One of the comments that I often make in this blog is something along the lines of “I can’t believe that only 2/3 people are making all this great noise”. With Megaritual I need to go a stage further because this album is the work of just one man, Australian multi-instrumentalist Dale Walker (also member of Sun Of Man). It is in fact something of a compilation of two recent EPs (Mantra Music volumes one and two) which has been brought together by Berlin’s White Dwark Rock records into a single LP, which has unfortunately meant that two of the tracks from the original releases have been left off (these are available to download from Megaritual’s bandcamp page here). It would, however, be rather churlish to concentrate on what is not there because the eight tracks on this album are very strong indeed and, had I not known the history to the recording, I would not have thought this set to be anything but coherent.
I have to admit that when I first heard this album I was not sure about it. I didn’t know quite where to place it, nor did I know how I really wanted to listen to it. In that sense it is only now that I have heard it four of five times that I am really getting into it, and really getting into it big. I think the reason for this is that, as befits the work of one man, it has a very singular vision to it; an uncompromising focus which has not been dimmed through the prism of collaboration.
This is evident from the beginning of the first [effectively Intro] track ‘Is the Heart of the Mystery’ with its soft Indian themes (Walker’s use of sitar on this album is wonderfully atmospheric), as it segues into ‘Top of the Mountain’. As the title would suggest there is a really etherial aura to this track. You can picture the mists in the valley’s below as Walker’s sings of his sense of being lost, of searching. Having created such a picture in the mind a deep stoner guitar is introduces around halfway through which really gives the whole scene a sense of scale before a screeching solo brings the journey to a conclusion as it disappears into a quiet sitar driven pause before coming back with force at the end.
Wow, and that was just the first track. ‘Stormbringer’ segues in without a break, and is one of those tracks that gives me butterflies in my stomach because of the way it employs a sense of melody, principally through the vocal, which somehow leaves me in pieces. Swirling around this are what sounds like a full-one stoner rock band with, at times, Kurt Cobain on guitar. What is notable about this, and other tracks, is how many guitar styles Walker adopts in the songs, meaning that this album is not easy to pigeonhole. I think because it is a solo album he does not need to stand out with a signature sound.
This is immediately evident on ‘Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping a Tree Falling in the Woods’, which begins with an acoustic almost Spanish-sounding guitar sound that richly drops into a more Indian beat with some lovely droning sitar in the mix. Again the vocals provide a terrific lead for the the melody of the track, which is both convincing and gives the song its structure. This track has an air of spiritual questioning to it as the koans of the title would suggest, but this is not Zen minimalism but one of rich complexity, essentially Eastern, almost raga-like for the majority of its progress before building to a great climax as the guitar comes in, sympathetically, towards the end.
The more Eastern feel, the second side represents the second EP, continues with ‘Tatt Tvam Asi’ (an ancient Sanskrit mantra, meaning ‘You Are That’) although the arrival of a doom laden guitar at first seems to take the track off somewhere else. I love the idea, if that is the idea here, that the riff is the mantra…the repetition of which helps you reach higher states of consciousness until we realise that we are one with the universe. If that isn’t psychedelic I don’t know what is. This then is a track, like the rest of the album actually, to listen to carefully and with an open mind and let it take you somewhere, as Walker sings ‘looking out towards the light’. What I also like about this track is how it just loses all abandon towards the end, the guitar getting heavier as the experience deepens and clicking into a space rock groove.
‘Over Hill and Veil’ continues with the heavy theme where ‘Tatt Tvam Asi’ left off. This is one monster of a track that pounds away at you and, typically of the album, it leaves you in a quandary between just giving in to its charms or figuring out the complex and multi-layers levels of the music. This is because, like all good psychedelic music, it works as an experience and has real depth to it. It is one of those track which you could listen to fifty or more times and still be getting new things out of it.
After that total mind overload ‘∞’ begins in a much more studied fashion with some really nicely underplayed guitar work, reminding me of Mike Vest – in fact this could be a Haikai No Ku track again but with that sitar drone just underneath, barely perceptible yet adding so much to the atmosphere of the track. This leads into last track ‘Have You Seen The Sky Lately’ which starts with a tabla and gradually opens out into a nice lilting melody. Again there is so much going on here that to describe it all would be a review in itself.
This feels like very personal music for Walker, related to his own spiritual questioning and journey, and while he by no means the first to adopt the idea of the mantra into rock music he has done it in a way that is both coherent and convincing. This, then, is not your average rock record, it doesn’t hit you straight between the eyes from the outset. What it is is a study in the meeting point of Eastern and Western psychedelic music that provides a liminal space in which to perform the mega-ritual of the project’s title. This means that it is not an album that you are likely to ‘get’ straight away yet repeated listen peel back the layers delivering more each time. I’d better put it on again then.
‘Mantra Music’ is available from White Dwarf Rock records on a limited edition of 300 copies on skyblue 180 gram vinyl with Inside-Out-Cover, including download card!
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