Various Artists - Drone Islands - The Lost Maps [Eighth Tower Records - 2020]So for today’s review, I’ve got a new compilation - Drone Islands - The Lost Maps through dark ambient outfit Eighth Tower Records' The release showcases the latest and spookiest sounds that the label has curated and features some great humdingers.
So first thing I’ll point out is, being a “dark ambient” compilation, unsurprisingly the production on everything is ridiculously good. I’m much more of a “Glacial/snow” ambient fan than a spooky ambient fan, which mostly pertains to clichéd darker stuff- i.e what I like to call horror video game music. So I was expecting not to enjoy a lot of this, so it was great to find I enjoy a lot of tracks here. That said the names you’d expect to be on the cornier side of things are still corny, but there are some really surprising and unique things here (Which is usually the value of compilations like these).
The first track is Rapoon’s Sphinx Wings. On a whole, the tones/textures are great on this one but The crystal bell sound doesn’t particularly bode well with me and I kind of feel like I’m listening to horror game menu music because my roommate had to leave the room for an extended period of time.
The next track by Gaspar Peralta (Entre el clamor a coro de las estrellas del alba ) is easily the highlight for me, I love this whole twisting modular synthesis sound happening in dark droney ambience. Between this and the new Deathprod stuff, this is one of the better sounding dark sounding that's popped up in recent times.
Jallianwala-bagh by Bedouindrone is next, It’s a more beat-driven affair which I’m not usually into but the drum sounds are well developed and fairly organic. In terms of compilation flow its definitely a good pick for if you want to break up the flow of things.
Now the next track is by Simon Balestrazzi (Engramma 1) who I was super surprised to see pop up on here. I heard his z’ev collaboration album ages ago and enjoyed his take on percussion. I honestly prefer his regular stuff to this sort of sound. Kind of sounds like him doing his usual cool cymbal work and then putting a spooky beat over it.
And then we have the other highlight, Dérivé d'écume by Troum. Every time I see Troum pop up anywhere I get the vibe that they exist in a world totally of their own. Gorgeously deep and powerful stuff on display as usual. Troum seems to have a mastery of making evil sounds out of a raw emotional ambient. So I say this wholeheartedly, there's probably no such thing as a bad troum recording.
Some tracks definitely didn’t land for me, In particular, the tracks by Traumaterrestrial (Whalespit) ,Martyria (Ominous), Schloss Teagal (Bones of Tartarus) and Autopsia (Ritual) . The track by martyria I will give some credit as the choir recording/voice sounds are well crafted (and for it being the only spooky choir track on the comp). Otherwise, it’s all a bit too bland for me with these tracks.
Conversely, the track by Alphaxone (Dark Horizon), does a bang-up job. Yes there's a dark Video game-ey vibe, but the persons clearly a master of that craft. I would wager many young antisocials interested in making dark ambient at this present time would likely want to sound like Alphaxone and when the idea is this well-executed who could blame them?
The rest of the tracks by Tunnels of ah (Red Distribution), Bloodkry (Nocturnal) and Taphephobia (Light-years from home) all carry themselves fairly well. The track by Taphephobia – was another highlight, the percussive reverbed aspect wasn’t so much my thing, but the buried synth was cool. Kind of reminds of some of the posh isolation stuff. The track by Tunnels of Ah proved that if you filter out the high frequencies in cymbals and put little claustrophobic bird or voice sounds in something, it's usually gonna get my synapses firing. I enjoy hearing dark ambient that probably has the word “funeral” thrown around a lot in the process of it being created.
The tracks I picked as the highlights knock what they’re trying to do out of the park with lots of fresh ideas and solid execution. On the terms “videogame-ey” darkness and menu music, again I’m not into it but I also know my main criticism is also one of the biggest appeals to the genre for some people. So honestly if you’re a fan of the genre and want to keep up with what’s happening outside the world of 24/7 live streams on youtube, Check out this compilation because you’ll probably enjoy it.
So with that, considering the fact that the good tracks outweigh the bad, I would say it’s a reasonably well put together compilation with some pretty cool stuff. I have to give credit to Eighth tower for not assembling a compilation that has too many people or feels completely random, they have a sense of curation in what they’re doing.A. Cooley