Sky Burial, Threnody for Collapsing Suns & Aegri Somnia

Threnody for Collapsing Suns starts out in an arc of ominous, borderline-industrial drones, and if you weren’t familiar with Michael Page’s work as Sky Burial, you might figure that this dark ambient outing would, like its kin, continue on in this vein. But no. About 14 minutes into the opening track, “Return to the Peripheries,” a strident old-school analogue pulse shoulders its way into the dronework and now there’s a shot of rhythm arguing with the bold washes behind it. Toward the end of the disc, the bounce rises and lightens without giving up its intense geometry, fading back out toward the end of the track to make way for a fresh change of tone. This Tangerine Dream-like moment is brought to you courtesy of page’s always-evolving Sky Burial identity, and it deftly turns Threnody into not-just-another dark ambient disc. Don’t get me wrong–there’s plenty of dark here. “The Cadence of Collapse” opens with pounding drums that would inspire an Orcish legion to war, and “Refractions from the Rift” thrums and thuds with a marked industrial edge. But “Cadence” filters its way down into a perfect twiddle-and-wash spacemusic composition that rings with older-electronic echoes. The softness stands perfectly against the potency of the opening few minutes. Page sends the sounds orbiting around the listener’s head, creating an almost synaesthetic visual as your brain follows it around. “Refractions” ushers itself in with metallic, heavily echoed clattering and a galloping sequencer rhythm. The noise thickens, your pulse rising with the density, and then Page throttles back. There’s still an industrial timbre to the atmosphere, but now it’s like you’re looking at it from a distance rather than passing through its harsh, churning center. As the voyage continues away, the sound takes a more ambient tone, but shot through with infrequent metallic grinds and a high whine, like some lost radio signal. Within each of Threnody for Collapsing Sun‘s three long pieces (23, 16 and 13 minutes), Page creates distinct movements–changes of tone or intent that glide logically one to next. Each one is thus a nicely complete piece in itself while also a working part of the overall. Page runs the listener out to the edges of dark ambient and dangles them over the precipice without dropping them. You get a taste of darkness, but then given respite. The balance is perfectly modulated. One of my favorite releases so far from Sky Burial.

Aegri Somnia, which translates to “a sick man’s dreams,” offers up two drone-based pieces of 40 and 16 minutes respectively. Here, Page is joined by renowned Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner. The first track, “Movement I: The Synaethete’s Lament,” opens with a big 10-minute wash of building drone. Turner’s sax rolls in below and off a bit in the distance, wailing in a rock/free-jazz improv in harmony with the movement of Page’s dronework. The middle section winds down into a full-on hypnotic wash, a complete immersion in shadowy sound that invites your brain to just surrender. Turner returns later in the track, blowing through the murk like a waypoint for the mind-numbed traveler. “Movement II: Within and Without,” is similarly structured. For about half its length, it’s  a churning, aggressive and challenging track, sharply edged and not at all interested in your comfort. Then, in keeping with is comparative title, it changes over, becoming less cluttered in its sound, less claustrophobic. Page keeps some of the harsh elements prowling at the periphery, but brings Aegri Somnia to a reasonably soft conclusion.

Although of the two I prefer Threnody, both discs firmly cement Page’s reputation as a drone craftsman who knows that the form doesn’t live by drone alone. Both are also good discs for listeners who want to get the flavor of dark ambient without diving headfirst into grim, cluttered soundscapes.

Available from Collective XXIII.

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