The problem with instrumental music…


Release year: 2021
Label: Steinklang Industries

How’s that for a title? It pretty much sets up the tone for what I’m going to talk about in this review, doesn’t it? Well, let’s get on with it.

You see, the problem with instrumental music is that unless you’re very vague in your thematics, or have an exceptional skill of conveying them without words, they’ll be lost on the listener. Verbal descriptions of the theme will then come across as, well, artificial at best. And maybe a lot worse.

And, sadly, that’s the problem with Polish dark ambient act L’Égarement d’Esprit’s debut release: apparently there is a theme running through the CD. It’s just not really present except on rare occasions. Things are made all the more confusing when the CD is actually a compilation of earlier digital releases, compilations and some unreleased tracks.

Apparently – quoting the label’s info on the album – Written In Stone details the story of a young man, first in the cafeterias and brothels of Paris on a warm summer night, then in the trenches of the First World War. But the music just doesn’t reflect that.

For sure, a track like Vergib Mir, Kamarade does echo the First World War – because at its centre is a sample lifted from the 1930 filmatization of All Quiet On The Western Front. But for the rest of the album, neither the streets, the brothels nor the trenches come alive in the listener’s mind more than occasionally, as brief glimpses here and there. Not even the slowed-down, garbled military pomp of the march sampled on Where The Poppies Grow manages to reflect the theme.

As far as dark ambient goes, for the most part this could just as well be about some other typical thematic of the genre: darkness, esoteric rituals, Lovecraft, whatever.

That said, Written In Stone isn’t a bad album. It’s not a particularly strong one, either, and definitely a bit on the dime-a-dozen end of things. As can be expected, there’s a lot of distant humming, drawn-out layers of droning sounds and echoing, reverberating sheets of sound. It never gets even slightly abrasive or aggressive, although there are both industrial and martial overtones to be found here and there.

And, of course, as is par for the course on a dark ambient album, there’s little in terms of melody, rhythm or anything to fixate the attention upon. Instead, L’Ègarement d’Esprit washes over the listener like waves of vaguely unsettling darkness with it’s soundscapes that sound like they’re coming from somewhere far away. Slowed down choral samples, pianos in the distance, industrial droning, all drenched in distancing reverb, are pretty typical tools in the realm of dark ambience, and Written In Stone is replete with them.

As such, Written In Stone really can’t lay much claim for any kind of originality or unique character. Chances are, if you’ve listened to a few dark ambient albums, that you’ll find yourself on familiar territory here.

To reiterate, it doesn’t mean that Written In Stone is a bad album. As laid out above, it does have some things going against it – but not to the point of ruination. Despite its shortcomings, for friends of the genre, the CD does, on a purely musical level, offer some quite solidly done, vague and abstract dark soundscapes to immerse yourself in.

Nothing to write home about, but definitely stuff good for a few spins.

In some ways Written In Stone feels like a wasted opportunity. It’s themes remain lamentably distant, which quite honestly do detract a bit from the echoing dark ambience. One would have hoped some more solid anchoring of the music to the themes, to more evocatively paint pictures in the listener’s mind. As it is now, Written In Stone remains quite abstract.

Speaking just of the music, there’s certainly precious little originality or innovation to be found on the disc. Whilst quite solidly done, it’s still very run-of-the-mill dark ambient, industrial and martial overtones or not. As such, I find it hard to recommend this album to anyone but the most diehard fans of the genre.

On the other hand, if viewed as a compilation of the earliest material of the project, then one can take a cautiously optimistic stance: there are enough good things here to constitute a solid foundation to expand upon. Let’s hope that’s exactly what L’Égarement d’Esprit will do.

Summary: A bit faceless and vague, but not hopeless dark ambient

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