Incense-smoke drones and a slow, throat-sung chant welcome the listener into Shambhala, the new collaboration between Jack Hertz and Symatic Star. This hour-long meditation spends a lot of its time hovering close to darkened areas but, courtesy of its hypnotic drones and soft-edged sounds, manages to pull the listener in deep without resorting to the more off-putting aspects of true dark ambient. The duo skillfully maneuver their way through their tales of the legendary paradise, varying the tone just enough as we go. After the grim and ritual-like atmospheres of the opening track, “Journey to Shambhala,” the tone lightens a bit with “Mountain Kingdom.” Here the lead is taken by a sound like processed guitar (although no guitars are listed in their gear) that puts me in mind of Erik Wøllo’s work, long, soft notes sighing off into the distance. Hertz laces the background with small, effective sounds, echoing drips and light clatters, This track moves upward in feeling, appropriately, given its title, the high notes and gentle approach carving out our sonic impression. These two tracks take up the first half hour, by which time you should be fairly well owned. But the tales continue with the deep “Om” neatly played out in sound on “The Doorway.” This is another track that dwells on the lower end, rich bass notes resonating and moving in motion with your breath–or, to be accurate, vice-versa before its eight minutes are up. The dense tones here are excellent, and the cadence is meditation-perfect. The half-shadows return on “Two Worlds,” ten minutes of misty drones augmented with small sounds and a full sense of dimension. It keeps the slow-breath pacing coming out of “Doorway,” and adds an interesting edge, the sense of raised perception. Prepare for your wake-up call then as Symatic Star (aka Simon Walsh) ushers in the final track, “Return from Shambala,” by blaring out a call-to-prayer note on processed trombone, simulating a Tibetan horn. A flute tone takes the forefront here, a light and hopeful sound against a gorgeous classic-ambient backdrop. It brings the release to a cleansing finish and drives home the sense of it being a meditation. It’s very easy to get lost in Shambhala; I’ve had it looping pleasantly for hours. The darker spaces are not grim, but just a bit moody. They’re not threatening, they’re introspective. Because of them, the lighter stretches seem more soulfully buoyant. This release is also one to pay attention to from a construction standpoint. It’s beautifully layered and pieced together and gives off a real sense of tangible depth. Hertz’s small sounds and atmospherics carefully enrich Walsh’s A-level synth work. It’s dramatic, it’s calming, it tells its story in a confident voice. A superb release, and a must-own.
Available from Aural Films.