Stephen Parsick returned in 2011 after his debut as the lone musician of the ['ramp] project in 2009, with the "Debris" album. "Debris" showed his prowess in combining classic analog sequencer music with more experimental, even industrial timbres, making for a fascinating, if coldly clinical at times, recording. The follow-up, "Steel and Steam," released in July 2011, again on his own Doombient label, was the first in a "trilogy" of sorts where the music took on a decidedly more cosmic tone, full of thick, warm analog instrumentation, sometimes delicate sometimes bombastic sequencing, and ghostly drones, while still maintaining shades of the experimental and industrial. "Steel and Steam" contains the heaviest sequencing of the trilogy. Leadoff track "Zeppelin" (sorry, no Jimmy Page here, haha) catapults the listener into analog heaven with throbbing, battle-cry sequencers while majestic lead lines and angelic choirs give the whole thing an ethereal air. What a track! And believe me, it gets even better. The hypnotically aggressive two-part "Node" is an in-your-face menacing sequencer suite that sounds like a pissed off locomotive going right for your jugular. "Solenoid," a definite favorite for me, layers some exquisitely gentle melodic Vangelis-like flourishes over echoing rhythmics, followed by "[led]", using more excellent sequencing and haunting lead lines like a lost track to the "Blade Runner" film. Phenomenal. For the album's second half, Stephen is joined by one of the true giants of EM, Mark Shreeve from Redshift. Their first piece together "Puppets" is a heady brew of ominous, eerie atmospherics for its first 10 minutes, like an unseen monster rising out of the depths, then morphs into a slow-burning sequencer meditation. The title track, in four parts, finds Stephen and Mark jamming in very Redshift fashion, with moods ranging from lonely piano notes, to heavenly choirs, spacy effects, to very loud distorted sequencer lines. Just a phenomenal album from start to finish!
"Return," also released in 2011, is divided into two parts. Part One, "Astral Disaster," effectively imparts a feeling of dread and impending doom (helped by titles like "122112" and "Unholy Messiahs"). Whatever is coming, it sounds like something you DON'T want to mess with. This feeling is achieved with haunted spectral choirs, brooding drones, eerie effects, and sometimes subtle, sometimes pounding funereal bass drum soundscapes. By the fourth track, "Infernal Machines," the sequencers are in full swing, and for some reason I'm reminded of the remake of "War of the Worlds," with the alien machines roaming the Earth and killing everything in their path. Talk about doombient!!! I joke here, but seriously, this is some of the darkest music you will ever hear (if you dare). "A New Dawn" and "122212" offer some repose from the storm with dark strings and mellotrons, although they aren't exactly sweetness and light, reminding you you just got your ass kicked. The second half, "Return," replaces the feeling of dread with awe and mystery--there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. The soundscapes here are more cosmic and ethereal, not claustrophobic as on the first half. On "Beacon," for example, a spiralling solo floats above infinitely sustained chords to beautiful effect. "Radiocarbon Part Two" brings back the bombastic sequencing, but this time imparting a sense of strength rather than destruction. The album closes with "Lighthouse," a sublimely melancholic space hymn, one of my favorite styles in all of EM, a style which previously has been perfected by Redshift most notably, and Stephen really nails it here. Overall, "Return" plays like a concept album, going from dread to hope in a series of vignettes. I don't know if this is what Stephen intended, but whatever the case, this is a real magnum opus of dramatic EM.
This "trilogy" concludes with the jaw-dropping, pure cosmic live album "Astral Disaster," recorded July 2012 at Bochum Planetarium, and broken into two sets. First set "Flatten Them!" is like the best Redshift album you've never heard. And I mean this as the highest compliment! This YOUNG man (only 40 years old) has really achieved a level of greatness other masters of the genre (Roach, Shreeve, Boddy) have who are well into their 50's. Just listen to "Halo Inductor" and try not to weep at the pure electronic perfection on offer here. This is how it is DONE. This is timeless, moving music that seems to have been captured rather than merely composed. When Archie Patterson writes in the liner notes, "You will hear the sound of tomorrow, today," I believe him. Set two, "Doomsday is Family Time" (ha! my favorite title of 2012, and possibly, ever), channels the spirits of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann, and Chris Franke circa 1974 on "The Nameless is the Origin" and "Oscillator Planet" with their dark-cloud-like abstract soundscapes. The title track "Astral Disaster" then arrives dramatically with bludgeoning slabs of bass heavy sequencers. The album winds down with "Jericho," sequencers still firing like cannons, but here comes (again) an absolutely gorgeous hommage to another master, Vangelis, with a delicately haunting piano motif being layered in, which ultimately takes over and fades out into the ether.
On a final note, I should point out the classy way these albums were released and made available. Each one is a limited edition of 300 pressed CD's, with high quality booklets/artwork, each hand-numbered and signed by Stephen Parsick. My copies included personal notes along with the signature; nice! The albums are not available as downloads, and have been available direct from Stephen primarily (email@example.com
is the email address). They are still available! (though "Steel and Steam" may be very nearly gone at this point). The prices are extremely reasonable, at just under $20 which includes worldwide shipping. As a fan and collector, these were three of the most satisfying purchases I have made. And I cannot recommend all three of these discs highly enough!!