Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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Artist: Dolmen
Title: Terra Firma
Format: CD
Label: Skean Dhu Recordings (@)
Distributor: Skean Dhu Recordings
Rated: *****
Sometimes it’s difficult to categorize certain types of music, even when a cursory listening yields familiar impressions of other artists within the plethora of genres and sub-genres that milieu of our known musical universe. Let’s take the Ambient category, for reference. A purist might believe that in order for a recording to qualify as "Ambient", it should be quiet, unobtrusive background sonics. Brian Eno, the pop step-father of Ambient music is quoted as setting these parameters: " Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting. " Vague, but precise in and of its own accord. Ino order to accommodate forms that deviate from this definition, sub-categories were developed- Organic Ambient, Nature-Inspired Ambient, Dark Ambient, Industrial Ambient, Isolationist Ambient, et al. But when an artist mixes elements from these very fifferent sub-genres, how do you define that? Even more, how do you describe or even compare to known artists within the sub-genre, without giving a false impression of what music is really like? That is the dilemna with Dolmen’s Terra Firma. It never really stays put I one subcategory, and perhaps that’s the reason for its eclecticism. Dolmen is a collaboration betweeen visual/sound artist Steven K. Smith and ambient/ installation artist Jason Sloan. Smith is from Cleveland, and Sloan from Baltimore. Just the fact that this project came together over the distance is amazing. (I also discovered they had a prior release in 2002 called "Ritual Awakening". As to the music, you will hear a LOT of different influences, yet Terra Firma comes off not as a melange of styles, but as a fairly cohesive whole work. The title track opens the CD, with a soundtrack-like quality that sets a mysterious, oblique mood. It does almost seem like it’s going to conform to the Eno definition of "Ambient", until the intense drumwork rises out of the echoey netherworld they’ve created. Once the percussive barrage begins about half-way through the track, its evident we’ve shifted gears into Industrial Ambient. As it continues to rise, just when you thought it couldn’t get more intense, it does. Sort of like Pink Floyd’s "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" without any concession to rock or pop music, in fact without any restraint at all. Probably not the best thing to listen to after dropping a tab of LSD. Then again, maybe that’s the kind of intensity you’re looking for. The next track, "Wishes That Weigh" is quite a different story. Mild percusion with breath-like drones and a subtle, simple series of notes, perhaps on muffled guitar. Very nice chillout from the intensity of the first track. "Bleedingbeginbegone" offers more in the way of drone, and encroaches on Robert Rich/ Steve Roach territory. Not a bad thing at all. It does reach a point of intensity, then subsides. Smith and Sloan are very adept at creating thick soundscapes that don’t just drift aimlessly along. A definite plus. "Heaven Smells Like Sulfer And Static" explores some of the nuances of lower frequency vibrations, and gradually morphs into a noisy, congested miasma that squeezes you through to the other side of a parallel universe. Maybe I’m being a bit too imaginative here, but I don’t know how else to describe it. You’re certainly not where you began with this one. The title "100 Miles From Home" treads into the "Nature-Inspired Ambient" subcategory, with the sound of a stream, birds, wind and the sustained, modulating moaning drone of some distant horn. There is also a little muffled guitar in the background. No description of the components of this track can really illustrate how sonically effective it all is. Marvelous. That track easily slides into "Red Stained Lips", a lazy little number that really might remind you of early Steve Roach. Not content to drift, Dolmen quadruple-time the percusion half-way through the piece adding some sonic variables that enhance the journey. By the conclusion, it all calms down on a could of filtered resonent synth drone."Love Tonight Today" is perhaps the most tribal/ ritual piece on the CD, due to the percussion. It’s medium-slow with a most interesting mixture of thickening sonics off this duo’s pallette. It could have gone on for another ten minutes and I’d still be happy. Final track, "White Blood Of Blind Wisdom" is almost like too much of a good thing. The atmosphere gets really thick and noisy. The percusiion stops dead in the middle and it really begins to sound like a hellacious shitstorm. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Obviously, my least favorite track.; I’m sure the artists had their reason for it. In spite of the last track, I’d still recommend this CD to the sonically adventurous. This CD has been compared to Zoviet France, Sigur Ros, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Rapoon, etc., but it goes places none of them have ever gone before. The only question is, is this YOUR destination?


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