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Regen Graves : Herbstlicht

The third solo release by Abysmal Grief's Regen Graves is a fine deep, bleak, and disturbing Dark Ambient work.

Well, who knew? Seriously. If you gave guitarist, and sometime drummer, of unhinged "Trad Doom with added Gothic flourishes" Italian veterans Abysmal Grief a completely free hand to create music - let's say by creating an entirely controlled solo self-titled project - would you really expect it to end up firing off in some sort of instrumental Dark Ambient/Noise direction? Nope, me neither, but that's essentially what you're getting with this third album.

That would have come as less of a surprise if I'd picked up on the first two releases, in late 2017 and early 2019 respectively, but it's not like they were widely publicised at the time. 'Doctrines Of Fear', as a 50-copy tape self-release, is pure unobtainium now (though a digital version is available on Bandcamp), and it turns out you might still be able to grab one of the 100 tape copies of 'The Cruelty Of Hope' direct from the At War With False Noise distro. Which I did (thanks, Al!), and, indeed, it turns out that both are heavy Electronic/Ambient works with added and often dynamic percussion, not entirely typical of the genre.

You could argue that 'Herbstlicht' is perhaps less radical than those predecessors, easing as it does into more recognisable keyboard-minimalist territory, bolstered by plenty of drone and some samples and effects. That said, it is still a harsh industrialised experience, by and large: uneasy listening that tends towards deeper, darker and more dehumanised projects such as First Human Ferro, En Nihil and Objekt4. Some of the tracks - 'Leere Straßen' and 'Zersetzung', particularly - may touch on Mortiis era-1 "dungeon music" in places, but not enough to inject more than isolated melodic moments into a quite dislocating soundscape.

This, Regen's first solo release on CD, arrived courtesy of Danny at Pariah Child Records, a small, independent and interestingly eclectic Belfast-based label/webzine. A nice enough digipack, presentation-wise, and giving away precisely nothing about the album other than the runtime, track titles and that Regen recorded it in 2018. The cover art is a slightly hazy sepia-washed vista of parked cars and buildings that looks like it could have been taken any time from the '50s onwards (though Google actually reveals it to be Potsdam, just prior to German reunification, in 1990). It's all rather ambiguous as to what that apparently tranquil scene should imply, whether the deserted streets portray nostalgia, quiet hope, or some more sinister message.

That ambiguity extends to the album itself, where, at first glance you might expect the sequence of tracks (translating as the dawn, empty streets, the first snow, visit, decomposition and red leaves) to narrate the passage of some sort of generic autumn day. And indeed, that may be the intention, though if it is, it's a particularly unsettled and ominous one, with grim metallic punctuation, all of which makes the likes of Vinterriket's portrayal of full-on mountaintop winter storms seem quite warm and welcoming by comparison. 'Zersetzung' could be taken at face value, as the annual die-back of vegetation, but logically that should perhaps follow the leaves changing colour and falling, rather than the mysterious unqualified "visit", as it does here. But it was also the name of the former-DDR's '70s Stasi project which waged psychological warfare against its own citizens, designed to reduce and weaken their ability to pose any sort of threat to the state...well, the switch to German, the preceding album titles, the increasingly suffocating atmosphere of the album unfolding: I couldn't say for sure, but I'm strongly tempted to believe 'Herbstlicht' is driven at a more cryptically metaphorical level than might initially appear.

The initial, comparatively benign, echoes and drones of 'Das Morgengrauen' may have an almost naturalistic Halo Manash quality, but the looming portents of 'Leere Straßen' immediately dip into much more sombre territory, continuing into the solemn and eerie 'Der Erste Schnee' and its use of lengthy but indistinct spoken German passages, both female and male, within the slow waves of droning sound. The use of speech extends into the harder, industrial 'Besuch', along with spot effects sounding uncomfortably like rattling chains and voltaic discharges, punctuated with harsh spikes of oscillation and snatches of simple keyboard tunes. 'Zersetzung' comes closest to setting a full melody, albeit a quite disconcertingly pulsing hypnotic one, backed by simple rhythmic percussion, that then slides into the lengthy outro of 'Rote Blätter', melding slow and almost serene organ voices with odd, metallic-tinged interjections and contrasts. And as that dies away, the lasting impression is that it's the sort of autumn day that might be endured by residents of Silent Hill...or perhaps a warning look back at what was endured under a regime where the monsters were real and human, rather than hellish archetypes.

All in all, the apparent initial simplicity, and in some ways more genre-typical, elements of this album actually add up to something more hermetic and intriguing than first impressions dictate. I mentioned Objekt4 above, and I can't help thinking of their early 'Extermination Processing Tower' album when listening to this, as well as The Cold View's 'Wires Of Woe, Ways Of Waste' and Filius Macrocosmi's 'Stalker', for creating similar atmospheres, if not always music. I'd call that fairly illustrious company, albeit of the sort that's never going to be terribly popular or accessible, even in underground circles. It is, however, quite a cinematic work - or, perhaps, more interactive video game soundtrack - which encourages the listener both to participate in, and to think on, its significance. Which, in my book, is about the highest possible level of attainment an Ambient project can reach. So, top-notch and highly recommended within its peer genre, but not something I'd realistically expect many people to want. Mark it up by a point if you are one of those people, and want to see a score solely based on merit.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Das Morgengrauen
2. Leere Straßen
3. Der Erste Schnee
4. Besuch
5. Zersetzung
6. Rote Blätter

Duration : Approx. 46 minutes

Visit the Regen Graves bandpage.

Reviewed on 2020-04-21 by Mike Liassides
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