In the canon of H.P. Lovecraft, Azathoth is father and ruler. The so-called Demon Sultan is often accompanied by the sounds of hideous pounding drums and keening mindless piping. He commands the Outer Gods from his black throne at the nuclear center of the cosmos. In Lovecraft’s series of works known collectively as the Cthulhu Mythos or Dream Cycle, Azathoth is father to Nyarlathotep, grandfather to Yog-Sothoth, and great-great-grandfather to Cthulhu himself.
Following in the mold of Cthulhu (2014), Simon Heath‘s dark ambient netlabel, Cryo Chamber, pays homage to Azathoth with a two-disc collaboration. However, this is not a typical label comp. Like Cthulhu before it, Azathoth is not a compilation of standalone tracks, but two discs of one track each containing the work of all the contributing artists (many from Cryo Chamber) in an unbroken stream of dark ambiance, running over two hours in total length.
Here, then, is a list of all the contributing artists, in alphabetical order: Alphaxone, Alt3r3d Stat3, Apocryphos, Aseptic Void, Atrium Carceri, Cryobiosis, Dark Matter, DarkRad, Dronny Darko, Foundation Hope, Halgrath, Kammarheit, Mystified, Neizvestija, Randal Collier-Ford, Sabled Sun, Sjellos, Svartsinn, Taphephobia, Therradaemon, Wordclock, and Ugasanie.
It’s impossible to tell—at least for me, anyway—which artists are responsible for which sounds, but knowing this would subtract something from the experience. While this may signify a complaint for some, the unique, truly collaborative nature of Azathoth, as well as its cohesive sound, make for a listening experience that’s quite remarkable, given the scope. Azathoth has a random, almost improvisational feel to it, but given that the subject matter is a mindless amorphous god-thing that rules from the center of the universe, it is more than fitting.
Here’s the other interesting bit about Azathoth: for all the imposing presence and alleged brain-blasting horror of the Sultan himself, the sound palette is quite subdued and often beautiful. There’s no sense of looming terror, gibbering monstrosities, or inconceivable architecture that marks much of Lovecraft’s writing. Cryo Chamber’s Cthulhu collaboration approached its concept in much the same way, but it bore even harsher moments than this incarnation of the elder monarch. In spite of their horrendous presence, the Old Ones and Outer Gods were largely ambivalent to humanity, according to Lovecraft. The sound design of the album seems to reflect the formlessness and untold awe of Azathoth rather than a sense of panic and annihilation. Azathoth is beyond such trite human emotion. The mood is undoubtedly dark, yes, but it’s of the subtle variety, focusing on the unknown and the alien rather than a sonic portrayal of the blackest anti-human evil. There are no manic drums nor insane flutes to herald Azathoth, just a gently evolving series of slow washes and a constantly shifting template of samples—never terrifying and always reverential. There are brief sequences of minor chord progression, occasional bursts of cosmic static, and distant furtive echoes (in many ways, Azathoth is space ambient, but the space here is one far beyond the galaxies we know).
Some may listen to Azathoth and say that the reason the concept “works” is that the genre itself has a limited toolbox. They may say that its lack of identity makes it boring, and the difficulty in pinpointing and isolating the work of any particular artist signifies a lack of versatility and creativity. I’d counter that it is not easy to assemble the sounds from twenty-two artists into something that’s not just listenable, but cohesive, consistent, and highly enjoyable. It’s the arrangement that makes modern dark ambient succeed, not necessarily the content. Azathoth sounds random, but it isn’t. It succeeds equally as a backdrop or a primary activity. Every time the two-hour journey is over, I’m disappointed, as the spell it casts is so immersive.
Azathoth doesn’t sound like a collaboration, but it is, because it’s the result of artists working under strong direction toward a single, clearly defined goal. The ambitious concept is enough to recommend Azathoth, but the quality, scope, and carefully built atmosphere elevates it to must-listen status. If the Demon Sultan possessed a mind capable of hearing the sounds of this offering, and he was inclined to listen, he would no doubt be pleased.
01) Azathoth 1
02) Azathoth 2