Dark and unsettling music has a way of showing beauty that you can’t find in most other music. Take Atrium Carceri’s album, Phrenitis, for example. It is a beautifully composed dark ambient album. It is dark, of course, but that is just one component of the music. With the help of voice recordings and various instrumental effects, it takes you on a journey. You don’t know where it is taking you, but it is obvious that it wants you to journey together.
Phrenitis isn’t exactly minimalist music. It pulls out all the stops to create a moody atmosphere. It doesn’t rely on incessant droning to get its point across. Instead, it builds upon itself, song after song. It becomes increasingly complex. It starts out with an enveloping dark ambience but develops one piece at a time. Some noisy fuzz here, some piano strokes there, all underpinned by a heartbeat of rhythm. Once you hit the sixth track, Eraser, you finally realize that Phrenitis already has a hold on you and isn’t planning to let go any time soon. You’re already halfway through the journey and you’ve no idea what hit you.
Upon arriving to the track, Eraser, Phrenitis begins a transitional phase. You are washed over with fuzz, faint and distance piano keystrokes, but it’s not frightening. In fact, it sounds more like an expression of loss or melancholy. The slow, methodical piano strokes and the buzzing come together to create a mood that is complex, but intriguing. Eraser continues this hypnotic affair for the whole first half of the song. It is only then that the pianos are no longer distant. Instead, they are playing directly to you. Maybe you’ve found what Phrenitis was trying to show you. Or maybe it has found you. The hypnotic pianos continue until they again, fall back to the slow, overwhelming fuzz in the distance. Whatever was stirring those beautiful piano chords is gone. Now it has been replaced with an urgent and ominous swelling of dark noise. You can’t discern what is going on, but you know that it does not sound promising. That’s too bad for you because Phrenitis is not letting you go anywhere. Now you are stuck in the dark, surrounded by the sounds of wind chimes and the presence of something you can only assume is evil.
Eraser comes to a close, and all becomes quiet, at least… for a second or two. Phrenitis is not finished with you yet. You hear some rattling, some scratching, and some loud clanging out in the distance. The wind is subtly whistling around you while the clanging and rattling get closer and louder. You are then surprised to hear the pianos suddenly come back, as though they were rescuing you. They are bright, yet sad. They seem to be leading you away from the darkness that would have surely swallowed you. You follow along with the bright and kind pianos, until they desert you once again. Swiftly and without warning, they are ripped from your presence. All that’s left is you and an odd sounding static. You listen, but there’s nothing but the void out there. Strange noises begin to form. However, they are not the rattling, or scratching, or whistling before. They sound like voices, but you can’t understand them. It’s all distorted and faded out in the distance.
You are continuing on this dark journey, with no idea what is going on around you. Drums and chanting out in the distance are the only things drowning out the static that surrounds you. The journey continues until the song, The Way Back, where you seem to be rescued again by those beautiful pianos. They absolve any sense of evil or darkness that once threatened you. Those pianos become your security as you know that there is something looking out for you in this dangerous piece of music. The pianos care about you. They have put you back on the safe path where you continue out your journey until you return safely to where you started. What just happened?