Ex Tenebris is the fourth album by J. Daniel Edenfield, aka The Night Keep, but his first in the genre of Sci-Fi horror. It’s quite an achievement. A musical space horror. It tells a creepy story and gives us soul-chilling music at the same time. I haven’t encountered anything quite like this before outside film. I have to admit, I’m impressed.
The album is split into 44 tracks. Some tell the story while other interject musical pauses. I’ve commented on the first 5 individually and will summarise the rest as a whole.
Track 01 – We begin with dark, electronic music that sounds like we might imagine deep space, winds and swelling movement. The track then grows into a Gothic operatic number with Latin ritualistic vocals. Morphs into something slightly up tempo with a heavy beat. And returns to the operatic chorus. Altogether spooky stuff perfect for a horror album. The composition is intricate and well balanced, something you’d expect from an orchestra rather than an individual.
Track 02 – An American male voice narrates. Walter Seams, a prisoner on a space station, called Uriel, starts by paraphrasing quotes from the King James bible. What follows is an eclectic monologue about futuristic technology and ancient demons. Walter awaits his military trial. In the background there’s a dark musical track without vocals. Other actors’ voices speak different characters’ dialogue, an audio play. Walter pleads “not guilty” to all charges and is asked to recall the events. He starts by talking about the bible. Then answers questions about the mission. A recording from an audio log is submitted into evidence. Crackling noises punctuate the words spoken as the recording jumps about, and much of the salient information is lost. But we hear him talk of the planet Acheron with its ancient monuments that mimic religious structures on earth.
Track 03 – A track similar to the first but with more percussion builds the atmosphere as we await the next part of the audio play. Lovecraft’s “Old Ones” are suggested with this powerful music.
Track 04 – Returns to the audio play. We hear a military expedition with commentary by our hero, Walter. We learn there are no stars in the sky at their location and the prospect of complete darkness unnerves the soldiers a little. Power fluctuations and the background music complement this with explosive percussion and siren sounds. They are stranded on the Challenger, a spaceship near the planet Acheron where they were trying to rescue a crew. They complain that they are short of weapons, and those they have are useless on a spaceship. We feel the tension rack up another point.
Track 05 – This track starts quietly, almost ambient albeit unnerving sounds are counterpointed with the chiming of a bell, before the music builds. Once it does we have the orchestral music but with fast paced percussion that suggests military manoeuvres and a disconcerting chime that reminded me of The Exorcist. Grows louder and bolder returning to the operatic chorus although different this time, less like chanting. This mix of Gothic/Satanic music and audio play is effective.
The musical tracks are very similar to each other, and yet this works. The repetition (although that isn’t what it is exactly, more an echo) of the compositions adds to the tension. There is no escape. Well I guess you could turn it off, but I don’t know why you’d choose to do that.
When we reach the 30th track we shift abruptly from Orchestral Electronic Goth to Heavy Metal with plenty of guitar. The same vocals grace the track, but it is the guitar which dominates. This gives an urgency to the music absent before. It lets us know things are kicking off quickly and Walter has to run.
The story feels like Lovecraft in space. More Gothic horror than Ridley Scott’s Aliens, with a claustrophobic atmosphere as if we too are suffocating in the confined darkness. As the power on the ship fluctuates they find no one alive, but hear whispers. Things are written on a wall in a room of scorched corpses. We don’t know what is written at first. The bodies in a later room have not been burnt and many of their wounds seem self inflicted. Breathing noises are used to show fear as the action intensifies. Weapons firing in chaos. Then silence …
I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it contains ghosts or demons and many religious messages. It’s a big story that could have been set anywhere, but becomes more terrifying because it is set in deep space, where “No one can hear you scream”. We know from the beginning that something on this mission went terribly wrong, and we understand that the narrator is frightened so badly he has started looking to religion to console him and explain what happened. The rest as it unfolds, explains why this is and how some events are too big to comprehend even in retrospect.
The album ends with an interesting postscript that provides evidence to back Walter’s testimony. Tracks 37 – 39 appear like appendices of the main story, giving background to Walter’s employer through missives to new employees, but even these are not exactly what they seem and further the theme of the main narrative. On track 40 we hear the Challenger’s chief medical officer’s report/suicide note. On 41 is a report from the captain of the Challenger, which suggests that the tenth planet, Acheron is in fact hell. It ends with a message from the author/composer Daniel, who explains the plot.
When I asked Daniel to summarise his intention with this incredible work, he explained:
It’s a love-letter to my favourites in the sci-fi horror genre – notably Aliens, Doom, and Event Horizon. The main gist of the “story” comes from the Bible verse Ephesians 6:12 (using the Complete Jewish Translation) where it mentions “cosmic powers.
You can find the album by using the link below this review and you can also find it on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.