Deep Space Dark Ambient: Mare Crisium Goes Beyond the Moon on Self-Titled Debut (Album Stream + Interview)
At Invisible Oranges, our primary focus is, of course, heavy metal, but we're also interested in the incredibly diverse world of music that's either spun off from metal or taken inspiration from it. Really, genre sometimes has little to do with it: we're into weird stuff made by cool people, and that's what Mare Crisium offers: their self-titled debut is an extremely unusual dark ambient release crafted by veteran members of the Chicago scene. Featuring Erik Oldman of Sons of Ra (previously covered here) and Stephen Reichelt of Morgue Supplier, Mare Crisium has absolutely nothing to do with either of those band's sounds and instead taps into Oldman and Reichelt's immense instrumental skills and soundscape-crafting expertise.
There's only two elements here, a double bass and an electric guitar, and they work together to paint an ebbing, flowing portrait of deep space dereliction. Reichelt's extensive range in his double-bass playing provides an unexpectedly diverse palette of textures for the echoing guitar to work from, creating a sense of distant tension at a cosmic scope.
Mare Crisium is eerie, yet majestic, evoking thoughts of vast emptinesses and the dead, empty things that float through them. So make no mistake--this is not metal--but don't let genre tags get in the way of discovering all that is heavy and weird.
Below, stream the album and read an interview with Oldman and Reichelt.
Both of you are busy people in the Chicago scene, involved in numerous projects. How did Mare Crisium come into existence?
Erik Oldman: For me it started as a reaction to checking out some of Stephen’s solo double bass drone recordings on his Bandcamp page.
When done right from my perspective, music creates an emotional response and ultimately some sort of sense of inspiration. I wasn’t very familiar with this style of music, but something in what he was doing made me feel like I needed to collaborate. It was really foreign to me, but the spaciousness really resonated with me as something to explore. I also really liked the timbre of the double bass.
We exchanged a few emails to figure out how to proceed with collaborating and giving it a go to see if we could work together.
We knew of each other from respective bands in Chicago and knew we both could play. We didn’t have time to write a bunch of music together but wanted to try out doing a show as an improvisational project. We rehearsed with some motifs or series of tonal centers to work around.
After squeezing in a couple of rehearsals, we had a killer show in a packed room at the old Crown Liquors in Logan Square in December of 2019.
Then COVID hit. So, like many musicians, we set out to make a recording to sort of keep it going. We worked over the course of the last two years to get this together.
Now we finally have a first release as Mare Crisium.
The instrumentation on this album is unusual - a double bass and an eight string guitar. Is there anything else employed, or do all sounds come from those two instruments?
Stephen Reichelt: All the sounds come from those two instruments!
Given that both instruments are employed in an unorthodox fashion here, what does writing music for this arrangement look like?
SR: We had made music together in an improvisational fashion with loose ideas as a guide. Our next album will most likely be recorded like this. But, for this album, the material was recorded as solo bass first. The tracks were then sent to Erik for him to compose the guitar parts over the existing bass soundscape.
Is there a narrative behind this album, or any specific themes you're trying to explore? The song titles paint a picture of a deep-space disaster.
SR: Absolutely. The doomed deep space mission imagery works as its own story, but the entire thing is a metaphor for the isolation we experienced during COVID and how it’s affected and altered our mental health…both positively and negatively.
In media coverage, projects like this often end up labeled as simply "metal-adjacent" when they exist in an actual genre--in this case, dark ambient--as a way to package it for wary metal fans. In both of your wide-ranging experiences, is that a problem other genre scenes face?
EO: We both have worked in various idioms and have taken different aspects of those idioms as part of our musical vocabularies and collaborative sense of artistic expression.
There is a definite thread with a dark vibe and sense of heaviness in the aesthetic of this music that resonates with both of us. This is something that we hope our fans from other projects we are involved with would enjoy as well.
I guess to answer your question more directly, yes, it’s a marketing issue. The path with the most integrity here is to appeal to our current fans’ trust in us as individual artists working in this context with our aesthetic sensibilities.
What are your future plans for this project? Is there any live performance viability?
SR: Yes, 100%! In fact, this project was born out of live improvisation and preparation for live performance, so we will definitely hit the stage when it is appropriate. I anticipate any rehearsals would also be recording sessions, and that’s how our new material would be generated.
Mare Crisium releases November 25th independently via Bandcamp.