In my time writing at AMG, I’ve described albums as everything from “emotionally gripping” to “the pungent air inside my friend’s asshole.” Yet I’ve never heard something I’d actually call “scary.” That changed, however, upon my first listen of Anima Nostra’s sophomore album Atraments. Walking on an unlit path in the woods near my apartment, it took all of two minutes into the record’s opening track before I yanked out my headphones, turned around, and uttered a big “Nope!”
I didn’t expect something so frightening. With a lineup consisting of Swedish dark ambient maestro Henrik Nordvargr Björkk and U.K.-based artist Margaux Renaudin, Anima Nostra is a collaborative duo that was billed as a hybrid between doom metal, industrial, and neoclassical. But instead of the doomier Godflesh I was expecting, Atraments is like a more industrial Void of Silence or The Axis of Perdition minus the black metal. In fact, this is really a dark ambient album at heart, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a single guitar used in its recording. Instead, we’re treated to layers upon layers of throbbing electronics, garbled death roars, humming ambiance, spooky background noises, and repetitive industrial beats that garnish the album with a creepy, ritualistic vibe.
I don’t use the word “creepy” lightly. If you have insomnia this may be just the remedy, because after hearing Atraments you probably won’t want to fall asleep. Opener “Composition for the Shadow Self” fosters the dense and eerie atmosphere from the start, beginning with bone-chilling ambient effects that sound like a mix of distant machinery and rattling chains. The noises are soon overlaid by a flurry of hammering beats that alternately sputter and pause, like a broken generator attempting to restart itself in the midst of some gray dystopia. Embellished with vaguely mechanical roars, the harrowing mood continues into follow-up “Naamah,” which swirls muffled whispers, cult incantations, and rattling noises together into a three-minute instrumental that will have you rifling through the closet for your teddy bear and Hello Kitty nightlight.
This compelling atmosphere is Atraments’ greatest strength, but the record’s variety is also notable. “Solemn Majesty” and early highlight “Blameless” stand out for their pounding tribal beats which recall the sometimes hypnotic nature of aforementioned Godflesh, with “Majesty” even featuring a Dracula-esque church organ and “Blameless” including something of a hook with its repeated vocal motif (“We have not sinned!”). Later, “Anima Nostra” works faint air siren wailing into its thrumming distortion, while “Doxologia Yaldabaoth” is built upon a deep electronic pulse that sounds like an audio recording of Cthulhu’s heartbeat. Female crooning, monk chanting, and garbled speeches round out the rest of Atraments’ 43 minutes, with the results being both compelling and genuinely unsettling.
Variety and atmosphere aren’t everything, however, and Atraments possesses a debilitating issue. Namely, when listened to as actual music and not just background noise, this record feels largely pointless. Aforementioned opener “Composition,” for example, builds excellent tension with its sputtering beats; however, it simply persists with this idea and then ends six minutes later without ever offering any sort of climax or resolution. While tracks like “Blameless” work because of their pounding repetition, most songs simply feel like they exist to be creepy and little else. Though there are a plethora of well-layered effects which give the record a rich soundscape, this isn’t an album which contains any real riffs or melodies, which dilutes its appeal and makes its “doom metal” label questionable at best and misleading at worst.
Full disclosure: I’m far from an ambient connoisseur. Because of this, I found it difficult to judge Atraments because, in a lot of ways, I think it achieves exactly what it set out to do. But ultimately, regardless of my familiarity with the genre, I can’t help but think that my enjoyment of the record is marred by the fact that these nine tracks ultimately feel less like compositions that flow and develop and more like haunted house recordings with an industrial garnish. While some may say I’m missing the point, lots of metal bands (including Void of Silence) manage to infuse ambient elements while still creating songs that offer plenty of payoffs. Hats off to Anima Nostra for being so downright terrifying, but in the end Atraments, just feels like all bark and no bite.