Darkest Before Dawn
by David Rush
Roach's fascination with creating hour-long or disc-long compositions first took hold over a decade ago with "To The Threshold of Silence" from the double-volume WORLD'S EDGE (Fortuna, 1992). That composition was not only an artistic triumph for Roach but also the second ambient recording since Brian Eno's "Thursday Afternoon" (Editions EG, 1986) to utilize the relatively new playback medium of the compact disc to its fullest extent.
Since that particular landmark, Roach went on through the 1990's to create several more disc-long works such as THE DREAM CIRCLE and SLOW HEAT, and as a result continued to refine the state of his sonic art along the way.
Released in the fall of 2002, his latest disc-long epic DARKEST BEFORE DAWN may mark a big shift in his compositional style in a manner which hasn't been heard since his last true masterpiece THE MAGNIFICENT VOID (Fathom, 1996). Unlike THE DREAM CIRCLE and SLOW HEAT, in which vague melodic figures served to guide the sprawling textural clouds towards a logical conclusion, DARKEST BEFORE DAWN is completely absent of melody of any kind. Here Roach seems to have perfected the so-called "isolationist ambient" aesthetic which was pioneered by European synthesists such as Thomas Koner, Mick Harris (of Lull) and Brian Williams (of Lustmord) with a sense of sonic depth and emotional urgency which Koner, Harris, and Williams repeatedly hinted at in their works but never fully achieved.
It may be controversial to some extent to suggest that Roach's music becomes more brilliant with each extra degree of bleakness he adds to it, but what is truly remarkable is that the bleakness of some of his sonic landscapes also conveys an uncanny sense of hope and perseverance which is almost indescribable, a trait which actually began with his earliest ambient recordings. This is yet another culmination in his so-called "soundquests," a Mark Rothko-like depiction of interstellar space wrought with a very heavy sense of dread but which repeatedly ascends into chordal clusters that have a gripping wondrousness to them as well. DARKEST BEFORE DAWN demonstrates the inspiring and inspired possibilities of harmonic dissonance in music like no other composition before it... indeed, to listen to this masterwork is to stare slack-jawed at the magnificent void with a true sense of astonishment and reverence.