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Friday, October 17, 2008

Sempervirens - "Dirge Of The Dying Year"

Artist: Sempervirens
Album: Dirge of the Dying Year
Year: 2008
Label: Stellar Auditorium
Genre: Dark Ambient
Website: ?

Packaging: 8/10
I was excited to see some interesting packaging ideas employed by Sempervirens. The album is packaged in a normal CD case, but instead of getting a booklet you get a different insert for each track. There are 8 tracks, so basically you have four 2-sided inserts each with a track title on them and a graphic; you can switch them around to have any of then as the ‘cover’. Each picture is done pretty well, the only one that sucks is ’The Moon Of Misfortune’ which just looks like a crappy finger-painting and has nothing to do with the track title. The rest are more or less good embodiments of their respective title.

Composition: 8/10
Dirge of a Dying Year brought me back to the feeling that I had when I first listened to dark ambient so many years ago. Sempervirens is able to capture the sounds of years and centuries past to create an epic album capturing the sounds of the old world. One thing that I really like about the album is that, in this age of so many exclusively digital recordings, he has made something that sounds genuinely ancient and natural. Sempervirens does an excellent job blending sounds of nature (sampled water, wind, etc) with synthesized sounds (pads, etc). Even though sounds like the pads are obviously not organic, they have a very thick, warm and natural sound to them. I am also thankful that this is not a minimal drone album, which seems to be popular to make. This is instead a very intricate and deep work of progressive ambient music. Every track has many elements and parts to it, and they shift their momentum slowly throughout their gradual unwinding. Tracks like ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ start off one way and you assume the track will go in a certain direction or have a certain type of sound, but then it quickly changes pace and instead takes you down into a very different corridor. So even though it’s not overly revolutionary in terms of sound or composition, it’s not totally linear either. However, just about all the tracks end up taking the listener to a very dark organic world of sound, so despite changing they never go totally off-base and out into leftfield (which I think is good in this case, as when I hear this I want to hear solid organic dark ambient rather than hearing something that veers way off the path into annoying other territory like noise or bad folk) Overall a deep, rich listening experience that has the ability to transport you to darker, bleaker places in time.

Production: 7/10
Dirge of the Dying Year doesn’t have the best mixing and mastering ever, but it’s quite good for a dark ambient album. The mixing is done very well and for the most part all of the elements sit well in the mix and blend together without drowning each other out. The album has a huge deep droning low end to it, but it is never overpowering, as there are plenty of mid and high frequency items to keep the mix balanced. There are some sounds that are most likely from field recording, clanking sounds and so forth, that stick out and sound a bit clunky in the mix, but what can you really do to process that kind of sound? The only real negative aspect is that I think it could have had better mastering which would have filled out the mixes and given it an absolutely colossal feel.

Artistic Merit: 5/10
There is nothing hugely new or revolutionary for ambient music here, but it is a lot more interesting and complex than many of it’s contemporaries.

Flow: 7/10
Overall the album has a pretty decent flow to it. Since all of the tracks are primarily focused heavily on slow moving dark textures, the tracks move along nicely, building up and breaking down slowly and very rarely abruptly or disjointedly; as pieces of a whole the tracks very easily transition from one into another. Occasionally though there are radically different sections, such as the beginning of ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ and ‘I Remember Everything…’ which tend to throw the listener off pace and seemingly have little to do with the rest of the album. However there is thankfully nothing totally drastic such as a totally harsh noise track to ruin the general direction of the album.

Overall: 8/10
Overall, I would recommend Dirge Of The Dying Year to any fan of dark and organic ambient. While what is contained on this record is not overly unique or drastically revolutionary, Sempervirens does an excellent job of crafting a rich, full, monolithic work in a genre where it is so easy to throw together a couple field recordings and call it an album. Each track has it’s own identity and is able to capture the listener and slowly pull back the veil of a distant world for them to inhabit, however briefly, while as a whole the album is able to work as a cohesive collection of mini-worlds that are all in fact pieces of the larger galaxy that is Dirge Of The Dying Year. Not an absolute must have, but definitely a ’you should check this out’ record.

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