[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
The man seems to know no limit when exploring the depths. Previously he’d been charting out the finite space between our waking and dreaming minds, now he focuses in on an incident which I’d say was the most catastrophic environmental disaster of the 20th century. It may have been thirty years since the meltdown occurred but for me and for a lot of others events remains vivid; there’s been quite the effort to paper over the history of what happened in a certain sleepy little town but Shrine will have none of that. You can keep your tourist attractions in the exclusion zone and that concrete sarcophagus? It needs to be replaced soon but don’t look for that to happen on schedule as Ukraine are a bit busy with other things.
When this transpired I remember the initial denials which stretched into days, then there were the stories which began to surface through Western media about what was actually going on behind the curtain. Unforgettable were the images emblazoned on myriad screens of a slow moving, invisible cloud which sometimes glowed moving across Europe. The true scale of this will probably never be known but the effects of it are quite easy to bear witness to: lingering health problems, dubious air quality,Strontium-riddled soil and water you’d be wise to avoid.
It is this sense of decimation and insidious, systemic poisoning of an entire ecosystem which Shrine have put into musical form. The endless haze, the smoke and ash rising into the skies and a people so downtrodden that even now there’s a reluctance to assign blame; I could spend the rest of this review discussing the state of the USSR towards the end of the 80s and how bad it got for those in the satellite or Warsaw Pact nations but that’s not what we’re here for.
This is not an indictment of any system or nationalistic agenda, it is a eulogy for a place so befouled that it will be uninhabitable for centuries.
Just think of what that means… you will be dead, I will be dead, everyone around us will die as well but Chernobyl will endure as a memorial to a long-gone age when men foolishly tried to control what is beyond the scope of their understanding. Spending time with this record is a sobering experience and with song titles like “Atomgrad” it is impossible to avoid reflecting on how much was lost in the span of hours on April 26 1986. Shrine’s precise chronology of this accident is unerring, he pinpoints the exact genesis location via “Radiant Skyline (Unit 4)” and then fans out much like the fallout did with a series of slowly moving, inescapable meditations for the rest of the album.
If there is one piece on here which sums up what ‘Ordeal’ is about it would be the masterful “Under the Graphite Clouds”; try to imagine breathing in conditions like that and yet so many did. I can hear their voices crying gently as their lungs burn and their throats close up, after a while they merely whimper as the pollutants permeate every cell in their bodies. Take a look sometime at the photos of survivors as they were then and as they are now. Those few who remain move through life like ghosts, their fragility compounded each day by what they have gone through. This city’s buildings may still stand but the heart of the place was lost long ago and so Shrine pull down the curtain with “The Burden of Knowledge”: a serene, almost hopeful composition which brings things full circle and perhaps provides closure.
Some albums are indignant about the wrongs of the world whilst others lament loss and collapse in despair. ‘Ordeal’, dark though it may be is a record not to be missed because it doesn’t hold back at all. Shrine is uncompromising to the very last second, never once shying away from giving it his all regardless of how uncomfortable it may make his audience or himself.