CD-R, Afe Records, 2009
So, I get the new release from Gydja and it is immediately evident that it has all the markings of a great ritual ambient album. Alchemical woodcuts: check. Pretentious, quasi-nonsensical text throughout the art: check. Long, equally pretentious song titles: check. Song lengths above fifteen minutes: check. Decently well-known ambient label: check. See, like I said, all good so far.
“Helchemy” is made up of two tracks, both clocking in at just over 25 minutes. I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of super-long songs, but occasionally a good producer can make it work. The first track proves to be an example of this. “The Spirit Of The Earth With Venom Intoxicate” is both a mouthful and a solid ambient track. It has a firm, drone-y base, which ever so slowly plods and rumbles along as the song grows and morphs as it progresses. The drones aren’t particularly notable themselves, but Gydja does a good job of adding enough supplementary elements to make this an interesting listen. There are some nice, flute-like melodies, some distant banging/rhythmic noises to provide movement, some analog-esque synths (think This Morn’ Omina… vaguely) which you wouldn’t think would fit (but oddly do), and even some interesting water/liquid sloshing sounds, which are extremely suitable for the ‘alchemy’ and ritual aspect, which this album seems to be going for. As I mentioned, the track is very long and slow moving, but every time I found myself about to get bored and think “ok this isn’t going anywhere anymore,” Gydja will change things up pleasantly; I undoubtedly found myself pleased with each new transition or movement.
The bar is set rather high, and the second track nearly reaches it, though it stumbles a bit on the way. It starts out well, and includes several remarkable segments. The initial minutes are very promising; there are some big, dark drones and good sfx happening in the background to build up a colossal atmosphere. Sadly (at least, in my opinion) this one utilizes occasional abrasive sounds that fluctuate in and out throughout the first part of the track. There will be a nice droning section, but then a damn loud buzzing noise comes in and gives you a headache for a minute. Luckily it fades, but the damage is done. This track, more so than the first, is dominated by vast emptiness. It feels like standing in a damp field, which extends indefinitely, but is smothered by an immense fog in all directions. Beautiful, yet eerily sinister. This piece is seemingly sparser than the first, and while the first continuously brought in interesting melodic elements, this one stays a pretty steady maelstrom of low, churning drones with the occasional banging in the background. Towards seventeen minutes it gets interesting again, as synthetic clicking and almost computer-like sounds begin to swirl about. There is a creepy voice that comes in and the track drops into almost complete nothingness before an ending that sounds like the innards of an alchemical laboratory.
All in all, if you are a fan of dark or ritual ambient, you will certainly enjoy this. My only real critique is that I sort of wish the songs were broken up into more tracks, as this can be difficult to endure in its entirety in one sitting. The tracks can drag on, but they are able to keep the listener’s interest and feature solid production. Points also for the gorgeous packaging.
— Dan Barrett