by Phil Derby, Synth Music Direct
The first CD I ever heard by Steve Roach, DREAMTIME RETURN still stands the test of time as one of his hallmarks. Having experimented on his earlier works with both sequencer-driven music (EMPETUS) and minimal expanses of ambience (STRUCTURES FROM SILENCE), this 2-CD set found Roach coming into his own. His ability to blend futuristic space themes with primitive tribal sounds came into being on this album, inspired by the Aboriginal culture. The resulting music is timeless, rooted in both future and past. The credits read like a who's who of the genre, as tracks were co-composed by the likes of Kevin Braheny and Robert Rich, and the Braheny / Roach track produced by Loren Nerell. With such an assortment of talent, the strong result is not surprising.
Beginning with my favourite track, "Towards the Dream", a strange, quiet sequence slowly fades in. The rhythmic pattern certainly borrows from the technique of traditional sequencing, but the sound is unique. It is the driving force behind a dichotomous piece, as the end result is both energetic and peaceful, and quite hypnotic. After this perfectly relaxing but upbeat beginning, a much more tribal tone is set by "The Continent", with forceful percussion that would become a trademark of many of Roach's later tribal-infused works. "The Other Side" is strongly influenced by Kevin Braheny, with plaintive strings sadly beckoning. Disc one plays with alternating themes of light and dark, tribal and ambient.
Disc two begins by showing Roachs penchant for long, very slowly evolving pieces, with the 30-plus minute epic "Looking for Safety", a surreal soundscape to simply languish in. Bright shimmers and soft winds brush by, joined by beautiful soaring synth strings. Sparse beats pulse deeply, but seemingly in the distance, lending to the feeling of being on the verge of a great expanse. The music gently swirls about, meandering but never boring. The feeling is one of total calm and tranquility. "Through a Strong Eye" mixes deep dissonant echoes with more synth strings and long slow sweeps. After a very long respite from any significant drumming, it returns in "The Ancient Day", though the broad swaths of ambience continue over the top. "Red Twilight With the Old Ones" is very atmospheric, suggestive of a dark tribal gathering on a cool evening. Primitive sounding chanting weaves in and out of the music. "The Return" is beautiful, soft space music, alternating brief silent periods with long stretches of warm, rich tones – a perfect way to close. DREAMTIME RETURN is a modern classic.