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Noctilucant’s “Back to the Mud” Falters as a Dark Ambient Debut, but the Future Offers Promise

by Patrick Bertlein

Expectations are always a pathway to disappointment. This wax-sealed envelope with a picture of a man standing underneath a street lamp showed many signs of promise at first, although the artwork looked as if it were rendered for video game graphics which should have been my first clue that not all was well with Back to the Mud. As things began, I started to get absorbed in the synth’s darker tones with its accompanying female vocals and various layers of ambient noise. A voice suddenly appeared only to state something irrelevant, with the last word repeating, and the downfall of Back to the Mud began.

At first, I thought that this was just one flaw within an album that may yet still turn out to be pretty decent, but that was unfortunately not the case. “The Upheaval of Society” shows a lot of promise, with the sound of what sounds like tortured screams underneath the music; it’s certainly not objectively bad, although it’s far from the most impressive thing I have heard from new faces in dark ambient, but this ended up being one of the album’s stronger tracks. “The End (It’s Near), Part II” continues with the same repetitive synth chords that poorly haunt the rest of the album, making me think that the composer simply stumbled on a decent patch and went with it. Minimalism is fine, but it needs to have sustenance, and this approach simply borders on that new age sound that we have consistently crushed on this website. Worse are the spoken word parts and the sounds of typing, to be followed a few tracks later by what could be a clip from some military “shoot ’em up” role-playing game. I can’t help but imagine some kid talking to his friends while up late at night with the screen flickering in his face; it’s hardly the end-of-the-world impression that Back to the Mud pretends to emulate.

Joseph Mlodik

Sure, there are some decent passages to be found on Back to the Mud, even moments when I am reminded of Raison D’Etre and other legendary names from the bowels of the Cold Meat Industry back catalog. The production is quite well-done and certain sections are enjoyable, but much of this album is simply repetitive beyond acceptability, and in the end it’s just boring. Musician and painter Joseph Mlodik falters on a number of levels; the overuse of samples ruins whatever potential the album had before it could even begin to fully develop. Using random spoken words can at times set a strong tone, but they need to be more in the background and not used as a crutch for creating the atmosphere. In the end, Back to the Mud just falls well short of creating an adequate soundtrack to its apocalyptic muse. As a debut album, it’s not exactly surprising that Back to the Mud comes off as underdeveloped, but the aesthetic is off-putting, robbing the music of any chance of evoking darker emotions.

As something of a more positive addendum, we were late to writing this album up, and in the time since it first arrived, Mlodik has released a new full-length in Oblivion to You All as well as a handful of digital EPs. Judging from his Bandcamp performance, clearly there is a dedicated albeit small audience paying attention to his work, so we don’t expect Back to the Mud to tell the full story of Noctilucant. While the artwork that represents the artist on the cover of many of his releases remains questionable in taste, Mlodik has taken an impressionistic approach on some of his more recent releases (There’s Blood on Our Hands, Buried Alive in the Mud) that hints towards a more developed artistic evolution. It is our hope that the music has followed suit with Noctilucant’s visual side.