Markland by NorthumbriaRelease date: March 21, 2017
Label: Cyro Chamber
The second in a trilogy of albums, Markland continues Northumbria‘s exploration of dark ambient soundscapes which built up environments, inspired by the Norse discovery of Canada. Built entirely around guitars, bass and live improvisation, we’re thrown deep into a very dark and unsettling landscape, one that utilizes drone elements to create drawn out passages that slowly introduce details subtly, that reveal the whole picture. The whole album comes across as a wonderfully immersive experience, one that acts comfortably when viewed with the ambient genre’s aesthetic of occupying the background, whilst also revealing much to those who pay apt attention to the more subtle layers amongst it all.
Perhaps for some people, thinking of ambient music might bring up thoughts on Brian Eno or Stars of the Lid, and their more gentle dreamy tracks that push along beautifully for large amounts of time. Both artists in question though have dabbled in more darker material in their repertoires (In particular, one is reminded of Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, and Stars of the Lid’s Music for Nitrous Oxide). On both those albums, we see the artists in question delving deep into a much darker and murkier territory, one that doesn’t perhaps relax and lull the listener, but instead serves more to transport the listener to these introspective worlds. On Markland, we see this very notion being near-flawlessly executed, with great care and attention going into the whole album aesthetic, rather than individual songs. This all culminates into one incredibly cohesive and well structured album experience that flows beautifully from track to track, slowly shifting with the landscape as it introduces newer and darker elements.
The album itself feels like a journey, starting in a cold and stark environment, where everything feels almost indiscernible as you struggle to make out the details, and from there transforms to imagery of wolves in the dark night, thunderstorms that loom overhead, and the break of day illuminating a vast open space. There’s wonderful variation in the music itself, which in turn gives this album its own story, its own journey, that we become a part of.
Despite it being a very big and foreboding album for the most part, the real effects of Markland feel mostly subtle. It takes a little time for the real majesty of the album to come forth, but when it does, it becomes a phenomenal experience that showcases an incredible range of talent from the band. The cohesive vision of the album, from its story to its presentation, come across brilliantly, providing one allows themselves to just fall into the folds of the music. It feels incredibly medative, dark, yet not scary. Mysterious is perhaps a better word for it all, though it feels like an understatement.