Aokigahara. A lush canopy of trees that blanket the bodies of innumerable lonely suicides and lost souls. A forest dense with mystery and beauty. This place was Duncan Ritchie’s destination when he journeyed to Tokyo some time ago. He recorded his experiences as he wandered from urban landscapes toward the sprawling sea of trees. From this journey, Ritchie crafted his Cryo Chamber debut Aokigahara. The record wallowed in the vicious indifference of life. Initially it sang with nervous excitement; piano and strings evoked a primordial curiosity. They emanated a distinct coziness and it lasted just long enough to arouse contentment with one’s trivial life. Then, Ritchie dragged listeners into darkness. Those same instruments began to lurk in the shadows. They crept behind listener’s backs at the pace of horror film scores. His compositions writhed in dark ambient sludge. Serenity evolved into absolute terror. Despair asphyxiated solace. Aokigahara spiraled into the bowels of loneliness and convulsed with a final, dying gasp.
Aokigahara epitomizes Ritchie’s profound skill to blend beauty and sorrow. Through this release, he established his unique dark ambient tone. It thumps with passion. Soundscapes are woven with delicate care. Emotions pour from his compositions. You would think this monumental dark ambient piece captured the entirety of Ritchie’s trek to Japan. But this is not the case. It is only one shard of his voyage.
Love Like Blood serves as a companion piece to Aokigahara. Aokigahara lamented in personal disdain. Love Like Blood bathes in a sickness. It’s a disease that one cannot escape because it is the only matter that keeps us humans moving forward. It instills purpose in a cold, abrasive world. It also deludes us to believe that life is worth living. Love. An emotion that can inebriate the mind with happiness, yet simultaneously poison it with resentment. Ritchie captures this tumultuous feeling with masterful precision.
“The Obscure You Deserve” opens Love Like Blood with a harrowing piano melody. Tired hands crawl over the keys. The white teeth drip with melancholy. It loathes to be alone. In the wake of a dear relationship’s destruction, it seeks a silver lining and yearns to inflict pain through absolute silence. It collapses into “Sorrow (Silhouette To Void)”. Dark ambient drones thrum from a black space. A moment of horrid respite passes as a single fly hovers about the relationship’s rotting corpse. Through its process of decay, “A Disease Called Love” seizures with frantic confusion. Wafts of nasty air stifle the void. A storm of drums, rattles, and other sound samples conjure a jumbled mosaic of feelings. It crushes the will to live. Somehow, there still exists a desire to rekindle the passion it so fondly remembers. It doesn’t know what to do.
Love is something we cannot live without. Even in the aftermath of loss there is a propensity for the heart to stitch the gaping wound. “To The Loveless” is Ritchie’s beautiful sentiment toward this healing process. It starts with solemn strings hiding in the dark. Creaks and static belch from places unknown. A lone thud palpitates. Harsh electronic winds lick at the lonely room. Then it eases. The cacophony fades from earshot and strings begin to shine. They are warm. They sympathize with listeners. A sweet aroma wafts from the orchestra of bows. It’s uplifting. It dredges hope to move beyond life’s turmoil. For a fleeting second, all feels good. Then it’s over.
Though love is something we cannot live without, we are prone to unrest. “To The Loveless” is Love Like Blood’s fulcrum. It’s a tipping point, a pinnacle, one that is surrounded by an abyss on either side. Where the first half experienced death and ascended toward subsequent rebirth, the latter relapses into sickness. “Tiny Black Tale” strikes the bottom of this latter pit. Its chilling drone rolls in like a low hanging graveyard fog. Electronic shrieks permeate the black soundscape. From the icy air, a tortured cry bleats. It dulls the senses. It crawls under your skin and claws at the confines of your psyche. It’s a grim reminder of our loneliness on this wretched soil. It exhibits no sympathy, only hopelessness. Pale with disease, the mind wanders to find a guiding light. A somber bell rings on “Memory (Night To Void)”. But nothing is here. Only disturbed thoughts, memories of sleepless nights, and the suffocating atmosphere of dark ambient whirrs.
Lost in the void, “Time Shall Heal No Wounds” tries to salvage whatever fragments of life remain. The veins feel like they have bled dry, but the disease pumps. The flesh carries on; a revolt rises up against nature. It’s an ethereal conclusion. Hands reach for the piano. A depressing melody trickles from its hull. Rain pours around the player. He is alone, but he plays. Despite the loss, the agony, the breath taking highs and each inevitable collapse, he still wanders this desolate wasteland. Not by purpose, but by a sickness. He continues to search for love, wherever that may be.
Score: 9.0 / 10.0
Listen to “The Obscure You Deserve” above; purchase Love Like Blood here.