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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

METCALF & THOMAS: Medicine Work (2013)

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

If disturbing the mind is captivating its interest, Medicine Work does the job with the inexplicable on ethnic or spiritual structures

1 This Way 13:53  

2 A Deeper Descent 15:20  

3 Medicine Work 16:50  

4 Gates of Initiation 8:00  

5 Servants of the Mystery 17:31

(CD/DDL 71:33) (V.F.)

(Ethnic ambient Music)

Medicinal music! You believe it? Hem … I'm not certain. I believe in the bewitchment by the music on the other hand. If it's not the case for you, try then MEDECINE WORK. But I have to admit that the task to tame these structures free of steady rhythms is rather difficult. In fact, it's through the reading that I took myself of fascination for this last opus from Byron Metcalf. The tom-tom drums, especially their hymns of frenzied war on the title-track, have often made me frown of the ear and leave my reading to let myself being immersed. And I eventually discovered a beautiful album which if not of the seed of the usual Berlin School style possesses an undeniable charm. But although of this sound style, it remains difficult to describe the music of the shamanic percussionist because in spite of the percussions which thunder and which resound, the rhythms are nearly invisibles, unseizable. We feel well and truly a colorless rhythmic pattern which tramples on and jumps, except that these rhythms more tribal than incantatory, if draw a trance frenzy, are under the yoke of powerful breaths and hoarse groans from the Didgeridoos of Rob Thomas. Autopsy of an album as puzzling as charming.

It's in a morphic sweetness tugged by dark, bitter and reverberating waves that This Way opens. It's a storm of hoarse breaths, of which the sinister sinuosities lift the little spherical bells of the rattles and shakers percussions, which takes possession of our hearing while that some sober tom-tom drums draw the pattern of a slow rhythm. Other percussions, Buffalo drums, inundate the passivity of an ambient structure which quietly stirs of a jerky rhythm, guided by the hiccupped breaths from Rob Thomas. Far from being banal, the music of Metcalf and Thomas inhales the strangeness of the clanic and shamanic trances. Like most of all minimalist music albums, the long structures are of used as skeleton to a panoply of instruments which forge, otherwise decorate, approaches as rhythmic as melodic. Here, the instruments are only aboriginal percussions, Didgeridoos and shaman voices which shape abstract rhythms and mystic harmonies, like the synths would do. A Deeper Descent extends the finale of This Way by diving into an ambient phase with husky breaths and hoarse singings from the Didgeridoos and of its strange harmonies filled by mystery which glide such as flights of birds of prey in a torrid desert. The ambience is heavy and adorned of organic tones that the acoustic percussions and the shamanic singings are sculpting with a surprising fascination for the ears of laymen. The rhythm shakes and lifts the chloroformed envelope at around the 6th minute with lines of jerky singings and tom-tom drums which remodel the slow and rebellious rhythms of MEDECINE WORK. The percussions braid a fine crescendo which will keep a linear pace, thundering under a thick cloud of breaths and shaman groans which inspire a schemer incantation much closer of the aboriginal-medieval witchcraft than of an introspective quest. We may try to understand the morphology of the titles, to follow their meaning that we just get lost here. Because our perception has difficulty to join the one's of the authors. But the music is speaking to us. So the title-track bursts of a superb fury where the wild acoustic drums knock down the supposed serenity of the Didgeridoo. One would say a hymn to war. A war from medicine against disease? Bets are opened. The fact remains that it's a heavy, an explosive track, even if the rhythm always remains static, where Byron Metcalf stuns our senses with his tom-tom drums as much furious as his rattles and shakers are hypnotic. Powerful and disturbing. It's a rather intense17 minutes. And who says that fury can't be enchanting? The slow rhythm of Gates of Initiation brings us towards Steve Roach's slow tribal and atmospheric incantations. Even if the structures are similar, there are always new elements. Here, it's the breaths of voices which attract the hearing and dig an auditory interest. I said at the opening that the title-track had taken me away from my subjugated reading; Servants of the Mystery is not outdone. The track spreads its 17 minutes by following a crescendo, as much in the passion, the eagerness of the incantatory rhythm than the strength from the spiritual ambiences with a game of percussions as much effective as in Medicine Work whereas Rob Thomas moans hoarse breezes which have nothing to envy to synth layers with Mephistophelian aromas.

If disturbing the mind is captivating its interest, MEDECINE WORK does the job. Honestly, when I asked Byron Metcalf for a promo of his latest release I didn't have a lot of waiting. I had quite liked his collaboration with Steve Roach in the very beautiful Tales from the Ultra Tribe and I wanted to get to know better his universe of spiritual percussions. And I have to admit that I rather liked it. More than I could imagine. Yes, it's not a musical genre easy to tame. Except that there is a fascinating beauty which hides behind the uncomfortable windy blows out of the Didge. Tribal, spiritual or totally abstract, the medicinal music of Byron Metcalf doesn't leave us unmoved. There is something inextricable, inexplicable which is hiding behind these burning acoustic percussions; a dark universe which isn't exclusive to those initiated. Puzzling and inviting!

Sylvain Lupari (August 23rd, 2013) ***½**

Available at Byron Metcalf Bandcamp

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