While Darker is dark, it’s not as dark as the name might imply. This is not grinding, crushing dark ambient, but it is without a doubt an hour spent fully cloaked in dense shadow. Phobos (aka David Thompson) escorts the listener through four long-form works, managing to create atmospheres that are equally as mind-salving as they are lightly unnerving. This is very much a headphone listen because you’ll want to soak up all the small details as Thompson pulls you inexorably down and in. The path starts early on in the half-hour-long “Seance,” with Thompson’s void-born drones welling up to surround you. This is not isolationist ambient per se; rather, it takes on the feel of willful dissociation as the sound drapes over you, alternating between thick, growling pads and the occasional distant howl of rising wind, and you agree to leave yourself behind. The amorphous, constantly folding washes of dark continue through “Descend” and “Hell’s Gate,” at which point Thompson opts to unleash a little discomfort on you. You’ve passed through his veil of shadow, slipped between worlds, and your reward is a gnashing, edge-of-industrial snarl of sound, the darkest space you’ll encounter on Darker. As the track moves forward, the sound tempers toward a softer edge without quite leaving the unnerving sense behind. It’s meant to deposit you into the last part of the journey, “Decomposing Lust.” As befits a well-planned excursion, Thompson arcs the sound upward toward the light here, his deeper sounds rising in tone and feel, stopping just short of the ever-popular angelic choir pads–but still coming off soft and warm enough to relieve forty minutes of sonic tension. Don’t get too comfy, though–in the closing moments there’s just enough dissonance slipped in to leave you with a touch of worry.
Darker perfectly skirts the border of dark ambient, evoking a lot of the same visceral responses without resorting to the ultra-heavy, cloying assaults of sound that often typify the genre. This is more like ambient music with the brightness turned down. There are no harsh edges save for the beginning of “Hell’s Gate”; the effect it has on is eked out of your own darkness rather than being thrust upon you. I like it for the fact that it’s oddly comforting in its discomfort, which is a tricky thing to balance. I’ve had this disc on repeat for several hours, just letting the sounds find my own shadowy nooks and reveling in what comes out of them as a result.
Available from the Phobos web site.