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Apocryphos - Stone Speak (2016) - Review

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Band: Apocryphos
Album title: Stone Speak
Release date: 28 June 2016
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Tenebrous
02. Consanguineous Spirit
03. Unmarked And Overgrown
04. Simulacrum Of Stone
05. Sepulcher
06. Clandestine featuring Kave

Robert C. Kozletsky wasted no time in proving his staying power in the dark ambient community. From his first foray into the genre, Psychomanteum Oneironaut a two-member dark ambient act, released through Cyclic Law, Robert showed his keen abilities at sound manipulation. Pyschomanteum boasted dreamy subdued ambient tracks along with tracks like "Ascension Of The Subconscious" something that sounds like it was produced during the golden years of raison d'être, by Peter Andersson himself. A brilliant and relevant album even six years later, Oneironaut showed that Kozletsky would have no end to his ambitions in sight.

What followed Psychomanteum would be two varied and equally praised project: Apocryphos and Shock Frontier. With Shock Frontier, Kozletsky tapped into his heavier noise/industrial palate and created an often dense and devastating project which found its home among other veterans of the style such as IRM and The Vomit Arsonist on Malignant Records. However, Apocryphos, Kozletsky's solo and arguably his main project, takes him into that same dark and subdued place we visited with Psychomanteum. But now with Apocryphos, dreams and celestial thoughts seem to be pushed to the side, and something colder and more sinister has taken its place. On 2015's Cyclic Law release The Prisoners Cinema, Apocryphos took full form, presenting a release rivaling the best on Cyclic Law. The album was even more praiseworthy on account of the cover artwork contributed by Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber. This collaboration with Heath would be a sign of the future. Later that year we were blessed with the dark ambient instant classic Onyx, a collaboration between Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, Pär Boström of Kammarheit, Cities Last Broadcast and Hymnambulae, topped out by Robert C. Kozletsky. This project would give Kozletsky and even greater boost as a solo artist and his first encounter with the mastering skills of Simon Heath. The collaboration is by all accounts a masterpiece of the dark ambient genre.

Coming off the massive success of his last two releases, Kozletsky returns now in mid 2016 with his greatest solo achievement to date, Stone Speak. Boasting the cover art and mastering skills of Simon Heath, along with the recognition associated with the mind-blowing rise of Cyro Chamber's popularity since its inception only several years back, Kozletsky is poised to come into his own now as a true veteran of the scene, making up in quality for what he lacks in years' experience.

The content of Stone Speak was first alluded to months ago, when Kozletsky made some social media posts about taking expeditions into nearby ghost towns in his rural Pennsylvania region. Field recordings gathered during these expeditions would prove to be the basis of Stone Speak, an album which is dark ambient to the core. Stone Speak, using ghastly presences in nature as the foundation, can at times be calm and quiet and at others can become a full-raging apparition. Often times in dark ambient, an album will start at a point of low activity and as the album progresses the level of density and substance gently increases to a mid album climax, receding as smoothly as it arrived. Not so with Stone Speak. Stone Speak delivers its hardest hitting, and most intensely sinister track to the forefront, immediately dragging our minds through the dirt of these ghostly old haunts. "Tenebrous" is an insanely intricate and well produced track. Listening through different media such as a speaker system or a set of headphones, brings out a world of differences and intricacies in the detail of the field recordings. The organics of this album and "Tenebrous" in particular can't be understated. Some staticy rainy atmosphere takes up the base, with a gently rolling deep drone accompanying. The details are filled out with whispered vocals, guitar drones, field recordings of human movement, groans of some unholy spirits, all come together in a glorious blend of darkness. Listening to this at a high volume, with the mind thoroughly relaxed, all sorts of emotions come forth. There is a moment at the midway point where this almost starts to trick you into thinking your are listening to metal not dark ambient. On one particular play-through, I was so overcome by the darkness of "Tenebrous" that I had to take a break from dark ambient altogether for an hour or so and come back to it in a less intense mindset. There are few dark ambient albums that can still push me to a point of utter terror, Stone Speak is happily on that list.

While I would definitely consider "Tenebrous" to be the crowning achievement on Stone Speak, it is by no means the only track of veteran level quality. Every single track here has its own character and they are all around eight to nine minutes in length. These long form tracks are a perfect compliment to Apocryphos style, which often takes the guise of some far northern European act, and not something out of Pennsylvania USA. "Consanguineous Spirit" gives a much needed respite from the intensity of "Tenebrous" and shows that Kozletsky's origins in Psychomanteum are gone but not forgotten. This is a decidedly dreamy track, yet no less organic than the rest of Stone Speak, and the dream does not appear to be one which is very pleasant. "Unmarked And Overgrown" is the perfect evolutionary connection between Stone Speak and The Prisoners Cinema, some of the sounds here can't help but remind the listener of the opening track off The Prisoners Cinema, "Eigengrau", which is one of the coldest and bleakest tracks produced outside Scandinavia. Yet "Unmarked And Overgrown" in no way seems to borrow from "Eigengrau" it instead revisited and reinvents the underlying atmosphere and maybe even location, by no means remixing an old track.

Continuing to show his love for collaborations, Kozletsky recruits the talents of Kave a fellow lover of the polar dark ambient style. On "Clandestine" Apocryphos and Kave team up to craft a fragile and highly atmospheric gem. "Clandestine" has some of the more prevalent synthy drone lines on the album which are the perfect accompaniment to an almost buried, pristinely realized soundscape of field recording and drone atmospheres.

Each track on Stone Speak has its own character and direction, yet they all come together as a cohesive whole, with perfect execution. The early build up delivered by "Tenebrous" sets the tone for the rest of Stone Speak, giving it a tense and haunting aura over an other wise organic and peaceful soundscape. This dichotomy of sounds couldn't be naturally blended by any sound-smith. A recorder and a keyboard go a long way, but what Kozletsky pulls together here through all his varied media inputs is nothing short of magnificent. I highly recommend Stone Speak to any dark ambient fan, especially those who prefer their dark esoteric themes to have a hint of subtlety. The array of techniques used on Stone Speak to achieve its supernatural yet organic feel is astounding, and the execution with which they all came together is spot on. Kozletsky proves once again that his mark on the dark ambient genre will not be soon forgotten, and he has added an instant classic to an already impressive portfolio.

Review written by: Michael
Rating: 9.5/10