Jacob - The Ominous [Utech - 2013]Contrary to the what the name would suggest, the project Jacob is actually a duo, consisting of David Cordero (also known as 'Ursula') and Marco Serrato (elsewhere called 'Orthodox'). Their new album on Utech, the simply yet aptly titled "The Ominous", falls comfortably within the spectrum of blackened ambience, placing the listener adrift in imagined subterranean depths by way of ghostly metallic glimmers, howling gusts of reverberation and ashen downtuned guitar sludge.
The album is divided into two suites, each containing three sections, and roughly 20 minutes in length. In each suite, the 2nd movement, by far the longest, is sandwiched between two shorter tracks. The first suite is the titular one, and primarily explores territory first charted by Lustmord, Lull, or, in the case of the feedback drenched second movement, TenHornedBeast.
The first and third movements are a hollow, sparse sound that leaves most of the environment to be conjured by the imagination. It's the sort of recording where the focused listener scans for murmurs and flickers of activity. This is not a bad thing, and experienced dark ambient listeners will be used to such travels in low light. There's not terribly much that distinguishes this first 20 minutes from other artists, but it is well executed none the less.
Strings (cello and/or string bass) are the most recognizable and most often recurring sound source, responsible for the most of the drift and acoustic mindplay on the album when coupled with processing. The subtleties of the timbre are largely masked until the second suite, "The Ladder, The Angel, The Whore", where actual notes can be heard bowed insistently and earnestly, creating a thicking yearning tone that could almost be called a drone if it wasn't so often broken in favor of relative silence (only distant thunder). The dry rattling of the strings against the wood of the neck is a comfortably surreal contrast to the disembodied murk of the album's deeper ambient passages, one of the album's most memorable characteristics.
The second movement of this second suite, "The Angel" intelligently compliments the urgent activity of the first ("The Ladder") with a muffled, granulated tone that periodically sounds into silence, like sonar in slow motion. Iridescent guitar harmonics provide glints of light to a mostly obscured environment. The feeling here is deep oceanic rather than subterranean. Shimmering nebulous forms play in the foreground, but the periodic pulsation continues in the background, for a calming, trance inducing effect. This is probably the best piece on the album.
The final piece, the gradually approaching sound of a cloud of discontented and bitter spirits, is the most truly 'ominous' here. This ambient vortex was created from throaty yells, and has an immediacy and humanity the rest of the album lacks. "The Ominous" could certainly be said to be a ritualized recording, with its careful, creeping pace and immersive otherworldly atmosphere, however for the most part the musicians never go out of their way to humanize the sound or clarify its intent through vocals or drumming, with this one exception. Hearing this powerful track makes me wish they had done more of these things, as I feel the music overall could use a more powerful theme, purpose or emotion. Perhaps they should choose something more specific than "the ominous".
In summary, "The Ominous" is a good dark ambient album with many fine qualities, though nothing about it makes it irreplaceable or truly gripping. The musicians have a thorough grasp of space and texture, and this recording will transport you if you allow it to, though you may find your attention trailing away from it if you're not in the right state of mind. It feels like there is a lot of potential in the Jacob project but it is still mostly unformed clay at this point, and I am curious to see what they will do in the future.Josh Landry