St. Atom Heart






Rad or fad, the Hauntology genre is here to stay, taking over the cell(ul)ar hopelessness of Dark Ambient and merging it with British swamps, crime sites and forlorn cabins that were venues of forbidden rites. Enter St. Atom Heart aka Stavros Stavrakis, an artist, teacher and poet from Kavala, Greece whose nine-track piece o’ horror Kleos is actually based on a gleeful event and fittingly dedicated to the birth of his second son. It is recorded between the otherwise sun-dappled months of July and August and congruously released in November on Matthew Barlow’s Asheville-based Twin Springs Tapes label. It is available to purchase and fully streamable at Bandcamp and comes in a limited edition of 25 – now sold out – tapes complete with a sixteen-page booklet. I have ordered the tape, but did not receive it in time for this review. The booklet would have been very helpful in carving out this article, no doubt about that, as it contains valuable information and even definite per-track explanations by the artist himself. For the moment, the review is based on my gut feeling – that could be horribly wrong in terms of many a track – which tells me that things do not look frilly. Thankfully, this is by design, as Kleos does not even inherit one archetypically Greek sunbeam and rather consists of heartbreaking situations, nocturnal arenas and voyages into other dimensions. Sporting cellos, exotic drums, flutes, organs and synths, St. Atom Heart’s Lovecraftian Drone work is intimidating, merciless, stern, you name it, yet varied enough to feature new contexts and locations on every track. Ever since Ophion’s sÿnthorama Sacrosanct (2013), I have not encountered dark matter undulations this uncanny and ritualistic. The term Kleos translates to glory. Renowned fame is a curse and demands its due…


Twin Springs Tapes was once a tape label. Now they sell artifacts. Are insurances next?


There are certain flashes of genius in regard to paradoxes, found throughout the Dark Ambient and Hauntology movement: Svarte Greiner‘s abysmally dark Tunnel Of Love is such an example. And now St. Atom Heart’s opener An Ordinary Day is added to that list. If this is really an ordinary day the Greek musician transforms into music, one can only hope that it is some sort of a perverse joke. Anyway, that very joke goes like this: prolonged gamelan-evoking vitreous chimes toll before a black background, their afterglow conflating with each other, resulting in a Gothic diorama sprinkled by ill-natured architecture. But the listening subject is not in a vault; chirping birds and reverberated cracking branches are admixed, as is a pernicious off-key cello, its warped fugues spawning bane in close proximity to the spectral bell layers. Pseudo-satanic service announcements coalesce with repeatedly beaten drums, all the while the bell layers become even more ghostly, elasticized and otherworldly than before. It is here where Stavros Stavrakis’ tune revs up the cliché level to an audacious degree, genuine fear is replaced by a Ghouls ’n Ghosts homage, but no matter the segue, An Ordinary Day remains a frightening introduction… and a harbinger of the things to come.


Der Tod Eines Kleinen Menschen (After the Funeral) showcases another crestfallen bestiality in the veins of Ukranian Willi Stamati’s I Will Dig You Up (2012), although the opposite is depicted here (tentatively called I will bring you down). Threnodic string washes underline the last escort of an all too small casket, footsteps and ligneous eruptions as well as murmuring voices function as cinematic elements. The string melody is streamlined, transparent and repeated, as is the case during such sad occasions. Two particular elements, however, augment the macabre procession even further: the all too familiar sound of a shovel digging, and the constant thicket of vinyl crackles. The latter could turn the perception around, and luckily so, as it can be perceived as a layer of distance. What happens is not real, it is reported and conserved, an aural memorial or portentous foreshadowing. Be that as it may, the mood is severely crushed; sorrow is worse than fear after all. The following Not Too Close is more enchanting in the given endemics. An enigmatic New Age-oid antrum is created via synthesizers or heavily processed stringed instruments (you know my weakness). Emaciated yet spooky coils and phantasmal echoes meet, mesh and depart in a dark dungeon-esque location, everything feels hazy, unreal and, probably most importantly so, eminently nocturnal. Not Too Close works so well due to its stringent physiognomy. No field recordings, spoken word snippets or textural antibodies are injected, St. Atom Heart rather keeps the pace and erects a harmonious monolith. But remember: intrinsic harmony equals eldritch shivers, naturally.


At The Shore is the welcome interim counterpoint, a momentary rest near a murky but nonhazardous ocean of gloom. I would be a desultory reviewer – or alternatively: a vigilant one – if I did not drop the name of Vangelis in here, as At The Shore poignantly resembles the maestro’s heavily synthetic strings which gyrate spheroidally around the cold granular light. Yet again, Stavrakis gives in to one atmosphere instead of fathoming dozens of surfaces. Running for almost nine minutes, the long piece is comparably easy to distill, as it is based on a recurrent loop… and nothing else. It is therefore a tad too long, but otherwise sports the attributes of a true Ambient composition by illustrating a cohesive scenery, unperturbed, resting in itself, with no help whatsoever to wash away the semi-mournful aura.


