DESIDERII MARGINIS  Serenity / Rage  LP   (Cyclic Law)   22.99

Not all dark ambient is equal. Plenty of artists strive for simple emptiness, the solace of the void. Which is nice, but there's something special about artists like Sweden's Johan Levin, who imbues a greater depth of emotion and feeling and menace into his largely electronic driftscapes. Nothing mawkish or comforting here, though. This is music meant to disturb. Levin's work under the banner of Desiderii Marginis is a singular body of work going back to the project’s formation in 1993; while one of the original Cold Meat Industries entities, Desiderii Marginis revealed a deeper textural core and a penchant for peeling back the softening, bruising flesh of his grim ambiance and revealing a kind of pungent poetry in the diaphanous clouds of synthesizer drones and electronic blur. That restrained, highly textured expression in some ways diverged from the cruel, morbid machinations of Cold Meat's harsher aesthetic. But the mood? The subject matter? The exquisite midnight blackness of Desiderii Marginis sits right at home amongst the likes of Brighter Death Now and Mz.412.

This 2023 reissue of Serenity / Rage is an exemplary demonstration of this abyssic style, with a more recent iteration of Levin's approach to creating rich fields of baleful, shadow-soaked sound, but the foundational syntax of his work remains the same. And the subject matter couldn't be more troubling: an examination of the serial killer Edmund Kemper, whose voice infests brief passages of the album's gorgeous dark ambience. Serenity was actually originally self-released by Levin several years ago, but Cyclic Law revived it as a lovely reissue on CD and vinyl, with distressing new sleeve art created by author / musician Martin Bladh (IRM, Skin Area, Infinity Land Press) that ties in with the album's grotesque subject matter.

You know you're in for a bad trip when an album opens with Kemper discussing his familial upbringing. His intelligent, contemplative voice hangs over a bed of dreary, melancholic drone, leading you down the darkened hallways of "I Was Destroying Icons". The voice recording used for this is perfectly selected and applied, effectively unnerving in his flat, impassionate delivery. In fact, the themes and imagery behind Serenity / Rage are not spelled out for the listener. What seems to be an aural examination of the Kemper case expands into something wider over the course of the album. That first track surgically applies Kemper's matter-of-fact confessionals to a dimly-lit space of distant but crushing distorted percussion in a reverberant vastness, descending downward into black chasms of psychological dread while haunting string sections, field recordings, and orchestral pads softly swirl around you. The six-song album grows more suggestive with its macabre material, once Levin performs an impressive interpretation of Brighter Death Now's "Necrose Evangelicum", reshaping it into something more amorphous and nebulous. An unexpected choice for the second song on Serenity, but its presence this early into the album is impactful. It picks up from those massive percussive blasts of the opener, as ghostly choral voices and surges of cold metallic synth sweep across the expanse; sounding totally cinematic in scope. Boundless electronic beauty hangs in stark opposition to the cruelties that continue to crawl to the surface. The temperature drops to sub-freezing when "New Flesh On The Demon Cold" rolls in, icy drones and glacial choral textures beset by occasional percussive blasts. These tracks melt one into the next, the bleary subterranean rumble of "Psychogeography" slipping into the sinister thrum, malevolent chittering noises and dissonant strings of "I Think It Was a Sunday", and finally into the closer "The Hours Of Darkness ", where strange mechanical sounds, distant metallic rattling, and angelic synths blur together into a perfectly formed, soul-chilling driftscape.

Its remarkable how much this feels informed by Berlin School-electronics. Even at its most chilling and unnerving, there's this gleaming grandeur that prevails. The album is a stunning contradiction between the capacity for human brutality and the transcendent power of music that reaches for the divine.

Limited to three hundred copies.