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Alphaxone & protoU - Stardust (2017) - Review

Band: Alphaxone & protoU
Album title: Stardust
Release date: 24 January 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Consumed
02. Planemo Dreams
03. Observing Quasars
04. Versus
05. Sub Signal
06. Alignments
07. Returned

Alphaxone and protoU have come together for a collaborative dark ambient album, inspired by the wonders of time and space. Stardust takes the listener on a journey, far beyond the reaches of our atmosphere, and even beyond our imaginations. The brilliant album art, combined with the mastering skills of Simon Heath, gives Stardust a well-rounded and larger than life feel.

Alphaxone and protoU, on the surface, seem like a strange match up for a collaboration. Distance and language are among the barriers that these two artists had to overcome in order to bring Stardust together. Alphaxone, from Iran, is well along his way to becoming a veteran. He is a tried and true name in the realms of dark ambient. From his first release on Cryo Chamber, Living In The Grayland, Alphaxone has been turning heads, with his masterful technique and his attention to the little details. Four full-length albums and a handful of collaborations have led him to being one of the most active members on the Cryo Chamber roster, and each album somehow seems better than its predecessor.

protoU, from the Ukraine, is still a relatively new name to the genre of dark ambient. Even if she has already released two solo albums, and a brilliant collaboration with Dronny Darko, entitled Earth Songs. protoU uses field recordings and minimal drone structures to craft albums which have as much liveliness as they do technical prowess. So hearing that she would be collaborating with Alphaxone on a space themed album certainly piqued my interest.

Stardust seemed on the surface like it would end up being a pretty straight forward space ambient album. One that would rely most heavily on long slowly-evolving drones. In some ways this is the case, but at the same time there is a life beneath the surface of this album. A life which begs to spring forth, blasting right out of Earth's atmosphere.

The drones are, indeed, slow and evolving. The energy is subdued. But there is an inescapable connection to Earth which will surely take many listeners by surprise. The first few listens left me in awe, but also a bit bewildered. How and why would they combine some sounds which have such an earthly tone to other sounds and concepts which are ultimately extra-terrestrial. Through repeated listens, late at night, in those wonderful moments between being active and falling asleep, a picture began to form. Stardust became for me, an album for star-gazers, not for space-travelers. The sounds lend themselves to a cool summer evening, lying on a beach, or in a little clearing in a vast forest. In these settings the stargazers can lie upon the earth, surrounded by nothing but nature and the infinite sky. These are the moments that Alphaxone and protoU seem to be keen on evoking. When the album brings in a bit of running water on "Observing Quasars", which sounds like a gentle stream, or on later tracks when there is a white noise that seems to exude warmth, they are building the setting of these stargazers. Humans on the surface of Earth, watching in wonder as the heavenly expanses roll out before their very eyes.

Beyond this theme, there is a technical presence here, which deserves notice. On tracks like "Versus" and "Alignments" these two artists really seem to be bringing out their own flavors, a sort of joust for the center of the spectrum. We can hear Alphaxone and his brilliant drone-work, alongside protoU with her detailed field recordings and her spiritual prowess. Yet this mingling of the two flavors never seems to clash, it comes together, bringing out the very best in each artist, as they blend their varied elements into a single blissful perfection.

Alphaxone and protoU have likely learned a good bit from one another through the crafting of Stardust. Each one, I have to think, to hone a new sense of self, a few lessons that will help them both expand their ever growing careers, which take them ever closer to perfection. Stardust is not the straightforward space ambient album which seems so likely on the surface, there is a life and energy to it which, frankly, took me by surprise. I would recommend this album to any listener of dark ambient who likes to pick at each track, finding new tidbits of sound, new themes and settings ever presenting themselves. This may well be the crowning achievement of each artist, yet I wouldn't be surprised if they both have even greater feats of musical production in their separate, but parallel moving careers.

Written by: Michael
Rating: 9/10

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