The centroidal piece follows next, a downright histrionic one neglecting the heretofore designedly desiccate presentation: Sweet Child Coming Across The Universe is a true-bred, clear cut Space Ambient hymn akin to Tony Scott’s Voyage Into A Black Hole (1988), although its title reminds more of György Ligeti’s Lux Æterna (1966). Supercharged with orchestra bells, cosmic chimes, galactic globs, argentine sweeps and tremolo pulses, this composition of 12+ minutes offers a high-plasticity maelstrom of galactic drones, ophidian organs of the Rave kind and aqueous vesicles. Naturally, malevolently earthbound particles such as screaming children, the laughter of the titular child and wolf-like howlings remind everyone that the concept of space is a rather questionable one, with the gravity being too strong to really let Kleos float into another dimension – it is all a ferocious ploy! Not only is Sweet Child Coming Across The Universe the most pompous and majestic work, St. Atom Heart also skillfully entangles all partaking elements and creates a synergetic piece: fear, humongous power and elysian elation are all united here.


Further absorbing the concept of a faux journey into space, The Poet’s Horse is not particularly starlit, but includes a light cacophony as transported by the diffuse streams and hazy sinews. Even though this is a Drone track par excellence, it is partially eclectic; beyond the whitewashed façade, tense flumes are floating, sizzling frizzles and additional drones are in permanent motion, and no doubt, something horrible must have happened to the horse, although the appendix of tramontane flutes and aerose classic piano chords suggests a somewhat contemplative ending. WitxesAfter The Horsefight off Sorcery/Geography (2012) comes to mind, and pressingly so! The penultimate track is the eponymous Kleos, stylized in proper Greek as Κλέος, and it is a refreshingly progressive, shapeshifting Drone concoction with several stages and vestibules to other dimensions. From the bell-illumined yet crepuscular point of origin filled with St. Atom Heart’s daemonic wisdoms, over a glittering stardust heliosphere complete with dark matter pads and bone-crushing piano-based low frequency protrusions, to the unreal reverberation of glacial icicles and glows, Κλέος is another solemn entity, more arcane than mean-spirited, with the short finale Hymn For Health And Love launching with psychedelic synth bursts whose attack and decay have to be heard to be believed, and then comprising of ritualistic flute spirals, tribal drums, choirs of malevolent priests and an overall mephitic air. The closer lives up to its placement and ends the album the way it began, by severely mocking the auspicious title it carries with a gruesome, diametrically opposite arrangement.


Sentences like the following have been written before and have hence lost a great deal of their illustrative power, but still, I am trying my best to stress the verity of the assertion: Kleos is an aural movie. Or alternatively, music for an unwritten horror film. It is not exactly horrifying, but danger and uneasiness are ubiquitous and sewn into each of the nine vistas. Especially the first triad of tracks is remarkably gruesome and powerful, throwing the listening subject right into the lugubrious, hopeless world of Kleos. The opener An Ordinary Day shuttles between retrogressively futuristic ghost-girdled rivers and hauntological splinters, Der Tod Eines Kleinen Menschen (After the Funeral) is so devastatingly mournful that the helpful addition in brackets does not even tell you half of the story, with Not Too Close showcasing the Drone enshrinement of the album. Whether St. Atom Heart ventures to earthen sceneries, inspects subterranean strata or sees the troposphere from way beyond in his space corkers Sweet Child Coming Across The Universe and Κλέος, his tape is neither the darkest Twin Springs Tapes release – that would be Derek M. Poteat‘s Guilt – nor the most cinematic one – which is Matthew Barlow’s and Andy LoebsNorthwest Passage –, but what it lacks in superiority in both fields, it delivers in hybrid form, and more so: proper Hauntology has entered Mr. Barlow’s label, there is no doubt about that. Dusky drums, rubicund flutes, dark pads and heartless cellos are electro-acoustic amendments that evoke the impression of a cult and its obsession of carrying the glory… no matter the price, obstacles and amount of victims. Stavros Stavrakis’ brutish work is stupefyingly evil and a belter for Dark Ambient, Hauntology and Space Ambient fans alike. Drone on, Kleos!



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and stream the album at Bandcamp
  • Follow label boss Matthew Barlow on Twitter: @MattCBarlow.



Ambient Review 287: St. Atom Heart – Kleos (2013). Originally published on Nov. 27, 2013 at