[Reviewed by: vitriol]
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
– H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
This excerpt from H. P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece that is given in the artwork conveys the album’s intention to ship us off to a journey into the nethermost abysses of outer and inner space. Try as you might to find a better snippet of text to go with it, you’d be hard pressed to succeed. As is stated in the label’s page, this isn’t just a tribute to Lovecraft, but also ‘to what lurks beyond our colorful illusion’. It is an attempt to draw, or rather drag us out of the beds we have comfortably tucked ourselves in, and offer us a glimpse of the cold, inhospitable darkness beyond our carefully constructed world. What better and more effective way to achieve that than to access the sphere of the imagination? For when you go beyond the limits of sanity, fiction and reality are divided by a blurred, quickly disappearing line. H. P. Lovecraft introduced into the minds of his readers a notion of crushing, cosmic fear that shattered their false sense of security into a thousand little pieces, with nothing remaining intact to cling to. Faced with the shadows out of time our gods, our idols, our ideals, they are all useless. The truth is more than the human mind can bear, which breaks under its burden.
In its most ambitious endeavour so far, Cryo Chamber has gathered its heavy artillery in a collaborative effort to reproduce the pervasive feeling of infinite terror so characteristic of the Lovecraft mythos. Twelve projects in total, including Simon himself with Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, as well as Sjellos, Aseptic Void, Cryobiosis, Neizvestija and Halgrath among others – the list is truly impressive – have created a massive, 80-minute long dark ambient vista that runs seamlessly from beginning to end. The featured artwork (courtesy of Simon Heath and Nicolas Crombez) is in line with the elegant, cutting-edge aesthetics of the label and I must say, the cover is one of the best Cthulhu images I’ve ever seen. This breathtaking tableau of a stormy, misty ocean with just a hint of the gigantic horror that lies below the surface, is the perfect appetizer for the music itself.
As the track begins to materialize an appealing, spacey dark ambient atmosphere grips the listener, timed by layers of static noise, muffled industrial beats and menacing drones. The expanse and depth of the surroundings are immediately communicated; the flowing coldness, disturbing somnolence and misty landscapes seem like a mixture of Kammarheit and the most atmospheric moments of Atrium Carceri. From that point onwards you are hooked.
Soon after the atmospheric passages are lost to deeper, darker tones tinged with a multitude of sounds; sacral and ritual elements, layers of drones like black, whistling winds whispering their blasphemous incantations. Poised, majestic atmospheres. Long claustrophobic intervals where the listener, like another one of Lovecraft’s doomed heroes, is groping blindly in wet, underground tunnels, with no other companionship but the sound of his own uneven breath, and the blood-curdling organic noises he would rather not have heard. Hypnotic melodies, drawing us closer like magnetic waves. Demonic voices in ancient languages. Powerfully emotional ambient sequences. Death industrial parts filled with dissonant aggressiveness that shake the foundations of this dark ambient edifice, and vortexes of rhythmic, metallic clangs. The sheer diversity of this aural canvas is baffling.
Like a good horror film soundtrack, the recording increases and relieves the tension to grasp the attention on a mental as well as an emotional level. But there is more than horror here – there is also a kind of perverse beauty. A sense of solitude and despair. There are moments in it where you can close your eyes and dream. Not happy dreams of blooming fields and laughing children, of course, but not the kind of palpable, uninterrupted anxiety that you find in Lovecraft’s tales either. It’s dark enough for the Elder Gods, but it won’t book you a room in the Arkham Sanitarium.
When “Cthulhu” was announced we all expected a compilation format, where each artist would be presenting a tribute track. We were wrong. In this case the message is more important than the messenger. If you are familiar with Cryo Chamber’s output you might venture a guess here and there, of which segment belongs to which artist; but the transition is so smooth and the sound so consistent that a discussion of ‘segments’ has little meaning. This is complete and undisturbed immersion. For about one hour and a half you will let fear creep into your soul and chill your slumbering heart, that will begin to beat a little more quickly. You will lose your normal perception of time, space, of what is and isn’t possible. You will start to doubt your sanity as the devouring tentacles of this hideous monster emerge from the depths of an ocean as black as night, as cold as death. Moreover, you’re going to like every minute of it. And you’re going to come back for a second helping – and a third, and a fourth.