Metal music and ambient music share a lot in common. In the same way that non-metal listeners think, “Gee, what is that hellish noise?” when they hear metal music, many consider ambient music to simply be noise reserved for elevators or dentist office waiting rooms. In other words, the genres of ambient and metal both have a history of being mistakenly classified as “not real music.” Of course, the genre of metal is incredibly vast and nuanced and cannot be generalized in this way. Nor can ambient. For example, it is quite common for metalheads to have wildly different tastes with zero crossover in their music libraries. The same goes for ambientheads. When I decided to review Drifting in Silence‘s new album, I knew I wouldn’t technically be reviewing a metal album. But I did know I would be reviewing an album people who appreciate metal might also appreciate.
Drifting in Silence is the project of ambient veteran Derrick Stembridge of North Carolina. In his own words, Derrick’s band name is “a description of the feeling evoked by the music.” Drifting in Silence‘s new sixth album Away fits that bill. A fire was lit under me to review this album when I discovered that Away was produced by genre heavyweight Rafael Anton Irisarri. A drone and electronic artist himself, Irisarri is part of the ambient techno/shoegaze outfit The Sight Below and has also done production for Biosphere, Grouper, and Julianna Barwick — all bands I am staunchly a fan of. It is no surprise then that the textures are so lush, expansive, and transportive.
The most immediate comparison to the droney first track “1111” is Matt Borghi‘s ambient guitar work as exhibited by the slow-handed, minimal, and full-bodied guitar picking. While each of the layers Drifting in Silence designs are quite simple when studied on their own, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The sound on Away is consistent, and no single song stands out. Each track, however, somehow manages to awaken a completely different combination of feelings. “Away Pt. 2” gently caresses you before wrapping you up in a warm blanket. “Metamorphosis” evokes feelings of impending doom and incorporates melancholic strings. Echoey “Obscure” is rhythmically frightening, and more subtly sinister “Memory” features billowing swaths of sound.
Just as I oftentimes hear past the “noise” of harsh metal vocals and walls of grimy guitar and instead am attuned to the underlying structure or mood changes when listening to metal music, I find myself doing the same when listening to ambient music. My experience listening and re-listening to the full sixty minutes of Away was no different. While I don’t have any concrete negatives to call out regarding this album, Away also doesn’t do anything particularly novel or remarkable. When assigning scores to albums, I typically take into account memorability, but Drifting in Silence‘s new album really made me stop and rethink that metric. Much of ambient music (and some metal for that matter) isn’t designed to be catchy. In fact, ambient pioneer Brian Eno coined the phrase, “ambient music must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Food for thought.
If you’re on the prowl for a new metal release to spin, Away likely won’t satisfy your thirst. Every so often, though, we here at AMG need a break from the freneticism of metal. And for that, Drifting in Silence‘s Away is the perfect prescription. Away is unassuming, decidedly pleasant to listen to, and purposefully designed to assist you in losing track of time. If listening to ambient artists like Loscil or Robin Guthrie as a way to reset is your jam, you absolutely won’t regret a listen.