Simon Heath's latest Atrium Carceri release (his first Cellblock, appeared all the way back in 2003 on Cold Meat Industry) unequivocally lives up to its dark ambient billing. And so it should: Heath is, after all, nothing less than Cryo Chamber's showrunner. Track titles alone—“Across the Sea of the Dead” and “The Cowled Seers” representative examples—provide an accurate foreshadowing of the fifty-two-minute recording's macabre tone and its aural evocations of industrial wastelands.
A suitably portentous mood is established when a cryptic voiceover (“We've been trapped for too long / Trapped inside this machine...”) surfaces midway through “The Gargantuan Tower,” and the listener is confronted from the outset with the vestiges of a ruined metropolis. Images of Hades and Cerberus can't help but come to mind during the water crossing intimated by “Across the Sea of the Dead,” especially when thunderous blasts shadow the trip as a constant soundtrack. There are quasi-gothic settings that Florian Fricke would be proud to call his own (“Sacred Slab,” “Heart of the Metropolis”) and ambient constructions so rich in detail they could be deemed symphonic (“Industrial District,” “The Cowled Seers”).
With ghostly pianos intoning plaintive melodies amidst thick synthetic washes, Atrium Carceri's gloom-shrouded material plays like some requiem for failed civilizations everywhere. But though Heath's vision is dark (nowhere more so than during the oppressive closer “The Machine”), that doesn't mean listening to Metropolis is unpleasant or musically unsatisfying. Heath is an expert soundsculptor adept at weaving acoustic and synthetic elements into provocative wholes, and each of the eleven tracks feels like a fully realized world unto itself. Cryo Chamber fashions itself as a “cinematic dark ambient label,” and it would be hard to imagine a better example of its style than Metropolis when its distinct soundworlds evoke such powerful imagery. And while a narrative of sorts is implied by the track titles, the recording holds up perfectly well as a pure listening experience if the story-line is set aside.