As the shimmering glitch/loop of guitar strums announces the start of “Ultraviolet”, Shadow Relics begins to form itself. The album has a distinctive character for the most part – identifiable in recurrences in timbre, mood and structure, and gradually unveiled as each element takes its place over the course of the first five minutes of this opening track, drifting into the soundscape one by one. Once fully assembled, “Ultraviolet” sounds sort of like a simplified Steve Reich for loopstation – guitars in the higher frequency ranges are locked in a tonally ambiguous stasis, while organ tilts and rotates the music via slow chord progressions from beneath. There’s a certain mystery surrounding the track’s steady ascent – during which the listener bears witness to the construction process without any idea as to the how the end product will sound – and this is undoubtedly its most captivating quality.
So naturally, when “Crystal Glaciers” and “Sable Ruins” employ the same structure to arrive at similar atmospheric destinations, this sense of mystery isn’t present. Both tracks embark on the same steady building of textures, feeling somewhat predictable as everything falls into place in a similar manner to “Ultraviolet” – the listener is left to tread the same path to no real benefit, and Shadow Relics doesn’t so much build on a singular theme as merely rehash it. In addition, both of these pieces lack the strength of execution seen in “Ultraviolet”: some of the guitar parts of “Crystal Glaciers” are too sharp and jagged on the ears, while “Sable Ruins” features a particularly jarring and synthetic bass synth.
The more serene ambient plateau of “Undertow” and “Hidden in the Ice” deviate from the theme and fare better for it – the former in a soft reverberant drift of chord changes, the latter as a mutating pool of bitcrushed hums, overlapping and interweaving. But these deviations are all too brief, and don’t save Shadow Relics so much as place emphasis on the stagnancy of the album’s weakest spells.