CD, Raubbau, 2010
A thick electronic tone repeats in regular intervals, increasing slightly in strength, airy echoes rise in the background, leading up to the disturbing abuse of a piano’s innards. So begins “Waar Handen Falen”, the opening track on the new album, “Strop”, from Belgian dark ambient duo Kraken. An unclear processed voice mumbles menacingly in an indistinguishable language as the track drives itself to a suitably dark conclusion, and clearly we’re in for some fine material. The second track is more minimal, yet continues the theme of disabled and unhealthy sounding acoustic instrumentation, with the appropriate title, “Muziekje om te Kotsen”; music for puking indeed!
Luckily, the sick interlude is but a brief one, and “Onder Je Wil” provides a more comfortable, if still disquieting, longer ride through shadowy, dirty passages of fog and filth, arriving finally at the scene of some nightmarish workshop of a frightening trade. The longest track on the album, “Ze Komen Me Halen”, offers a range of familiar traffic sounds together with more unpleasantness, with demented whisperings and insectoid scuttlings making me feel quite ill at ease. “Vriend in een Fles” (“Friend in a Bottle”) is a more delicate, piano-driven piece, which for me depicts a sad scene where our story’s leading character stares mournfully at a dead fly trapped in a bottle, occasionally offering heartfelt tributes to mark his closest companion’s untimely passing.
A short piece of subterranean ambient horror, “Morgen Zal Mijn Reet Toesten”, leads us pleasingly onwards, with a curious piece of Catholic chanting in the background, before “Praatjes van Je Sloerie” sees the return of the creeping, gnawing feelings of dread, the imagined insect invaders taking up permanent residence in our unfortunate friend’s mind, tormenting his waking thoughts and dreams in equal measure. “Visionen met de Gedrogeerde Puppy” is possibly the most minimal and claustrophobic piece on the album, perhaps the “drugged puppy” the title appears to mention actually being the deranged individual I have imagined this album soundtracks, hallucinating freakish visions of intoxicated canines in a cold, dark room. “Afschift van de Hopeloze Daad” concerns a “hopeless deed”, or “desperate act”, a long closing piece which may well document the final, pitiful hours of our miserable, wretched anti-hero as he ends his life in disgraceful circumstances.
I believe one clear indication of the quality of a piece of dark ambient is how detailed and bizarre the scenes the music can paint in your mind, so reading the above imaginings, I can only conclude that “Strops” really is one of those albums. I would recommend this to most lovers of experimental soundtrack music, perhaps the only warning being to those who are of a sensitive disposition to avoid it and maybe go for something a bit warmer and more soothing.
— Nathan Clemence