With powerful riffs, strong melody lines, roaring power chords and stunning solo work by some world-class guests, Atmosphere is an impressive half-hour plus of memorable musical performances...
10 tracks / 37:25
Okay, so what’s your favorite Gregorian chant? I mean the one that, you know, keeps running through your head? Oh, yeah - Gregorian chant. Right. I understand. Chants aren’t usually ear-candy …but why not? So, imagine yourself asking the musical question, “what kind of setting would be good in which to nestle some of those less-than-hooky chants?” How about electro-riff rock/prog with hints of dirge-metal? ‘Well, that’s pretty obvious,’ you say. Read on, my son (and/or daughter - gotta’ be inclusive these days) and get ready for some Gregorian Rock!
Roland Dale Benedict - that’s Roland, as in the keyboard, and Benedict, as in that certain order of monks (and, no, he isn’t) - had an inspiration: how about combining the ninth-century singing form of Gregorian chant with modern day rock sounds? After he came to his senses, Roland still felt that this epiphanous idea was worth pursuing, and so he did - and several indie productions later we have the project in question – Atmosphere, a ten song testament to heavy prog-inspired rock, chanting, and scripture. If any one or more of those categories fits into your wheel-house, as they say, then you ought to take a listen and see if this unique genre works for you.
With powerful riffs, melody lines, and roaring power chords as a backdrop for stunning solo work by the likes of Phil Keaggy, Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Atmosphere is an impressive half-hour plus of musical performance (yes, those three guys are together on one track, and appear individually on several others). The dichotomy of the raw power from these players layered over some sophisticated electro-pop sounds manages to work, although it at first might come across sounding a bit out-of-context. Likewise the smoothness and processing of the chanted/sung vocals – that takes some getting used to in the context of some rather delightfully raucous playing.
There are at least two ways to approach Atmosphere. Is it an instrumental album with scripture passages floating ethereally in the mix - or is it a collection of melodically-chanted scripture passages backed by instrumental music? Really, it’s both - and if there’s any weakness at all in the concept maybe it’s that the integration of the singing/chanting doesn’t always congeal seamlessly with the music in a more conventional, melodic way. Of course, the preceding statement leans toward more conventional songwriting, so you can really strike that, in all fairness. The format is what it is, and some people will like it while others might not be able to process the inner act of receiving scripture in a new way. Benedict reconciles ‘worship music,’ rock and roll and an early fascination with Switched On Bach to create electronic keyboard-based music that incorporates Holy Scripture in a very literal way. The music, by the way, is quite strong.
A live concert performance of this assembled group would certainly be fascinating and, I suspect, would reveal a more unified, well congealed sound. I would certainly welcome the experience - and a live recording of such an event, as well.
Atmosphere was written and produced by Roland Dale Benedict, who also provided lead vocals, keys, ewi, and stick. Along with the aforementioned Phil Keaggy (guitars), Tony Levin (bass, Chapman Stick), and Jerry Marotta (drums), Paul Garretson and Suro Lopez played drums, Pat Neil and Vinnie Moreno played guitar, and Scott McCullor added vocals.
Atmosphere is a great way to get some scripture into your head while hearing some great players doing their thing. Not endorsed by Tony Shaloub, but it should be (google it, if you don’t get the joke).
- Bert Saraco
You can see Bert’s concert photography at www.facebook.com/express.image