[Ed. note: This is archived material from the old blog; links and other info may be out of date. It will remain here as-is for reference.]
As a passionate and longtime fan of dark ambient music, I am sometimes asked what artists, tracks, and online resources I would recommend for those who are just starting to explore the genre.
One dark ambient track I like (raison d’être, Ascension de Profundis) has been called “monastic ambient.” I think this characterisation is particularly appropriate for Pagans and devotees of the dark divine. It is music that rewards close, meditative attention; it takes the listener on a journey through the shadow self. This is atmospheric music for mystics and contemplatives who know that sublime gifts are sometimes found by those who have the courage to venture into dark, cold, and mournful places. Ultra-low rumbling bass frequencies, lots of reverb, and layers of pure sonic darkness stir emotions that live deep in the bones and flesh. Good dark ambient is evocative, reverent, profound, melancholy, haunting, trancelike…otherworldly, and terrestrial at the same time. It is very much music of the soul for me.
When I’m asked why I do ritual dance to dark ambient music – after all, most of these tracks were not made with dance in mind – I explain that one of the reasons is to use movement to bear witness to our grief over the state of the earth. We carry so much of this primal grief in our bodies, much of it unconscious, and there are few outlets for it in our culture. There is bone-deep sadness lurking beneath our collective façade, but it is all too rare that we acknowledge it, and rarer still that we face it head-on. This grief lives in us because we live in a toxic consumer culture that is destroying our natural habitat. Yet we are too often convinced that there is something wrong with us, and so many of us end up trying to numb our pain with alcohol, food, compulsive sex, or workaholism. Anything so we don’t have to confront the fact that we are collectively complicit in the rape and destruction of the living earth that is our ultimate source of sustenance.
Ritual dance movement to mournful dark ambient music is one of the ways I try to give expression to this deep grief. It is difficult emotional and physical work, yet so very necessary.
I’ve compiled a list, with YouTube links and comments, of 13 dark ambient tracks that still inspire me to dance and send chills up my spine after many hundreds of listens. Every track on this list is one that I consider utterly magnificent.
Dark ambient is a very obscure musical genre, and I think it deserves to be much more widely appreciated.
13 Top-Notch Dark Ambient Tracks
1) Ulf Söderberg – Now Night Her Course Began
This, to me, is what truly religious music should sound like. “Magnificent” is an understatement! When I hear this track, I envision a ritual procession of Pagan monastics in black hooded robes, each holding a candle, incense, or prayer book, paying homage to the dark divine.
2) Apoptose – Nidstång
Wondering if you’ll like dark ambient? Start here. Make sure you’re alone and won’t be interrupted. Turn the volume up and let yourself be carried away by this incredible music. If you don’t like this track, I’d say dark ambient is probably not the genre for you.
3) Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
This was the first track that ever inspired me to choreograph moody dark fusion and ritual dance pieces to dark ambient music. At the time, the idea sounded…questionable, to say the very least. I knew of no one else who danced to music like this. But I knew it was what I wanted and needed to do, and I’ve never looked back. The bone church in the video is amazing too.
4) Ulf Söderberg – Nordvinterögon
Söderberg is a musical genius. There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe the beauty of this track. Seriously. Stop reading this right now and go listen. You can thank me later.
5) Sephiroth – Wolftribes
Primal, creepy, and completely compelling. This is one of the first tracks that inspired the choreography I do for my ritual dance project, Shrine of Skaði. Have I mentioned that Ulf Söderberg (who also records under the name Sephiroth) is a genius?
6) Herbst9 – Blood Whisper
Ritualistic and earthy. I originally selected another Herbst9 track for this list, “The Snake of Saigon,” but that track isn’t available on YouTube, so I picked another that I consider equally superb.
7) Skadi – The Awakening
Combining the music of my all-time favourite dark ambient musician (whose project is named after the goddess I am closest to) with the artwork of one of my top favourite artists, Zdzisław Bekśiński? Brilliant. Truly, it doesn’t get much better than this. Put the video on full screen while you listen and immerse yourself.
8) New Risen Throne – Blowing Funeral Chant
Aptly named – profoundly solemn, cold and creepy. The imagery in the accompanying video suits the track perfectly too.
9) Vestigial – The Coming
The album this track is taken from – Translucent Communion – is without a doubt one of my favourite dark ambient albums ever. Every track on it is amazing, and my appreciation for it only grows deeper with each listen.
10) raison d’être – In Abandoned Places
I love raison d’être in general, but there is something about this track in particular that leaves me breathless. It made me weep the first time I heard it, and every additional listen brings with it another layer of mournful depth. And the video with the artwork of abandoned places is the perfect accompaniment.
Note: I didn’t care for the bell-ringing intro when I first heard this track, but over time I’ve come to appreciate it much more. If you have an initial reaction similar to mine, skip the first two minutes and listen to the rest of it. The low bass frequencies in the rest of this track are absolutely sublime.
11) Lapis Niger – Inside the Black Pearl – Lapis Niger
Hail the dark divine! Incredible and mesmerising dark esoteric ritual ambient. Not to be missed.
12) Lamia Vox – Lapis Occultus
Sinister and beautiful audio witchcraft…a 2-minute intro builds anticipation. Definitely one of her best tracks, and one I often use for ritual dance. This track is available for free download through Kalpamantra.
“Lapis Occultus, the Hidden Stone, is another term for the goal of the alchemical quest.”
~ John Michael Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge
13) Herbst9 – The Tide
Perfect for trance and ritual. This incredible track – one of their best! – was only released on a sampler album with 100 copies pressed, so good luck finding it on disc. Fortunately, there’s YouTube.
If you’d like to explore more on your own, here is a loosely organised list of resources on dark ambient music (labels, blogs, forums, media, streaming radio, playlists, etc.) that I’ve compiled in recent years. It’s not intended to be comprehensive – I’m sure there are plenty of great resources missing from this list that I don’t know about. Please feel free to add suggestions!
For The Innermost
Not to be missed for dark ambient fans. By far my favourite dark ambient blog. Excellent writing, photos, and interviews!
Die Militarmusik Forum
Link goes directly to the dark ambient section of the forum.
Guide to dark ambient subgenres
Streaming radio by professional club DJs, with many shows focused on dark ambient. Outstanding selection of dark ambient tracks.
Dark Ambient Radio
Drakulady’s YouTube channel
Very nicely curated selection of dark ambient music and beautiful videos.
“Dark & grimm esoteric music.” Features dark ambient and other genres. No longer updated as far as I can tell, but there’s plenty of good material in the archives.
Wounds of the Earth blogzine
Ritual Dark Ambient
Dark Music Domain
Online store with good prices and a good selection of dark ambient artists.
Archives for a long out-of-print ambient / industrial / experimental / power electronics / neo-folk music culture magazine. Contains interviews with Isomer, raison d’être and others.
Recommended playlists compiled by other dark ambient fans:
Gravedigger Playlist: Best Dark Ambient Albums from 2010 on
Haunted Spaces: 100 Best Dark Ambient Albums 2000-2009