Review: Psychomanteum – Oneironaut

Cyclic Law, 2011

1) Ever Deepening
2) Celestial Body Absent
3) To Dust
4) Inward Eyes
5) Ascension Of The Subconscious
6) Immum Coeli
7) The Zenith Gateway
8) Outward Vision

Every piece of information concerning this album suggests that it should be considered more attentively than would be usual for a debut album of fairly anonymous newcomers. Psychomanteum are a duo of young musicians from rural Pennsylvania (of all places), who took about five years to channel, record and release their debut album “Oneironaut”. It seems like an unusually thorough approach for youngsters seeking recognition and their own niche in the global scene (even if their quest is unintentional); the aura of maturity is further supported by the fantastic imagery provided by none other than Kati Astraeir, and the fact that it says Cyclic Law on the back of the packaging, which has become a recommendation in itself.

“Oneironaut” is a prime example of dark ambient of the dreamy kind, as suggested by its name (oneironaut being Greek for the explorer of dream worlds) and cover art. Its soaks up inspiration from Scandinavian acts such as Kammarheit and Svartsinn, creating beautiful drones with a relaxing, otherworldly quality that take their time to develop and achieve full effect, all the while introducing ever so slight variations, just so as not to become repetitive. In just over an hour, Psychomanteum cruise through many soundscapes, some more pronounced and direct than others, but all magnificently portrayed and brought to life. However, the one true quality of Psychomanteum that I’ve been able to discern is just how good the duo is at concealing melody – it takes more than a few spins to capture all the lush streaks that initially seem to be simple pulses or drones. This is a most welcome change from the usual case of affairs, where you’re presented with the melody first, and then left to discover the background in later revisits. The final result is a much more comprehensive experience, where all the tiny fragments fascinate the listener while the big picture is slowly being revealed, adding immensely to the replay quality of the album.

Literally all tracks featured on this release are of highest quality. And while Psychomanteum have no trouble in the composition department, the same can’t be said – at least not entirely – about their originality. The album is far from being derivative, but the musical influences on the duo are just a little too obvious, with a few extreme examples here and there. For instance, “Celestial Body Absent”, which is probably the album’s most intense and beautiful track, sounds like it came straight off a Kammarheit release. Almost inversely to it, “Ascension Of The Subconscious” sets off in the best Lustmord tradition, with significantly deeper and more numerous tones and samples, only to suddenly switch to a Raison D’Etre-like ambience, with processed female vocals chanting Gregorian-like choruses in the background. Now, I never complain about the relative lack of originality as long as the execution is excellent, which in this case it definitely is; the thing is that these elements never reappear later on, which causes a bit of confusion as to why they were utilised so abruptly, or in other words, why they simply weren’t distributed more evenly and naturally. While variety is rarely something to complain about, and the quality of the material remains entirely unscathed, I just couldn’t escape the feeling that these ingredients hadn’t quite dissolved in the mix, which takes away a bit of that feeling of coherence that all dark ambient musicians strive to achieve.

Regardless, it seems that Cyclic Law have plucked yet another gem from anonymity. Psychomanteum have shown that age and experience are relative categories where true inspiration is present. My frustration at how close their particular concoction came to the elusive criterion of perfect, only to lose it by a hair, should serve more as recommendation than criticism. Expect big things from these fellows. Hopefully before another five years have gone by.