[Reviewed by vitriol]
On the occasion of celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the release of “Structures From Silence”, Steve Roach released a 3-CD edition on Projekt, containing a remastered version of the original tracks, as well as new tracks, and new versions of the old ones reworked in his Timeroom studio in 2013-2014. During these sessions the inspiration came to him to explore ‘the underlying current of life – mortality’, in the artist’s own words. Thus “The Delicate Forever” was born, which is now being released just a few months later. Interesting fact: upon ordering the physical CD, you get a bonus disc of “The Delicate Beyond”, a limited edition release that contains the extended version of the first track of this album.
The title for this release is more than adequate, as the atmosphere it creates is so fragile and otherworldly that it feels as if it might shatter to little pieces at the slightest touch. Iridescent drops of water reflecting a blinding light, abstract-shaped crystal formations, the soothing whispers of time. The delicate forever. A concept so unreachable that it resembles a desert mirage. Always the thirsty traveller is striving towards it, always it eludes his grasp. Just a little longer, just a little further, until he forgets what he started out to do, and the journey teaches him a lesson he didn’t expect.
This sensation of sweet reverie and spiritual abandonment sinks in from the first few minutes of the opening track, the homonym “The Delicate Forever”. This 24-minute long masterpiece of electronic minimalism confirms my belief that a truly great ambient artist is one who knows not only how to use his sound arsenal, but how to use silence as well. Steve Roach excels at it, and “The Delicate Forever” if nothing else, is proof of that. Consisting almost entirely of melodic, ethereal drones and ringing, organic sounds, it is the silent passages and sound vacuums throughout the track that create a kind of detached expectancy, a tension so well-balanced that at no point does it ruin the beauty of the track. Which, of course, is the main issue here. This track is so beautifully refined that it immediately disconnects the listener from the outside world, even without prior preparation. As soon as the headphones are on, you cannot help but be in awe of this connection line to an elevated plane. Of this glimpse into another dimension.
The second track, “The Well Spring” is positively more upbeat, closer to new-age electronica than drone ambient. Its uplifting tones suggest movement and invigoration, potentially related to the spring mentioned in the title. “Where The Mysteries Sleep” is full of ringing, chiming sounds, electronic loops and ethereal ambient passages. Along the basic harmonic lines little sounds pop up here and there like bubbles in a hot spring, pleasantly surprising the listener. The atmosphere is that of praying into a Buddhist temple – in fact the lotus flower persistently comes to my mind as an atypical symbol for this album – or discovering dozens of little creatures, somewhat friendly and curious to meet us, in this realm full of marvels.
“Perfect Sky” furthers the illumination with its clear, light harmonies evoking an ascent towards the divine, an inner purification. While the other tracks are more inclusive, this one is sharper and rather opaque, more like a mirror reflecting the light than a translucent body of water. Shapeless and constantly transforming, it resembles the fleeting movement of clouds.
While the three middle tracks are of a decisively lighter tone, the endnotes of “Perfect Sky” seamlessly link us to the closing track, “HearAfter”, bringing a little darkness into this luminous atmosphere. And so the album ends with the same introspective mood that it began, returning to the droning hums of the opening track, that this time are a bit fuzzy, peaking and intermingling to create a tunnel of harmonic light that will subsequently lead us to the ‘other side’.
Is an artist really capable of putting this thing to sound, this thing so sacred and so elusive that it has escaped accurate description by sages and mystics from time immemorial? If anyone can, it is surely Steve Roach. “The Delicate Forever” is most of all a spiritual and emotional journey, suffused with potent imagery that recalls the ever-relevant question: ‘what lies beyond?’ Steve Roach exorcises all the fearful notions we may have been imbibed with in relation to this topic, with the subtle, ethereal beauty and calmness of this record. Whatever it is, it sounds graceful and comforting. The album’s soothing tones allow for the inclusion of personal emotions, interpretations, experiences; for the understanding and acceptance of loss, the discarding of our fear of the unknown. The unknown could be a wonderful place, other things than monsters could be lying there.