[Playlist] Blood of the Earth: Dark Ambient for Ecological Grief
Chthonic Cathedral Project by Danica Swanson
Conduit Closing - Dark Roads
Valanx - Drowned World
Out of Hell - Beyond the Horizon
New Risen Throne - Lands Filled With Silence and Grief
Skadi - Inget Ljus av Hopp (No Light of Hope)
Atrium Carceri - Across the Sea of the Dead
Yen Pox - Scorched Earth
New Risen Throne - Signs of the Approaching Wastefulness (II)
Vestigial - Last Extinction Prayer
TeHÔM - The World Ended
Triangular Ascension - Howling Earth
Shrine - Scrinivm
Phragments - Song for the Burning World
Listen to the full uninterrupted playlist HERE. (Total time: 1 hr 34 min)
"One of the most important things we can do right now in this culture is to grieve, because it is a protest against the collective agreement to turn our backs on what is happening…It is easy to shut down. What we need are people who are willing to feel this and to respond."
- Francis Weller, The Geography of Sorrow
As an animist, simply scrolling through news headlines on an average day stirs up grief that I struggle to process. How, I often wonder, can we appropriately grieve losses as enormous as ecosystems or species extinctions?
In a previous piece, I pointed out that dark ambient music can be a tool for coping with ecological grief. While it's not a substitute for social support, I've found that dark ambient can offer a measure of solace in the face of ongoing but intermittent grief cycles that aren't adequately addressed by the support available elsewhere.
Solastalgia is a neologism coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe existential distress associated with environmental changes, especially those taking place close to home. Climate change, fracking, strip-mining, sea ice melting, parched-earth soil-borne "valley fever," entire cities being leveled by wildfires…these are but a few examples of the structural and ecological violence wrought by humankind.
Our loss of certainty that there will be a future for us on Earth is the central existential reality of our time, yet so much of this grief remains repressed.
Letting this reality sink in means allowing the links between the Earth's pain and my own pain to rise to the surface of my awareness. In a culture that expects us to hold ourselves at a "safe" distance from grief in public, dealing with our sorrows in private and donning a mask of "positivity" so we can keep trudging off to our jobs, that's not easy to do.
And there are so many layers of grief to contend with. Jessica Pierce writes that
"Ecological mourning is complicated because although we care about what we have lost or stand to lose in the future, we are also complicit in the loss. […]
"In some cases, the loss has not yet happened, so we are engaged in anticipatory grieving (and at the same time, participating in the very practices that are driving the losses). And for many people, the scale of our grief is so vast that we fear drowning in it, if we dare open the floodgates, and thus we find it easier simply to keep our grief dammed behind a wall of denial."
Increasingly, the wall of denial is cracking. Awareness of ecological grief is growing. The zeitgeist has shifted. More and more of us are recognizing that grief, despair, anxiety, rage, and depression in these contexts are not "only" personal, individual experiences; they are also appropriate responses to ecological conditions, including the loss of connection to ancestral land-based ways of life.
It's one thing to read about fossil fuel depletion or climate change, however. It's another thing entirely to come to terms with the visceral awareness of ecological catastrophe as it affects us in our bones, cells, and flesh. That's where dark ambient music can serve us well, if we let it.
The playlist opens quietly and slowly with "Dark Roads" by Pittsburgh-based artist Conduit Closing, "Beyond the Horizon" by Boris Tyurin's amazing project Out Of Hell (who will be interviewed for a future issue, by the way) and "Drowned World" from the final album release by Valanx. "Lands Filled With Silence and Grief" by New Risen Throne and the dramatic "Inget Ljus av Hopp" by Skadi carry us forth into heavier emotional territory.
Is that a bird chirping that I hear just before the 4-minute mark in the Atrium Carceri track "Across the Sea of the Dead"? Whatever it is, I know I love the way it gradually builds into a cathartic crescendo starting around the 5-minute mark. It masterfully mirrors the progression of many of my grief cycles, without ever descending into the bleakness of despair.
The eerie metallic tones of Yen Pox in "Scorched Earth" bring to mind the wildfire smoke that chokes my city in August, and the literal scorched earth of the coal mine fires in Centralia, Pennsylvania that have burned underground for over half a century.
And what, I ask my fellow dark ambient fans, would an ecological grief playlist be without tracks from Triangular Ascension, Shrine, Vestigial, and TeHÔM? "I'm recording this in case anyone ever finds it so you can see…you can see how the world ended."
Indeed. All I can say is that I hope there's such great dark ambient music in the afterlife.
The playlist concludes with the orchestral industrial elements of the classic "Song For The Burning World" by Phragments.
Dark ambient music helps me come to terms with the truth that I must learn to live with ecological grief for the rest of my days. It is not something I'll ever "get over." In a culture constrained by repressed and denied grief, dark ambient music brings me the welcome respite of emotional authenticity. Dark ambient doesn't try to "fix" anything, or coax me out of a grief cycle before it's completed of its own accord. It simply creates space to acknowledge the difficult truths that are already there.
Acknowledgment of difficult truths, in turn, creates space for gratitude to emerge. Francis Weller writes:
"The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering."
"Blood of the Earth: Dark Ambient for Ecological Grief" is a playlist designed specifically for those who perceive the connection between the visceral grief in our bodies and life in an age of global threat. Dark ambient music can help us bear witness, acknowledge the pain that is there, and deepen our gratitude.
Notes about my playlists:
1) Whenever possible, I link the tracks I recommend directly to the artist’s Bandcamp or website to save my readers some search time and make it easy for listeners to support the artists by buying their music directly from them.
2) I accept theme requests! You can reply to any of the playlist emails or comment on the Substack website to suggest themes for a future playlist. I read and consider all suggestions.
3) As part of my Chthonic Cathedral Project to promote music-based contemplative practices, I offer a dark ambient music consultation service through which I put together custom playlists for events, gatherings, meditation groups, and so on. I direct half of any donations from this service to support the musicians whose tracks I recommend. Contact me for details.
4) I gratefully receive feedback on my playlists, whether it’s praise or constructive critique. Which tracks were your favorites? Where could I improve? Feel free to let me know.
UPCOMING INTERVIEWS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER TIER ONLY:
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED EXCLUSIVE SUBSCRIBER-ONLY INTERVIEWS:
* Scandinavian Heritage: An Interview with Ulf Söderberg
* A House Between Worlds: An Interview with Hypnagoga Press
* The Power of Nature: An Interview with Northumbria
* Where Curiosity Leads: An Interview with Desiderii Marginis
ALL-ACCESS READER FAVORITES:
* Book Interviews: Quotes from Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture (in-progress book manuscript)
* Playlist - No Light in Sight: A Dark Ambient Hymn to the Northern Winter
* Dark Ambient Journalism: Interview with the Writers