Atrium Carceri – Seishinbyouin
Thankfully, most of us have never graced the walls of a mental institution or asylum. Even the very words are enough to trigger automatic responses, ingrained in us by collective cultural perceptions (regardless of whether they are ultimately true or not). They were places seldom mentioned in the modern era, and were feared in the ancient days, when a general lack of sanitation, proper medical procedures, and understanding of basic biological functions (and the myriad ways in which they can decay) often led to an overwhelming madness. Thus, many of society’s undesirables eventually found their way to these cruel institutions, with maintenance workers whose self-hatred was only eclipsed by the inhabitants of the asylum, and the executive director, who profited immensely from the mentally ill.
Now, imagine an asylum where the only lights are those that flicker and falter. Where spoken speech is barely tolerated (that which is heard is subdued Japanese) and the distorted cries of the inmates can be heard echoing off of the walls. The doctor’s, when they are not treating patients, can be heard playing forlorn piano in their expansive office. No one can understand the regular announcements that come over the PA system, for the speakers garble all recognition. Liquid squelching, animal cries, and structural creaking are constantly heard, for the asylum is extremely old and decrepit, and has not been renovated since the state retracted it’s funding for the institution.
This is a literary depiction of “Seishinbyouin”, a collection of thematically linked tracks. Although considered dark ambient, the music also makes frequent nods towards industrial (mainly in the semi-frequent drumbeats and distorted electro-bass). Unlike many dark ambient acts, Atrium Carceri’s songs usually range from about three to five minutes (thought the vast majority of them feel thoroughly explored and full at their current duration). The music is also invokes strong feelings of it being designed for a movie soundtrack. Throughout the album, various conversations in Japanese are spoken, usually in what appears to be a question and answer session. Furthermore, piano, synth strings and choirs only add further to the expansive nature of the songs.
Notable songs include “Illusion Breaks” (for the enigmatic second half of the song, featuring female vocals, a gruff Japanese speech sample, and unusual “screen read-out” sound FX), “Dark Water” and “Librarian” (both for their use of piano throughout, which almost borders on being similar to ambience found in the early Resident Evil games), and “Frosted Snowflakes” (for everything).
Granted, “Seishinbyouin” is not perfect, as there are a few places where the sound seems a bit awkward rather than effective, yet on the whole it is a very solid performance. For those of you who are looking for compact dark-ambient/industrial that carries a hint of menace, yet also manages to be delicate and cinematic at the same time, should look into Atrium Carceri.