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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

STEVE ROACH: Empetus (1986-2008)

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

“Totally blasting, even with some nice melodic pattern, Empetus is a true lesson about the art of sequencing and of building infernal rhythms”

CD1 44:51 1 Arrival 4:20 2 Seeking 5:34 3 Conquest 6:07 4 Empowerment 3:52 5 Twilight Heat 3:15 6 Merge 6:23 7 Urge 6:23 8 Distance Is Near 2:40 9 The Memory 5:51 CD2 (The Early Years) 69:00 10 Harmonia Mundi 45:00 11 Release 24:00 Projekt 218 (2 CD 113:51) (VF)

(Sequencer-based EM)

This is one of the most powerful and impactful albums I've ever heard in the world of EM. At the time, it was the most powerful. EMPETUS is a masterpiece of sequenced and of sequenced beats. It's all about rhythm, except for the very quiet The Memory where you can feel the beginnings of Structures From Silence, with a massive use of furious sequenced beats. Fiery rhythms, sometimes harmonic (Seeking), with synth pads often very ethereal. Basically, it's a journey to the heart of the analog beasts where Steve Roach has spent hours working movements of rhythms and sequences that transcend the rather Teutonic worlds of the German movement. Each title offers a unique rhythmic envelope, with a few variations, where are playing beautiful electronic ballads knotted in harmonic nuances that fit into finely interconnected rhythmic patterns. This is the only way to describe this jewel of EM where the analog is prince and the sequencer is the king. Steve Roach has recovered the rights to this work more than 20 years later and offers a set of 2 CDs with two long titles, including a hyper syncopated one, that shows how much Steve Roach can easily compare to the monarchs of contemporary EM.

After a brief ambiospheric moment, Arrival unfolds its string of sequences of which the doubles follow each other in a furious rhythmic form. From the outset, Roach introduces a category of rhythm seldom matched with furious keys that pulsate like the heart of a breathless sprinter that is on electronic steroids with a rhythmic charge cajoled by synth pads with perfumes of ethereal metal. It's a whirlwind of sequences with these famous footsteps that stumbled over Poland from Tangerine Dream. Except that here, they run to lose breath with a markedly more accentuated flow. If the tempo is minimalism, the layers of synth that float all over weave a floating mosaic that percussions knocked out with guttural clicks and plunges Arrival in a rhythmic tornado where each hit multiplies its echo by 2 and where the last one resonates until its morphic finale. Only intros and finales get feed of atmospheric soundscapes. Steve Roach had to wake up his world after the wonderful, but how sweet, Structures From Silence. Produced by Michael Stearns, EMPETUS is a wild album where sequences bite and swirl as in Seeking and its lighter rhythm built on butterflies that flutter in an arid plain. Conquest is fierce with a rough sequencer and percussions that hammer with force. The synth melts atmospheres and harmonies with this sequenced style of ferocity with good floating layers which are full of ethereal voices. A swarm of choirs on frivolous and nervous chords opens Empowerment. The tempo is static with sequences that move frenetically on floating synth pads. This movement exploits the two antipodes, I hear Jean Michel Jarre, and it tease the hearing so much we are expecting a furious explosion. But this kind of unfinished rhythmic coitus has its undeniable charms. Twilight Heat gets distinguished by its delicate and morphic melodious approach. The movement of sequences shakes a line that comes and goes, to go around in circles in the caresses of a synth always close to the ambient territories of Steve Roach.

It's a very melodious title that could have been on Now & Traveler just like Merge and its chime movement which dances and dances, and where the same hit find its echo in a long serpentine minimalism movement which is interspersed of whistles and choir effects which seem to lack oxygen. The sound is really vintage and that's very good. We are in a phase where the sequences take on airs as angelic as harmonic. Urge brings a sequence a Merge sequencing style in an ascension style of rhythm that climbs and climbs with a very good game of percussion which astonishes, as much for the effect as the idea, and whose strikes resound like heavy footsteps. Short but devastating, the sequence of Distance is Near picks up everything that drags (drums, chimes, strata and choruses) to offer a whirlwind of violence that Roach had not yet reached on EMPETUS. A demented piece. The Memory is gently transporting us elsewhere. It's an ambient title that makes float its soft ethereal layers with fine and subtle ambient modulations. A prelude to Quiet Music, published a few months later. This new edition of the Projekt label comes with a second CD which contains two very long titles including the furious and very hypnotic Harmonia Mundi where we swear that our mind follows the circles of a huge kaleidoscope with fiery lines. The rhythm, so to speak, remains static and linear throughout its 45 minutes.

With fine modulations in its oscillations, he is like a big snake running after a prey in steep mountains. Delicate synth pads refuse all harmonic approaches, even if sometimes they weave tribal murmurs or songs of breathless flutes. The keys of the sequencer jump violently, sometimes dragging their shadows in a static tumult which is whipped in some places by percussion shots quite well scattered. These 45 minutes of a syncopated rhythm pass fairly quickly, yes yes. Because if Steve Roach has the gift of well dosing his subtle modulations, he also has this unique way to throw here and there fascinating tonal decorations that soften the worst of his rhythmic bad weather. To date, I have never heard an electronic rhythm as violent as that of Harmonia Mundi. After this violent storm of jumping keys, Release calms a little these wild atmospheres with a delicate rhythm which jolts harmoniously in a structure as harmonic as rhythmic. A line of bass sequences pulses laconically while another makes flutter its snooper keys and that another makes wandering its keys bursting with their glittering harmonies in the winds of delicious synth solos. We are in the territories of the Berlin School while quite slowly Release adopts the demented curves of the indestructible sequenced rhythms of EMPETUS. I hear Klaus Schulze in his Picture Music period.

EMPETUS is a lesson about sequencers and infernal rhythms. Steve Roach multiplies the proof by 10 here that his music is not only based on ambient projects, but he can also craft wild beats in his career made principally on ambient or tribal soundscapes. Apart from some quiet passages, needed I guess to give a little respite to my ears and yours', EMPETUS dissects the art of sequenced movements in its craziest cycles. The sequences are dancing wildly here, quite fiercely at some point or in solo as in flocks. Furious to be so numerous, from where the rhythmic storms dominate beautiful melodies unique to the world of Steve Roach. Remarkable, recommendable and necessary!

Sylvain Lupari (July 13th, 2014) *****

Available at Projekt Records Bandcamp

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