Review: Randal Collier-Ford – am.OS – Season One

Am.OS is different. This rather vague statement is one that has been repeated on multiple occasions by the electronic and dark ambient producer, Randal Collier-Ford. Though through each utterance—and some subsequent context—the fogginess enshrouding am.OS distills a fraction closer toward clarity. What can be ascertained from the name alone? The .OS suggests operating system, but is am.OS only that? In part, yes. But given that am.OS is the protagonist, or focal point, for Randal’s upcoming Cryo Chamber trilogy, there must be undercurrents—oceans of wires—deeper within am.OS for listeners to explore. And there are. But the depth with which you can delve is relatively contingent on your imagination and your desire to wrangle the rather cryptic drip feed of lore Randal supplies.

Season One spans the life cycle of am.OS. Despite this EP’s brevity with respect to run time, it encapsulates the creation of am.OS, describes its purpose, its corruption, and its demise. Season One additionally provides listeners a richer backdrop for the story soon to unfurl from Advent, the first entry in Randal’s new trilogy, and its subsequent chapters. Now, the word it was used to describe am.OS. So what exactly is it? An operating system, yes, but it’s more complex than that.

Am.OS is artificial intelligence; a supercomputer, in a sense, engineered and bestowed with the monumental responsibility of protecting humanity against a perpetual memetic kill agent onslaught.[1] Hence, the am, or antimemetic. Am.OS protects by counteracting or preventing these kill agents from usurping the human bodies inhabiting Earth and converting those bodies into corrupted children­—or corporeal husks in servitude to a hive mind that exists beyond the fringes of time. It is this hive mind, this formless entity, a sole deity unnamed, whence these kill agents spawn. And this imperceptibly unfurling mass of sable is on a death march to revert the universe back to its original form. Uncorrupt. Uncorrupt through corruption.

Poster 3
am.OS

Created by a corporation unknown, am.OS resides in some undisclosed subterranean concrete architecture dozens of acres in size. Watching. Scanning. Protecting. Am.OS can see all of Earth. The exact time frame of am.OS’s construction is opaque, but at this juncture—the time of this writing—, it is not particularly pertinent. It may never be. What we do know is there are certain individuals, scientists, aware of the deity’s interstellar trudge—though how they know of this, it is unclear—and they comprehend it will reach Earth in a couple centuries, a mere blip on the cosmic timeline. The corruption, however, is already manifesting and it is whittling away at the human race. Kill agents are infecting and metastasizing inside their hosts, albeit slowly, and transmitting crucial data to the pitch-black monstrosity, whilst simultaneously draining their fleshy husks of their autonomy. The deity arrives soon. And when it does, it will swallow Earth. It will be a dies irae. A day of wrath.

What is so compelling about Season One is its divergence from the brooding ritualistic ambient Randal so masterfully crafts. His knack for exploring a litany of timbres is not confined merely to this release, however. In his Apocalypse trilogy (The Architects, Remnants, Promethean), Randal infused a throng of industrial clangs and near otherworldly electronic noises on the first album. And as the trilogy progressed, so did his sound. At its conclusion, he struck a most evocative balance of spine-tingling atmosphere steeped in raw—and at times, tender—melodic melancholy. Shortly after Promethean’s release came [APEX], an experimental cluster of compositions that supplemented events and divulged extra background details regarding the protagonist in his Apocalypse trilogy. Just a few weeks post-[APEX] came The 3rd Sessions, two renditions of an electronic/industrial track—one cinematic, the other a demo. Their emergence marked the progress of a creative metamorphosis Randal underwent for at least one year and is still perpetually forging. It illuminates an unlit path he has been wandering, etching his auditory endeavors into the stone tablets of a (multi)verse he is so fervently assembling. And Season One is our first full glimpse into the vistas of Randal’s novel constructions.

