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protoU - Khmaoch (2016) - Review

Band: protoU
Album title: Khmaoch
Release date: 11 October 2016
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Bridge Of Storms
02. Stygian Vortex
03. Skar Mekh
04. Voices Of The Water
05. Pel
06. Dai Robsa Preah
07. Stones In Snow

protoU is back with her second solo album, Khmaoch, on Cryo Chamber. protoU has been blazing her way onto the scene since last year's collaboration with Dronny Darko, Earth Songs. Her first solo release, Lost Here, was a magnificent debut, but may not have attracted the attention it deserved on Cryo Chamber because of its lighter and calmer palette. This time around protoU is holding no bars. Sasha Cats has proven once and for all that she is, in fact, a dark ambient musician. Khmaoch brings the same serene drones and ASMR infused field recordings. But this time there is a definite darkness creeping up from beneath the surface.

From the first track "Bridge Of Storms", it is evident that something has definitely changed. Everything is more in your face. Thunder storms tear through the mix. Deep swooshing drones meander from ear to ear. The cover art seems a perfect depiction of this track. A small insignificant human, gazing up at the vast glory of the Buddha. The album keeps its momentum through "Stygian Vortex". On this track we have strange yet soothing noises building a foundation along side more of her signature serene drone work. Over top of this is a deeply eastern feel. Flutes come and go through the track, giving the listener a sense of the beauty and solemnity of a traveler slowly wandering through the warm and rainy forests of Japan. Creeping closer to the temple of the Buddha, darkness is upon us. A darkness which at once is serene and lonely, vast and awe inspiring. "Skar Mekh" takes the listener to a more tribal and ritualistic place. Now there are people here with us. There are drums, manic voices, laughter. The things surrounding us are foreign yet still give us a feeling of comfort. But as the track progresses this comfort begins to elude us. Slipping away to be replaced with a darkness that seems magical, esoteric. The title "Skar Mekh" seems like it is alluding to some unknown tribe, maybe residing in the remains of an ancient Egyptian temple. Yet, as it is with so much dark ambient, the true meaning is left to the listeners discretion. "Voices Of The Water" takes us further into the manic darkness of the previous track. The tribal drums are still hammering gently in the background along side the soothing drones. Yet these drones are not benevolent. Again we feel a sense of darkness here. A darkness that cannot quite be described. "Voices Of The Water" also incorporates singing bowls and chimes to seemingly evoke some spirits, be they internal or external. As the track comes to a close, we here a celestial voice break through the mix, reminding me of something from Phonothek or Leila Abdul-Rauf. The voice is a perfect accompaniment to again mash together these elements of darkness and light. "Pel" still does not let up. This time we are faced with something that seems almost industrial. Not evoking the genre, but a sound that seems like an alien ship or some massive nautical craft moving, heard from deep beneath the surface. Field recordings blend with mechanical rotary noises, mix with airy drone work for a plethora of sounds that send the listener into a deep trance-like state. "Dai Robsa Preah" starts to make the descent. As we have passed over the pinnacle of intensity on Khmaoch, things are becoming more relaxing again, serenity takes the lead. The drone work is airy and light. The field recordings are soothing, relaxing the listener into a state of nirvana after the initial hypnosis of the previous track. Closing out the album is "Stones In Snow". My favorite track on the album. This is based with a pristine use of field recordings. We can hear the snow as it gently collides with the Earth. Mesmerizing our senses. Again the drones here are deliberate and masterful. Above this base is an enchanting soundscape. Strange foreign noises bring back the earlier sense of the orient, the feel of the woods. Yet now they have cooled and calmed themselves. The lands have returned to their solemn state.

protoU has taken all the elements that made her first release work and doubled, nay, tripled them. There is a level of detail and precision here which begs the listener to come back over and over again. This time for the field recordings, listening as a story plays out in aural space. Next time for the deep and serene drone work, a perfect accompaniment to meditation or a diversion from insomnia. If there was any question before that protoU was not a perfect fit for Cryo Chamber, that can be put to rest. Khmaoch embodies all the things that a fan could ask for when it comes to dark ambient. This time presenting them in a masterful way which gives the listener just a bit more each time they listen. I would highly recommend Khmaoch to anyone looking for a meditative experience without the repetitive instrumentation so often found on ritual ambient albums. I would also recommended it to fans of drone ambient. Fans with a more discerning ear, whom may not find joy in the uneventful nature of most drone work. protoU has at once delivered something which clearly shows its love for the history of the dark ambient genre, but purposefully derails, searching for new and undiscovered secrets of the genre. protoU has proven her worth and staying power with this release. She has shown how much she is willing to take risks, while continuing to master the fundamentals of the genre. A brilliant release which should not be ignored.

Written by: Michael
Rating: 8.5/10

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