You’re asked to describe ambient. What adjectives first come to mind?

Serene in, often, the best of cases, stagnant in, equally often, the worst. Drifting. Uncertain. Nebulous.

To be sure, as ambient has grown and evolved beyond the ‘Eno definition’ (and questioned by ambitious works from the man himself), numerous other terms have become fitting, with offshoots spiraling into nearly every imaginable qualifier.

Still, even in the murkier world of Dark ambient, crushing isn’t a word one would often use. Ominous, to be sure, but ambient does not often reach out with the intent to harm.

OKADA is a decidedly different beast. While his work has been, and remains, grounded in heartbreak, Life is But an Empty Dream, finds him no longer defined by it. Longing seems to have grown to offend Gregory Pappas by its very nature.

Instead, he’s willfully cast himself alone, a stark, distant figure, easily imagined against some tragic ocean backdrop, wandering out, beyond safety and reason, further and further onto the wet, jagged, windswept rocks. We can only watch in awe and fear.

Pappas, better known as OKADA, has distilled his sound into a monolithic, dominant creature. Without question, there is catharsis to be found amidst the ashes of Life is But an Empty Dream, but one need be bold enough to sift through them.

Indeed, much of the album seems designed to drive away tentative, uncertain listeners. Song titles such as ‘Fucked Up Inside’ aren’t inviting, after all, especially for a crowd of listeners typically accustomed to bright, pristine environments painstakingly arranged to craft something of a sonic blanket. OKADA prefers a bed of thorns.

At least, so he’d have you believe. Those bold enough to venture forth into his dungeon will find a mix of the stark and genuinely moving. For every moment that Dream leads you deeper into despair, it will pull back with sudden, absolute beauty. Ambiguous female vocals are used to supreme effect here, as piano strikes splinter and circle back around, crescendos of wordless emotion spout forth from some distant singer, her voice cresting the sublime agony beneath her.

OKADA also enjoys betraying expectations, allowing his ambient guise to give way in key moments. The Right to Destroy Myself’ spends most of its existence with a subtle bed of injured sound, only to give way to a throbbing, even danceable rush of sound and recycled, distorted vocals. It’s a rewarding surprise.

All this, naturally, is leading up to the big finish. As distant thunder rolls in at the track’s beginning, one only need look at the words to know what’s coming: ‘I Still Wake Up Thinking You Are By My Side’. Whether he or she, in our most hushed, unconfessed moments, each of us know what that someone is. You may only think of them once in a blue moon, but OKADA is prepared to dig all that up, even to make you shed a tear without fully understanding why — all while the track flirts with IDM. His power lies in the unspoken, the ability to manipulate us to feeling it all without our knowing how he’s managed it. A spoken word piece does eventually come in, and it’s every bit as crushing as you’d imagine, but it’s hardly needed. He’d stripped us, leaving us to the elements, long before that.