Alphaxone, ProtoU, Onasander – Shadows of Forgotten Legends

[Reviewed by Psymon Marshall]

It’s a fact that, in all the time I have been reviewing dark ambient material, this is my first write-up of a Cryo Chamber release, despite coming across the name numerous times on Youtube. Likewise this is my first encounter with Ukrainian project ProtoU (Sasha Puzan), but Alphaxone (Mehdi Saleh from Iran) and Onasander (Maurizio Landini from Italy) are familiar names – indeed I have reviewed the latter’s work once before. This collaboration takes its inspiration from the Norse legend of the kraken (the sea creature, not the rather scrumptious rum sadly), a deep-sea dwelling tentacle monstrosity thought to live off the coasts of Norway and Greenland, which was in all probability inspired by sightings of giant squid by Viking mariners. It was certainly a tale to strike fear into the hearts of men, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that sightings of such a creature persist to this day.

Given its inspiration, how have the three artists translated the legends into music? Beginning with ‘Beneath the Dark Night’, we are immediately transported to the murky and watery depths, a world where anything can hide undetected for centuries, millennia even (we often forget just how little we know about the oceans of the world). Deep rumblings accompanied by the sounds of slightly disturbed water, muddied and muffled, drag us below the surface into an environment as alien as any planet in our solar system. Sustained drones suggest that something lurks in those dark depths, something that’s outside human experience and that possesses an intelligence that is at once alien and somewhat unsympathetic. Following this, in ‘Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep’, whatever it is awakens to full consciousness, its slumbers disturbed by an uninvited guest – in the context of the legend, a Viking longboat ripples the calm surface of the sea above, its thrashings propagating through the water to reach the senses of the creature resting below. Subsonic bass drones and rumblings betray the creature’s displeasure at its dark dreams being interrupted, and one can feel the leviathan slowly unfolding itself and rising upwards to the world of men. Its imperative is simply that the interfering beings need to be removed, with perhaps a bonus of sustenance attached to it.

‘Future Ghost’ is a dark raspy drone swirling from the unseen abyssal plains below obscured by pitch black waters that is almost always blithely ignored by human minds. The future ghost it speaks of is perhaps those of the doomed ship and its passengers, who are blissfully unaware at this point of the danger approaching them. Tension builds incrementally, the beast slowly and inexorably zeroing in on the hapless transport. A certain frisson is felt, a kind of electricity crackling through the sea air, a sure sign that something is afoot (or is it atentacle?). The seafarers may be ignorant of the danger, but we as listeners feel it only too strongly, shivers running up and down the spine. ‘Uninvaded Sleep’ starts with hollow winds, perhaps agitating the waves into foamy crests, presaging a storm ahead, but as we know this isn’t a meteorological storm, but a mythical one made reality. The kraken appears to stalk its prey just below the surface, its large saucer eyes tracking the longboat in order to judge the opportune moment to strike.

But the next track, ‘Thoughts of Ancient Gods’, prompts me to take a different tack here. Perhaps this suite of music isn’t so much about the reality or otherwise of these creatures, but instead how our ancestors reacted to the unknown dangers lurking around every corner or beneath the dark waters in this case. Perhaps this is how legends start out: an unfamiliar environment, accompanied by forces vaster and stronger than oneself, or situations whose causes are unknown – experiences which need an explanation in order to understand. One can easily see how, perhaps, a glimpse of a giant squid (a magnificent and scary sight in itself) can grow into something much larger and much more frightening, so much so that they can form a possible danger to mankind. That very explanation would serve to explain why the sea is so difficult to cross in safety, and also why ships disappear without a trace. Sometimes our imaginations present a bigger menace than reality.

‘Dusk Wings’ paints a picture of the beginning of the darkest time of any sea voyage: the time when daylight departs and darkness covers all, in turn welcoming all manner of hidden dangers inimical to the welfare of men. It’s almost as if light is physically fleeing from the approach of nightmares, allowing those dangers freedom of movement and instinct until it gathers the courage to return once more. Both the hours of darkness and the sea beneath serve to conceal the ‘Scourge of the Seas’ from the sight of the unwary and unprepared, leaving such defenceless both physically and metaphysically. Imagine yourself on such a voyage somewhere around a thousand years ago, huddled for warmth within the hull of the vessel as darkness descends for the night. You’ve heard the tales and the rumours: will the thought that a monster lurks out there keep you awake, or do you trust the watch’s alertness? Will you make it to another day, or does a watery death await you sometime in the small hours? These were very real worries at the time.

‘Northern Waves’ possesses a slightly lighter air about it, signalling perhaps the distant shores of one’s destination are at last in sight. Of course, the danger isn’t entirely over – there are perhaps other unforeseen and unknown hazards still to be overcome. If nothing else this particular track elicits uncertainty and caution, warning against celebrating too soon. Then we arrive at the final track, ‘The Aberration’, and one has to wonder at what the aberration referred is: the kraken, or the fact that a ‘primitive’ boat has made it across rough seas to the right destination with nothing more than simple tools to guide the voyagers? The track itself exhibits an air of mystery, of enigma, and of unknown lands and seas, places where no one’s sure of what lies ahead or what they may find there. And that leads to the conclusion that, in after times, new legends and myths may arise from their time living here, replete with new tales of adventure and new gods following.

I’ll be honest here: I found the tracks varied little in some respects, and that the range of atmospheres elicited was very limited. But having said that, given the subject matter, that can be forgiven: these were voyagers striking out into seas as yet uncharted, travelling the places that would be marked ‘Here be monsters’ by later cartographers, and in that respect the imagined dangers lurking beneath the waves were more than adequately delineated and painted – indeed, the frisson of possibly encountering the unknown and the unexpected, as well as the mythological and dangerous, thrilled throughout each track, weaving its tentacles tightly through and around the primitive centres of the lizard brain. It certainly isn’t a bad album, indeed as a piece of atmospheric explication it’s wonderful, but from a personal point of view I like a little more variety and variance. I can, however, recommend it for those who like to experience unknown darknesses and threats vicariously through sonic manipulation.

Available from Cryo Chamber’s Bandcamp page as a limited CD (300) and download.

Alphaxone, ProtoU, OnasanderShadows of Forgotten Legends
Cryo Chamber
CD/Digital 2020

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