A History of Cellblock, A Conversation with Simon Heath
Cellblock, was the first album by Atrium Carceri. It first released on the now defunct Cold Meat Industry. Simon Heath would go on to later found the Cryo Chamber label. From its beginnings, Atrium Carceri was the flagship of Cryo Chamber. So, let us have a look back at that album. Simon Heath will answer some questions. Aiming to help listeners better understand his goals when he created Cellblock. That we may have a window into his thoughts, which would lead to so many albums under the Atrium Carceri name.
Cellblock debuted in 2003. At that time, the world of dark ambient was a much different place. In fact, it wasn’t even referred to as dark ambient. The tag industrial ambient was the most common way that people described this genre. Many of these artists had very clear connections to the industrial music scene. Most artists incorporated percussion in their albums. There was a connection to ambient. Yet, many artists didn’t care to stray from that industrial element. The genre was blossoming. Due to the work of Cold Meat Industry, among several other labels. There would be a few tracks on some albums with no percussion, but they were never the majority.
A Tide of Change
So, when Cellblock came along many recognized that it shifted from the norm. Cellblock used a lot more field recordings than the usual industrial ambient artist. Percussion was present on some songs, yet it was never a dominant element. The idea of keeping a beat was not a priority. These differences took many fans and other musicians by surprise. Simon tells us about that experience. “Some people expressed were surprised by my layering of sound effects and field recordings. I combined these with the dark industrial feel. In general, I received positive critique from fans. But, there was some negative critique from other artists. Some artists didn’t deem it ‘real’ industrial music. They were right about that. I actually did not belong in the industrial scene. I wasn’t interested in fascism. I didn’t wear leather. I didn’t care much for distorted guitars. My idea of an interesting evening consisted of going into the wild to drop acid and stargaze. I wasn’t inclined to get drunk and shake my head around. Not that there is anything wrong with the latter!”
“I knew my fans supported me. That is something for which I’m very grateful. With their support, Atrium Carceri started drifting further away from the industrial scene. It drifted into obscure ambient territory. I started slowing down the tempo. I was focusing on creating dark meditative moods and the story I wanted to tell. This is why Seishinbyouin is the first album in the series to have written text in the booklet.”
Reflecting on Current Events
Atrium Carceri has now re-released Cellblock on Cryo Chamber. He kept the music and the album art the same as the original. The one major difference is the addition of text to the inner panel. About this decision, Simon tells us, “That text was recently written, but the idea for the text is as old as the album. It wasn’t until Seishinbyouin that I decided to start writing these texts. With the re-release of Cellblock I finally did it for the only album in the series that didn’t have text.”
This re-issue of Cellblock begs a new question. Will there be more re-releases of the early Atrium Carceri discography? To that question, Simon says, “Yes, I’m currently working on that”. This should be welcome news to anyone who has been searching the internet for these old albums.
The Birth of Atrium Carceri
Simon Heath first came to public attention with his project Za Frûmi. Za Frûmi was a duo between Simon Heath and Simon Kölle. Together, they created music best described as dark fantasy. With Atrium Carceri, Simon Heath was in full control. He tells us, “I remember that time, right before the creation of Cellblock. Sitting in my dark apartment in Stockholm, snow falling outside my windows. Each day was a continuation of the sleepy day before. I was in a drugged up half awake slumber. I lived in a world where the sun never rises. I tried to summarize my thoughts and experiences. Experiences with occultism, meditation and lucid dreaming. I wrote a journal with what today looks like the scribblings of a madman. The sum of all notes: there seems to be something on the other side of the looking glass. When you hit the right state of mind, whatever is on the other side is staring back at you. Yet, I still wasn’t sure of what I was seeing. Was it some entity? Was it my own mind staring back at me? Was I staying in the lucid dream state for too long to see the shadows spring to life? Was I hearing the thumps of another heart while deep-meditating? Was I talking to indescribable entities at the depths of a psychedelic experience? There was a sense of a real presence. I wanted to explore that presence even further with my music. So, I went to work creating the foundation of Atrium Carceri. The idea was to expand on these questions. Does trauma lead to enlightenment? Do the schizophrenics see the real world, which we cannot see? Is the world a fabricated reality? If so, where do the puppet strings lead us? What’s on the other side?”
