Review Summary: An album that is as intimately personal as it is universally relatable.
Not so long ago it felt like every new discovery in metal came in the form of an atmospheric post-metal band. Groups such as Skuggsja, Sumac and Oathbreaker stemmed from already established artists while a fresh onslaught of bands- Dynfari, Svalbard, Harakiri for the Sky and Departe, to name a few- either entered the fray or started to gain increased attention. Now that particular subgenre is less bottlenecked than it was, the ones who managed to squeeze through can no longer blend in with the rest of the crowd. Consequently, they are more visible and more susceptible to scrutiny than they once were. Due to the sheer number of bands who were producing similar icy soundscapes, another artist by the name of Sylvaine never received the initial level of acclaim that she deserved.
Sylvaine is a Norwegian solo-instrumentalist who released her fantastic sophomore album in 2016. Appropriately titled, “Wistful”
illustrated a serene environment in which reflective melodies entwined with ethereal vocals danced around airily. Looking back, with those kinds of attributes, Sylvaine was destined to be one of the artists who would soon stand above the rest of the crowd. Thus, her third album “Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone”
faces the bold task of refining her previous efforts as well as setting the standard for the current quieter state of atmospheric post metal.
Immediately, the title track introduces a peculiar bass line unlike her previous efforts yet exuding an oddly familiar feeling. Dejected, this dark riff slinks around throughout the duration of the song. However, despite its forlorn mood, it acts as an unexpected backbone to support the emotional burden Sylvaine’s beautiful wails and swelling guitars during the song’s gradual climax. Further examples of maturity and diversity are unearthed during “Abeyance” where her characteristic smoky slivery shade takes on an iridescent hue. No less emotionally piercing, the guitars and her misty voice appear to emit an array of sentiments both spiritual and physical. Like feeling peacefully numb or warm but anxious at the same time.
Considering the template of the album is drawn from feeling trapped inside the human body, longing to reach something greater which resides outside our weaker selves, opposition is the chief expression throughout “Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone”
, whether it describes the duality between physical and spiritual, as the album’s influence describes, or simply combining opposing sonic forces in an attempt to create something one can truly immerse themselves in. “L’Appel du Vide” is a highly emotional track that is tangible both spiritually and physically. Standing at the edge of a cliff, Sylvaine’s tender, peaceful voice is a warm breath against your skin as the cold breeze of guitars rushes through your hair. It sounds contemplative as if, looking out at the landscape, you ask yourself “what if I took one more, one final step forward…” A brief pause, then falling. Falling into the enveloping darkness but blissfully free. Sylvaine does not sing or wail during this climax which intensifies the song’s pensive, private and personal demeanour. A rather depressing, but exquisite way to conclude an album.
Every aspect of “Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone”
appears amplified in comparison to Sylvaine’s previous two albums. Sylvaine’s ethereal and ambient elements havenever faltered before, and nor do they on this album. In keeping with the sense of duality this album resonates, her clean vocals are more than blindingly radiant but also heart-breaking and bitterly nostalgic. On the other, darker end of the scale, rough guitars that snarled at the sight of adversity now bite and tear at its opponent while her improved harsh vocals mimic a similar attitude. “Morklagt” unleashes the wild side or Sylvaine best where her patient gliding vocals are punished by pure, Nordic black metal tremolo that would make the forerunners of the genre crack a wry smile in approval. Guitars make a stormy rumble rather than an icy blast, glassy, glacial cries are shattered by fierce screeches. The explosion of sudden intensity is both wondrous and terrifying, like watching a lightning storm draw near.
At face value, “Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone”
is an outstanding piece of work considering how one person has created something so expansive; an album that is as intimately personal as it is universally relatable. Beneath that, however, lies music that is plagued with doubt, anxiety, regret, longing and desperation but all it takes is to conjure the faintest spark of hope to dispel these forces and Sylvaine launches her audience into blissful catharsis. If the album’s inspiration was drawn from feeling trapped in herself yet yearning for some higher power, then this is the sound of Sylvaine within touching distance of that greatness.