Never heard of darkwave or dark ambient music? You're not alone. Some might call it brilliant background music for a heady documentary. Others would merely dismiss it as unhappy, boring, repetitive, electronically driven mood music. Neither of these descriptions are entirely accurate, because this particular style amply rewards those with patience and a mind open to contemplation.
With layer after layer of well-crafted keyboard sounds and haunting synth trickery swirling in the mix, Light from Many Lamps earns Brett Smith his reputation as the "darkwave master." Although these songs are all largely very similar in both sound and laid-back style, careful listeners will hear the various distinct shades and be taken on a highly artistic and spiritually relevant journey. The moody, minimalistic nature of these instrumental wonders conjures images of Christ's incredible suffering, the weighty significance of faith, the majesty of the created order, and the depths of God's very own mysterious yet grand essence. Song titles like, "At Midnight I Arise to Give Thanks to Thee" summarize the music's style well by juxtaposing the sound and feeling of a deep faith (Give Thanks) with the harsh reality of living it out in a bleak world (Midnight). If Vincent Price ever made a Christmas album, this would be it: spooky and chilling, but deeply reverential.
Music reviewers are supposed to be experts on all musical forms, but here's one I've missed until now. As an introduction to this particular form, however, Caul is breathtaking and excites the imagination.
Steven S. Baldwin 11/5/99
As I'm writing this review, I'm listening to the CD on my TV. You see, I'm in the process of moving, so my Sony Playstation is doing double-duty as a CD player (ain't modern technology grand?). However, as Light From Many Lamps playing behind me, it's playing tricks with my mind. I have to keep reminding myself that there's not some Andrei Tarkovsky film playing in the background. I have to remind myself that it's just the new Caul album, however filmic and cinematic it may sound.
The opening track ("I Will Awake the Dawn") immediately sets the stage, and if you've never listened to Caul, quickly prepares you for what is to come. Starting off with the sound of wind, it evokes images of a desolate wasteland. Slowly, various fragments of sound start to chime in, like the motes of sunlight filtering over the horizon. With a loud, resounding tone, the song finishes on a powerful note that's nonetheless alien and foreboding.
The thing I like about Caul's music is the fact that, for dark-ambience, it's often very melodic and song-like. Although his music is rife with dark drones and forlorn waves of sound, Caul uses those in the background as a foundation for the melodies he uses as the song's focus ("The Saint and the Seraph"). Sometimes middle-eastern, sometimes medieval, sometimes classical, and often a little bit of all three, they move the songs along without diminishing the weight and power behind them.
At times it can get a little much, especially if you are lacking in patience. The album, at 15 tracks, lasts over 70 minutes. Out of those 70 minutes, the only track that doesn't work for me is the Dead Can Dance-ish "Midnight's Tongue." Musically, the track has a very strong Middle-Eastern sound to it, but the spoken word is distracting. Also, Caul works with a pretty limited palette, sonically and melodically; the synth sounds get a little overused ("The Mirror of Simple Souls" leaps to mind.)
On the other hand, "Oh Thou
Bright Crown of Pearl" is absolutely haunting in its slowly unfolding beauty.
The piano melody on "The Saint and the Seraph" is set against a slowly
spiralling array of bell-like tones and strings. As the song progresses,
the original melody fades away, giving birth to new ones that
continue to spiral onward and upward. "Crux Est Mundi Medecina" is one
of the strongest tracks on the album. A distant piano melody winds its
way through a haunting menagerie of atmospherics and choral samples reminiscent
of Steve Scott's work, before giving away to harsher noises. Imagine a
slightly heavier, rougher version of Vidna Obmana's "The River of Appearances."
The overall effect is more muted and less dramatic than much of the
Like his previous work, the outstanding Reliquary, Caul's music is replete with Christian themes. Song titles like "O Thou Bright Crown of Pearl" and "At Midnight I Arise to Give Thanks to Thee" (taken from the book of Psalms) sound like passages from an Orthodox hymnal or "The Cloud of Unknowing." There's a very solemn, graceful air to his music, but also a profound sense of awe and religious ecstasy.
Dark-ambient music tends to be dramatic by its very nature, and can often feel forced and artificial. Caul's music doesn't sound forced at all. And unlike some ambient music, his doesn't fade into the background. There's a great sense of intimacy and warmth here, which sounds odd compared with the often bleak and frightening sounds Caul uses. Perhaps it's the religious and Christian imagery that strikes a chord with me. And even though I don't listen to Caul's music with great frequency, I know that each listen will require a full engagement.
Jason Morehead 1/17/2000
Like a master craftsman, the Caul weaves hauntingly melancholy and introspective melodies with dark moody textures which blend together perfectly with some eastern influences into a magnificent symphony of sounds. Using a wonderful blend of synth and natural instruments which combine to draw the listener into the Caul's world. This world being filled with a dark ambient meditative music. Don't worry about what you'll ponder. The song titles themselves are highly suggestive and will give you weeks of material: "I Will Awake the Dawn," "The Blood Within the Veil," "At Midnight I Arise to Give Thanks to Thee," "Thine is the Day, Thine is the Night," and By the Breath of God, All the Stars." "Midnight's Tongue" is a vocal track. I found this very distracting.
This is absolutely wonderful stuff and essential for fans of dark ambient music. For the rest, take time to reflect on the life's mysteries. This is an ideal place to start.
Shari Lloyd 1/17/2000