BYRON METCALF, STEVE ROACH, ROB THOMAS – Monuments of Ecstasy (2015)

712qqtIzeSL._SL1200_Guest review by Richard Gürtler

[Editor’s note: I’m very pleased to feature a review of a new album by grandmasters Steve Roach, Byron Metcalf and Rob Thomas, by a true expert on the ambient music genre. Welcome, Richard! —Allister]

Long-time kindred spirits and collaborators Byron Metcalf and Steve Roach have been constantly challenging their extraordinary musicianship. Now their tribe has expanded, as Rob Thomas of Inlakesh duo (with Tanya Gerard) returns after the acclaimed Medicine Work, a high-spirited collaboration with Byron (June 2013) and his guest performance on Intention by Byron and Mark Seelig (April 2014). Steve and Rob, if I am right, haven’t collaborated since 1999, when Steve delivered some groove magic to Inlakesh’s The Gathering album. So, all in all, we have here a tribal supergroup to fire up some of the most adventurous shamanic performances. The team is joined also by Stan Yeatts, who is responsible for the photographic bliss. The inside three-panel panoramic picture is absolutely stunning and provides as much monumental input to this groundbreaking work, which was released in a six-panel digipak by Projekt in January 2015. Additional credits include Sam Rosenthal (design) and Spotted Peccary’s Howard Givens (mastering).

The journey unfolds powerfully with the eleven and a half minute “Archaic Layers”. Steve’s expansive desert drifts and engrossing grooves are quickly joined by Byron’s passionate drumming magic, quite razor-sharp. Unmistakably tribal-driven, but this time heavy pounding with a nearly industrial touch. Along the way, Rob’s didgeridoo droning spirals infrequently keep on arising. A truly hyperactive blend exhibiting the very best of each tribesman. Welcome to their spectacularly multi-dimensional performance!!!

“Monuments Of Trance”, at 16:31 the longest ecstasy, slows down a bit, fronted by continuously encircling didge drones and barks, but the intense drumming quickly ties the score while distant glimpses of Southwestern stark landscapes occasionally pervade. After the ten-minute mark a tranquil transition awakes, before locomotive-infused tribal grooves and winding didge transcendence steal the centre stage and navigate the final ride into the mesmerizing, mind-transporting trance paradise. No way to argue about the track title… “Primal Analog” dives straight into sequencer-driven realms but safely remains on the path, tirelessly opiating and reinforced by remote, scant beats and oscillating whizzing drone pipe. Perpetually spellbinding listening experience is guaranteed!!!

The next piece, “Molecules Of Momentum”, incorporates an array of ecstatic aboriginal sounds, hauntingly evolving infectious rhythms and diaphanously floating layers. A perfect blend of strongly mesmerizing Dreamtime artifacts and shamanic rites of the Americas bridged with modern sound artistry. Then comes the title track, “Monuments Of Ecstasy”, which clocks just over the fifteen-minute mark. The first four minutes transport the listener into unique amalgamation of primordial carvings with cyber-trance-induced grooves. But then Steve takes over the torch, when thrillingly awe-inspiring expansive melody sneaks in. This was absolutely unexpected — what a jaw-dropping transformation!!! I have been deeply fascinated by this composition since the very first time it was officially introduced. The limits have been pushed once again, when already highly distinctive tribal-trance ambience is confronted with some electro-industrial flavourings. The track title fits more than precisely — a pure eargasm awaits here, no question about that!!! The shorter closing composition, “This Place On Earth”, is under Steve’s dominion and it soothes my ears with gracefully immense drifting panoramas reaching the eternally magnificent portal of atmospheric blissfulness. While delving into the deepest zones of monstrous calmness, delicate cyber-tech fragments inconspicuously permeate through. A massively embracing meditation!!!

This is certainly not just another rather ordinary tribal ambient journey, this is a genuine sonic (and visual) elixir approaching and achieving a new level in the collaborative evolution between Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf, this time with the enormous contribution of Rob Thomas, the master of the didgeridoo (player, teacher and crafter). Bravo, gentlemen!!! I just can’t imagine where these curanderos want to shift their next chapter. It will be a quite tough task, but I am sure this will again challenge innate visionaries of these shamanic powerhouses. For now, explore, feel and absorb all the magic of these Monuments Of Ecstasy!!!

Richard Gürtler (Jan. 31, 2015, Bratislava, Slovakia)

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