The Light to Come, a collaboration between Swedes Magnus Zetterberg of Manifesto and the elusive IOK-1‘s David Bengtsson, is an extraordinarily aphotic affair. From the opening moments—a soft high whine that grows unsteadily over a low dissonant drone and echoing crashes—it’s clear that the six untitled tracks that make up the album are not going to be an easy ride.
The music is incredibly dense, and much of the detail is buried under long tones. At times there might be a choir, but if that’s what it is then it’s a drowned choir, singing in flooded Aegir’s sunken halls. Something comes screeching up out of the depths, scrabbling towards the light that still hasn’t come. Glaciers crumble into frozen oceans.
It’s a curiously inhuman music. That isn’t to say that it’s mechanical, or artificial because it isn’t—not in the slightest. It’s organic and fairly saturated with life. But it’s chthonic, fungal, vegetative life. It’s the music of the trolls who keep the sun captive; of the things that live in the Arctic winter.
For an outsider, it’s easy to assume that there’s a sound that’s uniquely and authentically Nordic. Cold, dark, icy, gloomy, claustrophobic, eerie—the sonic equivalent of the northern lights, the cracking of ice floes, months without light, undead things thawing out from the permafrost… Even the most casual listener to the darker side of ambient is likely to have at least heard of Biosphere, Deaf Centre, Deathprod, Jarl, Manifesto, and some of the other artists who orbit the same (dark) star. The Light to Come inhabits this same territory.
While Zetterberg and Bengtsson speak a common enough musical language, what they produce is not derivative, or merely generic. Their dialect is their own, and their collaboration, which pitches somewhere to the left of IOK-1 and somewhat right of Manifesto, is a very successful mixture of two already very satisfying ventures. It simultaneously sounds like both of its creators’ other projects, and sounds like neither.
In places, The Light to Come is very harsh: grinding noise layered over noise, buzzing and clanging; the melody of the gadfly in Brokkr’s smithy. Elsewhere, it’s almost gentle: a soundtrack of slow decay, of fires going out, of entropy. There’s no promise in any of this music that the world will end in anything but ice; the light to come only the cold glitter of stars on the tundra.