17/05/2011

Review: Kammarheit – The Starwheel (reissue)

Cyclic Law, 2011 (originally Cyclic Law, 2005)


Tracklisting:

1) Hypnagoga
2) Spatium
3) The Starwheel (Clockwise)
4) Klockstapeln
5) The Starwheel (Counter Clockwise)
6) A Room Between The Rooms
7) Sleep After Toyle, Port After Stormie Seas
8) All Quiet In The Land Of Frozen Scenes

It’s funny that the reissue of this seminal album should coincide with my starting this website. I’m not the one to believe in destiny or anything of the sort, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be grateful to the often incredible case of affairs. Anyway, it’s only logical for this album to be the first one to be reviewed on here, as it was my first ever dark ambient album and remains my favourite to this day. Let me elaborate why.

Kammarheit is anything but a prolific project. Well, if we discount the mass of private and deleted works from the project’s early years. Two full-length albums and one split-LP in ten years is the sum of Kammarheit's existence thus far. However, its mastermind, Mr Pär Boström, hailing from the remote Umeå in northern Sweden, seems to have been utilising his hibernation well, as clearly showcased in all his work. Although the debut album, “Asleep And Well Hidden” (Cyclic Law, 2003) is a masterpiece in its own right, this sophomore release is Kammarheit’s defining moment, where the concept breathes to the fullest and, dare I say, sets a benchmark for the dark ambient scene as a whole for good. Many have compared this project to fellow artists such as Raison D’Etre, Svartsinn and Northaunt. However, the truth is that Kammarheit created a niche for itself from the onset, one that would become the prime example of the entire genre, separate from all, and above most.

What makes this album seminal is the perfect balance of all the elements contained within. Many dark ambient albums (and artists) are plagued by a relative lack of perspective in some regards, usually in terms of the number and choice of elements they want to pack into an album, which makes them shift sounds almost erratically from album to album or even song to song. Of course, dark ambient isn’t something formulaic, on the contrary – it covers an entire spectrum of emotions. However, it’s the ability to depict all those in the duration of one album (while keeping the album consistent throughout the entire fortyish-or-so minutes) that reflects true mastery of this art. Saying that the album consists of subtle drones that extend through four to six minutes, creating a deep, dreamy atmosphere, would theoretically describe this album, yes, but that’s the case with 80% of the genre. As I said, the distinguishing factor here is the overall balance. The sound never strays too far to either side of the route – it remains dark in a hundred and fifty ways, as Shakespeare would say, but never becomes morbid, nightmarish or frightening; it remains dreamy, but never becomes too melodic, which would inadvertently divert the attention from the atmosphere being conjured; it remains hypnotic, but never becomes repetitive; it’s perfectly layered and just dense enough without ever going into a wall of sound; in short, it really has the best qualities of an attention-holder. To say that these eight tracks are eight stories would simply be wrong, and even the song titles suggest that. These aren’t even chapters of a story. They are facets of a dream, and a perfect dream at that. What comprises a perfect dream? That’s for each and every one of you to define, as dark ambient always pertains to the listener’s subjectivity. However, I believe that we can unanimously agree that a perfect dream would be an unhindered, continuous, dynamic one. One that’s always realistic enough to keep us intellectually entertained, but fantastic enough to remain a form of escapism. One that’s never realistic enough to take away the enjoyment, and never fantastic enough to make us realise it’s a dream. “The Starwheel” is that dream in body and soul.

As for the mundane, mortal characteristics of this release – as someone who has both the original edition and the reissue, I can freely say that Frédéric from Cyclic Law has made all the right choices. The glossy digipack suits the album artwork much better than the original cardboard sleeve ever could, while the layout itself has remained unchanged. The album has also been remastered, and unlike the vast majority of such attempts in the music industry, in this case, the remastering process benefits the final product. The differences are subtle, probably undetectable to casual fans, but subtle is the keyword in every aspect of this work of art anyway. A highly recommended release to all the new fans. The old ones must have already obtained a copy.