Darkest Before Dawn
by Paul, Morpheus Music
DARKEST BEFORE DAWN is a single track, long-form ambient composition intended to play continuously. This is truly minimal electronic ambience -- no beats, no rhythms, no melodies. Not fully void of pattern though, the music rises and falls like imperceptibly rolling, billowing mists within a strictly limited tonal palette. The variations in sound are slow and hard to organize in the mind, seeming for all the world like a dense, unchanging sonic haze, yet in reality the shifting drone substance of the piece ebbs and flows, thickens and disperses constantly. This incredible recording was created entirely on one most heavily processed guitar, live, with no revisits to the final except to master the CD.
Like peering into an abyss, or gazing up at the vast night sky, DARKEST BEFORE DAWN has a resonant immensity about it. Initially the mood can feel dark and foreboding, but with constant play, gradually the darkness warms, becomes familiar and the chords start to feel open, ethereal, and relaxing. There is no doubt that the tonal shades are thick and murky -- monstrous bass washes warp and twist below shrouded waves and haunting swells -- but color is not absent, merely subdued and so very, very deep. There is a sense of isolationism but not loneliness -- having said that, this is a CD that will shape itself within whatever mental environment you provide for it.
Plain black with simply "Darkest Before Dawn -- Steve Roach" laid near the base. Little more on the reverse except the words "74 minutes" across an infinity symbol. The inner cover and behind the CD is solid black. Inside the booklet we have (in my opinion) the closest imagery to the music, the photographic equivalent to a colorfield painting: the upper 70% in black merging into grey, but not colorless grey. No text, no credits, no detail to complicate the surface -- view it as a three-dimensional field, stare at it until it breathes, heaves -- now it approximates the sound. Steve says "the late visual artist Mark Rothko painted huge pieces that were like the feeling of the inside of the booklet... while the music was not directly from this place, for years I have felt a connection to the pure, deep quiet place in his work."
Despite the initial fade in and eventual fade out, there is no real beginning or end to this CD -- come in at any point and you would notice no difference. Initially I was somewhat over-awed by the daring harmonic sparsity, but with time I've found myself lingering within the sound, reluctant to emerge. It seems almost strange that music with so little apparent structure could sound so personal and yet this is pure Steve Roach. Steve's website says "Created September, 2002. This minimal, immersive sound environment can be considered a prelude to MYSTIC CHORDS & SACRED SPACES." That's good news.
Who Will Like This Album
Pure ambient fans who enjoy sonic minimalism, with variations so subtle as to be almost subliminal. Those wanting to capture the timeless, elusive mood of the tenebrous pre-dawn, and to keep it caged and restless. There are doubtless those who want to like this album because it's clever or because it's so different to the mainstream. Then there are those who will tap into it, find the right place for it and invest it with meaning.