiet in places: great, in as far as it conveys the vastness of space, less great if you're attempting to review the song whilst listening to the CD in the car though!

And what do we know of Galaxy M31 itself, after which this song is named? Also known as Messier 31 or NGC 224, and occasionally referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula, Andromeda was formed out of the collision of two smaller galaxies between 5 and 9 billion years ago. It is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda, named after the mythological princess. You will doubtless recall from your education in the Classics that Andromeda, as divine punishment for her mother's bragging (the 'Boast of Cassiopeia') was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. She was saved from death by Perseus, her future husband.

Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, but not the closest galaxy overall. The 2006 observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that M31 contains one trillion (1012) stars, more than the number of stars in our own galaxy, estimated to be around 200-400 billion in total. Neither total comes close to the number of demos from Austrian musician Hugin that have been amassed by the infamous Nazgul, however, secreted away in his Castle in the stars beyond the edge of the universe (left at the roundabout, straight on past the fish and chip shop).

Interestingly the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way are thus expected to collide in about 4.5 billion years, although the details are uncertain since Andromeda's tangential velocity with respect to the Milky Way is only known to within about a factor of two. A likely outcome of the collision is that the galaxies will merge to form a giant elliptical galaxy. If the galaxies do not merge, there is a small chance that the Solar System could be ejected from the Milky Way or join Andromeda. The fate of the Earth and the Solar System in the event of a collision are currently unknown, so if you have pressing business to attend to in 4.5 billion years from now I'd suggest getting your affairs in order sooner rather than later.

Did you also know that Andromeda has featured regularly in sci-fi films and books over the years? In the novel 'Voyage of the Space Beagle' by A.E. Van Vogt for example, the starship (Space Beagle) is sent out by Earth to investigate alien life forms. When it reaches the Andromeda Galaxy, it encounters an enormous disembodied life form called S. - no, wait, called The Anabis - that covers the entire galaxy. The Anabis turns planets into jungle planets because it lives off the life force of living beings when they die and jungle planets have the highest rate of 'ecological energetics'. Since "The Anabis" has destroyed civilized planets in this way, the crew of the starship devises a way to defeat this being.

In the 1968 Star Trek episode "By Any Other Name", the starship Enterprise is hijacked by Kelvans, aliens from an empire spanning the Andromeda Galaxy; their home galaxy was approaching an uninhabitable state and thus they aimed to conquer our own. In another episode, "I, Mudd" the lead android says their creators were humanoids from Andromeda. The galaxy also features in Blakes 7, Doctor Who and, perhaps most oddly, in the seventh episode in the first series of the British comedy sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus, where blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the Andromeda galaxy were a major plot point and, I seem to recall, converted people into stereotypical Scotsmen in order to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament...

All of which is very interesting but has little bearing on the grim musical machinations generated on this release. Sadly there seems to be no internet coverage of the demo worth shaking a stick at, so you're stuck with me for the last word on this particular release.

An "Enigma", aside from being a WWII German code-making device, can be defined as a type of riddle generally expressed in radical or allegorical language that requires ingenuity and careful thinking for its solution. There really isn't much careful thinking involved in whether you should seek out a copy of this demo for your listening pleasure though: it's a good one, you should buy a copy. Simple enough, really...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

CYDONIA


Title: Cydonia
Format: Cassette release on the Depressive Illusion Records label (Ukraine) from 2011, cat ref cut234. This is a split release with Anhedonia (Russia). The SFE website dedicates this release to the planet Mars.
Edition: Limited to 119 hand-numbered copies

Track Listing:
SFE
01. Cydonia Mensae
02. Sadness Of Mars
Anhedonia
03. Newer
04. Loneliness

The name "Cydonia" has a multitude of references across both cultural and earth-science bases.

For instance: Cydonia was the goddess of heroic endeavour in Greek mythology; is a location in Crete; is a monotypic genus of flowering plants in family Rosaceae, containing only the fruit tree Cydonia oblonga (quince); and is a main belt asteroid (1106 Cydonia). It's also turns out to be a popular subject in music, being the title of a 2001 album by The Orb; a song by British rock band Muse (Knights of Cydonia) and in 'Hunting and Gathering (Cydonia)' by Sunn O))) from 2009, and also included in a a song by British symphonic black metal band, Bal-Sagoth Beneath the Crimson Vaults of Cydonia (2006).

Perhaps more familiarly, however, Cydonia is known as a famous region of the planet Mars - the so-called 'Face on Mars' In this latter context it has attracted both scientific and popular interest. The name originally referred to the albedo feature (distinctively coloured area) that was visible from Earthbound telescopes. The area borders plains of Acidalia Planitia and the Arabia Terra highlands and includes the Mars regions: "Cydonia Mensae", an area of flat-topped mesa-like features, "Cydonia Colles", a region of small hills or knobs, and "Cydonia Labyrinthus", a complex of intersecting valleys.

As with other albedo features on Mars, the name Cydonia was drawn from classical antiquity, in this case from Kydonia, a historic polis (or "city-state") on the island of Crete. Cydonia contains the infamous "face on Mars" feature — located about half-way between Arandas Crater and Bamberg Crater.

The face is featured on the cover artwork for this release, and to some is evidence of intelligent design and thus proof of life beyond Earth. To others, it is a chance formation of rock and not a question of design but interpretation into a familiar pattern by the eye and brain. The "face on Mars" (about 1.5 kilometers - one mile - across), has had special notoriety in Western culture since it was imaged in 1976, because it looks, well... like a face.

When it was first imaged, and into the 21st century, the "Face" is near universally accepted to be an optical illusion, an example of pareidolia. After analysis of the higher resolution Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that "a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination". Similar optical illusions can be found in the geology of Earth; examples include the Old Man of the Mountain, the Pedra da Gávea, the Old Man of Hoy and the Badlands Guardian. Conversely, the Cydonia facial pareidolia inspired individuals and organizations interested in extraterrestrial intelligence and visitations to Earth, and the images were published in this context in 1977.

Some commentators, most notably Richard C. Hoagland, believe the "Face" to be evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization along with other features they believe are present, such as apparent pyramids, which they argue are part of a ruined city. Sceptics point out that there are other faces on Mars, often much clearer, but their images do not elicit the same level of study. An example is the Galle Crater, which can show a rendition of a smiley, or a profile of Kermit the Frog and the ESA "skull" formation, which is a few kilometres south of the "Face".

Such musings over galactic mysteries are the perfect way to spend your time whilst drifting through space listening to the combined tracks of Saturn Form Essence and Anhedonia (the latters name defined, by the way, as "the inability to experience pleasure from activities formerly found enjoyable, e.g. hobbies, exercise, social interaction or sexual activity"). To clarify further, this is the Russian 'drone space ambient' Anhedonia, not the Swedish Black Metal band or the Mexican Doom Metal band. Alas, there are so many pigeon-holes in metal nowadays, it must be said...

The first challenge to overcome with this release is to determine which side is which:the tape is blank, and my copy came part wound through with no indication of which side is A or B, let alone which band corresponds with it! A random rewind and press of play sooon reveals the unmistakeable tones of Saturn Form Essence, with both tracks accentuated by the general drone and general ambience of a trip through the heavens, speeding at the rate of a trapped fly passing slowly through a block of amber.

Anhedonia's songs are a little more varied, to the extent of using samples of narrative from (presumably) film scores: not an experience that proves unlistenable by any margin, but not my personal preference in this context.

Should you wish to play tribute to the red planet, Mars, then the purchase and aural consumption of this particular tape would set you far down the path of righteousness....