by Phil Derby, Electroambient Space
Brian Parnham's MANTLE is the debut release on Steve Roach's label, simply called steveroach.com. If MANTLE is a harbinger of things to come from Steve's label, that is good news indeed for ambient music fans. Swirling brooding atmospherics permeate the album, from the bright shimmers of "Skim the Surface" to the darker timbres of "Altar of the Underground." The cover art is more reminiscent of magma than MANTLE, and the music is likewise steamy and viscous. Names like "Meandering" aptly describe the general feel. The barest hints of percussion, distant rumbles and softly brushing sounds, add vague semblances of texture here and there. "Rising Temperatures" and "Strata Peel" have the same primitive vibe one gets while listening to Steve Roach's EARLY MAN. There is a slight gritty edge, yet it has a calming effect as well. "Liquid Aggregate" has a little more going on, as the sound seems to circle around you. The glurpy sound effects remind me of another Roach album, POSSIBLE PLANET. "Scorpion Den" fills a similar sonic void, with textures deftly placed over one another, gently scraping not unlike tectonic plates or other geologic phenomena. "Minotaur's Lair" is a bit more sinister perhaps, with an expansive cavernous quality. As one might surmise from the name, "Molten" flows more smoothly, as does "Altar of the Underworld," though both have subtle undercurrents running through them. And so it goes, varying shades of light and dark, smooth and rough, future and past, coalescing into a gorgeous slab of ambience.