[reviewed by/ autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]
Phragments is an orchestral ambient duo from Bratislava, Slovakia, consisted of Matej Gyarfas and Sonic(k). They started out around 2005 and have presented an extensive amount of work since then, including “The Burning World” and “Earth Shall Not Cover Their Blood” which was their first release with Malignant. I got to know their music through “Awaken The Wolves” and have listened to a couple albums more before this one. They have always struck me as a musically uneven project; as artists who on the one hand are not intimidated by the blending of different genres, and on the other hand, whose experimentation doesn’t always produce stellar results. There is a sort of on-the-fence mentality in most of their previous albums, as if the musicians are yet undecided on whether they want to make an ambient record, a neoclassical one or something else entirely. However, that’s not always a negative attribute – for instance in “Earth Shall Not Cover Their Blood” it gives us a very gloomy, regal atmosphere enriched by well-timed neoclassical injections, making it an overall good album with some average moments here and there. In other Phragments albums the recipe isn’t as successful.
Given the above, “New Kings And New Queens” surprised me, because this time the neoclassical elements are completely stripped from the musical structures, and we have on our hands a 100% minimalistic, drone ambient album. Whether this is a break from the project’s usual style or a new direction, I don’t know, but the result is something new and refreshing, that managed to maintain my interest throughout. The album’s lo-fi tones require concentration and quietness, as well as a certain willingness on the part of the listener to meet the music half-way. You can’t appreciate this album as background music to something else, and there aren’t any highlights to draw your attention if it wanders off. You absolutely need to put on your headphones, close your eyes and stop thinking about mundane, everyday issues. But then again, that’s why we listen to ambient, don’t we? So no real problems there.
Moving in the fields of social/ historical overview and a loosely dystopian vision of a bleak, Orwellian future, the concept of this album is not foreign to the project – it is the main canvas on which Phragments chooses to create. This dualism of concept is usually also expressed in the music, to bring about what could be called intelligent science-fiction. Thus the grandiose, orchestral sequences are drowned in dismal ambience, like the hyperboles of an oppressive, overbearing regime, always leaving a bitter aftertaste when the eulogies are over.
Here the aforementioned sequences are missing, replaced by a poignant minimalism and the suggestion of barren, rocky terrains located in some dark, indefinable domain, depicted in the album’s cover. It might be this world, some other world, era, or even planet. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s a cold, desolate wasteland with scarcely a sign of life, where things have changed for the worse. Mistakes have been made, we have not learned from them, and have paid the steep price that corresponds to our forgetfulness. Civilization as we knew it has been erased. The new kings and queens that reign are empty, artificial symbols towering over the landscape, like their rusted war-machines. Out of commission, but still inflicting a sense of terror. We don’t know what happened to cause this, all we can do is wander aimlessly without hope.
Even though “New Kings And New Queens” is sparse with its layering and use of sound elements, it is cinematic and evocative, and very often gives the impression that it’s a soundtrack to a sci-fi movie – of the post-apocalyptic kind of course. The duration of the album is short, more or less 30 minutes, and it would be best to perceive it as a chaptered long track than as individual ones; something the artists suggest themselves. It’s not a mindblowing release or even an exceptional one, but it’s a good dark/ drone ambient album with vivid atmospheres, that will keep your interest intact, and most likely you will wish to return to it. Phragments seem to have found their footing by choosing a more focused direction, and the result justifies their choice.