So there’s this place, and something quite bad has happened there. Like, extinction-level bad. It’s a broken world, dying, maybe dead without fully realizing it, certainly haunted, and the empty streets are covered in remnant ash. It’s through this shadowed waste that CommonSen5e (Mason Metcalf) and Mario Grönnert would like to escort you on Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia. While some might classify this as dark ambient—and parts of it very much are—I think the term “gloom ambient” is more apt. This place they describe exists in a forced twilight that’s both physical and metaphorical. It can be uncomfortable, but there you are so you might as well look around at the details. And since the album opens with 22 minutes of the thick sonic surroundings of “Breathing in the Ash,” you don’t have much choice. There’s no easing you in here. Scene opens and there you are, alone in this decaying place, lungs taking in the sadness that coats everything. It’s got a sharp, industrial edge in spots, sometimes finding its way toward an abrasive brightness of sound. Metcalf and Grönnert show patient hands in moving us through the scene. The images shift imperceptibly and organically, with a quiet sense of despair our constant companion. There are many small sounds and moments, so headphones and attentive listening are an absolute must. The last couple of minutes all but whisper yet still manage to carry a hold-your-breath tension. “Sky Full of Crows” and “Station 17” pile on the darkness, haunted atmospheres, and grimmer apocalyptic edge. What makes this album work for me is that while it doles out its share of depressing weight and tone, it has a narrative arc that begins to turn at its mid-point. Piano appears quite unexpectedly in “Journeys Calling,” a spot of light or hope—or at least something shiny in the murk and miasma for us to try to get to. The keyboard tones change but persist in “Through Midnight Fallen Lands,” taking on a harp-like feel against easy pads. With its final two pieces, the album spins it narrative fully toward a more optimistic sheen, though it’s optimism through a haze. “The World Rewinded” offers a sense of industry starting up and moving forward, of this darkened world wobbling back to its feet. A pulsing metallic beat and throaty bass pads energize the scene, and again it’s the piano that winds a thread of hope through the murk. It all brings this story to a satisfying close, and makes the journey overall very satisfying. A dark-but-not-too-dark piece of work that has kept me engaged for many listens — and which offers much more to hear than I first thought it would. Check this one out.
Available from Bandcamp.