Imagine a world where all you know is freezing cold. Imagine endless landscapes of ice with no living organisms for miles around. Imagine yourself trapped in it not being able to escape, sentenced to wander in the snow forever. The only memories of yours are those of a never ending and hopeless roam. The ever-embracing cold wiped out everything from your mind and all you can do is blindly hoping for the better. But they say that hope only makes one suffer more…
Well, you don’t really need to spend whole life to experience living alone in the Arctic land. It would be enough to put on the split record of North Atlantic Drift and Northumbria. It evokes a feeling of depressing isolation and crippling loneliness. At the same time, you can feel hope coming from the music – living alone in the frost isn’t that bad after all, when you can see all these breathtaking ice formations. This dualist hope-despair reception of the album is caused by the fact that each track is somehow different.
RELEASE DATE: 01 May 2014 LABEL: Polar Seas Recordings
“Ursa Minor” and “Polaris” feel like a long journey in the frozen and desolate land. As the openers of the album, they introduce a listener into the land where love, compassion and friendship are buried deep down under the impenetrable crust of ice. First rays of sun melting tops of the ice caps come with “Ursa Major”, however, this is the vague sun that is not enough to warm up a wanderer. This track, although having a decent slide guitar driven intro, annoys me with its synthetic cymbal sounds by the end. Basically, synthetic synthesizers are what drives the North Atlantic Drift part of this split record. Sometimes it seems as if the musicians had to visit a decontamination chamber before entering the studio to record their instruments which were shipped in anti-bacteria cases. Synthetic sounds take away some of the emotion that one can experience when listening to North Atlantic Drift. Unfortunately – because the songs truly have the potential to evoke feelings much stronger than the ones they evoke in their current arrangements. The last North Atlantic Drift track, “Perpetual Daylight”, has a simple ambient chord progression and is my favorite from their contribution. It develops slowly, by adding layers of non-imposing electronic sounds, into a subtle and warm song which feels like a smooth, yet cold wind softly lashing your face. On the whole, North Atlantic Drift contribution to this album is quite coherent. These four tracks are good, but unfortunately, only good. It is quite a nice music to be a background, but listening to it will probably not be a life-changing experience. I have to admit that the production sets the high level, however I always admitted that it is better to have an album that sounds bad, but is filled with raw beauty.
Northumbria begins their part of the album with a total change of mood – from chilling ambient we step down into some ancient cave. There is no sun inside, only darkness and an omnipresent anxious feeling of death. As you step deeper and deeper you are starting to hear underground rumbling which gets louder and louder. You are not turning back – you are going right into what would seem to be hell. But it is not hell – it’s a beautiful and pure land, where after lonesome and hopeless wandering in the Arctic land, you finally find peace of mind. Northumbria does not repeat synthetic arrangements of North Atlantic Drift, which only does good for the tracks. More natural sounds with feedbacks and imperfections make listening to Northumbria’s contribution a more pleasant experience than listening to North Atlantic Drift. “Cold Wind Rising” is definitely the most atmospheric track on this split album. It is driven forward by spooky low-tuned humming to which various creepy sound are added throughout the duration of the song. It creates an image of the world deprived of any positive feelings, a dehumanized landscape where death is just around the corner. “Vanishing Point”, the last track on this album is probably supposed to be the denial of all the negativity coming from the rest of the songs. Based on a simple guitar riff and soft electronic background, it gets a bit boring by the end, as nothing really happens or changes in this song. Still it is a lovely contrast to all the depression we get with the previous five tracks and a good choice for a closing one.
It was quite an unusual task to write about this album. Although bands who contributed to this split record can be described as ambient, they do differ on almost every level. While in the music of North Atlantic Drift one can hear God Is An Astronaut signature post-rock influences, Northumbria fancies more droning and dark-ambienting. Four tracks by the former circulate around decently produced electronic sounds and reverbed guitar. Drums and bass are scarce, but there is no need for them to be exposed more. Northumbria’s two track contribution is much more eclectic with “Cold Wind Rising” being a proper dark ambient with serious drone influences, and “Vanishing Point” – a “happy” ambient with some TWDY’s “Tunnel Blanket” vibe. The main notion of this split album is loneliness, experiencing it in form of an isolation and then embracing it. While listening to this record, I imagined a single person wandering. This is the album to listen to at night with your headphones on and light turned off – in this way you can experience it in the best way.
Although I don’t really like the idea of split albums, this one is really interesting as a whole. What’s so interesting about it? Both bands, as I said before, are like Northern and Southern poles of ambient music. While it is obvious that North Atlantic Drift and Northumbria are musically different, both create the same image – the image of an Arctic land. Still both interpret it in different ways – the former focuses on the aspects of loneliness and roam that never meets its end, while the latter presents a dark and crippling, yet beautiful side of polar regions. This dualist interpretation is what fascinated me about this album the most. This is also the reason for which I might be returning to this record.