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The Word As Power Joseph Burnett , July 26th, 2013 08:04

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Dark ambient has rarely impressed me as a genre, with each release tagged under the style merely seeming to be engaged in a tiresome battle to outdo other releases in the massive bleakness stakes, but without the dynamism and aggression of other "dark" genres such as doom metal or noise. But, if anyone has put forward dark ambient as a relevant and significant genre, it's Brian Williams, aka Lustmord. Over the years, he has racked up an impressive tally of critically-praised albums, with 1995's joint album with Robert Rich, Stalker, a notable high point.

The Word As Power is one of the boldest steps forward in Lustmord's entire canon, focusing as it does on the human voice over the usual dark ambient tropes such as synthesizers and guitars. Each track on the album seems like a capsule of time and atmosphere that lingers outside of actual time and space, existing in its own universe where the boundaries of language are surreptitiously blurred and the songs that ensue and imbued with a beautiful sense of mystery.

It helps that Williams has brought together a stellar cast of vocalists, including Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Jarboe, formerly of Swans. In the capable hands of these singers, the songs, be they wordless mantras or incantatory half-chants, are given a potency bordering on the sacred, although this is a religious fervour steeped in oblique, shady paganism. I can imagine Julian Cope or Genesis P-Orridge digging The Word As Power. With the vocals given centre stage, the music of Lustmord is elevated beyond mere "darkness" and is offered as something transcendental or deeply meaningful, the clear, crystalline simplicity of the compositions belying the length of time - five years - it took Williams to create this work.

In this context, it takes a while for the musical force behind The Word As Power to sink in, as it is easy to get absorbed into the layered voices and hear nothing else. But Williams works well within the parameters set by focusing on vocals, allowing them to billow, even soar, by sketching out a musical background as emphatic as it is unobtrusive. The first two tracks, 'Babel' and 'Goetia' centre on the voices, both sounding like more sinister takes on The Bulgarian Voices and Tuvan throat singing, evoking the timeless melancholy of Angelite and Huun Huur-Tu's Fly, Fly My Sadness, only recorded in an underground cave.

The abstract vocalisations reverberate and double up on themselves, surrounded by murky sub-bass and almost imperceptible electronics. On the lengthy 'Chorazin', however, Williams makes his presence more palpable, with grim, slow-moving electronic textures and subdued rumbles cushioning the mournful vocals in layers of malignant drone. You could imagine any of these seven tracks serving as the soundtrack to an atmospheric horror film, one where the anchors of modern life are ripped away from the protagonists, leaving them untethered in a world as alien as it is terrifying.

Lustmord's music takes its time, but it's hard not to get absorbed into its shadowy netherworld, even if all meaning and sense in there stay resolutely out of focus.

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Jul 27, 2013 12:57pm

Looking forward to hearing this. That was a bit of a blithe putdown of dark ambient as a genre at the start, though - I recommend Steve Roach. Something to fall into. Great sound design.

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Jul 28, 2013 12:19am

Your initial paragraph is ignorant beyond belief and certainly not fit for this website. If you think the whole 'dark ambient' genre (meaningless description, in most cases) is just people trying to outdo others in the darkness stakes, you are nothing but clueless. I can not put it any simpler than that.

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Joseph B
Jul 28, 2013 11:38am

In reply to bob:

Well, bob, I do not mind being proven wrong if it means discovering good music, so please tell me where I'm going wrong. I did use the words "seeming to be engaged", which means they may not be trying to outdo one another, but that's the impression I get. I've listened to a lot of music tagged as 'Dark Ambient' (so I do not think I am "clueless", as you put it, just of different tastes to you), and found the genre to be rather dull and listless, but if you'd like to share some suggestions on music I may have missed that would change my view of the matter, then I am all ears.

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Jul 29, 2013 7:35am

It would probably be worth taking a look at the Loki Foundation label acts Inade and Herbst9 as a starting point to change your view. While Lustmord was adding unhelpful guitar strumming to his albums in the last decade, they have been a much more reliable choice.

Good to hear a return to form from Lustmord though.

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Joseph B
Aug 14, 2013 10:33pm

In reply to raedarius:

Thank you for the recommendations, Raedarius. I will check those out. I love Stalker, so have always remained open-minded about dark ambient, just so far underwhelmed. The Stranger, by Leyland Kirby of The Caretaker fame, is one of the few acts operating (loosely) in the field, but I am pleased to have a chance to expand my experience...

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Aug 17, 2013 6:01pm

In reply to Joseph B:

Dark ambient is as varied as any musical style. Inade or Herbst9 represent a type of esoteric or cosmic ambient music, then you have more ritual types of music with what Anti Haapapuro does with all his entities on Aural Hypnox, then you have the strong and well known Scandinavian scene with Raison D'être, Desiderii Marginis, Northaunt, etc... mostly known to incorporate elements of nature or religion into their sound (the French do it quite well to with bands such as Othila, Asmorod or Lambwool), there's also an electronic instrument based approach with Troum/Maeror Tri who basically created a sub-genre by themselves, and last but not least a more "new age" approach, with a genius who unfortunately passed away recently, the Italian Oöphoi, or other artists such as Alio Die or Klaus Wiese. And while there are certainly artists that only seem to do subsonic bass with a rubbish metaphysic concept as justification, it's hard not to get past this minority. But yeah first having a go at Inade - Colliding Dimensions or Herbst9 - Buried under time and sand wouldn't be a bad idea.

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Dec 17, 2013 12:28pm


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Dec 25, 2014 5:36am


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Jul 31, 2015 4:58am

Thank you for the recommendations, Raedarius

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Nov 7, 2016 11:48am


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