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Monday, July 21, 2008

Roto Visage & Atum - "Syndrom Cotarda"

Artist: Roto Visage + Atum
Album: Syndrom Cotarda
Year: 2007
Label: Beast of Prey
Genre: Minimalist Drone / Dark Ambient
www.rotovisage.com, http://www.myspace.com/atum696

Prior to hearing Syndrom Cotarda, I was fairly familiar with the work of Roto Visage; however, I had never heard anything from the other side of the equation: Atum. After listening to this album though, it was immediately apparent that these two artists can sculpt great edifices together; it’s hardly perceptible that there are even two separate artists behind this work.

Packaging: n/a

I received a promotional copy with no packaging

Composition: 10/10
Firstly, this is a work of minimalist dark drone. That in itself says many things about the album. Beyond that simple description, Syndrom Cotarda contains vast and scarcely-charted fields of ghostly sound. I have heard many drone albums, and many of those being boring drone albums, however, I will admit that I was very surprised by Syndrom Cotarda. Not only is it not boring, but in fact it is quite the opposite. In fact I would not hesitate to call it visionary. You see, encased within these tracks are portals to other places, other worlds, other times. Unlike most drone that just seems to sit on top of our plane and hang there, meaninglessly corroding the frequency spectrum, this album serves as a tool to part the haze that covers a plane of existence just above our own. It is an eerily calm album...of beautifully minimalist drones and pulses, of windows, of ethereal dead cities, and of phantom hands digging into the dirt and uprooting flowers. One thing that I detest above all is abrasive sound(s) ruining the flow of an otherwise serene and visionary quest. Well I am very happy to say that there is no annoying abrasive noise to be found here.
There is a slight but distinct difference between the two artist’s works. The Atum material is cold and barren, like a city that was destroyed long ago by time and many cycles of winter, and now lies as simply a skeleton in frozen shambles, covered by age-old layers of snow and frost. The Roto Visage material is more chthonic and organic (which fits his usual modus operandi). This material tends to take me to darkened fields and villages inhabited by ghosts; like the deceased twin of our own world. In this place the ghost beings are cultivating dark earth and phantasmal orchids for some unseen primordial ceremony. Although these images are almost ridiculous in their difference, they managed to coalesce in a way that works beyond words. It is hard to merely describe to you the visions contained within this work and you would do well to listen yourself in a dark candle-lit space.

Production: 9/10
The production on Syndrom Cotarda is quite nearly perfection for this type of music. It is very polished where it needs to be, but certain sound elements have a…veiled…sound, which I equate to the glass on a window; the picture on the other side isn’t perfectly clear and accurate, but sometimes it’s necessary to be protected from the world on the other side. Even though there are two artists on this album, the production for each is about equal, lending to a very cohesive and professional feel.

Artistic Merit: 5/10
This is the only place where this album potentially fails. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness; while it is a spectacular work of drone, one could argue that it is only a work of drone. It pushes no boundaries and walks on no new territory. Yes it’s stark, yes it is minimal. But people could argue it is boring. Too boring. Perhaps there could have be more done to make this work more than it is. I cannot say for sure, but a part of me feels like this album is lacking something; perhaps the potentiality of what could have been is tugging at me like a frightened child.

Flow: 9/10
Again, I will emphasize that although there are two separate artists on this work, they have come together to blend their works almost seamlessly. There are some differences between their tracks, yes, but only enough to showcase their individual talents and not enough to disrupt the dark emotional flow of the overall path of the album. Each track acts a piece of a larger puzzle which is fully explained only when the album has come to a close. The tracks are different enough to be distinguishable, yet similar enough in nature, tone and texture to be understood to work together.

Overall Rating: ?/10
My mind is split as to what to give this record overall. My soul feels that this is one of the greatest dark drone albums of all time. It is dark, non-abrasive, cohesive, emotional, and above all it is a visionary piece of work. It takes the listeners to myriad places beyond this mere earth. What more could you ask for from an ambient album? But, my mind feels that it is not false to say “but it is only a minimal drone album.” So in conclusion, if you are a fan of drone at all, you will be doing yourself a favour to check out this wonderful sculpture of sound. However, if you are not a fan of drone or ambient then all bets are off.

-dan barrett
date 07-19-08

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