Dolmen
Ritual Awakening
Skean Dhu
2002
B



reigning in the excesses of both, Dolmen is Jason Sloan and Steven Smith. On the recently released solo album of Smith, Daye of Skye’s The Drums of War, the listener is bombarded with somewhat obnoxious world music elements that cloud the proceedings. What could have been more understated, instead, is found on the collaboration work of Dolmen’s Skean Dhu debut Ritual Awakening. The world music percussion and vocal samples are still there, but buried beneath a tasteful haze of atmosphere, obscured by the ambience surrounding everything. Without Smith’s guiding hand in creating interesting melodic elements, Dolmen might have become all atmospheres and no substance.


On a large majority of these tracks, then, it is pretty easy to discern exactly which sounds come from which contributor. And on “I Call For You At Every Corridor” and “Storm of Earth” it is plainly obvious which person produced each track. This is what perhaps makes this album so interesting, though. The obvious contrast between the two musician’s skills and modes of operation allows for a certain conflict in each song to build. The pulsing atmospheric percussive effects of Sloan and the naturalized, almost Afrobeat percussive elements that Smith brings to the table connect with one another, whether it is rubbing up painfully against one another or in perfect harmony. The natural vs. the electronic fights for supremacy often and the winner is, more often than not, the listener.


Indeed there is little to be said about ambient music that hasn’t been said before. Drones melt on top of each other, the pace is sometimes extremely glacial allowing for songs to develop at their own pace, and a sense of the otherworldly- something alien, is always present within the construct of the piece. The key ingredient that rises pieces like “In The Heat” above any generic ambient work is the fact that it clearly evokes something- a long and heated voyage through the desert. It is this power, above all, that allows instrumental music to succeed on its mission of creating a scene.


Without the power to evoke anything then we have a failure of communication between artist and listener. The failure of communicating feelings or images through music in instrumental music is infinitely harder- yet much more rewarding in its success. This is why Dolmen’s Ritual Awakening is not merely a release that can be enjoyed by fans of ambient music, but a release that can be enjoyed by nearly anyone with an open mind and ears.


Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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