Most musicians these days have multiple projects on the go. Whether because of diverse musical influences or the need to try and make a buck in this silly industry, we can expect members of our favorite bands to pop up in all sorts of places. Neurosis’ Steve Von Till is no different, playing in his main band along with solo outings, Tribes of Neurot, and his outdoorsy drone/ambient project, Harvestman. We haven’t heard from Harvestman in a few years, but Music for Megaliths is calling us back to nature. Do we heed the call, like a stunning wide angle vista of Stonehenge, or do we walk on by with a derisive snort, as if passing vegans who chained themselves to trees?
Let’s face it, ambient drone music isn’t a chart-topping choice in genres. But an open mind and a close listen reveal quite the interesting layers in Music for Megaliths. One might think of Sunn O))) when drone is mentioned, but Harvestman is quite different: it’s heavy in a sublte way, not so much in the music as in the atmosphere the albums create. This is noticeable right from the start, as “The Forest is our Temple” fades in with guitar and hurdy gurdy (an appropriate choice, since it actually has strings called drone strings), a rising wave of sound that makes you think you really are in a forest temple. Layers of electric guitar, synth, and effects give the song a massive, menacing feel as it builds to a point where we have upwards of a dozen sounds all meshing, entering and exiting the soundscape seamlessly, multiple acoustic guitars playing off each other. It’s a truly majestic song, a great example of the meticulous attention Von Till put into the record over the past few years, and a great start to Music for Megaliths.
The mood continues with “Oak Drone,” which is as the name might suggest. A thick, deep, steady throb underpins the song, with heavily distorted electric guitars weaving throughout. One can easily imagine the bass as the roots of the tree, the meandering drone as the sap coursing through the oak, the guitars and effects the growth cycle of the leaves. Much like “The Forest is our Temple,” “Oak Drone” is an impressive number, cunningly wrought by the hand of Von Till, who handles all the instruments on Music for Megaliths apart from Neurosis bandmate Jason Roeder’s drumming on “Levitation.” Throughout all seven songs Von Till maintains the same sense of awe and ancient permanence.
That’s not to say every song rings as true as these first two. “Ring of Sentinels,” with its electronic drum loop and its sliding bass line, comes off as a much lighter number when one would expect something enormous and mysterious given the song and album titles. The same goes with “Cromlech,” which one would expect to carry the weight and might of the album, but instead feels almost as if Von Till is playing something more divine, something intended for what’s buried beneath the megalith rather than the rock itself. “Cromlech” is the shortest song on the album, though, so we aren’t disappointed for long when it fails to deliver on expectations. But after more of the same from “Levitation” we are greeted with an almost Sunn O))-caliber of heaviness in “Sundown,” with the deepest square wave Von Till could coax out of his synth, interspersed with echoey guitar and blasts of distortion. Much like the opener, “Sundown” builds beautifully.
Music for Megaliths is a very spiritual album. I get what Von Till was aiming for on this, and he pulled it off. Even the weaker tracks here convey a sense of majesty, of the immensity of the world around us and our relationship to it. As he intones in the album closer “White Horse,” “The stones call to me, just as they always have. A gateway to the mysteries and a pathway to the ancestors.” Drone isn’t for everyone, but Harvestman has created a compelling and interesting piece of art with Music for Megaliths, one that’s definitely worth a listen or three.