Byron Metcalf, Steve Roach & Rob Thomas: Monuments of Ecstasy
Having last teamed up with Byron Metcalf for the early 2013 release Tales from the Ultra Tribe, Steve Roach now reunites with him and brings Rob Thomas aboard for Monuments of Ecstasy. A scan of the instrumentation featured on the sixty-seven-minute release offers a preliminary hint of its sonic character: all three contribute a broad range of percussive sounds to the material (frame drum, large shaman drum, bass drum, drum machine, clap sticks, clay vessel, rattles), while Roach and Thomas respectively contribute synthesizer (analog modular, analog and virtual hardware synths) and didjeridu to the mix. In keeping with past Roach recordings, the music unfolds as a densely layered flow; however, compared to recent releases by the prolific artist, Monuments of Ecstasy is more aggressive and dynamic in rhythmic terms.
Though the album features six tribal-ambient pieces ranging in length from five to sixteen minutes, Monuments of Ecstasy gives the impression of being a single, unified work, despite the presence of indexing and pauses between the tracks. From the opening moments of “Archaic Layers,” the recording is animated by an energized tribal pulse that provides an ever-mutating percussive ground for the electronic and didjeridoo textures stretching across it. Sounds repeatedly drift in and out of a mix that itself alternates continually between episodes of ecstatic intensity and calm. During the quieter passages, synthesizer washes move to the fore and the percussive dimension recedes into the background; during the intense sequences, the music's percussive thrust becomes the dominant focal point with the other instruments functioning as accompaniments. The didgeridoo also naturally stands out as another focal point, even if Thomas doesn't generate melodic phrases with it so much as thicken the overall sound with long-form tones and textures.
While the serene closer “This Place On Earth” and lumbering, fifteen-minute title track present the kind of hypnotic tribal-ambient of the kind one might expect given the personnel involved, “Molecules of Momentum,” as if designed to purposefully emphasize the non-ambient side of the release, takes flight with an uptempo swirl of percussive and synthetic effects. Interestingly a rapid bass line helps power the piece in a way that recalls Michael Henderson's playing in Miles Davis's bands during its On the Corner period, and the music as a whole isn't all that far removed from the Afro-funk broil generated by Miles' band for the trumpeter to blow over. “Primal Analog” likewise adds a contemporary feel to the album in featuring a tribal-funk groove whose swing is enhanced by equally funky synthesizer patterns.Despite the presence of electronics and synthesizers, Monuments of Ecstasy exudes a primal spirit. There's something raw, earthy, and era-transcending about it, and in those moments when the music rises to a feverish pitch one might be reminded of the sun-worshipping rituals conducted by ancient peoples.