It's interesting that when the term ‘dark ambient' is mentioned, the artists one thinks of immediately are outfits like Deaf Centre, Svarte Greiner, and Gultskra Artikler. Ritual, Solo Andata's third full-length and the inaugural release for Buffalo-based Desire Path Recordings, convincingly argues, however, that Solo Andata has as much right to be in the genre's front-line as anyone. The latest collection from Australian duo Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin presents four sonic ‘topographies,' the three shorter ones composed by Fiocco and the last a twenty-minute colossus written by Ikin. Words like visceral and cinematic come to mind while listening to the tracks, as each piece generates disquieting visuals as correlates to the sonic material, which the duo produced from sound sources as disparate as primitive gongs, bells, bowls, wildlife and environmental recordings, sacred chants, cleavers, and prepared piano.
“Aggregate” at first seems bucolic as it conjures a summer's day in the countryside where bird chirps fill the air. A slow wave of darkness gradually creeps in, however, until the buzzing flies start to suggest instead a forest cloaked in darkness wherein maggots are busy devouring a rotting corpse. A rising cloud suggestive of a seething mass of insects intensifies the track's nightmarish quality until the dark elements rapidly fall away and we return to the state of innocence with which we began. With its primitive percussion strikes and insectoid string figures, “Carving” suggests some ritual sacrifice to the gods by a lost tribe living far from civilization. Each slow-motion surge feels like the magnified tearing away of the victim's flesh, with the twilight silence that follows suggesting a momentary, time-suspended shock of awe at the gruesome result. With twenty minutes at its disposal to work with, “Incantare” (which translates as ‘to chant'), not surprisingly, captures Solo Andata in top sound-sculpting form. In simplest terms, the piece is a slow-moving, texture-heavy cloud of gloom; elements such as plodding piano and muffled tolling bells appear within a grainy mass of ripples and crackle, with some at the forefront and others buried below and only faintly audible. The sounds fall away at the half-way mark, leaving nothing behind but a heartbeat pulse and tolling bells, before building back up again, this time supported by a lulling beat pattern.
The ‘dark ambient' genre doesn't have universal appeal for understandable reasons; the aforesaid characterizations of the album's tracks should be all that's needed to illustrate why. Even so, for devotees of the genre, Ritual could easily be seen an indispensable acquisition. Two other pluses: a just-right forty-minute running time and a cover illustration that distills the material's essence into a single image.