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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gloom Seance - The Black Vault

Artist: Gloom Séance
Album: The Black Vault
Year: 2008
Schwarzton Records
Dark Ambient

I’ve been going out of my way to avoid reviewing dark ambient albums lately but alas, I have a bit of an overflow of them in my inbox. It’s not that I don’t like the genre. Quite the opposite actually, artists like Papyri have taught me to love what is possible within the realm of this particular niche. I’ve been avoiding it because a lot of people seem to be under the impression that this is easy music to make and as such, there are a lot of not-so-well-thought out pieces of schlock horror albums that alternate from the spectrum of horribly produced, to flat out boring. Will this album disappoint as so many others have or is it possible that this artist from Vatican City will rise out of the mire?

Packaging: 6.5/10

After downloading and unpacking the .rar file, the first thing that strikes me as very well thought out is the general layout of the file. The art files are in the root directory with a subdirectory for the mp3’s. The artwork consists of a Gloom Séance logo in an old English font and what could possibly be the most intriguing thing I’ve ever found in a digital download: artwork for a cassette case! It’s very well laid out with all the folds in the right places (I printed it out and stuck it in a case to check for myself) a somewhat stereotypical black and white picture on the front, and more information inside than you can shake a stick at. That it was meant to be put on a cassette I feel may be an intriguing statement as to the artist’s intent. The mp3 folder itself is rather disappointing through in that the tracks are labeled by song title, but there is no track number meaning that if you want to listen to the songs in the order that Gloom Séance intended, you will have to bounce back and forth between the artwork and the mp3 folder.

Composition: 2/10

Vault, as he calls himself, describes his music as being a horror movie soundtrack, but that is not really what comes to mind when listening to this album. It’s very dark and moody, but there are no moments of shock. Nothing jumps out at you, nothing scares you, and nothing really keeps you interested. Most of these songs are just metallic atmospheres mixed with low droning synths and the occasional found sound sample. There really isn’t anything remarkable going on through these four songs. Occasionally, there are melodic passages that fade in and out, but many of them sound rather ‘square’ in that they’re formulaic 4/4 pieces.

Production: 5/10

In listening to this album from beginning to end, the first thing that is noticed is how remarkably low the album was mixed. This is generally a good practice as it allows you more headroom, but the lack of normalization afterwards means that I have my speakers on full blast and still have to struggle to hear parts of it. Sample noise and occasional aliasing does come about every now and again, but what is really bizarre is just how uneven the overall mix is. There are parts that are buried that really should have been brought to the front.

Artistic Merit: 1.5/10

Like so many of his contemporaries, Vault has a knack for turning what could potentially be a limitless genre into more of a cliché. There is nothing new, inventive, or otherwise artistic going on here.

Flow: 4.5/10

No crossfades or other tricks of making good flow show up on this album, but as the songs do sound very similar, it unintentionally flows well.

Overall Rating: 4/10

All in all, it’s not the worst dark ambient album ever made, but it’s still pretty abysmal. An absolute diehard hardcore fan of the genre will probably like this album, but for the casual listener, there are much better options out there.

-Jim Wicked
date 08-31-08

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