The concept of outer space presented in the confines of black metal is nothing new. Samael‘s 1996 classic, Passage, delivered the final frontier via programmed drum beats and symphonic grandeur, making the concept dark yet accessible. Yet, for as great as Passage was, it lacked a certain coldness and aura that goes hand-in-hand with black metal. Leave it to fellow Swiss aliens Darkspace to take the concept of outer space, with its unknown and potentially evil discoveries, and travel at warp speed with it over the course of three minimalist albums and one EP. After a six-year gap, they return with the long-awaited Dark Space III I, birthing some of their coldest, most ambient sounds yet over three songs and an hour’s total runtime.
Patience is definitely a requirement to absorb all the nuances of Dark Space III I (or Darkspace in general). The first almost-three minutes of “Dark 4.18” is straight-up ambient clashes with a little keyboard here and there, before launching into programmed drums and a very alien-yet-catchy guitar melody. It quiets down to more ambience before going into full-on blackened coldness with little restraint. Over the course of the track’s near-28 minutes, guitarists Wroth and Zhaaral, and bassist Zorgh, not-so-gently remind you once again why they are masters at making you fear the unknown, using minimalistic melodies, simple yet commanding riffs, and harrowing, indecipherable screams (made by all three members) to great effect. You gain the sense of interplanetary majesty, abject fear, and an urge to keep pushing through the song’s considerable length to hear what happens next.
Dark Space III I really has no standout songs, but rather moments within each that cements Darkspace‘s reputation as an atmospheric force to be reckoned with. Whether it’s the tasteful use of keyboard flourishes (4:32-5:26 of “Dark 4.19”), intros that drip with ambience (all three tracks, and the majority of Darkspace‘s catalog, really), or guitar melodies that stick their talons into you (7:26-9:33 of “Dark 4.19,” 11:27-13:24 of “Dark 4.20”), there’s no shortage of sounds that will cause your jaw to drop. Even the samples from various sci-fi movies are tastefully interjected, and not once do they detract from the overall eeriness of the album.
If there was a knock to be made against Dark Space III I, I would have to point to the production. It’s hands-down the best Darkspace album soundwise, but it’s still miles away from what people would consider to be “good.” The programmed drums are barely audible, and there are times when Zorgh’s bass is non-existent. That said, though, it also works to the band’s advantage, as this album definitely makes you feel like you’re lost in space: cold, alone, distant from everyone and everything, and always expecting something dark and sinister to happen. So while it’s not ideal, it’s still effective.
Just as people who dig heady, ambient black metal (like me) are feverishly awaiting Blut Aus Nord‘s next atmospheric masterpiece, Darkspace quietly dropped a major bombshell of an album. Anyone who was worrying that Darkspace‘s repertoire might have become tired can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their favorite blackened spacefarers more than lived up to their legacy. Mission accomplished.