Even if I take my tribal-ambient-loving thumb off the scale, Intention would still be one of the most potent pieces of medicine music I’ve ever heard. Consider what’s here: deep, soul-shaking shamanic drumming from Byron Metcalf; overtone throat signing and bansuri flute from Mark Seelig; and a double-pronged didgeridoo attack from Rob Thomas of Inlakesh and Dashmesh Khalsa, who has worked on previous Metcalf outings, including Dream Tracker. If there was such a thing as a tribal-ambient supergroup, this would be a mighty fine start. As always, Metcalf wastes no time in bringing the listener in. The title track is a 22-minute voyage that crawls quietly into your head and takes up residence. Each element then slips into place. The frame drum thumps, Seelig’s dual-toned exhalations craft the atmosphere, the whispering song of the flute calms, and the smoky curl of the didgeridoos gives us ground. The rhythm takes hold within the first few minutes, bringing your breathing in line. The mix of didg and voice create a drone-like through-line that settles and focuses your mind so that you’re ready to give over to the journey. This blend creates the perfect ongoing equation on Intention, and the effect is heightened and deepened by Metcalf’s excellent sense of pacing. The five pieces here build in intensity and energy, then slide down into a brief cool-off zone. You’ll feel it firmly at the end of “Surrender” when almost all sound drops out except for the flute. For me, there is an almost tactile snap as I am set momentarily adrift. The best part is knowing that it’s about to start up again. When there is energy on Intention, there is plenty of it to spare. I love the juxtaposition of Metcalf’s frenetic drumming in “Focus” against the slithering drones and soft flute. Another aspect of the equation is creating moments where where all the elements are in play and the mix is deep and we are lost within it, and we are suddenly dropped into a few moments where the sound is pared way back. There’s a killer passage around the 5:40 mark of “Encounter” where we are left alone with the drum, big and hard-struck and pure, before an absolute bestial snarl of didg pushes in. Say hi to your inner animal for me when this one lands. When these drop-away moments come, we feel the release, and then we feel the music reclaiming hold and building back up again, and the transitions are expertly navigated and incredibly powerful. What’s amazing is that everything happening here is acoustic. On past outings, such as Wachuma’s Wave, Metcalf has called Steve Roach in to carve out some electronic beds to accompany the sound. Not here. This is nothing but hands and and breath in action. The magic of post-production brings us rich layering and a maximized sound, but there’s nothing here that’s not man-made and straight from the source. The flow is unbroken for over an hour, with each piece smoothly dovetailing into the next. It’s like power meditation.
Tribal ambient has long been the absolute bulls-eye of my listening soul, and over the years Byron Metcalf has hit that mark with every album. Intention, however, strikes deeper and more truly than ever. There is a very special alchemy at work here and ancient medicine and it knows right where our souls reside. Metcalf has pulled together an unmatchable blend of sounds and sensations and the result is pure shamanic honesty. Cleansing, energizing, and just downright fantastic to listen to. This is Metcalf at his undeniable best. Come take your medicine.
Available from Projekt.