Focus On: Cryo Chamber | Neizvestija – Majak | Dark Matter ‎– How Cold Is The Sun [English]

For those of you not already in the loop, Cryo Chamber is a digital label founded by Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri fame around 2012. In addition to hosting Simon’s own releases under Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun, it is generally focused on promoting evocative, cinematic ambient of the vein of Atrium Carceri. Its roster so far includes new and relatively unknown, but very promising artists such as Anatomia De Vanitats, Sjellos, Halgrath and Cryobiosis. For this Sunday’s update we chose to shed light on the label’s two latest releases, that even though approaching their subjects from different perspectives, share a common attribute: they go beyond musical escapism to offer the listener an aural experience directly related to – external or internal – reality.

Neizvestija – Majak

R-4665666-1371562701-7964

[reviewed by / autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]

Neizvestija is the project of Swedish musician Daniel Wiklander, who has released another album under this moniker, Adventures In Sineland on the netlabel Marsmelons, in March 2013.

“Majak” however is a totally different affair – it carries a very specific, one would say specialized concept, tied directly to a series of utterly tragic events, a location and the aftermath of these events that reverberates into the present time. The title of the recording, “Majak”, refers to a nuclear facility built by the Russian authorities in 1945, in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, situated at the Ural mountains region. The facility has been kept top secret during the time of the Soviet Union, and only after the fall of the USSR has its existence been officially confirmed. Several major nuclear disasters have taken place in Majak, the most notable of which is the chemical explosion of a nuclear tank in 1957. The Kyshtym disaster is classified as a level 6 nuclear accident (out of a 0-7 scale), and apart from the dozens of immediate deaths and injuries it caused, it contaminated the surrounding areas to such an extent that about 10,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes, and about 450,000 people were exposed to radiation poisoning.

The plant had been using the nearby lakes and rivers as dumping sites for radioactive waste for decades. This of course caused severe contamination of the water supply, notably in the river Techa and the river Ob. The full consequences of this have yet to be calculated. In lake Karachay one of the other severe accidents took place, when the long dried-up lake started spreading radioactive dust in the surrounding area, as a result of windy weather conditions. Again, about half a million people were irradiated. Lake Karachay is today the most contaminated spot on the planet – in 1990 scientists concluded that an hour’s exposure in that spot was enough to cause death.

From the beginning of Majak’s function until today, there is an endless list of small and let’s say, not so small accidents – a fact which makes it expressly clear that safety is not an issue for its operators. The remaining inhabitants of the nearby villages and towns have been plagued by cancer, malformation and other radiation-related illnesses since the 40s. Most have lost many members of their families, or are sick themselves. Doctors were not allowed to officially diagnose radiation poisoning for many years. The patients didn’t know why certain areas were closed to the public, why foreigners weren’t allowed to enter the region and most importantly, what was wrong with their health. “Special disease” was the official term allowed in the doctors’ reports. Having its license for dumping nuclear waste revoked just in 2002, today Majak is still in function as a processing plant for foreign nuclear waste. The Chelyabinsk Oblast remains one of the most contaminated areas on Earth, and one of the most tragic, where doomed generations of people live out their lives accepting their condemnation, having nowhere else to go, and nobody to care for them. Victims of the need for military superiority, obscure political games and the – highly questionable – mentality of sacrificing the few to ‘save’ the many.

All of this sounds extremely political, yet in my opinion it would be a mistake to perceive this album as a political statement or a rallying cry for one or the other side. Certainly there is empathy for the victims, but the artist chooses to simply present the situation to us, and we draw our own conclusions. It’s a dark ambient album after all, and it focuses on what dark ambient albums do best: it captures the atmosphere and emotional/ psychological impact of the area and events, to transmit it under a new light, escorted by images that we can relate to.

The track titles are named each after a location in the general Chelyabinsk area, with the exception of the first track that is a set of coordinates; I’m guessing for the plant itself. The intensely atmospheric, dark and ominous tone of the music settles in right away with a series of drones, electronic sounds and synths. Majak is turned into an autonomous entity, its looming shadow shrouding the sun. The next track, “Muslyumovo”, named after one of the nearby villages, is more low-tempo, consisting mainly of percussions resembling a faint heartbeat, voice samples and various hollow, organic sounds that generally move without fluctuation. The seeping of radiation into the environment, just a little before the disaster: “Kyshtym”, a short 2-minute track with voice samples, drones and sharp ambient passages again completely levelled out.

