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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Roto Visage - "Where The Mandrakes Grow"

Artist: Roto Visage
Album: Where The Mandrakes Grow
Year: 2009
Label: Autumn Wind Productions
Genre: Dark Ambient, Drone, Experimental
Website: www.rotovisage.com

“Where the Mandrakes Grow” is the full-length hardcopy debut of Jason Popejoy’s dark ambient project Roto Visage. Prior to this release Roto Visage has had several releases on various netlabels as well as a few splits with similar ambient/drone bands including Atum and I.V. Lab. After listening to WTMG it is immediately apparent that this is by far Popejoy’s greatest and most epic work to date.

Packaging: n/a I was given a promo copy to review with no packaging.

Composition: 9/10
The composition of ‘Mandrakes’ is definitely a step up from previous Roto Visage releases. I would, by all means, claim that this is a progression of the Roto Visage sound. While not light years away from the previous full length album ‘La Muse Cachee’, there is clear and distinct growth from that point to now. ‘Mandrakes’ is still heavily rooted in the minimal drone sound that fans of Visage have come to know and love, but the textures and atmospheres are much more intricate and refined this time around. While slow and plodding, yes, these tracks are by no means boring drone. They are visions into strange and dark worlds just outside, or perhaps within our own. They move slowly yes, but they definitely move and flow. There are also many strange samples used in this work. Some sound like old-timey record snippits. There are some really unsettling clips of talking/voices and atmospheric samples which bring to mind many an Atrium Carceri track. While most drone is cold and emotionless, ‘Mandrakes’ feels very chthonic, as if the aural manifestation of the roots and soil itself. I would not hesitate to say that this album carries some very heavy emotions within it as well. I cannot describe with words these emotions to you though, they must be heard and felt Headphones are heavily recommended. I will also reveal that this album is significantly more terrifying than La Muse, and about as terrifying as his collaboration with Jugular Notch “Everything Is Brown”. If you want ambient that will make you feel, then this is it.

Also it is kind or important to mention that this album is more or less made up of two sections. The first section (before the interlude track) is predominantly minimalist drone/dark ambient. The second half ventures more into experimental territory and IMO this sounds more akin to older Roto Visage stuff. Both halves are done well and it prevents the album from being a drone-y sleep fest.

Production: 9.5/10

As mentioned above, the production is much improved over previous works. It would be worthwhile to mention that this album was mastered by the legend Robert Rich. I must say that I am glad Popejoy chose to go with such excellent mastering, as it really helps to aggrandize the textures and subtle bits of existence encapsulated within his work. A lot of ambient that is released has little to no mastering and not much emphasis on production value. Well produced ambient just blooms so much more than flat ambient. Though this is minimal drone, all of the sounds and textures used mesh perfectly with one another and everything is completely audible. The greatest part is…no stupid banging noises run through 100% reverb!

Artistic Merit: 8/10
yes. Is this album timeless? I think it could be. It is a very powerful album that conveys many things to the listener, provided they are accepting of the message. This is much more than I can say for most ambient music. The more experimental parts of the album are definitely strange and I cannot say that I have heard many similar things before, so this record will stand out in your mind even if you’re an ambient junkie. This is not run of the mill drone + reverb-ed banging noises. There is some really deep and complex shit happening within these tracks and it takes a very dedicated listen to pick up and notice most of it. The time and work put into these compositions is much more than what I would imagine most lesser ambient artists are willing to put in.

Flow: 8/10
yep. Although I think it’s a lot easier for an album of dark drone to have a clear flow than perhaps other rhythmically-driven genres, nonetheless this album has a very tangible flow to it. There are peaks and valleys and the songs easily fade into one another without torrentially changing emotions. Perhaps the most abrasive transition is in “A Breath, Then it Comes” because there are old timey samples to begin and end the song. They stand out very much from the rest of the track and I can’t decide if they fit or not. They don’t sound bad per say, however the fact that they stand out significantly is a bit annoying. However, the tracks flow very well within themselves as individual entities and the album as a whole does in fact contain a significant global flow.

Overall Rating: 9/10
Overall ‘Mandrakes’ is a pretty incredible ambient album. Not just for Roto Visage but for the genre as a whole. Anyone who is a fan of dark ambient (especially drone) and is looking for something very organic and deeply emotional, I would highly recommend this album. Not an album to be quickly forgotten amongst a burial ground of dark artists.

-dan barrett

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