The Evolution of the Tools and Concepts
About the technical side of the production, Simon tells us, “I had worked solo a lot in the past. Going solo, in itself, wasn’t much of a challenge. But, forming a foundation for the project was very challenging. Determining the drop-off point to the storyline took me a long time. Cellblock, it turns out, would make the perfect starting point. I wanted to introduce the concept in a way that everyone would understand. Then, I could start digging deeper into the essence of the project. The first album is self explanatory on the surface. It has a strong horror theme. The goal was to put the listener into the shoes of the protagonist. For them to get a feel for how trauma and desperation can break down reality and make the illusion crack. I would delve deeper with each album after Cellblock. The story would go into what happens after that fact.”
Atrium Carceri began at a time when studio equipment was making progress. The artists’ instruments were making great progress as well. Simon looks back on these changes. “I’ve moved my studio a few times. I had the most amount of hardware during the creation of Cellblock. Later, I started slimming down the synthesizer selection. I started using ever more microphones and field recorders. There is something very liberating about traveling to the strangest places to record. For instance, I could capture the wind of a subway tunnel. Then, I would return to the studio with rosy cheeks, frosted beard, and a field recorder packed with sound. It is fun to tweak synthesizers in the dark. It is something I spend a lot of time doing. Yet, my travels create the actual blueprint for each album.”
The themes and execution of each Atrium Carceri album also began to shift. “Everything was more direct during the creation of Cellblock. I wanted to explain so much, but had so little room. After a few albums I learned to take a step back. I would let the listener paint their own inner picture. In this way, I could let listeners enjoy the journey as they imagine it. Each time they listen to the album they can drift into my narrative. They can pick up on more subtle queues. There is a trouble with music devoid of vocals. The optimal listening condition lies between paying full attention and paying no attention. It is not dissimilar to lucid dreaming.”
Much has changed about industrial/dark ambient since the original release of Cellblock. “Dark ambient has grown into its own genre. It disconnected itself in the same way other sub-genres have. We now have sub-genres within the sub-genre of dark ambient. I find that pretty exciting. The tools of music production have gotten a lot better. We have new ways to tell stories within the framework of dark ambient.”
A World Beyond Cold Meat Industry
Simon reflects on the changes following the demise of Cold Meat Industry. “I’m a bit biased on this. I am now in a position where I am always pushing and promoting this genre of music. We’ve done some interesting things in this genre over the past few years. I don’t miss the Cold Meat Industry days much. But, only a small part of CMI focused on dark ambient. We sometimes forget all the synth, neoclassical, and power noise that CMI released. Now, we’ve seen all these sub-genres drift into their own spaces. They have grown into something original. That’s wonderful to behold.”
The Future Of Atrium Carceri and Cryo Chamber
One may wonder how much more the Atrium Carceri story has to tell. Almost a dozen albums now focus on the actual story that Atrium Carceri seeks to narrate. Yet, to this end, Simon foretells, “There could be more than would fit into my lifetime. There are a lot of things in the periphery of the project that I want to explore as well.” So, what are the chances for listeners to get a guide? A way that they may further understand the intricacies of Atrium Carceri. “As of right now, 50/50” Simon predicts.
So, let there be no mistake, Atrium Carceri is a force to reckon with for years to come. The Cryo Chamber label pushes its boundaries with each release. Meanwhile, the fan-base continues to grow. Other Cryo Chamber artists accept the challenge to prove their own worth. Having their own hopes of building an empire of albums. A collection of releases which would make any discerning artist proud. What will the future hold? Only time will tell. Cryo Chamber fans can rest at ease. Knowing that Cryo Chamber, as well as Atrium Carceri, is going full steam ahead.
Written and conducted by: Michael Barnett
Quotations by: Simon Heath (Atrium Carceri, Sabled Sun, Krusseldorf, owner of Cryo Chamber)