“A must for fans of the Berlin School in 2022 and for those who want to discover it”
1 sgxb 6:47
2 Invade 4:28
3 Haunting 7:00
4 Engrained 17:25
5 Isolate 18:35
6 Desolate 18:56
(CD, Vinyl, DDL 73:12) (V.F.)
If you're a fan of the Berlin School style, from Ricochet to Force Majeure, ISOLATE is for you! Or, if you're one of those legion of new fans who just so happened to discover this Berlin School style through the airwaves of Redshift, ['ramp] and/or Brendan Pollard, Cosmic Ground's music should call out to you from the very first self-titled opus released in 2014 under the electronic prose of Dirk Jan Müller. Notice that the first category simply goes hand in hand with the second! All this to finally underline that this ISOLATE is without a doubt the most completed album of the German musician since Cosmic Ground. DJ Müller offers nothing less than 73 minutes of heavy and dark electronic music (EM) that is shaken by several polyrhythmic phases while keeping this deliciously chthonian melodious side.
Sgxb sets the tone with a short and legendary opening of dark ambient music. The rhythm emerges at the 30th second from a dense zone of chthonian mist. A sequenced bass line pulses and alternates its beatings, creating a typical Berlin School electronic rock. The rhythm remains homogeneous, to some nuances near, to accelerate slightly in a hardly spasmodic cadence a little before the 4th minute. The synth releases waves of voices that secretly ululate and pads that undulate with an abstract air embedded in the detail, further accentuating the murky effect of a music coming straight out of Phaedra's trails. Hollow breezes, sounds of a gutter full of secrets and other tones of a psybient universe adorn the slow opening of Invade. Voices and whispers are heard, simulating an escape plan, but it's very far away in the auditory field. It's purely atmospheric, though a structure pulses nervously without rhythmic direction, with heavy vibrational layers and choppy winds creating dramatic cinematic effects. Haunting takes the path of a good electronic rock, less powerful than Sgxb but with more vivacity. Like the structures of frantic and spasmodic rhythmic sequences of Tangerine Dream's 76-77 era. The ambiences remain tenebrous with spectral flights and very good chthonian sound effects which are in the tone. The rhythm follows a path that slightly changes its axis while being surrounded by attractive percussive elements. Very good! Take the elements of these 3 short tracks and graft them to the other 3 long structures of ISOLATE and we have the recipe for a splendid mid-70's revival EM album.
Engrained is the first of these 3 long tracks. Dirk Jan Müller takes the time to deploy his impressive arsenal of synthesizers and sequencers, both analog and digital, as well as his magnanimous mellotron and Farfisa organ. It is these tracks that structure these constantly moving rhythms that refold and stretch into other rhythmic perspectives. The track begins with the dull resonance of its crashes! Bursts, like gunshots, resound in this opening that makes the sinuous waves of synthesizer slalom between the discharges of noise. The German musician has a knack for filling his ambiences with an enhanced, slightly more emotive sound texture, giving his music that upcoming drama feel. The bass shadows breathe and expire in the mellotron's grievances, creating this tenebrous climate that halo the gloomy dimensions of a gothic and mephistophelic style. The rhythm emerges just before the 4th minute with two sequencer lines that swing their jumping chords sharply in opposition to each other. Another movement sneaks in. More fluid and less mechanical, it rounds the spasmodic side of this unbridled rhythmic flight. It sounds like a train running at full speed on bumpy tracks! This train rolls in misty landscapes where orchestral layers inject this delicious tonal perfume of the 70's. The organ layers resound as the train seems to lose a quarter of its speed, or the sequencer has lost a jumping chord somewhere. This temporary unbalance thwarts a possible redundancy effect in this segment where the layers weave dark and scary landscapes. The structure subtly shifts its focus almost 6 minutes later, in a drone zone that further intensifies the atmospheric heaviness of Engrained. Always present, the rhythm seems to stagger! An auditory illusion created by the addition of percussive elements that momentarily encircle this structure. The rhythm rolls on and on at a furious pace under layers and pads of mists and or satanic orchestrations until its weariness which is felt after the 15th minute.
The title-track offers a more atmospheric vision that develops with a stationary pulsating rhythm in the middle. The track highlights its luciferian ambiences with good floating synth layers where you can hear some humming murmur. The music goes through a more exploratory phase after the 8th minute. Various tonalities, some more percussive, vegetate in this environment that can be qualified of dark psybient by the rustlings and the industrial beats which clash in an astonishing cadenced symbiosis. The richness of the sound elements in place makes the eardrums overflow! The synth layers inject aural chloroform, putting more mystery in this disturbing dark passage of Isolate. These layers move with a jolting effect but without elaborating plans for rhythm. This is what I call very good dark ambient! Desolate features another slow introduction where the mellotron strings weave a gothic environment. The sound rises and falls through layers of cloudiness that would make our senses tingle if they could attach scenes from a creepy movie. The pulsating rhythm emerges at the 3rd minute when the luciferian voices are still heard. Heavy, ponderous and humming in its splendor, it hops around like a scarecrow trying to chase away the attacks of those deafening layers that swirl around. Another more lively rhythmic structure can be heard far away in the background. It will intermittently make its metronomic slams heard, creating the illusion of a ghost train that helps accelerate a cadence across a dense atmospheric bridge around the 12 minute mark. This segment of barely 90 seconds unites the dark and ethereal poles of the Berlin School before the rhythm returns with a line of oscillations whose fluid flow also goes through its phase of sibylline ambiences.
That's it! Cosmic Ground in all its glory, ISOLATE is probably the best thing Dirk Jan Müller has done since Cosmic Ground IV in 2018. This is Berlin School in all its complex beauty where the dark draws our senses to its polyrhythmic, sometimes complex, structures in a gothic setting that inexorably takes us back to the Franke and Froese era with or without Peter Baumann. Müller is truly impressive in his ability to combine this style with an unsettling vision worthy of the surreal ambience of music drawn from the abbeys of darkness. A must in 2022 for the fans of the genre...and those who are looking for questions/answers about this style and its origins.
Sylvain Lupari (September 30th, 2022) *****
Available at Cosmic Ground Bandcamp