The Shaman's Heart
by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
This recording is like taking a trip way up river into the heart of a primitive rainforest ecosystem. I can't imagine what listening to an album this powerful and primal would be like in a pitch black room on a killer stereo system. I suspect that I'd be a little freaked out (not in a bad way). Metcalf, with assistance from Steve Roach, has delivered a auditory experience that is not just immersive, it's almost transcendent (and as someone who has chided other reviewers for their use of that word, I'm loathe to bring it up, but I can't imagine a more apt descriptor).
It's not just the superb layer upon layer of drums and percussion by Metcalf (buffalo drum, rattles, udu and clay pot, seed pods, shells, et al.). or Roach's invaluable if not magical atmospheric textures on assorted synths and wind instruments. or the sense of being surrounded by the incredibly vivid nature sounds Metcalf recorded for this album. It's the way it all fits together like one organic breathing entity, enveloping you so completely that this is like taking a literal voyage up the Amazon. Seldom do I endorse an album this thoroughly, but honestly, if you have ever enjoyed ethno-tribal music even to a moderate degree, THE SHAMAN'S HEART is, well, indispensable and essential. You have to hear this recording. The seven tracks all flow into one another, united by the omnipresent assortment of nature sounds, yet are distinct by the various percussion and drums that Metcalf employs. Some rhythms are fast and fiery (although never to the point that one feels overwhelmed) while others are slow and sensual, but all the drum and percussion work carries an unmistakable air of primal energy as well as mysticism and spirituality. What's doubly remarkable, at least to me, is how this CD is seldom, if ever, "dark" in the sense that I had no negative feelings creep into my consciousness, such as fear, foreboding, or similar emotions. Based on Metcalf's liner notes, in which he uses terms such as "music as medicine" and other comments, he seems to be intent on making THE SHAMAN'S HEART an inviting and even healing recording, quite the opposite from the more typical dark ambient/tribal album which I have used to scare little kids at Halloween when they go trick or treating!
While Metcalf's amazing skills on drums/percussion are doubtless the centerpiece of this musical feast, I can't stress enough how important a role Steve Roach plays on this CD. He selflessly assumes a posture in the background most of the time and yet his synths (as well as some didge and ocarina) prove to be an addition to the recording whose importance cannot be overstated. His flowing washes and warm drones provide the perfect backdrop and, working in conjunction with the nature sounds, he has woven a tapestry that doesn't just support Metcalf's artistry, but complements it in the best sense of the word, i.e. he "completes" the musical illusion of being transported to this lush vibrant land of unending bird calls, passionate drum beats, lush canopies of trees high overhead, gently flowing water, and primitive yet powerful energy which seems to permeate every molecule.
So, excuse my gushing, folks. THE SHAMAN'S HEART is a perfect recording. I couldn't begin to find fault with it. In fact, just the opposite, as this is as close to a magical experience committed to the recording medium as you're likely to hear any time soon. My mind boggles at the idea this was created in a studio, as it almost feels like it emerged newborn from the very heart of the jungle itself. There's little else to say except "Wow!"
Postscript: I didn't receive this recording until after I had compiled my best of the year list, otherwise this would've been way up there near the top!