Numina, Subterranean Landscapes & Dawn of Obscurity

It’s been three years since the last release from Numina (aka Jesse Sola), and he returns with a pair of CDs that absolutely shine with his signature sound of dramatic, pensive drifts and edge-of-darkness overtones. Subterranean Landscapes and Dawn of Obscurity differ somewhat in tone, with the former spending much more time lurching around in the murk and gloom, but both are filled with strong and vivid sonic descriptors, breath-slowing pacing and moving emotional cores.

Subterranean Landscape sounds exactly as it should, given the name: thick low-end grumbles, a tectonic grind of sound, miasmic banks of synth pads, and impressive chords rising like gargantuan stalagmites. The space created has real depth to it, a sense of the sound layers echoing through some massive cavern. These are the sort of big, off-to-the-horizon vistas Numina has built his sound around, and he fills them with slow-moving activity. We are being shown around down here, and the sights are inspiring. Sola modulates the ride beautifully, able to take the listener from the dramatic flair of “A Deep Sense” into the shadow-thickened, meditative flow of “Fluid Red” without breaking stride. Toward the end of the disc, he points the listener back toward the surface, the feel of the music growing somewhat airier, less claustrophobic, and brighter. “Underneath the Silent Storm” leads the move on choral pads and skyward twists of electronic sound. “Resurrection of the Stone Giant” amplifies that lighter sense and finishes the climb up from the depths. This hour-long ride will transport you to the scenes inside Sola’s head–and they’re quite magnificent.

Dawn of Obscurity is the lighter of the pair tonally, but certainly the darker emotionally. Where Subterranean felt like a guided tour of a particular space, Dawn is more of a soundtrack for introspection. Sola never lets his music’s mood descend into grim moroseness, however. There’s a feeling of resignation, of unexpressed sadness finding voice, pads rising and falling like sighs yet trying to muster a forgotten inner strength. Again Sola uses those reaching, upward-coursing pads to urge the listener toward hope, and chanting, choral voices echo back in a prayer of possibility. The spatial aspect runs strong in spots, particularly in the remarkable “Faces Remain”; between those voices and the depth of field Sola creates, the mind can’t help but put the listener in the narthex of some empty and ancient church, watching the sound ascend in colors to the vaulted ceiling. Overall, the sound design here is rich and full, with new sounds in constant birth even as older ones fade softly to the backdrop. Sola runs together six long tracks here to create a single, complete and truly stunning ambient suite. If the purpose of music is to evoke an emotional response in the listener, then Dawn of Obscurity easily sets a standard for ambient. The closing track alone, the 23-minute “Withdrawn,” is a perfect, breathtaking example and easily stands as one of my favorite Numina tracks.

Subterranean Landscapes and Dawn of Obscurity mark the very welcome return of a growing ambient master to the field. They’re strong, visual discs that will quite certainly end up on repeat play. They hold up to close scrutiny and are perfect low-volume meditations. While I’m taken by them both, I must say that Dawn of Obscurity stands out enough to be a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD. (But you need to hear both.)

Available from Numina’s web site.

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