Various Artists – …That First Season

[Reviewed by stark]

Apart from the high quality of the music itself, this compilation is very special for at least two different reasons. One, the cohesive character of the whole thing which sounds, well, maybe not as if it has been composed by a single artist, but rather as a group of musicians from various parts of the world, gathered under one idea, understood 100% by each and every one of them. And two, the diversity of the projects presenting different approaches within the ambient framework. Where else would you find purely dark ambient outputs like Abbildung or Apocryphos going hand in hand with Hakobune or Strom Noir, which are not affiliated with the dark scene, plus the emotional drone masters like Havdis and Mathias Grassow on top of that.

Most of them have been present on Santa Sangre with their full albums in the past. I don’t know if there’s a point in detailed descriptions of the tracks one by one, because here it’s all about nuances; nuances that sometimes are more significant, sometimes less, sometimes are very tiny, but it is they which make each project unique. Let’s try to point out these nuances then – just bear in mind that the atmospheric basis is the same for all of them. Organic drones by Seetyca that make you feel like you’re deep under water, warm microglitches and delicate synths by Gydja that make me like this composition more than her darker or more ritual offerings. Vast cosmic howls by Phantom Ship, that don’t have the most original feeling in the world, but they swallow your body and soul and take you straight into the void. The monolithic blackness of Foetusdreams which reminds me of the familiar monument from ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ hovering over the surface of the moon. The gloomy majesty of Nexus Sun which is reminiscent of the image of mountain summits touching the grey sky. The disturbing field recordings and dense bass backgrounds by Abbildung, sounding like a perfect aural illustration of the “Hell” segment of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. Slow synth melodies and surreal samples from some Russian radio broadcast by Charadriiform & Filivs Macrocosmi, which are like lost signals and transmissions floating over the Siberian nowhere. Semiacoustic solace by Velge Naturlig that reminds you that there’s a day after each night, and the sun will always appear after the harshest snowstorm. The Middle Eastern mystery of Rapoon which in five minutes tells the story of the thousands of uneasy years of that region.

This is how “Heavy Snow”, the first half of this double CD ends, while the second half, entitled “Long Shadows”, begins with Jeff Stonehouse who has something in common with Seetyca: organic, influenced by the sea, though less dark. And even more minimal. After that, the sad beauty of ‘Arctic Nature’ by Havdis, who is probably the most underappreciated ambient artist on this planet. The longest and most beautiful piece on “…That First Season”. Apocryphos comes from the USA, but continues in the path taken by Havdis in the preceding track. The artist’s emotional, slowly forming melodies keep you frozen and in awe. Trance guitar drones by Strom Noir make me long for Autumn. Spatious and windy textures with subtle oldschool synth sequences by Kloob may recall some of Atomine Elektrine’s works. Combining ethereal drones with classic, space (quite Schulze-esque) electronica by Michael Brückner & Mathias Grassow prove that Mathias is simply the best in this spiritual ambient business, and that inviting his more Berlin school-oriented colleague to collaborate on this track wasn’t a misguided idea at all. Calming serenity by Hakobune, which makes “Shimoyo” an accurate ending of this almost two-and-a-half-hour long compilation.

Nature, sadness, the interchange of seasons and weather conditions: this is why I like ambient music the most, and this is what I get here in excess. Surely one of the best compilations released over the past few years. And I consider it as a crowning of the first cycle of the Winter Light label’s activity. Why am I sure that only great things are to come from the Netherlands?

Various Artists – …That First Season
Winter Light, WIN 007
2CD/Digital 2017

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