Scuba Death – Nitrogen Narcosis (Further Records, 2014)

I think it can be difficult to create a concise record that adequately summarises its thematic device in just a few tracks and with almost the bare minimum amount of musical content; Ambient Techno can be a bit hit and miss in that regard, often floundering under the nature of its minimalism and failing to make its point sufficiently clear and interesting across its span. Fortunately Scuba Death’s dark and evocative Nitrogen Narcosis perfectly illustrates our rightful fear of the oceanic abyss and the particular dangers of exploring it too deeply for human beings.

I love the way that there’s a certain deliberate flow in the album that sees us descend into oblivion that’s demarcated through the track titles as well as the music itself; opener “Receptor Antagonist” marks the aquatic beginnings of the record, interposing mechanical clangings with dripping water as we prepare to descend, supplanted by the intermittent washes of light waves that splash on our body alongside the energised and almost excitable beats as we begin our descent. Everything feels very anechoic and tight, a closed and muffled space where we’re left alone. But the danger is real and our initial submergence is nought but a memory by the time “50-70 Metres” comes along; somehow we’ve slipped a quarter of the way into the photic zone and our narcosis has already reached the point of drowsiness and delayed responsiveness. Heavy breathing squeezes its way through the mix, obsessed by it, reeling in flurries of lucid terror as whining glitch strobes infrequently out of the deep, dark drone void.

There’s a certain clarity through this gaseous drunkenness within “Nociception”, or the sense of potential or impending harm. It’s the bleakest and darkest track thus far as the drone movements fraught with tension and doom close around us, a muffled watery expanse that contains a few sparks of synth beats trying to get those neurons to fire cohesively and act to rectify our increasingly desperate situation. Squeals of some horrendous electronic creature create bridging spans of unrestrained but inoperable fear, trapped and unable to right ourselves. “Helium Tremors” sets in, although perhaps it’s not as jittery and incapacitated as its namesake would suggest. Much of the piece cruises along at the same pace as the others but there’s a faint textural evolution that inches us towards a darker place; there’s a certain collected attitude about it in the face of danger but it also feels blissfully unaware, drifting deeper downwards and spirally delicately out of control.

“90 metres” informs us that we’ve slipped even further, the light levels diminishing increasingly as our tunnel vision sets in and as we fall deeper from the surface light. More concerningly, unconsciousness is just around the corner for us at this juncture, but at this point all hope is lost and we don’t even know or care; it’s watery and disquiet, sharp in its presentation but merely an alarming interlude before “Rapture of the Deep” arrives to close the album. Another name for the intoxicating effect of certain gases at high pressure (ala the LP title), the longest track of the album is allowed the most growing room, as well as being permitted to be the most sparse and dark. Fragmented stutters of glitching synth wails form the pulses of audiovisual hallucinations that we’d expect but the beat driven pace of the album is restored to supplement the menacing drone cruise of the backfield, the abyss calling to us as we drift down into its heart. It fades away slowly, consciousness finally ebbing in the final few minutes as we become lost to the dark.

I love the strength of concept displayed here, and the fact that whilst the evolution across its span is subtle there’s definitely a sensation of losing control of our senses and ultimately of the situation, our fear of the deep dark overcome by the increasing depth and its effects on our body. There’s a few weak spots and I wish there was perhaps a little more variegation in the beats displayed but I love how engrossing and twistingly morbid it turned out to be, invoking some of Umberto’s darker and emptier moments at times. Surprisingly excellent and deeply thought provoking release.