Music Reviews

Artist: The Cascades (@)
Title: Diamonds & Rust
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
If you're from America it is likely that you've never heard or heard of The Cascades. Das ist eine Schande because you've been missing out on a great German Goth band...with a capital "G". The Cascades were formed in 1988 but didn't put out their first album until over a decade later in 2001. I first heard about them a little while back when I reviewed M.W. Wild's 'Third Decade' (solo) album here. Wild was (and now is again) the lead vocalist of The Cascades. At the time of the review I searched out some music by The Cascades (whatever I could find on YouTube) and said I wasn't overly impressed by them. Well, I don't remember what I listened to but it wasn't what's on this magnificent 28-track double CD. This is some of the finest Goth I've heard, period! 'Diamonds & Rust' is both a career retrospective and prospective of the best of the band's output from way back when until the present now. There are early demos, best cuts from the official albums, and also some brand spankin' new material. The Cascades band lineup now is: M. W. Wild- lead vocals; Morientes da Silva - Guitars; Markus Müller - Keyboards / Programming. Supplemental musicians are Tommy Dietweger - Drums, and Esther Widmann - Backing Vocals. (Of course there are a good number of musicians passed through the band over the years who are somewhere on some of the tracks of these CDs but I'm not naming them all.) Of the two CDs 'Diamonds' seems to be the more potent one as it consists mainly of the newer material. 'Rust' find the band at its beginnings but is still quite interesting to hear how they sounded and evolved in their early days. On a good chunk of the material The Cascades sound a lot like Sisters of Mercy due to Wild's vocal similarity to Andy Eldritch and Morientes' muscular guitar. The earlier material is less Sister-like because it's kind of obvious the boys were experimenting, and that's actually a positive thing. I think they were still searching for their identity which incorporated some electro elements, as well as influences from bands such as Fields of the Nephilim, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, and other similar goth luminaries of the '80s and '90s. During the period when Wild left the band (ostensibly to pursue a solo career) he was replaced with vocalist Ben Richter (2007-2010) and you can hear him on one track - "Everyday". Truth be told it's the weakest cut on both albums as he sounds a poor substitute for Mr. Wild in a lackluster performance. (Kind of reminds me when Rozz left Christian Death.) First of the new tracks (on the 'Diamonds' CD) is "Wenn Der Regen Kommt" ("When the Rain Comes") obviously in German, and the other "Phase" (Demo) is in English. Both are enhanced by the backing vocals of Esther Widmann. (Oddly enough in my review of Wild's solo album I mentioned that he could have benefited from a female backing vocalist on the order of Patricia Morrison...hmmm, possibly advice taken?) Both songs are very good in different ways, although I prefer "Phase" not just because the vocals are in English, but because there's a tinge of Bowie in it. This album won't be officially released until November 11, and if I were you I'd be counting down the days until its available. It is ever so worthy.
Artist: Darshan Ambient (@)
Title: Lingering Day: Anatomy of a Daydream
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****

'Lingering Day: Anatomy of a Daydream' is the tenth album on the Spotted Peccary label by Darshan Ambient (with over a dozen additional releases elswhere), the project name of California musician/composer Michael Allison. Of course, this is the first Darshan Ambient release I've experienced. Allison's background includes stints back in the '80s with Nona Hendryx's Zero Cool band, China Shop, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and his own band, Empty House. (Kind of sounded like a prog-rock version of the Police mixed with Thomas Dolby.) Funny how such fiery beginnings mellows into chillout ambient as the years go by. To be perfectly honest, I really didn't care too much for 'Lingering Day' the first couple of times I heard it. It came across as New Agey, pretty but lacking substance. There is one track ("Silver") that conjured images of cartoon lambs frolicking in cartoon fields perhaps as a commercial for fabric softener. On the other hand the album is extremely well-played, orchestrated, recorded and produced, all by Allison himself. With further listening I find that only the first couple of numbers fit in that typical New Age mold. That's mainly due to the simple piano-based meodies and themes. Third track, "Arc of Angels" sounds like something from an Anthony Phillips (first guitarist of progressive rock band Genesis), the only track on the album with vocals. It's a bit like a prog-rocker turning pastoral. And yes, there drums on it. Once beyond these early tracks things do get better though, albeit slowly. There is still (highly stylized) simplistic melodic content, but it gives way to a more ambient feel. The rhythm track on "Mover" (as repetitious as it is) supports rather than detracts from this bouncy, shifting melambient piece. Further along there are more sustained ambiences, some with melodies and others not so much. One of my favorites was "The Lost Hunter," is a piece with just the right amounts of melody, rhythm and proggy but languid guitar. What is remarkable about the album is its variety, in which numerous moods, motifs, and settings are explored. One minute you're floating in airy cumulus space with "Hand in the Clouds," the next you're earthbound, bopping along in some foreign market "Kissing Crust". So there is ambient, and melambient here, like the softer side of prog-rock which for many, might not be a bad thing at all. The final track, and title track "Lingering Day" is completely ambient in its deliciously droney soundscape. Good way to end it. 'Lingering Day' has a lot to offer once you get past the first couple of stereotypical New Age tracks as it unfolds into something quite marvelous.
