I love splits, I haven’t reviewed one here in quite some time so I’m excited to get to do so today. Splits are great ways to get exposed to new artists or, in the case of this review, see how well two artists can complement each other to create a top-notch album. Splits can be difficult though, when you think about it, because they can’t just be random songs picked to fill in the space. They must have meaning and they have to act as foils to the songs of the other artist. If the songs don’t flow well and seem disjointed, they’re going to fall flat and the album itself will falter. It’s important to note that while the album I’m about to review does a very good job, most splits aren’t that good. While I love them for their potential and for their ability to show me new artists, I don’t get my hopes up that the split itself will be something that memorable. Some splits have seemed to become legendary yet when I listened to them I felt no sense of awe, excitement, or raw power (the Leviathan/Xasthur split comes to mind). Inner Mystery, a split between DeepDark and Xerxes the Dark (insert joke about this being a very dark album), displays what I want to see and hear when I listen to a split.
DeepDark was a project I become familiar with fairly quickly after I started the blog but he came out with so many releases in such a short span of time I was only able to review one fully. Then he seemed to disappear, delving back into the Siberian underground no doubt. Recently though, he has roared back onto the scene and create several splits with artists that I have a lot of respect for in the current scene. When I saw the split was between him and Xerxes the Dark I was over the moon. I had high expectations for his side of the split. I wasn’t won over with the first song, Alone, though. It’s a good, strong track in and of itself but it didn’t have the grab that I was expecting. That all changed with Sacred Ash, the second track of DeepDark’s. I will say unequivocally that this track is the best one he’s ever done. It has all the elements I enjoy in dark ambient. It’s dark and foreboding, moody and evocative. The track combines the natural elements of wind, rain, and the creaking of wood with a low rumbling drone. It felt ritualistic but not esoteric or occultic, it felt ancient and well sacred. The rest of DeepDark’s contribution is good but Sacred Ash is hard to follow. Doomed doesn’t have the same ethereal feel to it but it has the same tribal, primitive sound (I loved the bells at the end). If Sacred Ash weren’t here, maybe Doomed would have been the best track. It’s strong certainly but there’s a loss of momentum between Sacred Ash and Doomed. Perhaps it’s part of the narrative, perhaps the proverbial action is supposed to slow down with Doomed and the Untitled track would finish out the story. If you look at it that way, the songs are more cohesive, but Sacred Ash still blows the rest away. The Untitled track is a bit of a mystery. A good mystery, but a mystery to be sure. Why is it untitled? Is Untitled the title? If so that’s very meta and cerebral but I am still left wondering what it means in the grand scheme of the narrative. It stands in contrast with the others, being more industrial in nature (though not really all that industrial when you compare it to other industrial artists) and less natural sounding. All in all, I enjoyed DeepDark’s contribution. He’s come out swinging. His musical style has matured and tightened up, his skill level has grown with experience. I’m eager to see where he goes from here.
Highlight: The Sacred Ash
Xerxes the Dark, a name you’re no doubt familiar with already (if not then you’ve seen the name appear in Resounding Footsteps before), fills out the latter half of the album. He has a lot to follow up on. DeepDark set the bar high. So, what does Xerxes do? He creates the same kind of mystical magic he’s been doing for the last few years, of course. While DeepDark is a master of space ambient and the tribal ritual, Xerxes excels at the ethereal and transplanar drone. What does that mean? Well simply put his music operates through several frequencies (one of them being the ultra-low fear frequency that I’ve detected a few times). Coming off listening to [Ab]Solution and his work on a few anthologies, I felt like I was familiar enough with Xerxes the Dark to know what to expect from him here. I was both right and wrong. His narrative is more metaphorical than straightforward, it’s nonlinear. If I could equate Xerxes’ portion of the split with a novel, I’d have to say it feels like Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (I would recommend it if you haven’t read it yet). The story takes places all over time, jumping back and forth without warning while telling the tale of a young indigenous man on the reservations of southwestern America and how he grows and learns his place within the community. It’s opening and confusing at the same time. The same goes for Xerxes here. The music is excellent (save for a blast of static in Transmute of Mind that completely took me out of the music and startled me enough to throw my headphones off) but it jumps around in the narrative. Unlike his previous material, it jumps around as you’re getting oriented but never quite lets you get there. You think you’ve come to understand what he’s saying then you’re zoomed off to another time and place. He does to justice to the split though, and that’s the important thing to remember here. If this were a standalone, I might not like it very much but when viewed in the larger, grander scheme of the split it feels better.
Overall, both artists put forward a good effort. This is the first split in a while that I’ve really enjoyed so hats off to them for that. It wasn’t the best I’ve heard but it’s the best I’ve heard in a while. Both artists know their respective crafts and they do their best to put on a good show here. It’s worth buying and adding to your collection.
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- DeepDark – Alone
- DeepDark – The Sacred Ash
- DeepDark – The Doomed
- DeepDark – Untitled
- Xerxes The Dark – Apperceive State
- Xerxes The Dark – Transmute of Mind
- Xerxes The Dark – Catharsis
- Xerxes The Dark – Perpetual Discernment
Inner Mystery was released through Black Mara on June 16th, 2017