[Reviewed by Scott Ross // Heathen Harvest]
One of the greatest elements of the independent musical publishing scene is that small labels become known for putting out quality music of an extremely specific sort. Hell’s Headbangers is known for raw-production extreme metal. Med School is known for deep experimental drum n’ bass. Ad Noiseam is known for gritty, offbeat glitch music. If you like a couple of releases from one of these labels, you’re likely to enjoy a lot more of what they release, because it’s all focused on a specific sound. So it’s a bit of a risk when one of these labels decides to branch out a bit and touch on a similar but different enough artist that doesn’t fit truly into the micro-genre they’ve built their reputation on. Cryo Chamber is a label known for frigid, seeping dark ambient sounds, with artists like Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun carrying the torch. Reflections Under the Sky, the first collaborative work between Ukraine’s Sij and Russia’s Textere Oris, is such a branch-out album. It’s still ambient, but it barely qualifies as “dark,” and certainly not “cold.” In fact, the word that comes to mind the most while listening to it is “meditative.”
That out of the way, it should be pointed out that the album is quite good. Sij and Textere Oris have managed to capture a warm, meditative sound without resorting to the typical New Age “Zen garden” instrumentation. Yes, warm. Tracks like “Lost” and “In the Rain” combine deep pads with field recordings into full soundscapes that blend well into the background but can hold your attention if you choose to focus on them. In the rain in particular draws on a Dropsonde-era Biosphere influence. The music is melodic without containing distinct melodies that pull you out of the larger, open experience.
The music feels slow and syrupy, an effect that is deepened by the near complete lack of percussion. In most songs, the only beat is set by the slow thrum of sine-wave bass, and while field recordings of flowing water or scattering leaves give texture, they’re inconsistent in tempo and retain their natural feel, as field recordings ought to be. “Lost” is the most rhythmic song on the album, and even there the beat is set mainly by the bass and samples of metal and rocks striking each other. Although it feels more driving, it still comes nowhere close to the downtempo house-inspired music seen on a label like Ultimae.
There are a few rough spots in the album, particularly the last two songs, “Ortuo” and “The End.” These tracks are only about three-and-a-half minutes each, while highlights like “Behind the Window” and “First Snow” are nine-and-a-half minutes. The short tracks feel, frankly, unfinished. The entire album clocks in at merely forty-four minutes, which is short for an ambient meditation. There are similar issues with abrupt transitions between songs on the rest of the album, although none feel quite as notable as the last two. Still, these are forgivable mistakes, particularly for young artists. Sij and Textere Oris don’t have an exceptional amount of material already available on the internet, but from what this critic was able to track down, Reflections is clearly their best work so far.
All-in-all, Reflections Under the Sky is a great first collaboration for these artists, and a fine diversion for Cryo Chamber. I personally hope that these artists continue to work together, and if it continues to be of this quality, I don’t care how much “warm” music Cryo Chamber releases.