Two things remain constant about Shane Embury’s prolific and experimental ambient electronic project Dark Sky Burial; firstly each release is presented with little fanfare, something to be discovered or embraced on one’s own terms, the music and motive behind it wrapped up in the Napalm Death bassist’s desires to craft a more introspective and singular search to discover his inner self, channelling the pain of personal experience.
Secondly, he has tapped into a relentless well of creativity that marks Tantum Religio Potuit Suadere Malorum (‘To such heights of evil has religion been able to drive men’ – Lucretius, De Rerum Natura) as the eighth full-length album under the Dark Sky Burial banner.
Coming as a digital release at the eleventh hour of 2023, the latest album also signals a change for Embury as he has joined forces with Consouling Sounds, a union that will produce ‘lots of twists and turns sonically’. It will also satisfy the growing clamour among Dark Sky Burial fans for vinyl versions of his material as it will be available on the physical format early in 2024, sparking a new chapter in the journey.
After the release of the previous album, And A Moon Will Rise From My Darkness, one that seemingly broke from the pattern of Latin titles, featured thematically differing cover art that was based around exploring the stages of the alchemical process, Tantum… sees a return to the overarching themes of earlier material. Back is the scholarly language and so too is the maze patterned cover artwork which links previous outings Pulvis Et Umbra Sumus and Nascentes Morimur Morientes Nascimur making a collective quadilogy of albums. The number four, described as the numeral of wholeness or solidity, being important in his searching quest for completion and stability of self.
This symbolism influenced the album in a sense of allowing the man to burn bridges with hope, sadness and ‘the letting of go many things, most importantly my former self’.
Musically, Embury’s work on Dark Sky Burial over repeated albums can often be hard to review as sonic descriptors of the often light, ambient, instrumental work can only carry so much weight in a track-by-track breakdown as the reward is inexorably tied to the piece as a whole, or simply the feelings it can evoke in the stillness of a vacuum. Either you are going to absorb and appreciate the endeavour or acknowledge the fact the man’s name brought you here and maybe something more visceral is your drug of choice. Neither outlook is wrong, it’s a matter of personal perspective.
Over the course of the nine new offerings that make up Tantum…, only two would approach what you might call ‘floor fillers’, the opening number Exsilium and the final close out Curse Of Icarus. Differing approaches in composition, the first is an upbeat, almost manic video game soundtrack with frenetic playful beats that feel more overtly vibrant than previous albums and the latter is a pumping, hopeful, triumphant piece that teases out the introduction before evolving with high hat and deep synth into something that you could see being mixed into a sun-drenched Avicii set (R.I.P Tim). This top and tail union gives the album a circular feel, with the mania replaced by something more sober and richer, which takes the notion of growth and rebuild, moving into the theoretical field of the album’s inspiration.
The seven pieces in between seek to stretch and question the listener, at times intruding on your consciousness or passing by like a fleeting thought that vanishes as soon as you try to focus on it.
a kaleidoscope of subtle breakbeats and electronic flourishes to create a multi-layered landscape that subtly manipulates the mood…
Through the spectrum of ‘medieval rhythms and dark twisting passages’ Embury offers a kaleidoscope of subtle breakbeats and electronic flourishes to create a multi-layered landscape that subtly manipulates the mood, whether you are sat taking notes or absorbing it in the background of the day.
Be Ready To Burn your Self In Flame has a stuttering metronome like cadence awash with ringing synth and sprinkled sounds before almost rapid fire beats twinkle from the dense atmospherics, whereas The Disowned Self is a downbeat film score like drift. Opting for a sci-fi pulse rather than deliberate strikes, Dark Sky Burial manipulate the flow back and forth.
Escape Artist sounds like a garbled and incoherent signal beamed from light years away and the cavernous reverb of Dumuzids Dream strangely reminds me of the Earth and Moon art installations hosted in our local cathedral that I have taken the kids to (yes, I felt the sting of pretension too after I typed that, credit me with a small degree of self-awareness).
The title track jangles with an almost Middle Eastern flavour, industrial beats and dramatic stings, whilst Maze Mausoleum features bird like calls and tense rhythms that feels jittery and on edge before Thanataphobia once again evokes the sense of drifting, augmented by sounds of water and bring thoughtful calm before the closing track ends on a high note.
With Dark Sky Burial, Embury looks to evoke an inner search in himself and his listeners, to question and search for meaning. This project and its results are a very personal one and as such I can throw as many words at the page as I like, but the end result is going to be how it connects with the listener individually.
I’ve covered enough of Dark Sky Burial’s releases to be able to almost fill my day with this brooding soundtrack and I can tell you that eight albums of ambient electronic exploration is not for everyone, but they are all different and each serves a singular and collective purpose whether taken singularly or as a whole.
Sonically this latest release continues a journey that may not rest if Embury feels the need to tap into this muse anytime soon. And I’m more than okay with that.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden