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[non-industrial] David Arkenstone - Beneath A Darkening Sky
Katarzyna NINa Górnisiewicz | Detailed or mini-review submissions: song, EP/album | Suggest an artist
David Arkenstone – Beneath A Darkening Sky |QDV Recordings, 2016|

01. The Fog, 02. The Deep Desolation, 03. The Storm, 04. The Moonless Midnight, 05. The Ice Forest, 06. They Are Coming, 07. The Wind From The North

American composer & multi-instrumentalist David Arkenstone is a soundscape explorer who aims to trigger your imagination by delivering both space and atmosphere locked within a musical composition. He paints atmospheric landscapes and thus, he's frequently present in movie and video game projects. Games such as World of Warcraft, Lands of Lore 2 and 3, Earth and Beyond, and Emperor: Battle for Dune (to name a few) already include David's scores. Having released over 45 albums and several soundtracks for film and TV, he also received three Grammy nominations for In the Wake of the Wind (1992), Citizen of the World (2000), and Atlantis (2004). His expertise in sculpting entire fantastic realities with sounds recently led to the creation of yet another capturing set of compositions.

His latest opus, entitled Beneath A Darkening Sky, was released mid- 2016 and is an escapist venture into dark fantasy lands, reportedly composed by candlelight. There are seven brand new tracks and each clocks over eight minutes. The album opener ('The Fog') brings a promising foretaste – a mystical atmosphere, supported by angelic female voices. A slow, rhythmic pulse appears later, skillfully mixed with incoming waves and layers of higher tones. Oriental drums and ambient atmospheres are key elements here and obviously, such a trance-like melody will allow listeners to detach from the outside world, and eventually drag them into a world full of magic.

'The Deep Desolation' brings a different mood - foggier and darker than found in the opener. There's no specific rhythm here but instead, focus is put on orchestration, violins, and an atmosphere of sorrow. A voice full of longing adds even more nostalgia to this already slowly passing soundscape. Unquestionably, it's the perfect composition to be performed live in a philharmonic with an orchestra. Finger's crossed for David to land such an opportunity soon!

The expression found within 'The Storm' may surprise those purists who would expect to hear a cannonade of thunders, a shock of lightnings and a torrential flood of rain. Instead, David paints the storm with pastels (including the obligatory thunder strike). Thus, it's not presented as fearful but as a refreshing, life-giving atmospheric phenomenon. Imagine a village that had been suffering due to weeks of drought. When a storm finally arrives, the rain waters plants and refills the river, bringing everything back into balance and safety - all is well. However, this delicate approach applies to the first half of the composition only, because the other intensifies gradually. The extremely melodic ending part attracts attention through it 'multicultural' feel - as if imaginary Celtic, Indian, and Arabic musicians united to accompany the storm by transmuting its vibration into positive energy. One could wish this became true for the political situation in our world – the oldest, polarized nations teaming up to quell the fray and make Earth a peaceful planet again...

'The Moonless Midnight' could illustrate a night spent in a monastery or at an underground occult gathering. Your mind’s eye may spot initiates chanting around a white pentagram drawn on the floor (certainly dotted with burning candles and smudged with incense smoke) and the master of ceremony conjuring inside the symbol. But even if initially only men are involved here (judging by the voices), the ceremony could be dedicated to the invocation of a Divine Feminine whose nostalgic voice is heard in the latter part of the composition. David used waves of ethereal sounds, splashed with heavier tones, in perfectly matched places. Discerning listeners should be satisfied, as it seems there's some hard to beat stereotype of what a mystical site should sound - including bells, ethereal voices, otherworldly choirs and, for contrast, a few uncanny drones. 'The Moonless Midnight' is a great example of how music can (and always should) influence imagination, just like books do - giving listeners goosebumps!

'The Ice Forest' is a truly awesome soundscape thanks to its cold, slowly developing set of sounds which keep changing, yet remain perfectly balanced. In the beginning, the theme has a sci-fi feel thanks to clearly 'galactic' sound references, despite the song title suggesting something completely different. There's more dynamics here compared to previous tracks and also a bit of uncertainty, as if we were led into a new territory. Arkenstone skillfully operates the harmonic contrast again, balancing depth and weight. When the arrangement progresses enough, the listener - so far following mysterious footprints or a route on an ancient map serendipitously found in a snow-covered tree trunk - will be led out of the frozen, monochromatic land into a peaceful, colorful village full of fires in hearths. The atmosphere brightens up on all levels, thanks to a mirthful rhythm (produces by a flute, a violin and drums). Our explorer is then peeping from behind the corner of a hut at locals who dance, sing, and drink wine, celebrating the end of a long day.

Judging solely by the song's title again, 'They Are Coming' could probably refer to extraterrestrials. Yet it remains unclear what kind of entities - ETs, ghosts, Lightbeings or zombies to mention a few popular ones - the listener may expect to come. This, and other songs don't provide lyrical content to learn more details from, so we can only guess that those who are coming are friendly, since the song doesn't carry any negative, frightening sounds. Instead, a deep nostalgia is all-present here, with the sounds that build the mood appearing, disappearing or being replaced by other tunes when their 'mood-making job' is done. There's also a drum-based background which puts listeners back into the safety of a trance-like state of being. The track's end proves David's compositional skills in building finales and switching between arrangements. Finally, if you've ever heard of the scientific idea of a multiverse, then here we have the audible example of it – worlds put into worlds, none fixed too tightly within another.

Even if it initially starts with a drift of a cold chill, 'The Wind From The North' isn't only freezing - it also brings a warming feel at times. This is thanks to a deep, bulging, hypnotic pulse, methodically put in the forefront of the composition with other 'windy' sounds heard in the background. The human brain is certainly receptive to such a setting, as the pulse makes it 'attached', with other slowly floating arrangements opening the soul and leading it into quite an out-of-body experience. When such a dream-like state is achieved and when the pulsation stops (it'll come back later, don't worry), the bells and voices come in, together with a sensation of looking at a vast snowy land.
This composition carries a very imaginative theme - the lonely voyage of a Chosen One to survive and fulfill a mission (and obviously, it could be the perfect match for a movie or a video game with such a plot). When a cathedral-like atmosphere arises (thanks to suddenly appearing organ sounds), the listeners may imagine that the traveler has been side-tracked during the quest and unexpectedly discovered a lost spiritual site. This place may offer our explorer an experience of astral travel during which he or she learns more about the ancestors, him/herself and finally, hears a prophecy related to the mission. 'The Wind From The North' was released with a music video single, available on Arkenstone's YouTube channel.

To sum it all up, the songs smoothly connect with each other on the whole album, so it's not really important which song you choose to start with – you will always tap into the album's atmospheric leitmotif with any composition. David's tracks are produced, mixed, and mastered extremely well. Thus, many aspiring sound designers could learn a lot from him. He has also mastered techniques of manipulating the volume (for the illusion of distance, spaces, and dimensions he can pave new passages through), and operating both weight and harmonic contrasts through darker and brighter tones. Most of the tracks, quite characteristically for this album, have a breakthrough moment, usually placed near the middle of the composition.

Could there be any additional use for this album, besides just listening? In my opinion, [please credit the reviewer for bringing up this idea ;)], Beneath A Darkening Sky should be sent to art and literature schools, along with soundscapes of other well known 'mood-designers' (Mark Morgan and John Powell, to name a few) to develop and deepen the students’ artistic sensitivity through a series of 'Listen, Imagine, Illustrate' classes.
My only suggestion is that it may be helpful if David uses an extended sound library of angelic female voices so they could bring a welcome diversity. A careful listener would rather imagine not the same, but various 'beings’, occupying different areas of his mythical world(s).

Undoubtedly, this is a must-have album for lovers of video games, movie soundtracks, soundscapes, dark ambient, fantasy art and more, before David's upcoming, chill-orientated album comes out at the end of August 2016.

(Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Music Magazine, August 16th, 2016. Proofreading: Mike 'Vesper' Dziewoński)

Read also: Interview with David Arkenstone (2016)

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