Season One nestles itself tightly in the frigid steel apparatus of industrial music. It is five compositions in length, partitioned as acts, and its entirety glides seamlessly.[2] “Act I” (DRIVER_CORRUPTED_SYSPTES) ignites with what sounds like am.OS coming online; an electronic swell escalates, then quickly cuts off. It repeats and repeats. Synapses of electricity fizzle. A mechanical drone raises in pitch. Then drops the dense bass-kick pang. Gargantuan it flecks am.OS’s abode with a fluorescent luster; its heftiness inflicts a sense of awe, the gales trailing each punch concoct a surreal atmosphere, and the shadows it casts shiver with foreboding. It repeats, then mutates into a calculated rhythm. Beneath those robotic clops, the lashes of static, tumefies the drone fragment, heightening in frequency to drive tension, to manifest the sheer scale—and hopelessness—of the threat unfurling toward Earth. As we drift into “Act II” (ACPI_BIOS_FATAL_ERROR), the plods of bass pockmark with less prevalence. Its atmosphere swirls into focus; glacial it engulfs. A primordial chant bellows. And somewhere in the bleak embrace of the drones stems a leitmotif.

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Concept art for the single, “II”.

This leitmotif exuding near the end of “Act II” persists throughout the remainder of Season One, though subtly shapeshifts, especially in “Act IV” (AGP_ILLGEGALLY_REPROGRAMMED). A snap of the fingers. What this indicates, it is unclear (at the moment) in the context of am.OS’s story. It could simply be a sound design choice to suture the latter handful of acts together in an aesthetically coherent (and pleasing) way, though given the dark depths of Randal’s lore, it likely illustrates a pivotal theme. My insights on how this leitmotif relates to the story unfolding is pure conjecture, so interpret this as you see fit. We do know am.OS perishes at the end of Season One, but its architecture splinters well before then. Am.OS itself becomes corrupt. When this corruption is seeded in the timeline of Season One, it is hazy, but this leitmotif may be some auditory indication of the corruption slowly eviscerating am.OS. Regardless of my interpretation in relation to am.OS’s arc, the recurrence of this snap and the way it establishes a pulse beyond the industrial thumps, it guides your ears so eloquently throughout the remainder of Season One.

“Act V” (UNEXPECTED_MEMETIC_MODE_TRAP_M) is am.OS’s demise. As the program language suggests, am.OS has been ensnared. It’s only a short span of time until it expires and rusts with disease. Consigned to its fate, a colossal crack of drum beats erupt; the primordial bellowing drone from “Act II” resurfaces. Primitive these sound against the computed snaps. Through each slam of the drums, you can feel the pressure of the air displaced brushing against your flesh. Raucous it beckons for death. And at the act’s climax, the sound of am.OS shutting down is heard. The murmur of the ancient tongue swallows the atmosphere. A minute it drones. Then it dissipates into the auras.

There is much to digest in Season One. The story it articulates, its relation to a new trilogy; it conjures vibrant imagery despite the nihilistic sentiments oozing from Randal’s lore. What exact details this season divulges, save the birth and death of am.OS, is rather difficult to ascertain (though we could surmise some extra insight from the error readings titling each act). But irrespective of the story, Season One is a fascinating exploration of sound from Randal. Its seamlessness renders each listen a breeze and with each return visit, new, vivid electronic textures unveil themselves to you. This is an exciting EP insofar that it showcases Randal’s momentous evolution as a dark ambient and electronic producer. And it wells up an insatiable curiosity for how his sound will develop over the course of his new trilogy. This is just the beginning of exploring am.OS’s neural net—its ocean of wires. The advent is on the horizon and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

[1] What is interesting to note here is that memetic kill agents are lovingly adapted from the fecund and ever expanding digital tomes of SCP (Secure, Contain, Protect) lore. My ability to expound upon this lore would not be fruitful here, however, as my knowledge of it is still in a fledgling state. But a salient detail to take away from SCP is that it revolves around world-ending monsters, not too dissimilar from the Lovecraftian mythos.

[2] A small note about the track titles: In the review, I refer to the tracks on Season One as ‘acts’ as this was the original naming schema for Randal’s album. Due to limitations of song title choice across various streaming platforms, Randal had to do away with the ‘acts’ and he instead went with naming the tracks simple roman numerals, 1 through 5.

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You can obtain a digital copy of Season One via Randal’s personal Bandcamp page. There, you can stream the EP in full once it releases on September 15, 2018. You can also listen to Season One on various streaming platforms beginning on that day.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about Randal’s lore, you can listen to a podcast I did with him where he divulged extra backstory and details regarding his lore. He and I are also in the process of creating a mini-series of podcasts where Randal delves into his lore further. The first episode of this will be available soon.

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