Fever Dreams II / Lost Pieces 4 / Mantram
by Bill Davis, e|i magazine
It may seem like an odd analogy, but from an output perspective, Steve Roach has a lot in common with Stephen King. Both artists are extremely prolific, and both are, arguably, the best in the world within their chosen niche. In spite of the sheer volume of work produced, the material produced by each is instantly recognizable in its signature style and almost uniformly excellent. In fact, you get the idea that they'd both continue making art in their respective media even if they had no audience. However, fortunately for both Steves, they possess what King calls a "marketable obsession." Such is the case with these three releases, which still represents only 60% of Roach's output for 2004. Each is excellent, instantly recognizable as a Steve Roach product (or product of his involvement,) and each represents compelling evidence that when it comes to the niche where drone meets tribal/shaman meets electronics (a larger niche than you might think,) the man has no peer.
HOLDING THE SPACE: FEVER DREAMS II and PLACES BEYOND: THE LOST PIECES 4 are from the Timeroom series of releases available directly from Roach via his website. The former is a sequel of sorts to another 2004 release, FEVER DREAMS, released on the Projekt label, while the latter is the 4th volume in the Lost Pieces series, comprised of widely scattered tracks which initially appeared elsewhere or were previously unreleased. It is perhaps because of the fact that these pieces were never initially intended to go together that they make PLACES BEYOND: THE LOST PIECES 4 the most interesting of the three releases reviewed here. While lacking the cohesion of the other two efforts, Lost Pieces makes up for it in the sheer variety of styles represented and could serve effectively as a resume for Roach, showing his mastery of each electronic idiom. "Distant Signals" which leads off the CD, "Contained... Sustained," "Light of Day" and "Calm Before the Storm" (recorded live with Vidna Obmana) fall squarely into the classic space music category (albeit with Roach's stamp firmly on it), while "Trancefusion" and "Serpent's Birth", done with Vir Unis during the time of BLOOD MACHINE's recording in 2000 are dark, rhythmic and hypnotic. "Slow Rapture" is from THE MAGNIFICENT VOID period, and it sounds like it. Odd man (track) out here is "Resolution Point," which is more reminiscent of the tribal/shamanic vein that Roach has tapped so successfully of late, the vein that he also draws from on FEVER DREAMS II and MANTRAM.
HOLDING THE SPACE: FEVER DREAMS II, with significant contributions from Byron Metcalf on percussion and frame drum, and vocalizing by Jennifer Grais, is awash in dark mysticism. This is the kind of stuff that bypasses the head and sucker-punches the collective unconscious: lots of long, drifting minor-key synth chords, with plenty of lower register shamanic drumming to propel things along. Nice atmospheric guitar work, also by Roach, seasons several tracks as well. The exception is the drum-free "Opening the Space," which features Grais' wordless vocals over drone and didgeridoo. Throughout the entire recording the musicians seem to work together almost intuitively to reach the same destination. By the end of the 21-minute closing title track, there's a good chance you'll reach that destination, too.
MANTRAM is another collaborative trio effort which features percussionist Byron Metcalf, and this time instead of the vocal contributions of Jennifer Grais there's the bansuri flute and voice overtones of Mark Seelig. Once again, the listener is enveloped in a ritualistic otherworld. The eight tracks flow together without a break, and without titles, as well: in the shaman's world, labels are irrelevant. Sound-wise, it's an impressive technological achievement, but in spirit the music is as distant from 21st Century modernity as any sound can be. Slow, primitive, and aimed squarely towards inner space, MANTRAM might best be described as a series of meditative drones, were it not for the sound of Metcalf's equally primitive drum punctuation puncturing holes in the universal Om. Twice as mystical, but somehow less dark than Holding the Space, this recording may well be the best yet of Roach's collaborative works.