Say what you will about the cliches to which dark ambient can fall prey (rote Satanism, calculated misanthropy and disinterest), but I’ve found that its listeners and practitioners are a welcoming bunch, happy to listen to work from the countless traditions which border upon its grey lands (martial, neoclassical, krautrock, goth), and often incorporating those into their own work. This is happily a two-way street, with Cryo Chamber welcoming experimental/drone composer Thomas Park to their label for a spell. Eschate Thule might not be a dark ambient album by the strictest of definitions, but its long and contemplative orchestral pieces have much to offer the genre neophyte and heirophant.
Spread over six tracks averaging about eight minutes apiece, Park’s work on Eschate Thule puts its primary focus on simple, tonal string passages (with the odd woodwind). Placed in shimmering caverns of reverb, it’s tough to say if they’re synthesized or natural, or how many voices are in play at once, but the way Park uses mild glissandos and a delicate balance of fades and sustains makes the point moot: from halfway into opener “Bering Straight”, where a lone oboe seems to be forever answering a question a barrage of strings don’t realize they’re asking, it’s clear that Eschate Thule is an album interested in moods apart from the expected bleakness of dark ambient, despite some gloomy pads and a stoic timpani.
The album is attached to a conceptual framework of arctic exploration, but I have to admit that nautical themes came more readily to mind as I slung this release on repeat. The woozy, repeating string phrases of “Frozen Vapor” and “Patriotic Exploration” gave a sense of undertow and tidal constancy, but I suppose the endless snowdrifts and hypothermic delusions could be just as applicable. The windswept stillness and crackle of “Deep In The Tundra” is perhaps the exception to this, and is, perhaps fittingly, the most classically dark ambient track on display.
I can’t say that I’ve heard the line between neoclassical and drone straddled this deftly before, at least outside of soundtrack work. Eschate Thule sat in my speakers on loop for about six hours, and rather than ever feeling like certain tracks were returning or wearing out their welcome, the predominant experience was one of having particular moods and textures reemerge after an indeterminate absence; perhaps a nice macro perspective on the subtle repetition Park shades his work with, and a suitable enough analogy for Eschate Thule‘s charms.