Review Summary: Vladislav Delay's formidable Entain is a daunting listen that's not for ambient newbies. But once you're prepared to tackle its tough terrain, it's immensely rewarding.
There are longer ambient albums than Vladislav Delay's Entain, but somehow, they don't quite seem as scary. A casual glance at Entain's obscenely long tracklengths seems a lot more frightening than, say, looking at a 3-hour Leyland Kirby album on Bandcamp, with a dozen 10-plus-minute tracks lined up in a row. Kirby doesn't expect you to take that much time out of your day to listen to one of his behemoths, and if he does, he's probably delusional. But by nearly filling the time limit of a compact disc, Delay dares you to listen to Entain in one sitting.
It seems like a daunting preposition to the uninitiated. Four of the album's six tracks are between 15 and 22 minutes; the other two are short, untitled interludes that still don't seem like much of a reprieve. The album has no artwork, effectively eliminating any chance of a prejudiced listener judging it "by its cover." At least Delay's masterpiece, the equally long Luomo record Vocalcity, had some blue on the cover to let you know it would be a nice, calm album. Entain's pure white makes it look more like an unreadable document.
If you don't have much time on your hands, Entain can indeed be an unruly beast. Some ambient albums you can just throw on; the aforementioned 3-hour Kirby albums are among these, as are more digestible albums with shorter tracks. But Delay starts Entain with 22 minutes of bubbling, abstract noise that should have faded into the background by the time you reach the untitled track that follows it. If you listen to it on a 15-minute walk, it won't work. A 30-minute walk, maybe a bit better--then you'll be almost halfway through "Piko."
To fully experience this thing, Delay demands you spend a good amount of time with not much to do and not many people to talk to. But luckily, it's easy to listen to these tracks on their own. Each one is like a separate space for the listener to step into--they're like six rooms in an art gallery or a haunted house, each with its own attractions and personality but united by a common aesthetic.
In Entain's case, it's a sense of being in a massive space. Delay's best albums are all based around drones. But while those on Multila are oppressively thick and those on Whistleblower and Anima comfortably close, the ones on Entain seem tremendously loud but very distant, like foghorns sounding from miles off. The crackling dub effects in the foreground create an illusion of impenetrability, as if you were in the center of a whiteout blizzard with only a faint sense of direction to guide you. That the drones never get closer adds to the sense of being hopelessly lost.
"Kohde" is the longest and most conventionally ambient of the tracks, and it's also the opener. "Piko" and "Notke" are more beat-oriented, with the former rooted in house and the latter representing the closest tie to hip-hop of Delay's early career. As long as many rock albums on their own, those tracks form a sort of mountain for the listener to cross, and it is only there that Entain starts to become an ordeal.
The slog of getting through these two is mitigated by the payoff. "Ele" is Delay's best ambient track and one of the most remarkable works in its genre. The percussive chords that periodically rise to the surface are one of ambient music's great lonesome sounds, up there with the vibraphones on Loscil's "Charlie" and the chopped vocal at the end of Philip Jeck's "Below." There are fewer dub effects, creating a clarity that contrasts marvelously with the earlier, denser tracks. In the background is the most comforting drone on the album, polite and clear but still deeply mysterious.
Anyone new to ambient music should stay away from Entain, and it's not likely to change the minds of anyone who's not already a fan of the genre. It's a long journey, and most of it goes by imperceptibly. But ambient fans will find it does everything ambient music is meant to do. It drifts by in the background, but it works on your brain as it does so, and if you choose to focus on it rather than just treating it as pure background noise, there's a lot to appreciate and admire. Entain is an essential ambient work, and one of the most underrated gems in Vladislav Delay's vast discography.