CD, Cyclic Law, 2010
As I remark every time I review something from Cyclic Law, you know what you’re getting into with this label. Unsurprisingly, Tholen delivers exactly that: droning dark ambient.
Firstly, I must say that I’m glad that he chose to break this album up into separate tracks, unlike his debut, which consisted of one 70-minute piece. Not only is this considerably more approachable, but it appears that “Neuropol” is a themed album about an eponymous city, where each track is ‘about’ a separate part of the city (each song has a subtitle to indicate the location, including: “industrial area”, “subt. Temples”, “slums”, etc.). As such, I think these eight individual pieces work much better than one conglomeration. I put the term ‘about’ in quotes because all the songs are very similar, and none of them does anything particularly remarkable in the sense that it invokes mental imagery of specific portions of a city. Regardless, this is still a tremendous dark ambient album.
It’s a mixture of Atrium Carceri’s “Cellblock” and the typical somber, tranquil droning of most Cyclic Law releases. It’s very similar to Atrium in its use of great, creepy atmospheric samples (clanking and shuffling, crumbling, churning, what sounds like steam valves, etc.), which is something I always complain about ambient bands not doing enough of. If that’s not enough Atrium similarity for you, check out the piano at the end of “Cryogenic Ceremonies”, or the vocal samples towards the end of the album for instant congruency. However, while Atrium is more active and diverse, “Neuropol” is more subdued and homogeneous, and it always stays anchored in huge, dense droning textures.
The album moves very slowly, though it does continuously evolve, however subtly, until it climaxes at “Becoming (Segmented Minds)” and then cools down for the melancholy album closer, “When All Hope was Dying”. Because this album is fairly passive and moves so slowly, it will probably come across as boring. However, this is one quality that I enjoy because this album makes perfect background music.
If you want to feel like you live in a collapsing cyberpunk dystopian world where pollution and human failure have caused the denizens to retreat to the murky underground, then leave this playing at all hours. It’s intricate and detailed enough for somewhat active listening, but un-intrusive enough to leave on while you do other life activities (with the windows closed you won’t know you’re not in an ancient subterranean housing complex). The great production gives this a very smooth, even sound, which takes it from ‘sort of boring ambient’ to ‘epic prophesy of the dark wasteland future ambient’. If I absolutely had to offer any critique, it would be that I wouldn’t mind hearing more of that glorious aforementioned piano.
Bottom line: ‘must own’ if you like atmospheric droning ambient.
— Dan Barrett