Album Review: Shikimo - Umbra Complex

A Mythic Space-Hydra Looms Ominous...

July 18, 2019

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01 - Hydra

That many-headed serpent, of ancient Greek mythology, awakens with Shikimo's first track. A veil of mystery is upon us as the tension rises throughout the track!

Hydra has many elements, the mix is very balanced, with an emphasis on the bass growl at first after which the mid-range and highs slowly reveal themselves.

In the middle section the drums are at their fullest with big snare , toms and hats ! To put the cherry on top, Shikimo brings some epic melodies and a nice high frequency bell that completes the piece.

Afterwards the atmosphere becomes less dark, instead, more positive ideas are explored. Perhaps the Hydra was defeated and now we're just flying through the cosmos looking at pretty nebulae, enjoying a smooth ringing outro.

02 - Invasion ( with Turbo Knight )

Similar to the previous track, Invasion starts with a growly bass, however this time an unexpected groove ensues. The drums start pumping and from here to the end we are in for a nice journey prepared by Shikimo and Turbo Knight!

At 2:18 for example a signature 90's synth sound appears; the classic TB-303 used on a multitude of tracks from the acid music genre! I have a tremendous appreciation for this unexpected surprise. This can only make me wonder what other surprises we may be treated to in this album.

03 - Lost Trasmission

Entry #3 brings us in the radiation zone, at least that's what I can tell from that Geiger counter sound effect!

As a fan of fallout games I like this effect! However, we are not in the fallout on this planet, I don't know where we are because we have Lost Transmission!

On this tune Shikimo brings a sound similar to the work done by SURVIVE on the Stranger Things soundtrack . It is nostalgic, mysterious and exciting at the same time.

The track moves forward with a strong beat and powerful bass-line! The bells finish the song in a very magical way! And the radiation effect is gone. Maybe we have finally reached a safe zone?

04 - Celestial Ritual

Playing with the stereo field Shikimo creates a synth that spins us around in the beginning and proceeds into an eerie lead melody. As the beat starts I am getting more immersed into this Celestial Ritual.

Is this a ritual performed by the Krell from the Forbidden Planet? It very well could be , only Shikimo knows, but what is clear is that this track has a well put together, retro-horror, sci-fi atmosphere and confirms that the album explorers a broad variety of feelings.

05 - Binary Star

This variety continues in Binary Star with a very upbeat track. This time the positive ideas are fully expressed with powerful pad synths, a punchy beat and dancing bells !

This is the perfect background music for your space themed video game as you explore different planets in search for resources or to research their characteristics. Perhaps you will even find life, specifically a less technologically advanced population as can be easily imagined when we hear the flute section at around 3:00 when a silence descends and we are taken away by this tribal atmosphere. I can only imagine the Ewoks from Star Wars having a party to this!

Of course the track comes back together again because we all love punchy beats! Hopefully the Ewoks won't bite us when they get too excited!

This great song marks the half of this profound album of beautiful atmospheres and at this point I hope that the rest of the album is at the same level or even brings another secret ingredient.

06 - Desolation ( Interval )

Maybe track #6 is such an ingredient. Very big sound and surprisingly, it doesn't have any beats! Just sit back and let yourself be surrounded by these epic synths.

This is the ideal sound in my mind when I think of synthesizer music. This type of sound can easily be used in any hollywood sci-fi movie when something larger than life is happening.

We are about to reach the core of the Earth, or we've just discovered starburst warping technology! At 0:25 the starburst occurs and we are in complete awe whilst travelling at this enormous speed for the next 2 minutes.

A short but very satisfying journey !

07 - Ghost Trigger ( with Fractal Man )

As I listen to the collaboration between Shikimo and Fractal Man I can see how their styles fit perfectly together, and the song fits very well with the rest of the album as both artists are fans of steady beats, growly basslines, great atmospheric pads, spacey leads and bells!

The pair manage to create a song that will fit everyone's synthwave needs. I particularly enjoy listening to the ice crystal bell sounds that appear at the 4:00 mark .

08 - Red Eclipse

Entry #8, yet another interesting atmospheric track. Red Eclipse is reminiscent of the first track of this album Hydra as well as Desolation, although perhaps not as big .

I have no idea if the track is a reference to the Red Eclipse open source video game from 2011 but it would definitely fit as a soundtrack for it as the aesthetics of that game feature a futuristic world with various creatively designed electric, plasma and laser weapons. There's also neons!

I believe it is at this time I can pinpoint exactly what Shikimo's sound is. I will describe more fully in the conclusion of this review.

09 - Traversing the Cosmos

Paving the way to the final moments of this album, Traversing the Cosmon invites us forward with a punchy kick and fantastic mood and delivers with a satisfying snare . We are already used to the well crafted melodies, the steady percussion elements  cymbals, hats and well placed sound effects that fill the audio spectrum smoothly!

At 2:00 the filters are brought down softly and our focus is brought to the kick and low frequency, at about 2:33 a bell shaker comes in and announces the second drop with our instruments filtered back in a breezy fashion, fulfilling its promise at 2:55 . The vintage tom drums are perfect for the context of this tune and truly enhance its power!

The lead reminds me of late 90's euro trance/dance songs which is a pleasure to hear in this track that may represent the peak of this album!

10 - Terminus

However we still have one track left and Terminus shines through a very clean mix and satisfying frequencies that don't clash. It presents the perfect dream to end the album with.

I would definitely compliment the very analogue-sounding bass-line. It almost sounds like it was made on a modular!

The synths come in superbly and have a very unusual sound to them with a pleasant sense of movement! The track, and thus the album, ends with some dreamy nostalgic beeps that slowly fade out in the last seconds...

Conclusion

Shikimo's album is very welcome in the world of space atmospheric synthwave, with a signature sound centred around gradual progressions and the use of filters.

Typically we start out with a growly bass-line and solid kick, surrounded by atmospheric effects, after which we are gradually introduced to the rest of the instruments. The song then moves towards the high end of the frequency spectrum, which during the drop is completely filled.

The pads are usually very dreamy and well backed up by leads and bells! Most tracks have a middle point of rest from which we come back up again for the second drop. It is a sound that works and can fit on any synthwave playlist or compilation, especially space themed!

If I was to criticise one thing on this album is that sometimes the tracks feel like they could have more to them. Sometimes repeating the same drop in the second part is not enough even if you add more things to the high end or some bell sounds and I feel Shikimo could dare to do more than a pulsating and repetitive kick and snare. Preferring not to experiment, he opts for a safe sound that works just fine, despite having the potential to be much more than that .

To  finish, Umbra Complex is a well thought-out album that even though has a high level of variety manages to maintain a unified context, technique and aesthetic.

This work is a great addition to the artist's discography and some of the songs will definitely be played on nightride.fm !

Be sure to support Shikimo on bandcamp

Vosto Vlad

Published July 18, 2019

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