Travels is the glorious interim endpoint of Quebec-based Alexandre Julien aka Vision Éternel’s project Soufferance and his long-winded journey of releasing a Dark Ambient travelog album made of guitars and many frequency-bending filters. It comes in a strictly limited edition of 20 boxsets, comprising of the 2007 EP and out-of print appetizer Forthcoming Travels, the 2009 EP with the same name that originally was intended to be a companion for the album, and finally the very album itself, Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind, which was delayed until 2010 due to the decease of a label that was to release it. The boxset also sports a hand-numbered tag, an autographed card and a liner booklet of the Travels concept. Alexandre Julien was kind enough to send me a boxset for review purposes, and I have to say that the build quality and literal out-of-box experience are mightily impressive. According to the artist, it took about two weeks to assemble and complete. The term "hand-made" inherits both appraising and praising connotations, so I want to stress that the latter conception is definitely the applicable one! In an odd and disturbingly ironic string of events, the realization of this boxset mimics the aesthetics of the music itself. It was a hard journey for Julien to make this artifact become reality, and what a coincidence, the music is as serpentine, ophidian and shrouded in mystery, consisting of Dark Ambient enigmas, bone-crushing Shoegaze protrusions and quasi-amicable vestibules awash with light. It also offers a fascinating opportunity: seeking out the point of origin of what became the album through the two aforementioned discs which are equally prominent parts of the package. Via his Forthcoming Travels CD’s, Soufferance showcases the first stems, vignettes, segues and indices that were about to appear on the full-length album. One might think that these are mere finger exercises and rough dobs, waiting to be polished in order to become diamonds that carry the album. That this is not necessarily the case is just one revelation Alexandre Julien’s box reveals. Before I dive deeper into the three releases, let me stress how entangled these discs are. This is not one of those boxes where only the actual album is of value. It is severely affected by its precedent EP’s… for better and for worse!


The contents of the Travels boxset. Photographed by your humble reviewer.


The first release that is part of the Travels boxset is the genesis of the whole project, called Forthcoming Travels and originally released in November 2007 and including base frames, foundations, blueprints and corner stones. Shuttling between the state of demo material and fully fleshed out darkness, this ten-track EP features an interesting promise: it is based on the – back then forthcoming – release called Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the Mind, but Alexandre Julien reminds the listener that “the album was going to be completely different from this, in shape and form.” Threnody, uncertainty and crepuscular refractors are still all over this EP whose runtime, I might add, is much longer than many a full-length album, sporting ten tracks in total on a black disc. One highlight is certainly the bewildering juxtaposition of nostalgic warmth and portentous uneasiness in Rouge Gorge; a bass guitar-driven twelve-note melody schleps itself forward in front of a pitch-black background, Soufferance delivers a camouflaged minimalism by presenting but one instrument whose voluminosity emanates more danger-evoking jagged memories than many an orchestral piece. Le Surnom D'une Tristesse and Monastère D’un Moine Perdu meanwhile go all Svarte Greiner as the former piece unites vulturine screeching electric guitar coils and hyper-overdriven subtexts with mercilessly ashen reverberations, painting an abhorrent antrum of arcana, while the latter unleashes guitar strings that mimic – or mock? – the solo movements of bewailing cantatas, resulting in a medulla-emptying state of delusion. These pieces are already grinding, but the asbestus-coated centerpiece Suicide By Venus takes the thallium pill with its rotatory shrapnel of Power Shoegaze chords and almost hymnic incisions in the background, as does the Outro Reverb Song with its adamant sine tones and circumferential clichés of the Orient. Even the comparably mercurial Song Of Sand is not completely picturesque as Julien injects alkaline Balearic guitars in order to play Middle Eastern tone sequences. And so the EP gives a good indication of the things to come. It is as if Alexandre Julien though that once a certain track feels like a demo, he could as well extrapolate this fact by messing around, and severely so. These 26+ minutes are some of the darkest I have come across thus far. A genuinely thrilling affair and one Dark Ambient artifact to cherish.


The second CD in the boxset is the 2009 edition of Forthcoming Travels, originally released in August on Svartgalgh Records, and resembles the idiomatic wolf in sheep’s clothing: released on a 5-inch CD but sporting a whopping twelve tracks, this EP sports remixes plus new versions of previously featured songs and adds B-sides to the twilight spectrum in order to round its murkily ruddy aura off. Still, the tracks are way shorter, oddly enough feel much more demo-like and way less balanced than the grisly-hideous 2007 edition or installment of Forthcoming Travels. Not only have the tracks been reworked, but come along completely rechristened, a curious bedevilment I only know in this stringent form due to The Orb’s ostracized material of their album Cydonia (2001) which then resurfaced in disguised title-related form on Orbsessions Volume 2 in 2007. Here on 2009’s Forthcoming Travels, the 2007 version of Le Surnom D'une Tristesse is renamed to On the Night Of The Fire, but otherwise contains the same vaulted dungeonistic atmosphere, whereas 2007’s Suicide By Venus faces a gender reassignment and reappears as The Magician, baneful and vibrant as ever. The ultimate reason for the existence of this EP is still not entirely clear to me, notwithstanding Alexandre Julien’s transparent approach and docile endeavor in explaining just that. His original plans were as follows: “This release is in fact the companion to the full length, which completed the entire concept. Both the EP and LP were supposed to come out at the same time, but a delay from the record label caused the full-length album to only come out a year later.” During that time frame, the devoted fan can therefore choose between two EP’s with the same title and the same partly overlapping material which, however, masks its identity via new track titles. I still think that Forthcoming Travels (2007 edition) is more aesthetically pleasing and impressive than its interim successor. I know what the 2009 edition stands for, but in hindsight, it feels de trop and simply revisits the – admittedly splendid – atrocities that were yet to mould into an album…