In “Techa”, we hear the voice of a Russian young woman probably explaining the effects of water contamination – her voice fades into a background of surprisingly musical, even melodic reverberations, to take us to the next village, “Metlino”, where another woman also narrates. “Ozersk” is the biggest city near the Majak plant, and is represented in the album with a 9-minute track that is among the most interesting in the release. Cold, spacious, deep ambient devoid of hope, filled with disease and despair, bearing the frustrating scent of slow, uneventful death. The album ends in the most contaminated spot on the planet, namely lake Karachay. Beneath the consistent lack of fluctuation we can sense here a little je-ne-sais-quoi, a glimmer of hope perhaps? A vaguely melodic, almost meditational drone coursing through the ice-cold veins of this cemented creature. A wish for a different, a better future? An acceptance of one’s fate, of the universal will?

The desolate, barren landscapes and grievous circumstances that lie under the surface of a deceptive picturesqueness are reflected in the sterile, minimalistic nature of the music in “Majak”. The whole album is like an aural documentary, completely focused on its topic and never straying for a moment from its final goal – to transfer us to the Chelyabinsk region, where we can stand on the coast of lake Karachay and feel the radiation permeating our cells, slowly burning our skin, corroding our internal organs. To marvel at death and beauty walking hand in hand. And perhaps ponder a while amidst the silence, on the meaning of life in a more urgent manner than philosophical existentialism.

Color me impressed – Cryo Chamber has really hit the mark with this one. Not to be missed, and for me one of the best releases in 2013 so far. Hopefully a physical release will see the light of day sometime in the near future.

Neizvestija – Majak
Digital Release, 2013
Cryo Chamber

 

Dark Matter ‎– How Cold Is The Sun

R-4722637-1373408476-7065

[reviewed by / autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]

Dark Matter is the project of German artist Ann Jachec that, as far as I know, hasn’t released anything else in the past. “How Cold Is The Sun” is admittedly a memorable entrance in the genre, a mixture of bleak horror ambient and nightmarish soundscapes of an intensely personal, introverted character. The cover artwork is a distorted, emaciated female figure with only partly human characteristics, cradling herself in an attempt perhaps to quell the loneliness, an icy film already starting to dissolve her features into something abstract, not clearly defined. Giving us a pretty good idea of the existential pain, the agony and inner turmoil of a soul lost in its search for identity, fractured in its effort for self-definition in a voracious, ruthless external environment. Great work by the artist, and a warning to the listener that this won’t be a comfortable ride – within the atmospheres and structures our imagination produces, we won’t find the usual comfort of escape from reality. This time, we will be faced with an aspect of ourself that perhaps we wished to pretend didn’t exist – that we rush to sweep under the rug.

The first positive impression comes with the opening track, “Be Yourself For Me”, with its little scary creature voices creeping under the floorboards, its hollow metallic clangs and the delightfully frightening sense of something approaching, something not quite alive. In this frozen, empty, hostile habitat shadows move slowly through semi-lighted spaces. The track ends in a melancholic note, and I can’t help but admire the artist’s skill in creating a complete horror ambient atmosphere – a somewhat rare treat that I always appreciate when done well. In “Creature Called Human” monotonous droning and organic sounds are mixed with all kinds of eerie, discordant vocal samples, like dozens of ghosts awakened at once, dozens of personalities screaming to be let out – the parts that make the “Creature Called Human”… Spine-chilling and eloquent.

In “Something Like Home” the musical diversity of the recording really begins to shine through, as the first half of the track is dominated by a choral of female voices, and in the second part a rhythmic melody that starts out in the background ends up being the main element. And then the real surprise comes with “Reality Is Just An Illusion” that is basically an ambient neoclassical track – and a very good one at that. Operatic female chorals, ethereal synths and expressive strings lead to an anti-climax of hypnotic ambience, as if the allure of the illusion was something emitted from afar, the dream now quietly fading from memory.

“Of Fractured Light And Void”, my personal favourite, maintains a perfect balance between dark ambient and neoclassical. A feeling of total gloom and mournfulness and a deeply poetic melancholy peer through a sombre string sequence, accompanied by just the minimal of drones. A track that induces regression to an embryonic state of mind, a yearning for that special place within our psyche where we can hide and be one with our nightmares. “Psychomachine” closes the album on a much noisier tone with metallic clangs, heavy percussions, screeching drones and various other sound elements uniting in rhythmic dissonance.

Making a strong statement with its confident passage through varied stages of dark ambient, “How Cold Is The Sun” is essentially a horror ambient/ neoclassical album. Its vision is so complete and well-executed, both technically and in terms of inspiration, that one would think it was made by an experienced musician with years of discography on their back, than by a new artist. Moreover, it resembles all good horror art in the fact that it is open for double interpretation – you can choose to enjoy it without thinking too much of the layers of meaning lying beneath the surface. Or you can choose to engage its potent symbolism. The experience will remain a compelling one either way.

Dark Matter ‎– How Cold Is The Sun
Digital Release, 2013
Cryo Chamber

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