Byron Metcalf / Steve Roach / Rob Thomas - Monuments of Ecstacy [Projekt Records - 2015]Likely my all time most listened musician, synthesizer soundscape pioneer Steve Roach has released upwards of 70 full lengths since beginning in 1982. He has grown no less prolific with age, and 2015 has already brought 2 releases within its first month, a longform space ambient track titled "Invisible", and a new collaborative album with shamanic drummer Byron Metcalf.
To those who have heard "The Serpent's Lair" or any of the other fantastic Roach / Metcalf collaboration albums, you know what you're getting here. The purpose of this music is clearly not to make any kind of wild leap into new territory, rather to tunnel deeper than ever before into the same trance states, so as to uncover further natural and ancestral visions.
"Monuments of Ecstacy", true to its title, is not a passive or quiet album by the standards of Roach, whose music I have fallen asleep to most every night for the last 5+ years. Metcalf's drumming here is at times thunderous, and maintains a constant level of energy and circular hypnotic regularity. The rhythms he plays have such a smooth, repetitious character that it took me years to become fully appreciative of their details and his inhuman focus / stamina. The drums are frequently layered in several tracks all around the soundspace, adding a surreal surround effect to the organic timbres. All manner of dry, bone-like shakers and beaters can be heard in all octaves, spiralling about the listener.
The pairing of the insistent drumming and Roach's vaporous, improvisatory synth swells results in a sense of legless momentum, of rushing at insane speed across massive vistas, the sort of sights only the mind's eye can provide. Like many of Roach's other recordings, this album is a powerful tool for any spiritual experience, an ally on your side in any dream battle.
Rob Thomas' role is also apparently one of percussion, primarily, according to the liner notes, so he is likely responsible for a portion of the density in the rhythm section. However, I'm not familiar with his work, and the drumming here is not strongly different from any other Steve Roach / Byron Metcalf project, to my ears. Rob and Steve are both credited with didgeridoo, that mother of all drone instruments, which has been lending Roach's music its ancient desert flavor ever since his 'tribal' phase in the early 90's. Its sound is always welcome, and it's played particularly rhythmically here, swelling with agility in time to the beat.
This is the most immediately gripping and intense music I've heard from Steve Roach since 2010's "Dream Tracker" (also a collaboration with Metcalf). If you're not already a fan, just know that this is an album of very authentic and cheese-free shamanic drumming and soundscapes, directly sourced and studied from various Native American and South American traditions. It stands powerfully well on its own merits, or as the natural continuance of the massive existential trip that comprises these musicians' discographies.Josh Landry