Mario Grönnert and CommonSen5e: Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia
This collaborative effort from Quedlinburg, Germany-based Mario Grönnert and CommonSen5e (Portland resident Mason Metcalf) falls within the dark ambient category, but a few things differentiate it from the genre norm. Its musical dimension is more pronounced, for one thing: though there's atmosphere aplenty, the duo's pieces aren't primarily field recordings-based but instead settings that split the balance between atmospheric treatments and musical elements. Secondly, in keeping with its Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia title, the fifty-four-minute recording is nightmarish but subtly so: if its seven pieces are nightmares, they're of the slightly more benign type. To their credit, these collaborators use a less-than-heavy hand in painting their landscapes.
The two developed the album's material with a clear concept in mind, the idea of two individuals traveling through the dark, ash-covered streets of a post-apocalyptic city and hoping for some hopeful promise of its recovery and resurrection. Though Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia is their first joint project, each producer has released material individually, Metcalf two earlier releases on the Austrian Audiokult imprint and Grönnert two solo albums on the Bologna-based CongaRecords and a split disc with Japanese outfit Mondfish in 2015. Among the artists Grönnert cites as influences are Clint Mansell, Vangelis, and Popul Vuh, and it's possible to hear traces of each one in the album's material.
Grönnert and Metcalf effectively pace Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia by pairing a long-form opening soundscape with six shorter settings. At the risk of appearing dismissive of the latter, the twenty-two-minute “Breathing in the Ash” could function as a stand-alone for the release overall, so encompassing is it of the project's character and the collaborators' approach. Gloom permeates every pore of the track's being, and echo, cavernous rumbles, and industrial noise are handled so evocatively it takes little effort at all for the image of dazed, ash-coated figures dragging themselves through a destroyed zone to be conjured. The addition of electric piano textures, however, lightens the despairing tone, despite the fact that explosions persist with disturbing regularity in the distance.
As mentioned, a balance between field recordings and musical elements is often present on the album, a case in point “Sky Full of Crows” where the muffled rhythms of a train are heard in conjunction with the gleam of organ tones. In contrast to that setting, “Journeys Calling” is largely dominated by acoustic piano playing, an unexpected but not displeasing shift in balance, especially when the piano adds a nostalgic dimension to the material; in similar manner, synthesizer textures and, if I'm not mistaken, shadings of an electric guitar do much to alleviate the gloom flooding “Through Midnight Fallen Lands,” and even sunnier is the penultimate “A Radiance,” whose gentle glow suggests that resurrection might well be a possibility. Such refreshing change-ups as these do much to help distinguish Grönnert and Metcalf's production from the dark ambient norm.