In an isolated arctic landscape, the frigid wind howls by. As snow continues to relentlessly fall, the temperature drops lower and lower, causing the heart to slow to a nearly fatal place, as the extremities begin to lose all sensation. As this lonesome, freezing death approaches, the true hopelessness of the situation finally sets in; a truly grim end is about to be met.
Dark ambient music has its basis in being terrifying or bleak, creating an eerie atmosphere out of minimal sounds and noises that give one the impression of being lost, feeling hopeless, or dying. Often dark ambient albums are quite thematic, with themes ranging from an isolated outer space (Lustmord’s The Place Where the Black Stars Hang) to the miserableness of a desolate earth (Brain Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land), and all sorts of other morbid topics and tales of horror. Yet one album stands out as being one of the most thematically grandiose dark ambient pieces ever produced, and that album is Deep Frieze by SleepResearch_Facility. An album which conceptually represents being stranded and freezing to death in a harsh Arctic landscape, Deep Frieze successfully manages to surround the listener in a freezing miserableness that goes beyond a biting cold discomfort of the body, to a painful affect of the mind and soul.
SleepResearch_Facility is a musical project intended to place listeners into a deep unconsciousness via sleep-inducing ambient sounds, a concept which perfectly matches up with the hypothermic album at hand. As the body temperature drops increasingly lower, all internal organs begin to slow down as their functionality ceases, making the body slower and the mind sludgy, as tiredness begins to approach and the entire self peacefully slips into death. The album itself is a perfect musical representation of this freezing death, with hauntingly ethereal synthesizers that sound distanced from the listener, rumbling bass that vibrates the mind like a glacial earthquake, and effects representative of wind howling by and other natural noises. Each track name corresponds to coordinates for various locations in Antarctica, which is fitting in that each track sounds as though it could have been a field recording from anywhere in this icy desert, making the album all the more haunting and real.
Deep Frieze begins by making one feel completely isolated from all mankind and at the utter mercy of the cruel landscape, as the opening track (79®S 83®W) leads itself to sound as if it was just a natural recording the Antarctic (representative of the aforementioned field recording effect), complete with blizzard-like wind noises and a sort of ambient hollowness that one gets from being surrounded entirely by nature. The second track, 72®S 49®E, continues this eerie pattern of desolation by implementing the use of very distant-sounding electronic noises and ethereal synthesizers, which gives one an even greater feeling of being completely isolated from the world. This portion of the album is completely immersed in the icy theme, yet the rest of Deep Frieze introduces a new, more anxious-feeling tone.
Within the final three tracks on the album, one slowly begins to hear more unnatural noises, sounds which are most certainly made by a living life form, yet do not belong in the lonely landscape of the Antarctic. Distant noises can be heard that sound like a walkie-talkie beeping, or blips reminiscent of a radar-scanning system, giving the impression that perhaps the listener is not as isolated as previously imagined, but is rather in the presence of something very mysterious and haunting. This presents an entirely new theme to the album, one that produces large amounts of anxiousness and suspense at the thought that perhaps one is not as isolated as previously thought, and rather is in the unnerving company of someone, or something, else. This adds a slight element of horror to the album, a theme which is common amongst almost all dark ambient albums, and is indeed a defining theme of the genre itself. Towards the end of 86®S 115®W, very distant voices over some sort of speaker can be heard muttering indecipherable words, over sounds of static that sound like a radio attempting to pick up a signal. This extra element of suspenseful horror, with the possibility that someone is there watching you, observing you as life slowly slips away into the harsh icy landscape, is what makes Deep Frieze go above and beyond being a normal dark ambient album to a magnificently thematic audial experience.
While SleepResearch_Facility intended for this album to lull one into a deep, restful sleep, it instead ended up producing an album so foreboding, haunting and surreal that attempting to sleep while listening could possibly result in quite hellish nightmares. It’s difficult to find an album that presents its concepts in such a compelling way as Deep Frieze, the themes of which are as bleak as they are real, depressing as they are engulfing, and overall very unnerving and unsettling. The album goes above and beyond a listening experience as it fully engages many other senses and evokes terrible thoughts to mind that leave the listener wondering: is it worse being completely alone and abandoned in a harsh wilderness, or worse knowing that someone, or something, is there watching you?
- Richard Cory