… and it is an album which finally arrives about a year later. Titled Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind, released in July 2010 on Valse Sinistre Productions in the shape of a DVD size digipak plus the above bonus CD, all limited in an edition of 50 copies. Dedicated to a lot of authors and writers who have inspired Alexandre Julien throughout the years and featuring a long-form track of 65+ minutes with several movements, it is exactly here where – all of a sudden and out of the blue – the listener’s acquaintance with the previously released EP’s proves fruitful and enlightening at the same time. It is as if one comes back to good old friends which are draped in new clothes and pieced together anew. The long track does not ramble along aimlessly though, but is a hidden triptych. This is of importance for an in-depth review and in terms of the artistic expression, but does not prevent the listener from enjoying the track as a whole, and literally so. The opening chords and textures are already a huge surprise, for there is anything ferocious in them. Soufferance kicks off the album with warm and prolonged guitar glints, everything feels sepia-toned and covered in thermal heat. This very heat turns a tad more mephitic around the five-minute mark when the first crescendo is reached; the dreamy guitar layers are revved up and suddenly spawn discordant, much more pressing tone sequences than heretofore. This Dream Rock-evoking state leads to the known Rouge Gorge of the Forthcoming Travels EP from 2007. Of course it is not named like this anymore, but showcases the feat Alexandre Julien achieves with the many strata and layers he can draw from: Rouge Gorge as it was formerly known is imposed over Monastère D’un Moine Perdu, the very track with the vocal-like lamento.


Arranging the songs and structures together anew in the way mentioned above and thereby creating a constant fluxion despite the travelog aspect of featuring a new landmark every few minutes or so, Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind feels like a figurative pearl necklace where the string of incidents is circular and potentially able to visit or alter the formerly disconnected and abstracted formations. With this new context in mind, the previously frightening and ominous Dark Ambient panoramas suddenly face genuinely benign competition. An interplay of opposite forces takes place. The stupefyingly lofty yearning around the mark of 17 minutes suddenly faces abyssal crypts mere seconds later, and while these are terrifying at first, moist guitar strings ameliorate the crypt and transform it into a dripstone cave, one which is still creepy, but a tad more translucent and incandescent. No matter the current state the listener is in, Soufferance unleashes cavalcades of textures with his guitars. There is one particular ubiquitous rule applied to the long track, regardless of whether one knows its individual ingredients or knows it only as a whole: constant fluxion. One can never be sure what follows next, and this is what the concept of adventurous travels is all about, fathoming out the danger by realizing and using known elements. And as fans of the Soufferance project know, it is the latter elements that ennoble and glorify the listening experience, as one starts to nod while recognizing a known constituent… or covers his eyes in fear of hamartia.


The Travels boxset is a wondrous thing to distill and a strenuous effort by Alexandre Julien to make it happen despite the occasional setback regarding missed and delayed release dates and the realization of alternative plans due to the disbandment of the labels that released – or were about to release – the material. But no worries, this boxset is for real, it is beautiful and does the music justice. Not only is it beguiling, it functions as the essential base for reconstructing and comprehending the different work phases Julien aka Soufferance went through, the many cycles of polishing, the grafting/crafting of additional particles and so on. This transparency is mind-blowing for an indie musician, even boxsets of Stadium Rock bands are more about the ego and marketing machinery than truly contemplative remembrances or enlightening secrets. The transparency and honesty of the Canadian musician are to be applauded, elevate his work… and show its flaws in all humbleness, flaws that would not have been this open to scrutiny if they were not collected in one box. Despite the runtime of over 65 minutes and what could be coined as "all the time in the world," Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind has its macules, regardless of whether one knows and loves its innermost parts and versatile sections or just got to know it here in full-length form: I was astonished how jam-packed this long piece truly is. Instead of allowing a section room to breathe, build up and illuminate the respective atmosphere, the sequence of events feels pushed and hasty all too often.


This is both boon and bane, for the composition as a whole becomes much more entertaining and diverting, but suffers (!) from a bustling frenzy in which Alexandre Julien seems to "just" glue the different vignettes together. As I have pointed out, there is of course more to it, with finishing touches and simultaneous cross-fading adventures taking place all over it, but this gigantic colossus is much more of an echopraxia of the album format than a genuinely pensive piece. Listening to Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The Mind in one go, it does simulate the experience of a 33-track album or so, rather than emitting the feeling of being immersed in a shapeshifting arrangement that is the sum of its hidden parts which are only transparent to the producer. The convenience factor of the EP’s outshines the concept of this long album, even though the latter is of course the impressive core, offering a wild ride into the darkest corners, the most tedious experiences and spatial adventures. Its flaws, however, cannot be harmoniously dismantled. They are as weighty a part as the convincing circumambience of this voyage, of the very travelog Julien encloses in this boxset.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can order the boxset at Bandcamp and listen to Soufferance’s triptych via this Bandcamp link.
  • Follow Alexandre Julien and his Abridged Pause Label on Twitter: @AbridgedPause.



Ambient Review 267: Soufferance – Travels (2013). Originally published on Oct. 2, 2013 at