The Serpent's Lair
by Hannah M.G. Shapero, AmbientVisions
If you like drumming and percussion (as I do), then this large-scale, rhythm-filled double CD album is for you. The veteran electronic guru Steve Roach teams up with shamanic percussionist Byron Metcalf and numerous other instrumentalists and vocalists to create a sonic panorama of the shamanic experience. Shamanism is perhaps the world's first spiritual tradition, sometimes defined as an "archaic technique of ecstasy" which uses drumming, chanting, and (in many instances) psychedelic drugs to achieve other states of consciousness. THE SERPENT'S LAIR offers listeners a drug-free way to get a glimpse of the shaman's world.
In a way, Steve Roach's work has been about shamanism for at least the last 20 years; he's been influenced by this ancient way throughout his career, especially since he set up his Timeroom in Arizona and worked with Aboriginal and Native American music. And in true new-millennium fashion, he pairs the futuristic song of the synthesizer with primal, tribal sounds. Roach describes his work on this album as "groove alchemy," "atonal atmos," "elastic electric grooves," and "lair atmospheres." All this creative wordplay more or less describes electronic manipulation of percussion rhythms, whether through textural filters, vast reverberations, echoes, looping, layering, and other forms of electronic magic. This is what you will hear throughout the album. The first CD, titled THE SERPENT'S LAIR, consists of hard-driving drum rhythms, tied together at times by Steve's floating synthesizer lines, and other times sinking into those "atonal atmo(spheres)" that Roach has been working with lately.
The second CD, "Offerings from the Underworld," is less drum-oriented and more electronic; it, too, features rhythms but they are subordinated to the electronics. They range from the railroad-rush of the first track, "Offering in Waves," to the thudding, low-filtered "melted Metcalf groove alchemy" of track 4, "Primal Passage." In my opinion the best piece on this set, and perhaps the best on the whole album, is the 23-minute track 3, "Cave Dwellers," which originated in a live jam of Steve Roach and Jorge Reyes. This evocation of primeval ritual, complete with wordless Native-inspired chanting, starts slow and builds in speed and volume to a burning intensity in its last few minutes.
The very last track, "Ochua," occupies the last-in-the-set position reserved for a "sweeter" piece on a Roach album. With its crooning female voice and soft electronic accompaniment, it is designed to "cool down" the listener after the strenuous session that has just taken place. There is a distant rumble of shamanic rhythm in the piece as well, the fading echo of the storm that has just passed.