Stratosphere: Rise

Rise, Ronald Mariën's third Stratosphere recording for Projekt (available in 300 CD copies), doesn't dramatically stray from the path the Belgian soundsculptor has followed on his earlier releases. But in all likelihood those who've already cottoned to Mariën's gift for guitar-generated splendour wouldn't want it any other way. Produced using electric guitar, bass guitar, and effects pedals, the hour-long collection casts a potent spell on the listener receptive to spacious, long-form soundscaping. What makes the result even more impressive is that he created each of the seven pieces live without knowing beforehand exactly where each one would take him. Following where one's instincts naturally lead is always an advisable strategy, and doing so pays off handsomely for Mariën in this case.

In a number of cases, the treatments deployed enable Mariën to liberally build on the guitar's natural terrain. On “Dream,” for example, the guitar and bass sound as if they're accompanied by layers of organ and synthesizer, the sum-total of which presents a shimmering, multi-dimensional mass that seemingly spans the heavens; as ear-catching is the contrast between the elegant melodic statement and the waves of distortion rolling through the background. “Hypnotic” likewise gleams in epic manner, though arguably even more powerfully, as demonstrated when the music swells to an immense pitch eight minutes in, the music's slow movement akin to that of a huge, flowing ice mass. As much as the recording's settings merit the soundscaping label affixed to them, they're not without a melodic component, and the chiming melodies that course through the seven pieces do much to enhance the listener's engagement.

At times mournful (see “Desolation”), often slow-burning, and always intense, Rise is definitely something one imagines would appeal to fans of thisquietarmy and Fear Falls Burning. Beats are absent on these smoldering tracks, but they hardly suffer from the omission: the cathedral-esque sound of Mariën's guitar-fueled productions are certainly captivating enough on their own terms. Those epic panoramas seen on the release's inner and outer sleeves? They obviously weren't chosen arbitrarily.

May 2016