released February 1, 2013
Music by Ophion.
Cover art by Grace Wood
Released by Twice Removed
Enter Ophion, a mysterious duo of two anonymous British composers who cut through the label's lachrymose-soothing soundscape with a darker, pernicious edge. Sacrosanct may be their debut on Twice Removed, but is actually the sophomore album to their 2011 release Palor Absentis on the Diametric label. Sacrosanct features eight creepy tracks which, in the end, do not break entirely with the label's philosophy. Hazy streams, deep strings, even more abyssal bass drones are essential ingredients altogether; in addition, the duo does not forcefully throw the crestfallen mood into the ears of the listener. There are moments of air, bedazzling light and mellower arrangements, but since these are entrapped in-between the post-apocalyptic dioramas – an impression that is suggested by the track titles –, they do not necessarily brighten up the dominant heaviness and hopelessness of the presented material. The album is furthermore synth-heavy, an approach that was once (read: mid-90's) commonplace, but can be deemed all the more refreshing in 2013, especially so since many an electro-acoustic guitar-interspersed piano arrangement will see the light of day in the following months. What worked so well on Fontaine's beatless (!) Detroit Rave dronescape Delays (2012) leaves a big impression on Sacrosanct as well, namely the purposeful omission of classic instruments and a focus on the many surfaces and textures a good-oiled and well-crafted synth can deliver. All of Ophion's other skills and tricks are dissected in the following paragraphs. It's getting dark before brightness is entering.
Pantheon is the first location that is transcoded into music. After a whisper-quiet start, the duo unleashes a curiously warm but still tensely eerie analogue sound wave that reminds of Autechre's famous opener Foil off 1993's Amber. The reciprocating whirls clash with creaking slivers, dusk-tinted four-note electric guitar twangs and permanent insect-like clicks and splutters. The painted wideness of the titular location feels completely forgotten and forsaken. Clichéd but well-grafted synth strings ennoble the setting and boost the importance and impetus of this jinxed architecture. The song ends with a final glacial string which leads to the humongous brute of over 13 minutes called Silence Is The Messenger. 8-bit dark matter pads rise and fall next to an arcane fog. The point of intersection between the loops is particularly spooky, as it lets the pitch-black nothingness of the backdrop in. Even the piercing fog cannot cover the fissured baseframe. Silence Is The Messenger leads to an alien world, to a freezing-cold gale-perturbed antrum. Wooden clicks and their echoey reverberation expand the dimensions of the cavern and can be compared to Robert Rich's and Steve Roach's spine-tingling Seduction Of The Minotaur off their New Age-influenced work Soma (1992). The song lightens up when it reaches the second half, as crazy as this may seem. This has to do with two intrinsic properties: an injected field recording of crows and rivers, both commonplace ingredients of the British swamps and moors, and plinking piano sprinkles, an artifact of the electro-acoustic movement which the album so successfully gets rid of otherwise. The dark matter pad is still in place, watching over the scenic landscape like a demonic spirit. The windy synths are utterly frightening. Silence Is The Messenger is a Dark Ambient piece that may reside in daylight territories, but has a murky soul. It is positively sickening and, at least to my ears, one of the greatest atmospheric pieces I have recently come across. An essential creepscape!
The following By Your Side remains in the climes of Gas' eponymous debut of 1996. Densely layered synth washes succesfully hide an infinitesimally euphonious nucleus, and once the listener unravels the last remnants of blitheness, it is the red-tinted synth choirs, the staccato laughter of the artificial crows as well as the galactic-synthetic female voice which grab the listener and push him or her back before the secret is uncovered. Bone-crushing ship horn-like synth maelstroms remind of the Norse duo Pjusk and their tunes Gneis and Polar off their third LP Tele (2012). The atmosphere is utterly dense, filled with ashen bile and irredeemability. Goosebumps are included. The permanent oscillation between melancholia and the thundering majesty of the black shiphorn are… I don't know… awe-inspiring, to say the least. The string of the first three tracks leaves a lasting impression, and things won't get all too uplifting, but quite a bit brighter: The Fall Of The Empire is a proper Drone track, for it is based on a lucent, distantly ecclesial legato organ stream complete with admixed laser sounds, cascading sparkles and pulsating polar lights. In contrast to Sacrosanct's endemic-stylistic arc, it is a lighter, diaphanous composition. Its luring effect is not created with shock-and-awe tactics rather than the careful entanglement of different patterns, surfaces, traversing sounds and revisited apparitions. If you are searching for an early morning greyness with less horror and more solemnity, The Fall Of The Empire provides it. It is the closest thing to a typical Twice Removed track if such an allegation even makes sense.
