Sound Synthesis: Nick Superchi - Dark Ivory Quietus Review

Updated: Nov 2

The master of tones comes home for Halloween, with a third full length release.

Photograph by Shelby Kray/Blue Heron Video

Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):

Those who have been keeping up with this reviewer's recent fascinations understand perfectly the anticipation that has been building for today's album release.


Nick Superchi, one of the two Pacific Northwest brothers who co-created the infamous and iconic group Ceremonial Castings, has arrived with the follow-up to his second album, Otherworldly (2016). This album, steeped in the atmospheric and changing depth of quality that has encompassed every new offering from the man, has taken on a new life and composition. The resulting changes, ranging from production, to diversity of instrumental additions, has come to fruition under the moniker, Dark Ivory Quietus.


In eleven tracks stretching just under an hour, the formula that has kept Nick's catalogue unique and timeless, proves just how closely the lines blur between classical music, and Heavy Metal. Mixed and mastered by none other than UADA's James Sloan, this album takes a crystal clear waltz through stereoscopic serenity that keeps it nice and even, tonally balanced, and featuring plenty of that mid-tier sound that is so hard to capture for so many groups in the scene today.


There's mystery and intrigue to be heard from the get-go; this isn't Tubular Bells, by Mike Oldfield — nor is it the introduction to Kenji Yamamoto's, and Kouichi Kyuma's Metroid Prime soundtrack. This is The Dark Ivory, a softly twinkling cascade of notes that harmonize octaves every first note of a measure, and slowly build to a thumping timpani that accompanies the beat to the end.


The first single from this opus was Run to the End, a five minute gallop that sets a mid-paced adventurous theme for the album. Transitioning into an heroic cadence at the minute marker, the track takes offsets its cautious, and spooky foundation with a healthy dose of triumphant, and epic rhythms that trace the path for a syncopated set of bass hits that ring a bell somewhere between Jeremy Soule, and Brad Fiedel.


Closer in spirit to its predecessors, Staring Into the Abyss makes liberal use of flowing finger melodies that dance up and down the ivories with an honest dialogue between octaves that feels both necessary, and dualistic in tone. At multiple junctures there is a question, and an answer to be heard amongst the measures — a calming, and smoothly gesturing feature — as DIO phrased it — of a ‘hand that writes, and quickly moves away.’ Abrupt keystrokes hammer the downbeat of the first note per each new passage, setting up a sequence that allows listeners to define the borders of its domain into hard-line territories that are both individualized, and scattered from beginning to end.


The same can be said for its following chapter, a fourth track called The Philosopher's Stone. Haunting, deep sounds pull audiences deep underground, beneath stone, and tree to hear the small background noises of a misty grove where ancient secrets, and mythic articles dare to be hunted by the bold, and the insane. Just before the halfway point, cosmic sirens sing a lulling serenade that separates the two hands and takes the left on a journey back to staccato pace-setting, while freeing Nick's right up to dancing down the far side, an opposing legato slide to offer up at thrice the pace.


This album boasts copious amounts of calming medleys, many of which are a challenge to not get stuck in one's head the moment they hear it. A Question For Eternity, a fun and frolicking example of this, takes playful strides in staggering notes with varying levels of intensity and division, making this a march that leaves and returns with a vengeance, ceasing only near the end, when a return cascade calls back to the first track, a new layer of siren song comprising the background's ambient undertone, this time. It's a heartfelt song that makes for a brilliant halfway point in an album that is telling a story that only the listeners can know for sure.


Leaping straight into the cavalier sound-stage it presents, The Gate From Beyond takes a swashbuckling lead in the B-side of this album, offering an exciting rush of cold water to the otherwise tranquil sound that has dominated the audible landscape, thus far. It's a tune that refuses to compromise on quality, or technicality, showing Nick's second-to-second awareness of how to make what he just played reverberate just long enough to stay as an alluring aftertaste as the next course is served near the end of the measure. It's a classical touch that shows appreciation for the dynamic boss battles in many a Final Fantasy boss battle, brought to memorable conclusion by the instantly-recognizable sounds of composers like Nobou Uematsu.


There's still more yet. Circling in a fog around its own sphere of influence, Journey of Unceasing is a thought-provoking prelude to a dramatic ending that feels much akin to sauntering down an endless hallway, lit only by one's candelabra and the depths of one's own fears. Crossing well into the territory of a bolero with baroque borders, this chapter marks a notable step towards such benchmark works as Herbert Grönemeyer's score for The American, or Koji Kondo's score for Majora's Mask.


Many listeners may ask themselves why — if they're so inclined to enjoy solely the extreme side of music — should they bother with an ambient melodic release, from a keyboard wizard who has stepped daringly away from the realm of black metal? The reason is simple, and everyone can get on board with it.


Nick Superchi is not a one-trick pony, and has proven it multiple times; this album is simply the next step in a macrocosmic evolution of sound. For years, a significant void has grown in that space where ambient music resides. In it, extreme music composers have taken to stepping just far enough outside their realm to touch the closest star, in many cases resulting in what we in the genre know as ‘dungeon synth,’ a polarizing subgenre that tries to encapsulate the sounds of ambient interludes on Black Metal releases, and transpose them into a full-length work.


That's not what is happening on Dark Ivory Quietus. Much like its two older brothers, this release is a staple of independent songcraft that lives out among the stars, somewhere artistically between Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and Uematsu's To Zanarkand. It comfortably fits like a glove into any occasion or event, having no lyrics to hold back the work, nor preference of instrumental to soil the balance of the piece. All things become important when approaching the keys, and all that matters is that inconsistency remains as a beacon of change.


This is not the music you listen to, to get angry. Nor are they the songs that you try to get stuck in someone else's head, by way of force. This album is a vine of ivy that steadily, and organically creeps up from the feet to the ears of anyone who hears it, and wraps them in that emotional soundscape. This is the music of literature, and storytelling, of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, and long-winded adventures into the sprawling worlds of RPGs. Nick writes scores for alchemists tempting fate, and shamans breathing deep the hallucinogenic smoke of enlightenment. His medleys are for nights where studying is a must, and calm evenings after punishing days where all listeners want is to read their newest book, and enjoy some unimposing music to wind down.


Dark Ivory Quietus is an escape from the monotony of today's tribal genre war, and a gateway to the imagination of childhood that most took for granted when they left it behind.

Nick's third benchmark is out now! Go snag your own copy straight from the man himself, on Bandcamp! CDs are limited, and going fast!

Cover Art by Moonroot Art