Dark Ambient Ritual Music: A Primer for the Dark Pagan, Volume II

[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 note: This is archived material from the old blog; links and other info may be out of date.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.]

Last November I made a post in which I compiled a list with links to 13 dark ambient tracks that have inspired my devotional and ritual dance choreography, with brief comments on each one.  That post has drawn quite a bit of interest – I get a lot of hits from people searching on phrases such as “dark ambient blog” – and of course dark ambient music plays a central role in the work I do at the Hermitage, so I’ve decided to turn these posts into a series.  Here are 13 more of my favourite dark ambient tracks for ritual and dance.


1) VestigialLast Extinction Prayer

I have heard dark ambient music aptly described as “the soundtrack for my inward eyes.”  No doubt about it: successfully crafted dark ambient music facilitates inner journeys.  Dancing to music like this also helps me give expression to a deep sense of grief about the state of the Earth, and it helps me confront and deal with the emotions associated with other unsettling realities that lurk within the dark disowned heart of modern post-industrial culture.  This cold and apocalyptic track from Peppe Ferrillo’s project Vestigial captures this emotional juxtaposition of modern life perfectly, provoking listeners to stare unflinchingly into the heart of darkness – their own, and that of the culture in which they live.

The Ukrainian label Old Captain recently collaborated with Cyclic Law to re-release the Aeon and Solar albums from Vestigial, which delights me because I think Vestigial is an amazing project and his music richly deserves to be more widely appreciated.


2) Penjaga InsafSama Sadja

This track, Sama Sadja (translation: “together alone”), features an irresistible fusion of ominous field recordings made during travels in Indonesia, including ritualistic bells, vocal chanting, mesmerising synth drones, and thick pulsating rhythms.  A project of Ingo Sauerbrey with Henry Emich of Herbst9.  Absolutely brilliant.


3) ClaustrumPenitential

From Rīga, Latvia comes this gloriously sorrowful piece of music – one of the most beautifully mournful dark ambient tracks ever.


4) Abandoned ShelterChant of Death

A haunting, atmospheric dark ritual ambient track from an obscure Bulgarian project, which was terminated in 2008.  (I have not been able to track down any information online about the musician responsible.)


5) raison d’êtreMetamorphyses Phase I

Deep and cavernous. This is dark meditation and trance music for cave-dwelling mystics, composed by Peter Andersson, one of the best-known and most prolific musicians in the dark ambient genre. This track is the opener on the 2006 album “Metamorphyses,” released on the Cold Meat Industry label.  Like most dark ambient, I think it is best enjoyed in a darkened room, with ritual elements such as candles and incense to enhance the atmosphere.


6) Troum & All SidesShutûn (extract)

The beauty of this track moves me so deeply that I struggle to find words to express what it means to me.  The full track is an hour long, but this ten-minute excerpt is my favourite.  It gives me chills and moves me to dance every single time, no matter how often I hear it.  Featuring the amazing Nina Kernicke, who also performs as Allseits – her brilliant album Hel is not-to-be-missed.

(Have I mentioned that I love this track?)


7) Herbst9Ereškigal, Rise From Your Throne

A monumental track in honour of the dark goddess Ereškigal from the brilliant German dark ritual ambient project Herbst9, a.k.a. Frank Merten and Henry Emich. This track is from their 2011 album Ušumgal Kalamma, meaning “Dragon of the Land.”  Like all their music, it is intensely mystical and evocative of ancient and primal forces.

Here’s an apt description of their music from their last.fm profile: “H9’s music is the darkness from the deep and hidden places of the world made substantial, the inhalations and exhalations of the very earth beneath our feet, and the steam and bile of nature’s eruptions.”


8) Skadi Terra Innocentia

From my Dark Pagan Monastic playlist comes this enigmatic track from my favourite dark ambient musician of all, Alexander Leßwing of Skadi. The album this is taken from, “Eliwagar,” is a masterpiece.  I discovered it in 2006, and I’ve been dancing to it ever since.


9) Peter BjärgöWithdrawal

From my Solitude and Silence playlist: A beautiful neoclassical track that inspires me to translate the emotional landscape of my introversion into the language of ritual dance.

I’m drawn into silence
I’m drawn back inside
‘Cause silence means safety
So I crawl back inside...


10) PredominanceAurora Borealis

A dark ambient musical performance with accompanying visuals at a planetarium?  Why, yes. More like this, please!  I think dark ambient music lends itself perfectly to a live performance environment like this. Attendees can focus their full attention completely on the music and visuals, rather than being distracted by a typical nightclub environment.

Video cannot capture the magic and grandeur of a live performance, of course, especially not in a space like a planetarium.  But watching this video nonetheless inspires me to consider possible ways to create a similarly immersive and meditative experience with dark ambient music, video, and visual art – albeit on a much smaller scale – at the Hermitage.  Creating the appropriate atmosphere requires careful attention to detail.  From the moment the visitor approaches the Hermitage and walks in the door, everything should convey the right vibe and aesthetic.


11) SvartsinnAs A Black Stone Monument (New Risen Throne Mix)

I love the deep cold Nordic winter feel of this track. It’s a perfect accompaniment for my devotional dances for Skaði on a snowy January evening at the Hermitage…and of course the name of the track, “As a Black Stone Monument,” is appropriate as well.  I dance to both the original version and this remix.


12) HavanYajna (excerpt)

Hauntingly beautiful, otherworldly excerpt from a remarkable 30-minute track.  Havan is a new project from Frederic Arbour of Cyclic Law, joined by Harlow MacFarlane of Funerary Call and Sarah Rosalina Brady of Amber Asylum.

From a review by Peter N. Marks:

“This must have been pulled out of the deepest, darkest depths of the Earth. Below the crust, beneath the mantle…The tone is one of overpowering ritual, light some candles and go on your own journey…Close your eyes and let the inky, enveloping smoke rise from Yajna… Become one with the darkness, breathe it in and through it find your way to a truer understanding of the world around us.”

(Intriguingly, the Discogs entry for this album says it was edited at “The Black Loft.”  Sounds like a place I’d feel right at home…)


13) Arktau EosOtherstone Refraction

I think this is my favourite Arktau Eos track of all.  One of the reasons I’m drawn to the work of this Finnish duo is that their approach to making music is similar to my own approach to dance: it is more focused on ritual, catharsis, and channeling the sacred than it is on entertainment and flawless technique.  As they put it:

“ARKTAU EOS firmly believe in the power of music as much more than entertainment, given that it is nurtured in a proper environment and treated as sacred, with a focused, serious spiritual intent. To this end, ARKTAU EOS work meticulously in the confines of their special temple-laboratory, an analog studio built by A.I.H., and employ field recordings and snapshots of unheralded apparitions in the mix…A right “vibe” always takes precedence over technical proficiency. Importance is also placed on other mediums of art, such as statuary, draperies, paintings, etc., either created by the group or acquired by fortuitous chance from various strange places on Earth, which equally channel the desired presence into the music.”


Hope you enjoy these great tracks as much as I do!  Stay tuned for Volume III.


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