CD Review

Mara's Torment - "The Barrier of Skin"

By Marcus Pan

The Barrier of SkinFive - count them. Two on tape - Vanities and The Penny Collector. And now, with the release of The Barrier of Skin in late 1999 Mara's Torment adds to their previous CD releases (Dreams Like Mine and Across For Show). Five releases and Rik's vision that has become Mara's Torment has been in operation for just about three years. That's more than a release a year…

His latest release is another step into the soundscape of Rik's brain. Electronic ambience pulled off with a more minimalist style, the music of Mara's Torment will sit just behind your field of vision and wrap its emotional strains around you from there. It will never shake you and provide a billowy environment for your psyche to come out and play. And how often does that happen? When was the last time you've sat back and peeled back the bricks and mortar of your defenses and let your soul skip around in its birthday suit, eh? The keyboard samples and sounds he uses are similar throughout the CD - this can take away or add more to your listening experience depending on your mood. But still Rik's work is a soundscape that you can play to anything you do - his style remains true throughout all of his CD releases. So if you enjoyed Mara's Torment's past work, you will enjoy The Barrier of Skin just as much.

Mara's TormentThe Barrier of Skin is calming and soothing with less of a rhythm and more of a flow. There are fourteen tracks here for you to enjoy…just over an hour of music. All instrumental, mood-setting and ethereal. The opening with Dreams Of Insects is a subtle and windy piece, a static buzz existing just under the synthesizer tones. Much of the music on The Barrier of Skin is like this. There's no beat, no drum track in many pieces, and yet somehow there is a flowing time - like a metronome wrapped in feathers keeping an even yet quiet tempo. It continues on, the octaves of surrounding electronic melodies growing a bit higher with every wave.

Jump ahead to track 3 - the nominal The Barrier of Skin. Slow, almost droning ambient chords with a bit of a high-octave ringing through their midst, The Barrier of Skin is minimal yet moving. An Interlude must also be mentioned, for it is here where The Barrier of Skin becomes a dance. A whirling, strumming and slowly building piece. And then comes my favorite. 9 is a fast paced (well, for Rik MacLean anyway) and bubbling sensation of a song. It climbs and grows, this time a rhythm track provides help with the swift movement. The beat track and melodies will grow into each other, taking turns each to sprout a new leaf or shoot a root further into your head. At about two minutes left in the song, a higher-pitched keyboard line comes in. It's unexpected, almost startling - but fits perfectly.

We're going to make a somewhat large jump to track 10 now. A computeresque beat and buzz occupies the track called Near Death Fetish. The keyboards are slow again, similar in tonality to The Barrier of Skin but higher in pitch. But there is a beat track again, laid just below the shrill melody of single-note keys. Is that silicon you hear down there? Track 12, Control, reminds me of something off of Beyond The Mind's Eye by, I believe, Thomas Dolby. It is still electronic, but the notes mimic lazily strummed guitars. The combined sound of synthetic guitars provides a great sound that sweeps around and through you, a higher melody and lower melody joining hands again at the small of your back. And then, after it joins hands, it calls the birds. A Particular Fear of Birds is a very powerful song. Evoking fears, distrust, paranoia. The beats are fast paced and occasionally harsh. The bass bubbles up from the depths of the song to buzz over the swift melodies.

The rest I leave for you to discover. Rik's a mysterious man, and I feel I owe it to him to probe the depths of his soundscapes only just enough to give you an understanding of it - just enough to know if it is "your thing." As a final notation of interest, to add to the mystery that is Rik MacLean you won't find any pictures of him anywhere. He thinks that every snap takes a snip of his soul - and he needs as much as he has remaining. He keeps giving it away on CD…

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