Erik Osvald is no stranger to experimentation. In the decade since he founded his one man project Keosz, Osvald has explored soundtracks for films and videogames, bass-driven electronic music, ambient soundscapes, and a multitude of other electronic subgenres. Through his ventures, the Slovakian artist has cobbled together a winding labyrinth. Each new track, EP, split, or full album finds Osvald turning an unknown corner and forging into new territory. He will set his eyes on a new horizon with each release, but keep the ground underfoot the same. This imbues a consistent atmosphere throughout his body of work; it’s an ambience vibrating with serene melancholy, one which follows him through any musical terrain he decides to roam.
In April 2016, Osvald made his debut on the Cryo Chamber label with Be Left to Oneself. This record was more or less Osvald’s first full-length dedicated to dark ambient.* Relative to other records released on the label that year, Be Left to Oneself stood out as a personal favorite. It was an introspective journey. Gargantuan drones murmured beneath tranquil winds of tape noise; bowed instruments illuminated Osvald’s ethereal soundscapes with a faint neon hue. Be Left to Oneself reveled in the palpitating heart of Slovakia’s industrial architecture. It invited listeners to get lost in an unending grid of city streets shrouded in fog. The songs blended together, became indistinguishable. Listens passed like daydreams. Only despondency remained.
AVA, Osvald’s latest Cryo Chamber release, takes place in the foreseeable future. Organic life and machine are essentially one. Osvald wires into the digital thought patterns of an android, turning listeners loose to explore the hollow space of a mind that was once (presumably) human. “Acquitted from Illness” cracks open the fractal canopy of Ava’s engineered brain. A drone, far away, swirls in sable space. Mere seconds pass and Osvald plunges into its depths. The drone augments into a massive monolith of sub bass; eerie warbles resound off its synthetic surface. It’s a somber embrace. Crackling tape lights the underbelly of “All I Had to Do”. Deep in the black a woman’s soft coos cast an iridescent shimmer over the song’s frigid ambience. Enchanting, her voice pulls listeners into Ava’s limbic system. It’s a vacuum with “Nothing Left but Gloom”. Strings bellow and throb; they bask in sorrow. They hark back to a life of feeling, of emotion. In quiet moments where they catch their breath, gusts of wind lick at the silent indifference. These three tracks, with a couple others, manufacture the first half of AVA. They conjure a brooding ambience that permeates throughout the record. It is striking and more immersive than Be Left to Oneself. This doesn’t prepare listeners for what’s about to come, however.
Somewhere in Ava’s mind, a switch flips. Synapses fire. Guitar trickles from “Consigned to Limbo”. It pierces a nebulous veil of drones fabricated by Ava’s creators. Each note feels unbearably light, plucking gently at the fibers of Ava’s being. It’s unexpected and moving. Memories of an erased past begin to reappear. “Behind the Horizon of Preconceptions”, an enlightening drone fills the blank expanse of Ava’s mind with warmth and curiosity. It initiates a “Resurrection from the Dust”. Sounds of the natural world cascade above peaceful ripples of ambient textures. A guitar melody swells in a post-rock loop. Emotions tickle Ava’s previously benign nervous system. Everything comes into focus. Ava realizes what has happened. This song is incredible. It’s the pinnacle of AVA, not just for Ava’s story but for Osvald’s experimentation. He transcends the boundaries commonplace of dark ambient. With this composition and his other guitar-laden songs, Osvald achieves a breathtaking height in conveying emotion.
What stems from Ava’s resurrection is equanimity. This sense of clarity saturates the last three songs on AVA. In the physical realm, it’s difficult to say where Ava ends up. But from the lush inward perspective Osvald provides, through the mind and resuscitated feelings of Ava, listeners are rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. Not only does the cinematic aspect of AVA impress, but so does Osvald’s experimentation. His guitar work is superb; his compositions are steeped in darker sentiment. Osvald’s ability to evoke a deep sense of melancholy has never been crystallized so well until now. AVA harbors a mesmerizing enigma that is emblematic of Osvald’s work, and it treads a luminous, haunting pathway in his ever growing labyrinth of sonic endeavors.
Watch the video for “Resurrection from the Dust” above; purchase/stream the record at Cryo Chamber’s Bandcamp page here.
* Note: Osvald’s knack for dark ambient came through on previous releases. His 2014 electronic album, Before the end, featured a few dark ambient compositions among beat-driven tracks, two of which (“Low-down” and “Before the end”) concluded his Cryo Chamber premiere. A 2015 EP, INSECURE, also featured some cuts on the soon to be released Be Left to Oneself. Unlike Before the end, INSECURE remained exclusively in dark ambient domain. So, dark ambient was not a foreign concept to Osvald before his debut.