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Synth Album Review: "Umbra" by Fatal Empath

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Album Impressions

Fatal Empath’s Umbra is a sonically fascinating ambient synth voyage that unfolds in interwoven musical layers interspersed with moments of natural sound. The way in which Umbra mingles all of the varied auditory components results in an intriguing balance between calm and intensity, all interlinked.

The first element of Umbra which I enjoy is the sense of impermanence and fragility that fills the music. There are fleeting musical segments that briefly brush the tracks before drifting off again, leaving a fleeting Impression as they depart. Delicate, diaphanous sounds trail through the music and float off again into the ether.

Another quality that attracts me to Umbra’s sound is the way in which all of the synth instruments and other auditory components are woven together. There’s a lushness and sense of depth that is created by the subtle microtonal interactions of different layers of sound. I also find myself drawn to the rather organic quality of the interactions as they evolve and resolve.

I am also pulled into this album by the specific sort of ambient music that Fatal Empath crafts. It’s not an amorphous mass of undifferentiated, bland sound but rather a nuanced and complex amalgamation of tones, timbres and melodic passages. Fatal Empath has managed to create music which both soothes and engages here and I am glad for that fact.

“Cirrocumulus”

“Cirrocumulus” begins as chimes echo out into a soft sonic susurration and solid bass throbs. A mystical piano slips into the music, feeling distant as notes trail out over the quiet hiss in the background and softly touching percussion adds gentle direction to the music.

I enjoy the way in which the piano melody swirls and glides like cloud growing in an open sky. The drums provide more direction to the music, adding some energy while far off, high notes trickle through. The piano is delicate as it moves into echoing space along with a subtle hiss and out into quiet.

“We Can Do Better”

A steady high metallic sound sweeps along with warmly rising notes underneath it that slide and shift to start “We Can Do Better.” Breath pants into the music, the sound of life and air as a steady rustle moves below it. Elevated, glassy sounds rise in fragile lines while a hollow drum forms a shaping pulse.

Higher still, synths with a round sound wash through above crystalline sparkles and imbue the music with a pleasing light. Slowly wandering, elevated chimes fall above the open drum’s uneven pulse. There’s a shadow that passes through along with the glittering, elevated synth that feels light and a little uncertain. The track fades on soft sound.

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“Castles In The Clouds”

“Castles In The Clouds” opens with solidly rumbling bass touched by airy rushing and feather-light, caressing synth. Tentative, trembling notes move in and float away over the bass underneath them. There’s a deeply soothing, ethereal flow to the synths before the drums pulse in along with the sounds of birdsong moving through.

The tenuous synth that rises and fades adds a well considered element of uncertainty. Now shining chimes bring flickering brightness and string-like sounds double with the drums, leaping up into round notes. The track gains forward motion as guitar adds light and the track ends on the sounds of birds and a soft hissing sound.

“Lakes Of Enceladus”

Natural sounds are underpinned by a steady sonic whisper as bass waves flow together in a vaguely unsettling way to bring “Lakes Of Enceladus” to life. A far off sonic pulse repeats on a subtly hard-edged synth and constant, metallic sound also flows through as birds and insects can be heard.

The droning chime goes on along with sweeping, airy noise. Flowing bass waves lap behind the other musical elements as a soft tapping moves between audio channels. I enjoy the otherworldly and slightly shadowed quality to the music as it brushes questing tendrils across my ears. The textured whisper of sound and light tapping all ends on soothing bird song and a soft breeze’s sigh.

“Uncertainty”

Hollow, trembling sounds flow into “Uncertainty” before being pierced by higher notes as the background brushes along. Elevated notes in the distance echo out as the undulating bass waves wash through the music. There’s a remote sensation to the high notes that hang suspended in the music. Subtle, resonant chimes ring out before being subsumed back into the background noises, only to emerge again. A didgeridoo’s vibration runs through the track and the background’s textural sound remains constant.

Deep, string-like sounds reverberate and raised, tense synth moves in slices. A resonant, medium-low synth moves in and through as the constant background sibilance goes on over the shifting bass. The droning bass goes on along with the didgeridoo to create a hypnotic sensation. Rich synths with string like elements sweep into the music as a metallic sound rings out. There’s a mingled darkness and melancholy in the music as it unfolds.

The string-like synth expands lusciously over the bass depths and the endless softly brushing sound, almost like a non-stop exhalation. Bright, sharply flashing synth traces through the music as the distant, high sound calls out and fades. There’s superb complexity built into the music, despite its apparent simplicity. Delicate notes with a circular quality tinge the music as the subtle vibrations and sonic interactions continue. There’s fragility as the shining sounds emerge and glow and a gossamer, slipping feeling fills the music. The track fades on the wind and waves.

“Ambivert”

“Ambivert” commences with echoing, washing sounds touched by slowly expanding, medium-high synth that flows and fades. Gentle, elevated sounds softly caress the music with feathery grace and fade before growing again to lightly touch my ears. The continual washing sound moves as a bending, warmly cascading guitar calls out in a caressing melody.

Elevated, sparkling sounds echo out in long lines, backed by a calming sonic flow. The high sounds have a hint of pain that I find touching. Droning bass continues to glide and the drumbeat shapes the music. The guitar arcs and wanders, flickering in uneven lines while the airy hiss fades away along with deep droning and a high sparkle.

Conclusion

Umbra is a gorgeous, satisfying slice of ambient music that combines a fine sensibility for musical beauty with an appreciation of the varied ways in which sounds interact and create atmosphere. It is an album that I can listen to when I want to enjoy relaxation that still keeps my ears engaged.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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