After that last review of Razing Darkness, I was a bit burned out on the dark ambient genre to say the least. So when my boss gave me this piece with the unpronounceable album title that was labeled as ‘dark ambient’, elation was quite the opposite of what I was feeling staring at my inbox. In this world of dime a dozen dark ambient artists, finding something new and exciting is near impossible. The pessimist in me already hates Papyri, but only going through the album will be the final judge of how Spectacvlvm Horarvm stands up.
So after downloading and unzipping the album package (conveniently delivered as a YouSendIt file, so it came very quickly as opposed to the hours of waiting on the last review) I have to say for a digital package, I’m very impressed. The mp3’s are very well labeled both with artist name, album title, track name and even track number. Most impressive of all is the artwork which came with the package. The files themselves are formatted to where no pixilation would occur if printed for distribution, a lot of effort was put in to make it look very professional, and most important of all, the artwork is memorable. I wish I had Papyri’s web site because I have a feeling that somewhere, he is offering hard copies of this album. The only negative I can even think of is that it wasn’t delivered for review as a hard copy, but with the level of professionalism and enthusiasm that went into this piece (the back cover template even has spines!) it’s still very exciting and pleasing to the eyes.
It feels somewhat wrong to keep comparing Papyri to my last review like this, but I feel that Razing Darkness could have learned a lot from this album. Everything that Razing Darkness was, Papyri is not. Dark ambient as a genre has a lot of room for flexibility, and what I love most about this album is that it doesn’t stick to any specific stereotype. From the very first track, surprises abound. It starts out with your typical annoying drone as so many dark ambient pieces do, but then a hard panned bell comes out of nowhere and the drone begins to evolve taking on characteristics of choirs, winds, synthetics, and then most interestingly of all, begins to actually change pitch! Yes, this album has melody! The horror movie analogy holds true here in that it does in fact have moments where it is not afraid to try the unheard of and at some moments even takes the chance to truly frighten. The usage of acoustic instrumentations is very inspiring and I think if given the chance, this could be one of those albums that many will try to copy in the way that somebody like Daft Punk is continuously ripped off both stylistically and artistically. From beginning to end, this album manages to keep you on your toes, add all sorts of new atmospheres unheard of in the genre, and even managed to keep a casual fan like myself interested from beginning to end. In fact, the train sounds at the beginning of The Mayan Circles of [Inexistent] Time have left me befuddled. It starts out sounding like a steam engine accelerating, and then mutates into this amazing harmonic sound that is just indescribable. Truly inspirational! There was never a dull moment in listening to this album. In fairness, I’m trying really hard to think of a way to not give this album compositionally a ten, but I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it. In fact, just since I got to this paragraph, I’ve already heard the album twice! It truly is a gem of an album.
Like with the composition, it’s really hard to say anything to snub Papyri’s production here. There’s no background noise, the recording is very high quality, the samples used are very well tamed so that they never stick out, the mixing is spot on and translates to multiple systems very well, and the mastering is great. There’s never a harsh frequency to worry about or a smeared low end. The only thing that might possibly be construed as a complaint is that it is mastered kind of low, but as many experienced engineers will tell you, this is actually better than getting into the now infamous ‘loudness wars’ because not so many dynamics would have to be tamed and mastering would then become a true creative process. In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this album wasn’t mastered at all because as well as this was recorded, this is one of those rare instances where mastering really isn’t absolutely necessary. Speaking as an analog snob, this is one of those albums that blurs the lines and asks the question of how much would this album actually have benefited from a VCA compressor or open reel recording. In my opinion, it stands very well without it. Papyri put a lot of time and effort into making this masterpiece, and it shows.
Artistic Merit: 9/10
If you’re already sick of my kissing Papyri’s ass, you may want to skip this paragraph. What can I say about Papyri that I haven’t already hinted at before? He took an experimental genre which in spite of its boundless ideals has become a quagmire of clichés and mutated it into this incredible ride of an album. He has accomplished everything in a musical journey that anybody could ever hope to achieve in bringing freshness, originality, textures, and surprise to this living piece of art.
Papyri built a perfect flow here. The mastering keeps everything glued together perfectly and in spite of the variety between songs, they mesh together very well.
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
I’m so glad I took on the challenge of reviewing another dark ambient album because Papyri’s Spectacvlvm Horarvm was quite the adventure and a pleasure to absorb from start to finish. From that mesmerizing opening drone to the final track where clocks come together with one of the most haunting brass orchestrations I’ve ever heard, this is an album that comes highly recommended, and not just to fans of dark ambient. It feels too short and leaves me hungry for more. Speaking as somebody who generally takes anything coming from ambient music as a whole with a grain of salt, this is an amazing piece of art. Record labels take note: YOU NEED PAPYRI!!!