Dark ambient live albums are decidedly not a dime a dozen. In a way, that’s not all too strange. When you play a form of music usually aimed at enveloping and absorbing the listener through careful crafting of sound, you obviously want to do the crafting carefully and have a great degree of control of the listeners destination. Most dark ambient artists want to transport the listener to dark and foreboding places, or perhaps to some state of inner harmony, and not to a youth center live stage. This is different from, say, heavy metal – a genre in which the performance of the music itself is often the very topic of the lyrics (cf. Manowar). On the other hand, dark ambient artists do play live. Enveloping and absorbing can work for crowds just as well as for lonesome artistes sitting by their big black stereos. So, why not a live album?
TeHÔM, backed by Canadian-turned-German label Cyclic Law, decided to give it a go. Live Assault contains the act’s set from the Czech festival Brutal Assault, recorded in said festival’s “The Keep Ambient Lodge”. Aiming to “recall[..] visions of ancient cultures”, TeHÔM plays a quite traditional yet entrancing form of dark ambient. The blackened drones are there, though less all-encompassing than is the case with many more generic artists. To support and sometimes supplant this genre staple, there is a wide and ample selection of other instruments and sounds employed to make the experience as rich as possible.
There is ritualistic percussion, extremely deep throat singing, wailing synthesizer lines, obscure vocals and/or samples and rumbling metal bouncing through an echoing void. Any mental images evoked in the mind of those who partake of this are bound to be of ruins, chasms and catacombs. We hear strange wailing from something roaming the empty throne rooms of slain Assyrian kings, even as all-but-forgotten cults summon their demon deities in the jungle night. Something wet slithers, somewhere.
The ritual element is central to TeHÔM, which is probably one reason why this particular act deemed it suitable to publish a live album in the first place. The sense of location, of being in a specific place and time, could well have been detrimental to the cinematic aspect of the experience. Live Assault does not suffer from that problem, however. The fact that this ritualistic journey can be perceived as performed before an audience (since it is, and the sound subtly reflects it) does no harm to the actual music. In a way, it’s exactly the same as when live versions of Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great” retains the excellent story of the young conqueror. Exactly the same. Either way: this is a beautiful offering of shadowy bliss, proving once again that people really don’t want to rock’n roll all night and party ev-e-ry day, but rather listen to dark ambient all night, think of long lost cultures and get drunk while standing silently beside others.