And so the burdensome pestilence continues, but so does the incidence of light. Miasma Formation is a particularly malevolent example, for Ophion poeticize the toxic cloud with huge doses of ethereality and celestial synth concoctions. After the opening phase of a mechanical bone dry laughter, a crystalline celestial synthscape is presented with underpinning bass creeks, bumblebee-like strings and aqueous whistles. While not particularly amicable, this tune is undoubtedly the most accessible piece, literally shimmering and bathing in a light blue atmosphere. Revision Machinery harks back to the 90's ambience of Global Communication's opus 76:14 (1994) because of the many similarly bubbling dark drones, distant voices and delicately elastic Space-Age strings whose robotic nature conflates well with the intense but embracing landscape. The song is supercharged with that analogue warmth of the 90's and rounded off with liquid piano sprinkles and silkened hi-hats. The penultimate The Flock is again quite a bit more fond of darker accents, but the aura is recondite and cavernous. A dripstone cave is painted with liquid driblets, echoey fizzles and a strangely spectral but pastoral drone layer. It is only in the second half that more cacophonous trombone-esque brazen tone sequences are united with beautifully chirping birds. The Flock presents a genuine peacefulness. It is shadier, but shelter-giving. The apotheosis to Sacrosanct is called Tempestous. This outro returns to the textural qualities of the opener Pantheon. An AM frequency-resembling blur of tense sine waves is accompanied by croaking buzzes, gelid whistles and rhythmically pulsating time markers which lessen the monotony of this permanently maintained state until the layers fade out for good.
Ophion's Sacrosanct is a bombastic release with a truly terrifying first half and a slightly cozier, definitely less baneful second one. If I did not know that this album has been released on the Twice Removed label, I would not believe it. The label is by no means a one-trick pony, not at all, but the über-dark, apocalyptic nature of the compositions could not be linked to the label until now. Sacrosanct is an impressive work, it delivers a maximum of creepiness and only succumbs to a short section of stereotypical synth strings in its opener and possibly the use of banal crow-filled field recordings in Silence Is The Messenger, but this is helpless nitpicking on my side in order to desperately find a weak spot, a certain misstep or questionable taste in the broad spectrum of despondent tracks. But I can keep on searching forever. Sure, the use of synth choirs is dated. But on a Dark Ambient album, I deem them witty, for they interpolate the Gothic dimensions. The synth-heavy locations are severely grave, up to a point where they are deeply depressing. That the enigmatic duo lightens things up over the course of the album, but only to a certain degree, is a progressive coup de main which leads me to the conclusion that Sacrosanct is a fully fleshed-out concept album with a stirring beginning and a milder, almost elysian closing phase. The mileage of each listener may vary, in fact very much so. I am known for throwing the Dark Ambient label into the ring far too often. Not every foggy, grey-scaled track belongs to this genre. But the first three tracks do fit perfectly into that category. Regardless of all genre conventions and categorizations, the distinctive moods feel heavy. Even quieter passages with nature-driven sounds are in a conflict with the mood-crushing implied bane of the synths. But all the allusions of skulls and crossbones would not work so effectively if it weren't for the purposeful 90's feeling. Some synths sound jaded. But the fertile soil allows and nurtures such deliberate stylistic choices. I highly recommend this album to fans of gloomier Ambient music. Sacrosanct is not the best music for a bright summer day, but it reigns over the night.