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Lustmord’s “Dark Matter” Frustrates and Rewards in Equal Measure

Since the early eighties, Brian Williams has been creating dark ambient music as Lustmord, and in that time he has become something of a legend in the genre. Over the last twenty years or so, with a few diversions such as The Word as Power with its experimentation with vocal manipulation, he has explored a minimalist style of dark space ambient. Dark Matter, with its sounds drawn from recordings of astronomical activity by NASA and other sources, is very much in that vein.

Dark Matter consists of three tracks. As you’d expect from Lustmord, the first is over thirty minutes long, while the others are closer to twenty minutes each.

“Subspace,” the album’s opener, begins with an eerie whistling before bringing in Lustmord’s signature deep drones. Being largely an exercise in sound design, this is music that certainly benefits from a good listening environment. Unlike much other music in this genre, the background isn’t simply a static drone. Instead, there are many layers of drones, bass rumbles, and gentle noise that all meld together. It’s a satisfyingly rich and complex body of sound. This is an audio environment with no landmarks. It’s music to get lost in—a dense fog in a massive space.

There is some evolution to the track:  some gradual changes in tones and a slow buildup that might almost be described as a crescendo around twenty minutes in, followed by a falling away. That said, this is not eventful music. Music like that found on Dark Matter requires a lot of patience to appreciate.

Lustmord

“Astronomicon” has more of a stormy feel, with its submerged electrical buzzing and rough waves of sound. The eerie wailing towards the end of the track is genuinely unsettling. Halfway through, however, a metallic clanking appears that sounds confusingly out-of-place. It sounds like it was recorded in a dank cavern rather than the vast space that the rest of the sound occupies. It is unfortunately seemingly small details like this that can break the suspension of disbelief required for ambient music.

Dark Matter’s final track is “Black Static,” and it is more peaceful yet still unsettling. The the wide variety of different textures and tones are still present, all mixed together, but towards the end of the track there are a number of short loops that fade in and fade out again with neither direction nor structure. At this point, the track becomes tiresome. It’s an unfortunate way to end the album.

Lustmord’s minimalism is a double-edged sword. Beyond the layered drones, there really isn’t much going on in these tracks. Certainly, music like this takes the right frame of mind to enjoy; then it can be a powerful trance-like experience. But it’s equally likely to induce boredom or frustration for anyone but the most patient listener. Evaluated as music, it’s easy to think that one has listened to over an hour of material and heard only a very small handful of interesting ideas.

Of the three tracks, “Subspace” is the most successful. The richness of the sound and the sense that the track has a structure to it, however sluggish and minimal, makes it a satisfying ambient experience. With “Astronomicon” and “Black Static,”, however, while there’s still undeniable skill in the sound design, the lack of direction and the unconvincing aural environments render the tracks more frustrating than rewarding.

Dark Matter ends up being a mixed album. There are sufficient deep drones here to satisfy Lustmord’s fans, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre and its successful and unsuccessful moments are equally balanced.


Track List:

01) Subspace
02) Astronomicon
03) Black Static

Written by: Colin Z. Robertson
Label: Touch (United Kingdom) / TO:102 / CD, Digital
Dark Ambient

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