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Artist: Metatron Omega (@)
Title: Illuminatio
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
As its previous release, Metatron Omega confirms his religious inspiration with a release based on the concept of illumination obtained with meditation in a solitary environment. This depiction is mostly obtained with a massive use of echoes and reverbs to obtain a sound of great space and based on resonances similar to those that could be heard in a really large cathedral.
The echoes of Gregorian chants in "Ecclesia Universalis" open this release introducing the listener into an environment which is as abstract as culturally signified that is interrupted for a second part based on small sonic nuances. "Heosphoros" is always at the crossroad between a crescendo and a static track while "Illuminatio" is almost a proper crescendo, or, more properly, is a slow layering of sound lines, which abruptly ends for a finale of grave meditation. "Thy Light" and "Mysteriis De Sanguine" oscillate between echoes of voices and evocative samples. The deep sounscape of "Sacrum Noctis" with really bass frequency is illuminated by the bright high pitched drone and "Chalice of Eternity" closes this release with a quiet and religious environment generated with evocative sound lines.
While it could be a little boring for listeners of other genres, as it's based on a couple of great ideas scattered in a release lasting over an hour, it would be a sure pick for those who cares for evocative and crafted soundscapes. A nice release.
Artist: Jason Van Wyk (@)
Title: Attachment [remastered]
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Rated: *****
Ian Hawgood's label Home Normal and his sister label Eileen are already known to act like smart smugglers of high-quality ambient music and soundscapes. Such a reputation got confirmed by very recent outputs, but also by some past entries, that Ian decided to remaster such as this very good album by South African prodigy Jason van Wyk, who started making music (trance music to be correct...quite far from the compositions he spread in recent years) since he was 14. He's 27 now, but the music he made features a level that many composers only reach the adult age. The intersection between gentle breezes of electronics (some sonic strategies actually resemble the ones that featured the so-called chilled side of Trance music of the late 90ies/first 00ies... stuff by Chicane, Ocean Lab some stuff by Francois K and so on), a balanced sound design and lovely piano melodies filled this "Attachment" - a real gemstone of that branch, combining ambient and post-classical music - when he was first pushed out, but according to Ian's words (Ian mastered and remastered this album), the first clean master should be better appreciated by some glitches, so that he kept some dust of the sound, including the ones rendered by the use of close-mic to record an instrument. In Ian's words "after inviting Jason to release his follow-up on Home Normal, we also agreed that a complete remaster using tapes would be a lovely way of approaching ‘Attachment’ again. Alongside his follow-up ‘Opacity’, with its searing vision, clarity and electronics twists; we are so happy to present another side to Jason’s wonderful work with this remaster.". All those listeners, who already appreciated the "clean" master of "Attachment", as well as listeners, who missed it, will appreciate the way by which the emotional intensity and the flowing piano elements, gliding over daydreaming melodious pads, got enhanced by this "dirty" remastering.
Artist: Forest Management (@)
Title: The Elevated Quiet
Format: Tape
Label: Constellation Tatsu (@)
Rated: *****
Another lovely roll of magnetic tape in the catalog of Constellation Tatsu, belonging to the spring/summer bunch, got signed by American producer John Daniel aka Forest Management. As you can easily guess by looking the detail of a white and supposedly warming jumper standing over a snowy field (I guess it's snow at least), there's something in this release that is somehow out of seasonal (considering it came out in April) and that vague sense of detachment, sometimes pushed into some people's mind by wintertime low temperatures, maybe influenced the forging of the sound, which occurred close to the end of last year. According to John's words and memories, he composed "The Elevated Quiet" in the very last days of 2016 and finished before joining his friends to celebrate New Year's Eve. These are some eloquent words attached by him to introduce the emotional framework of this stream of "ambientness": "Residing in a high place of luxury, above everyone else. You look down at thousands of people every night, but they become increasingly distant. A hustle and bustle that’s always present, but up here it’s quiet - your environment is your own. There are countless opportunities to do countless things every year, but as the New Year approaches you reflect on who you’ve been, rather than what you’ve done. Midnight arrives, but it mostly feels the same. You finish the bottle, and come to a resolve in your mind to finally pursue what’s in your heart.". As he currently resides in Hemet, California, I guess he decided to spend this moment of the year in the cozy atmosphere of some detached cottage on the mountains behind that area or close to Los Angeles. By the way, the sound of the entire album is really ethereal and evokes the above-mentioned feeling - something in between that kind of escapism, which gets rising claimed as a human right in many over-crowded urban jungle, and strong need of brooding on a self, that goes out of personal focus, blurred by more or less wanted active social life. Best tracks according to my ear response: "Until Midnight" (...where John managed to render a sense of constant ascension by playing on the volume pitch of some frequencies), "The Girl of My Dream" (you'll think John dreamt of engaging with a woman from outer space, maybe!) and "I'm Just Going to Lay Down" (I hope it's not what he thought some minutes after joining his friends for New Year's Eve celebration!).
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