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Monnik – Vondeling

monnikMonnik’s a one-man project, and this debut release features two tracks for a total of almost forty minutes. “Vondeling” opens with an incredibly basic but inviting guitar tune, followed by a magical variation of a few measures, which are then looped the hell out of for minutes on end. Yet not a single moment does it sound too repetitive, as underlying synth layers wax and wane gradually. The guitar then surrenders in silence to an upcoming dissonance, that sounds like a vague mist where nothing dares thread.
“Het vlakke land” follows a similar pattern – eerie, strung-out synths are the foundation for a few guitar-based sounds, simple plucked tunes, slides and other such effects. It’s not until the final section of this track that Monnik strays away from dulcet melodies to really gritty noise, devoid of anything agreeable. A climax in gray emptiness.
What Monnik produced has more distinct features than most drone/soundscape stuff (in this case the very real guitar plucking). It’s really something to hold onto during a listening session, but on the other hand, the remainder of the soundscape is a bit meagre. It’s like a painting on which not all details are yet finished – some strokes are missing, although you can already perfectly recognize what the painting depicts. At heart however, the music does what it’s supposed to do: lure you into your own imaginary world.

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Dirk Serries – Unseen descending and lamentations

dirkserriesThe latest solo album by Dirk Serries is plainly “one track per side”, a little over twenty minutes each. For lack of titles, let’s take #1 to start with. Here, Serries evokes an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere through those typical thick synth lines. It’s splendid how little there’s going on (in terms of story, or a climax) but even then how easily one gets mesmerized. There’s a multitude of these synth sounds, each arising out of nothing and fading back into silence – that’s what makes it feel like something’s happening. But they overlap so smoothly and constantly, so that once you’re floating on these cloudy layers, you’re not getting off. Amidst this and zooming and fluttering, time quickly passes by until the song deteriorates into a single, bassy, vibrant soundwave.
#2 contains more inherent contrasts and is thus the more interesting track. A very light base layer of noise opens the way for a simple droning bass line (two notes?), but it’s a perfect setup for creating an enchanting effect and for supporting the melodies in the higher registers. Slowly but surely, #2 grows broader, fuller and distorted, relentlessly demanding all your focus. Just as the spectrum becomes too crowded and intense, a quick decrescendo finishes the vision.
I’m no expert when it comes to Serries’ discography, but the qualities of “Unseen descending and lamentations” make for a worthwile release, undoubtedly.

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Kali Yuga – Kali Yuga

kaliThe band’s name sounds familiar to me, and indeed, upon digging in the archives I have found my reviews for their 2011 and 2013 releases as well. It seems they have shifted more towards melodic death metal and reduced the metalcore touches (what’s left of them is disguised as melodic metal). That’s one of my tips they’ve taken to heart. And there’s another advice they seem to have read: finally, the drummer’s tossing in some decorative and creative hits, beyond the ordinary patterns. So little effort and so much positive vibes for the active listener.
The gritty guitars appear to be downtuned quite a few steps, and thus easily manage to construct yet another solid wall of classic sounding death metal. Lots of power chords and lots of melodic lines – it’s an incredibly smooth album to listen to. But smooth also means traditional, in the sense that many of the lead parts are rather cheesy and mundane. A simple approach, but one that works: that’s what counts, right?
As far as I can judge my own reviews after a few reviews, this self-titled release is Kali Yuga’s best: more complete musicianship produced powerful songs that in the end do manage to surpass a predictable, mediocre level.
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Dirk Serries & Rutger Zuydervelt – Buoyant

dirkserriesDirk Serries has, over the decades, worked on numerous projects and countless releases. It’s therefore no surprise that in 2015 (so far) he’s featured in two new albums: one solo (which will be subject of another review) and one where he’s teamed up with Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), another soundscaping artist with an ever-growing oeuvre.
As I’m getting to know more bands and albums in the ambient/drone/soundscape genre, my preference for these instrumental and rhythmless tracks seems to be determined by a single question: does the music paint a scene so clearly that I can immediately visualize it? Basically, the same experience as with impressionistic composers: no clear-cut onset or ending for a scene in which life steadily comes and goes. (Even though the artist could have an entirely different idea or reason, of course.)

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Le Seul Element – Meradiam

leseulThis release has a sense of singularity to it. The CD is wrapped in impressionistic and abstract artwork, with the booklet’s blurry pictures each representing a track. And you could describe those tracks with the exact same words: blurry, abstract and impressionistic. The French composer is a master-soundscaper, but with a particular focus on noise and piano.
That’s to say, these elements give Le Seul Element its key sound. Many passages are still – dare I say it – traditional soundscaping, with drawn-out guitar notes and ambient sounds. But regularly enough, either noise or classical piano fragments are injected. The piano is truly mesmerizing (partly because it uses silence to its advantage) and, although it is surrounded by melancholy and emptiness, encourages a feeling of hope and expectation. Fear not, with ghostly echoes and grinding noise these dreams are quickly shattered and some sections are turned into difficult obstacles. In true impressionist vein, the songs do not have a clearcut beginning or ending, nor a strong climax. Still, each one does summon a certain emotion or invites you into a trance-like enchantment. Very recommendable, especially because on a few occasions you’ll hear vocals or even drums; both perfectly fitting although they’re gone as swiftly as they’ve come.
Great album – I’d say you need to be in a specific state of mind to enjoy it, but Meradiam simply ensures you’ll be getting to that state of mind in a matter of minutes.

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Vermillion – Sentience

vermillionI flipped open the (highly qualitative) digipack before reading any promo about this album. On two inside panels, a story is told, spanning all the tracks. Cool to read, even. I then guessed (correctly) that Sentience is an instrumental album – that’s always promising and a question mark at the same time.
These guys attempt to mix progressive metal with fusion and djent elements. Now, the mixing itself does not seem like an issue. All kinds of waves are pulsing out of my speakers: heavy 8-string djenting with seemingly odd time signatures (but those are probably in 4/4 like Meshuggah’s). Or how about a complex, counterintuitive drumbeat to jazz things up? Or some soundscaping with nicely layered guitar effects and electronica? And those minor sounding guitar leads are sweet too, a great vocal replacement but so typical of instrumental progressive music.

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