Limited to a paltry sum of seventy-three DIY copies (fifteen of which have been released in a scarcer-still ‘Black Edition’), it is unsurprising that finding information on Celestial Dirge and their debut EP, Cerulean Arcanes, proves elusive. Even touching upon the laconic press release and website of their French label Distant Voices, information is tight; the two band members are credited only by their first (or last, perhaps) initials—the only hint we are given of Celestial Dirge’s physical presence is that they ’emerged from the depths of North America’, which could be interpreted to varying degrees of probability that they’re anywhere from Alaska to Acapulco.
Then again, do details and context really matter with music like this? Ambient black metal is a fusion of two of the most subjective forms of musical art around; the pretence of expressed ideology would only serve to limit the visceral experience of the work. I hesitate to speculate as to the intent or meaning of the twenty-six minute EP. The composition is minimal to the point of being almost entirely static. Traditional riff-shapes have been eschewed for effects-heavy textures and abstract sonic patterns, endlessly stretched and repeated to the point where every weirdly droning nook of their sound feels familiar by the end of the first listen.
Celestial Dirge are meditative and singular in their approach. Frigidly programmed drums and a weighted emphasis on digital guitar effects give the proceedings an incredibly cold atmosphere, and without so much as the familiar reprieve that a vocal presence often offers the more far-out black metal, Cerulean Arcanes has a completely inhuman, unfeeling character about it.
The looping drone and static atmosphere feels kind of shocking at first; for better or worse, there’s little black metal I can think of that detaches itself from the human experience as much as this—Blut Aus Nord may come to mind, but their compositions and infrequent use of consonance always gave them a welcome hint of familiarity. From an initial viewpoint, the pair of textures Celestial Dirge build with each of the tracks on Cerulean Arcanes are frighteningly strange, but the utterly static compositions serve to rob most of that novel magic before the EP is even through. The best meditative music out there should serve to pull the listener deeper into it as their experience with it lengthens. With Cerulean Arcanes, I am first shocked by the inhuman atmosphere, then later pleasantly impressed by the time the dust settles. By the end of the album however, the dominant feeling is one of irritation. Celestial Dirge are onto a couple of great ideas here, but they fail to keep them engaging throughout.