various artists - Rituals From Ancient Europe

Album Title: 
Rituals From Ancient Europe
Release Date: 
Saturday, February 17, 2024
Review Type: 

Ominous Sounds is a meeting space between artists passionate about dark ambient and ritual sounds. Interested in the ancestral and the ominous. This introduction drew my attention a short while ago. Shortly after, I got in touch with Juan Carlos Toledo, the very sympathetic and kind guy behind this totally new label from Spanish soil.

The first release on the label (and until now, the sole one too) is a compilation that is at least as intriguing as that introducing statement, if not because of the line-up. Rituals From Ancient Europe gathers eight captivating compositions by as many fabulous projects; I’ll come back to those acts and their contributions immediately. The idea behind this album was to focus on those pre-medieval times, or pre-Christian times, when heathen / pagan rituals were part of the people’s culture. Seasons, agriculture, the circle of life, forces of nature, the relationship in between the human population and Mother Earth, and the belief in spirits that guided mankind; for centuries it has been a basic part of our raison d’être. As the bio says: ‘Sacred rituals were developed to be held at the times of harvests and solstices. These were intended to combat the fears of the darkness of winter, mythical monsters of the past, and even fear of death itself. In these rituals, the human and the animal, the real and the spiritual, death and rebirth were mixed… All with one ultimate goal: not to forget where we come from, who we are and where we are going.

There is quite a limited edition of physical editions, i.e. a six-panel digipack compact-disc, but beware, for at least one copy is not available anymore (unless you break in at my home to steal it), for I already ordered (and received) mine. It does come with wonderful, exclusive visual artwork, which totally refers to the archaic ceremonial identity of this whole concept.

What follows is a concise description (or personal impression, if you want to) about the involved projects’ contribution on this fine compilation; no extended comment on the projects themselves this time (I will just focus on the aural content)...

Skadi (Germany), Rites Of Salvation (07:42): this composition starts quite down-earthed, with several doomed and oneiric drones that are slowly yet convincingly expanding; yet soon it grows into mighty, powerful proportions. Bells, rumblings, obscure synth-layers, and eventually shamanistic percussions appear, creating an immersive aural ceremony. At about half of the piece, things turn even more energetic, with magisterial waves of darkened ambience, energy-driven drum-patterns, and haunting drones.

Electronic Death Black Dogs (UK; actually Scotland), Cult Of The Black Cube (06:25): initially, a dark, conjuring (artificial) voice narrates about the origins of our right to exist (through Saturnine-gnostic cultus), coldly interrupted by sudden beatings, and surrounded by eerie sounds. After a short while, things turn into oppressive spheres, when endarkened keyboards and rhythmic percussions appear. Soon after, colossal drones and additional eldritch synth-lines join, painting a desolate, immense landscape where no light or life seem to wander around.

Ashtoreth (Belgium), Cailleach (07:55): with a chaotic, psychedelic mind-setting, this tribute to an ancient goddess permanently develops, fades away, increases again, before seemingly withering over and over again. It’s a shamanistic creation of aural veneration, brought as a foreign yet intriguing amalgam of different voices (chants, whispers, murmurs, sermons, grunts), strings (both hypnotic and intoxicating), percussions (drums, bells, metallic percussions, bodhran) and samples. Towards the end, the whole touches harsher dimensions (mind those sudden harsh electronics), strengthening the obscure identity behind this hymn of worship.

Embers Below Zero (Poland), Strzyga (04:49): ‘strzyga’ is Polish for ‘vampire’. This composition surrounds the listener by a thick, murky nebula, through a multiple scala of synth-lines, which interact organically yet obscurifying. There’s a sense of abundant nihilism (indeed), and when the asphyxiating noise-waves enter, things turn even more claustrophobic and nightly.

Hiemis (Spain), Ataecina (07:05): (named after a goddess from the Netherworlds) the first moments show a smooth experimentalism, with strange arhythmic percussions, strings and keyboards, but quite soon things canalize into a well-structured direction, where these pounding beats act as source of energetic conviction. The first half indeed is a somewhat discordant march that confuses and teases. As from half of the track, things evolve towards an unphysical corpus of dreamlike ambience, with esoteric soundwaves of Winter Synth-like isolation.

Altum (United Kingdom), Ruby Crosses (06:29): this opus might be the most obscure one by this project. The track is a reflection of pagan ceremonies, translated trough a well-balanced and varying, permanently evolving collection of ominous, ghostly and spectral synths and drones, often reminding of a Lovecraftian finesse, with a subtle use of chimes. Despite a certain repetition, this effort is rich in sound and atmosphere.

Sileni (Portugal), The Latent Realm (04:20): creepy, gloomy, sinister… The strength is the fine balance of Horror-based passages with semi-ethereal textures and a couple of alienated injections. The Latest Realm continuously morphs, dazzling and stupefying, constructing and deconstructing harmony and abhorrence. The subtle injection of percussions creates an effect of ritualistic murk.

Monotone Murk (Malta), Sanguinary Pyre Manifestations (06:29): this final track brings a bleak, oppressive and depressing atmosphere, like a desolate vision of doom and isolationism. Yet then again, the floating structures unravel a grand spectacle of militant dexterity (strengthened by the martial drum patterns towards the end). This piece breathes suppression and judgment, while being veiled in a secretive yet dismal fog.

All eight hymns on Rituals From Ancient Europe dwell within the more occult spheres of Dark Ambient in general, yet each of them differs from all others, for all of them come with their own identity. Distinction yet cohesion, that’s what makes this compilation a grandiose listening experience. Yet above all, it’s the quality of all exclusive contributions that leads to sonic supremacy and aural art in a most intoxicating sense…

Majestically overwhelming!