On their new record, Helsinki-based duo Utra create icy, alienating drone that supplements the stark lowlight winter of the far northern hemisphere. Näkymiä korkeista paikoista is a four song cycle drenched in ghostly, oscillating synthesizers and dense, pitch-black textures. Across an alternately suffocating and intoxicating hourlong runtime, Utra sink into the bends and creases of a glacial darkness, finding solace in brief flickers of beauty.
Four albums in, the electronic duo have experimented with straightforward synthwave, kitschy lo-fi, and delicately spry vaporwave. Significantly, Nakymia korkeista paikoista is their first without drums, a heavy pivot into pure, unadulterated ambience. Stripped of any rhythmic backbone, Utra tap into a new level of immersion, as each ten-plus minute song bleeds into the next without much time for rest. Each track reflects what’s come before, offering slight iterations of a general composition that shifts from frightful to sublime, then back down to melancholic.
The low, menacing chords that open “Tuuli merelta” give way to a fluttering synth line, which eventually shapes into an opaquely pretty arpeggio, the first substantive movement on the album. Once the wobbly, low end rustle of “Yomaisema #1” begins, Utra are already worlds away from this self-contained arc, attempting a repeat of the same emotions from a slightly altered vantage point. The natural ebb and flow of such long arrangements allows the duo to find new pockets in their meandering tapestry, even though they always start and end near the same point.
The second half of the record takes an even more nebulous approach, with swarming synths that cut through the low-end like a distant buzzsaw. The counterpoint ‘lead’ melody on “Yomaisema #2” floats around with the detached chillness of an ominous sci-fi soundtrack, while the closing “Maailma joka katosi” begins with a fluttering, nearly optimistic swell and ends with the record’s most intoxicatingly claustrophobic sequence.
Importantly, each composition on Nakymia korkeista paikoista comes from live, improvised sessions. The duo’s natural interplay of vastly fluctuating moods helps the record from ever falling into monotonous territory, despite the ambitious runtime. Although the ultimate feeling is one of subtle despair, Utra occasionally reach lofty heights in their monomaniacal quest for widescreen immersion. The record scans across a vast tundra, magnifying dust speckles in the unforgiving wind, starlight over the blackening sky. (Josh Hughes)