Label: Consouling Sounds
Colony is an ambitious album. IIVII is described as an “ambient-fiction project” by sole member Josh Graham (A Storm Of Light, Red Sparowes, and past contributor to a whole host of other projects, including Neurosis), and that description is well earned. The fiction part is especially important. Whilst many instrumental bands can be described as telling their stories in cinematic terms, Colony goes beyond that, and over the course of 50 instrumental minutes, tells the kind of story that has real depth and history, with the full grandeur of what is on offer more hinted at and shown in glimpses than revealed in full. For sure, the dark ambient on offer is very strong; but rather than other musicians, it makes me think of the greatest, most captivating of sci-fi novels, where the real power is between the lines. And like such novels, it desperately leaves me wanting more.
There’s no denying that the spirit (if not necessarily the sound) of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis’ Blade Runner OST hangs heavy over Colony, but those are inescapable comparisons when dealing with dark ambient of this ilk, especially when it’s so heavily themed and presented not just as an album, but as part of a story. Nor is it anything to be ashamed of. The heavily layered synths have a retro-futuristic feel, and when they all come together they can crush down on the listener with a huge feeling of gravity and anxiety. At other points, heartbreakingly lonely drones push the record forwards, full of the emptiness and desolation of space – opener “Signals From Home” is a prime example of this, setting the mood of the album and narrative perfectly. There are also countless small details that add to and amplify the mood, telling the story in subtle ways, such as the sounds of breathing on “Signals From Home”, or what sounds like Geiger counter clicks during “Black Galaxy”. It’s in this way that one of the core strengths of Colony is made clear – nothing is handled with anything less than immense grace and skill, and both the music and narrative are only obvious when they want to be obvious. This also helps ensure that, when things are made clear and intense, they are more effective for the relative restraint that surrounds them.
It also has to be pointed out just how listenable Colony is. Whilst it is never going to achieve mainstream popularity, it is remarkably accessible for an ambient album, dark or otherwise. There are enough obvious textures and sounds to draw the listener in, before the more subtle details reveal the depth and lasting appeal of the album. Letting the atmosphere wash over you is just as rewarding an option as actively engaging with it. In truth, I am reluctant to go in to more of the details than I have already, because it would potentially spoil the joy of discovering them and constructing the narrative for yourself – it’s the kind of album that deserves spoiler alerts when discussing it. But for certain, whilst Colony is a lonely, dangerous place, it is also possessed of real beauty, and leaves an impression that lasts long after your return to Earth. Highly recommended.
Colony is available on vinyl and CD from Consouling Sounds.