reviewed by Jack Derricourt
Novelty is the greatest selling point of all music. Whether it’s a new kind of beat, a different kind of singing voice, even a unique style of phrasing — if something sounds different, or innovative, it catches the ear.
Sometimes moving forward means a step backwards — into the eternal past of sound. Ancient Metals, the newest scenic contraption assembled by Toronto’s ambient, krautrock, psych group The Gateless Gate, features recordings of a century-old instrument (a banjolin), mixed with the sounds of wind moving in bamboo, the rain cascading, and the ocean frothing against the shore; all of these delightful samples swirl, ghostly, together atop a bed of droning synths and manipulated melodic material.
The Gate are playing with imagery of sinister, deep signification, drawing from mythological symbols of mystery. They indicate on their Bandcamp page that each track is meant to conjure up a different ancient environment, a ghost that is both alive and passed away, within human memory, but faded beyond its original form.
Initial piece “Samarkand,” drips ominous atmosphere like the rain drops featured in its sprawling body of sound. Named for one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, the track features a story built on the depth and breadth of the swirling synthesizers, that fades but never finishes.
“Hokkaido” a piece of running water and rustling rice patties hums and coos, the samples acting as the body of the piece, while the ghostly layers take centre stage. The island that gives the track its name is a land mass about the size or Ireland where samurai fought for control, and volcanic activity threatens chaos even now. There is tension in the piece constructed by the gate: even the lapping waters are a reminder of time’s restless energy, and the chance for everything to be washed away.
You’ll find “Meinlboné” on wikipedia, but not on any globe of the world. It’s born out of the mind of sword and sorcery novelist Michael Moorcock, and is entirely made up. The dreaming island of evil is home to Moorcock’s hero, and a land of hidden wonders and dangers alike. But listening to The Gate’s pulsing dron and shifting sea samples, I get to wondering: isn’t this sonic landscape just as real as the sands that swirl around Samarkand, or the errant ghosts of Hakkaido? There is just as much a body of belief to be found in the mythology of each on this set of recordings. The ruse is captivating and fun to engage with.
I’d recommend Ancient Metals to anyone with a mind for ambient music. The three tacks offered are a puzzle and a lullaby. All three ancient locales are worth the trip.
Top Track: “Hokkaido”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)