Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient (brief review comments)

As someone who is working on a full-length book manuscript about the dark ambient genre, I’d like to thank writer John Norby for his recent article “Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient” in issue 58 (April-May 2014) of Zero Tolerance, a magazine focused on metal genres. Perfect timing for my research purposes!

This well-written and carefully researched article filled in some of the gaps in my own knowledge of the genre quite nicely, especially with respect to the 1960s and 1970s precursors of the genre from early krautrock pioneers such as Cluster, Popol Vuh, and Ash Ra Tempel. It provided me with a lot of helpful information for the introductory chapter I’m writing which includes a brief history and cultural overview of the genre.

The author’s selections for “required listening” — including Lustmord “Heresy” (“the benchmark release for any fan of dark ambient”), Lull “Dreamt About Dreaming,” and Lamia Vox “Sigillum Diaboli” — are on target (though incomplete), and the article features brief but fascinating comments from prominent musicians and label owners including Klaus Schultze, Brian Williams of Lustmord, Michael J.V. Hensley of Yen Pox and Blood Box, Robert C. Kozletsky of Psychomanteum, Shock Frontier and Apócrýphos, Alina Antonova of Lamia Vox, Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber, Frédéric Arbour of Cyclic Law, Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring, and Jason Mantis of Malignant Records.

Norby calls Klaus Schulze’s “Irrlicht” album “the first album ever that fully embraced the sounds that we now call dark ambient.” He acknowledges that Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit” is also a contender for first dark ambient album, though he writes that it is “not quite as menacing as Irrlicht” — an assessment with which I agree.

The intention of dark ambient, writes Norby, “…is to take people who embrace it on a deep listening journey.”

The article certainly fuels my appetite for more in-depth insight and extensive coverage of the genre. Since my book is being written in a personal narrative style that focuses on the spiritual, emotional, and cultural impact of this music rather than the history of the genre, I’m pleased that someone else took on the task of writing and publishing “the definitive history” of dark ambient. As far as I know, this is the first print source in English to publish something like this. It’s not an exhaustive history of the genre, of course; Norby wisely acknowledges that such a treatment would be impossible within the confines of a magazine. While the article could have been improved by the inclusion of more artists, labels, festival info, etc., I think he did a great job in the space of just nine pages.

I recommend picking up a copy of issue 58 of the magazine if you are interested in the history of the dark ambient genre. I’ve also been told that the magazine will be covering dark ambient more extensively in the future; I look forward to seeing what’s in store!

(Note: This entry was posted at The Black Stone Hermitage blog in 2014; it’s been lightly edited for re-publishing on Medium.)


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