by Darren Bergstein, e/i magazine
With embers from 2007's ARC OF PASSION still unextinguished, vintage Klaus Schulze poised to hit the racks in early 2009 and far more circumspect artists errorizing the sequencer mainframe, there's no better time than to revisit EMPETUS, Roach's 1986 sequencer-intensive follow-up to his earlier NOW and TRAVELLER sessions. Reissued as a two-disc set, its cover a bisection of fibre-optic kaleidoscopia catapulted as if through a particle accelerator, twenty-two years of retro-stylings and digital brinkmanship hasn't rusted one bolt on EMPETUS's die-hard chassis: if anything, its utter lack of irony or nostalgia serves to shore up the record's totally distinctive, and bracing, architecture. Roach's first true sequential masterwork remains seminal precisely because it handily acknowledges its source code without breaking bread with it. Sure, Schulzian parallels could be drawn by dearth of the comparable instrumentation involved, but EMPETUS is truly that rare breed: a synth/sequencer album that doesn't sound like any other, despite the malapropism so designating Roach one of the few then-emerging "West Coast" synth artists. EMPETUS effectively crystallized a genre -- these works aren't mere Klaus encounters of a third kind. What's held the album in such high esteem over the tide of years is it's magnificently diverse patterning and impeccable arrangements. Sequences are turned inside out, twisted, corkscrewed; the elephantine synths of "Arrival" airburst overhead as they climax, as do the dizzying motifs that drive "Seeking" and "Merge." "Twilight Heat" contains the kind of sprightly sequence that most bit-programmers would kill for, while the hypnotic acid-trance headrush of "Distance is Near" maxes out a near-perfect distillation of Berlin/California sensibilities. And "The Memory" could very well be one of Roach's best ambient nuggets committed to disc, a languid decompression infused with diaphanous stillness and QUIET MUSIC melancholy.
However, the ride doesn't end there. As a way of clearly affirming that even in the early 80's, at the dawn of his career, he often transcended his influences, Roach produced a long-form sequencer piece with fellow electronic artist Thomas Ronkin. Considered lost for years, Roach obtained the original tapes and appended them to the revived EMPETUS package as a second disc labeled The Early Years. Consisting of two mammoth tracks, "Harmonia Mundi" (clocking in at 46-plus minutes), and "Release" (just under a half-hour in length), these enormously powerful, orgiastic blowouts, though definitely of their time (1982-83), still pummel the speaker fabric with earth-shaking ferocity. Totally analog, "Harmonia Mundi" is the sound of two gents locked in mortal electronic combat, wielding their synths like swords, hacking lesser soundbytes into mulch. Notes interlocked so closely their tightly-wound springs threaten implosion, synths galloping triumphantly over parched terrain, Roach and Ronkin tagteam on an extraordinary symphony of sequencercore. "Release" harkens back to Roach's formulative upbringings splayed over the Now and Traveler releases, as he pirouettes his modular's pliable contours across an atavistic dappling of spongeiform noises and varispeed rhythms. As a landmark album, EMPETUS is beyond reproach -- the inclusion of the Roach/Ronkin twin behemoths, rescued, ripped, out of time, cements its legacy as one of the finest sequencer albums ever. These recordings quite rightly square the circle, bridging gaps separating decades and genre, the artist himself forging ahead, time's great ennabler, built for the future.