Artist: Razing Darkness
Album: Nihilist Kaleidoscope
Genre: Drone, Noise, Dark Ambient, Experimental
So here I sit in front of my computer, waiting rather impatiently for an album to download from the Internet Archive (really slow.) The band name is self-contradictory (Razing = Demolishing, so the name translates to destroying evil. Is this a Christian band?) and the album title is pretentious even by my standards (I listen to Black Metal. Need I say more?) Before even hearing it, there’s a lot going against this album. Will the music rise above in this case? We can only hope so.
Call me old-fashioned all you want, but I’ve never bought into this digital media revolution. I do not nor will I ever own an iPod or any other mp3 player for that matter, and the only times I listen to music on a computer is for reviews, for checking mix translations, and for checking out an artist before I buy their works so I can listen to them on a good system. So, the fact that Nihilist Kaleidoscope is download-only is a bit insulting in this respect. As a consumer, I feel violated and discriminated against because the only way I can hear this work is by suffering through the horror that is mp3 encoding. In this day of dirt-cheap CD pressing, easy distribution, and online record labels such as Café Press and CDBaby, this is just inexcusable. A fan wants to walk away with something tangible, not a piece of data. I’ll give the guy credit for at least including artwork in the download package, but it’s really not up to snuff. The front cover is a 1600 x 800 image (fold over to make insert), so upon printing, it will become horribly pixilated. The actual art is very simplistic, but not in a minimalist/artistic way. It just looks like somebody took some star pictures and got way too carried away with MS Paint. Even the font looks like it was just slapped on in Paint. No professionalism whatsoever in this respect. To add insult to injury, the back cover is a 400 x 400 image with no spines and no writing of any kind. Not even so much as a copyright. Overall, Razing Darkness gives the impression that he just really couldn’t be bothered with such a ‘small’ detail like artwork.
Composition: 4 /10
One of the things I’ve always admired about the ambient music genre is it’s ability to be repetitive while still enthralling the listener. Compositional changes are next to none, but little things like instrument morphs, filter abuse, evolving effects, and little touches of ‘sparkle’ that keep the listener interested. Dark Ambient music is still in it’s infancy as far as what is and isn’t possible, but is inherently in a more difficult situation musically as it has to achieve what the ambient genre has instilled while still keeping something ‘dark’ to it, generally by it’s usage of the darker musical modes such as Phrygian, Minor, and Aeolian and by using harsher sounds. In spite of the amount of variety between songs on Nihilist Kaleidoscope though, there’s little new territory being explored. For an ‘experimental’ album, it stays in very safe territories. It’s like watching a horror movie that takes place in an insane asylum. Sounds like a great idea at first, but now imagine the movie’s protagonist has started the movie by stopping at the security desk and locking all the cells from said desk with her own key. Okay, there’s still room for some chills and spills right? Well, now she has just checked all the security cameras and everybody is in their cells where they belong. There is no chance of a lunatic coming after her. So now, she’s traversing the halls from one end of the building to the other. But we at least get to have her peek into the windows and get one of those hokey scares from somebody jumping out at her, right? Nope. Well, she’s mentally unstable and is struggling with her own mind, right? Sorry to disappoint, but that’s another negative. So what’s the point of watching this movie? Well, that’s pretty much what you’re going to be saying while listening to this album. What’s the point? It’s got a nice environment to venture forth and try new things, but rarely takes the chance. It’s very formulaic and brings nothing new to the table. Filtered noise and low synths are all well and dandy, but when taken on their own, it gets very monotonous. Nihilist Kaleidoscope pretty much comes down to being a series of long repetitive passages with nary a surprise along the way.
Being the production snob that I am, the first thing I notice about Nihilist Kaleidoscope is the high signal to noise ratio. Now, I am a huge fan of tape recording and boast to all my friends how much I use my Teac open reel recorder whether they want to hear about it or not. Since tape is a very touchy medium, I can easily forgive a little tape hiss. This is about what it sounds like at first. After the second track though, it becomes apparent that this album was recorded in the digital domain, so this high amount of noise is just ridiculous. What this tells me is that Razing Darkness has a weak signal chain with some really bad conversion in there somewhere. As for mastering, nobody knows where the artist got the idea that it wasn’t mandatory, because there obviously is none involved. The album was recorded very hot, the peaks go into clipping territory on occasion, and it’s very obvious that normalizing meant letting the computer do that for him rather than doing it the right way and using one’s ears to balance out mixes. Just in listening to this, I had to ride the volume control for every song. EQ is a foreign concept on this album as well. The treble can get ear-piercing at times and very sharp. No roll-off on either end of the spectrum at all. The mixing was about the only redeeming factor of this Nihilist Kaleidoscope’s production. Admittedly, each part gels together nicely when you’re not considering the above mentioned problems with the mix as a whole. When it came to the panning, it felt like Razing Darkness had just discovered what these magical knobs do in terms of over-abusing certain panning effects. Overall, the mix helps a lot, but the poor mastering makes this album really hard to sit through.
Artistic Merit: 2/10
It’s very hard to listen to this album and feel that there’s any sort of artistry going on. It fails to innovate, but reiterates themes that any fan of the genre has heard multiple times before, right down to the ever-so cliché track involving footsteps, waterfalls, and birds chirping. If you just want to hear the same old thing you’ve heard before, download this album. If you want something new, look elsewhere because for an experimental artist, Razing Darkness comes off as quite monotonous.
Nihilist Kaleidoscope has no flow to it whatsoever. As alluded to in the production section of this review, the lack of proper mastering makes it hard to judge this piece as an entire album, but rather a collection of mal-adapted singles. Compositionally, there is no glue between the different tracks. Stops and starts of songs are abrupt.
Overall Rating: 2.5/10
As human beings, we like to believe that first impressions aren’t always correct, but in the case of Razing Darkness’s mindless opus where ambient music’s avant-garde attitude was thrown out the window in favor of accepted norms, first impressions were a sign that I should have found something better to do than to review this album. While it did have good mixing for the most part, the production, mastering, and relentless repetition caused this piece to fall flat on it’s face. I think the title of the last track on Nihilist Kaleidoscope summarizes the album pretty well: “What Else is There?” Perhaps this is the question which Razing Darkness should have posed to himself during the creation of this album as the answer may have presented him with a more forward-thinking piece of art rather than an expedition into meandering dullness.