Sunday 6 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Review by Casey Douglass


I find it fascinating to see something broken down into its smaller parts, especially if it is then put back together again. Anything themed around the elemental view of the Universe is therefore quite interesting to me, especially as it brings to mind more occult and metaphysical ideas. And wizards. Wizards with elemental magic blasting chunks out of each other as they bicker. Shrine’s dark ambient album, and debut on Cryo Chamber, Quintessence, is an album themed on just such an elemental theme. You have to bring the wizards though.

Quintessence consists of five tracks, each labelled after the element that they focus on. As you listen to each track, the featured element will shine through nicely, although some are more subtle, as naturally, using field-recordings of Water is a little easier than giving Earth a sound. I liked how each element gives each track its own unique feeling, yet the tracks themselves do share similarities, such as how they gently build up into an almost rapturous wall of sound, and then slowly diminish again into a more gentle soundscape.

Alongside the elemental sounds, there are female vocals that swell and support the “action” in the soundscape. I really liked these as they lend each track an almost mythic aesthetic, making something that would already be full of awe, actively majestic. There are other instruments and effects too that jumped out at me, and help build each track. In Gaia, this is a repeating electric-guitar-like tone and steady beat. In Hydor (water), this is the sound of sea birds and a rumbling distortion. In Aer (air) it’s a fuzzy beat and the static of a storm front. In Pyr (fire) it’s long string notes and shimmering tones, and in Quintessence (life itself) it’s the use of a fast-paced beat and electro-notes.

Unusually for me, I’m not sure I have a favourite track, as they are all enjoyable in their own way. I do think Quintessence had the best beat/rhythm of the bunch, but I guess that is only right if it is showing the evolution of life itself, rather than a single element. Life does like to move after all. When I was listening to Gaia, the electronic tones made me feel like I was envisioning a digital version of the Earth, for some reason. I think I had this in my brain as I listened to the next track, Hydor, as I found myself thinking about the scene in the Battleship (2012) film where the aliens spew up out of the water and things kick-off. Just goes to show how one thought can lead to another. I’d also add that I saw Battleship years after its release, and I found quite a lot to enjoy in a film that was largely derided.

Quintessence then, is an album full of energetic and rapturous tracks, each reveling in the element it is themed around and each “different from the next but similar” in just the right ways. Each track mixes chaos with order, manifestation with destruction, and does it with a deft touch and a pleasing balance to the ears. The beats carry things along nicely while the swirling maelstrom of tones and field-recordings create something majestic to listen to. I think that’s the first time I’ve said majestic twice in a review too. If you are a fan of nature and the elements, you should take a closer listen to Quintessence.

Visit the Quintessence page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Hydor below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Quintessence
Album Artist: Shrine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 01, 2019