It’s exciting when you discover that a member of one of your favorite bands has a side project. It gets weird though when you realise the project’s been around and producing for going on twenty years. Between considering the merits of becoming an Agalloch roadie/fangirl back when Steel Druhm reviewed Marrow of the Spirit and later writing up my own reviews of Agalloch‘s The Serpent and the Sphere and Nothing‘s Guilty of Everything, I can’t help thinking I should have come across some utterance of Agalloch bassist, Jason W. Walton‘s side-project, also branded Nothing. At any rate, I’ve since discovered that during his stint as Nothing, Walton released four full-length albums and various EPs and singles before retiring the name back in 2003. Since then, Walton‘s been operating under his own name and living up to the tradition of his earlier work. AMG missed the boat on Mara, I’m here to make right [We didn’t miss it, we were all just too drunk! – Steel Druhm].
Let me start off by saying that listening to Mara in the right context is all important. Essentially what Walton creates fits the term music very loosely, being ambient noise packed with inescapable pain and icy cold fear. In the words of Red Orchard Records “Walton began the songwriting process by collecting field recordings from places he would visit. He captured the din of humanity on the downtown Portland streets, the rush of ocean waves in Southern California, and the mysteriously comforting monologues emanating from an AM radio. During mid 2014 Walton manipulated and processed these sounds into disturbingly haunting pieces.” Working through a blurry haze of sleep deprivation we’re given two sobering tracks themed around Walton‘s own personal struggle with sleep paralysis. A condition where he temporarily finds himself unable to move, speak or react while falling asleep or waking.
“11:43 PM – Alp” opens up the experience, reminding me of the mechanical output of Author & Punisher with a hint of The Chemical Brothers – think something along the lines of “Escape 700” off the Hanna film soundtrack. The ambient noise levels build in intensity across the duration of the track with only a short spark of life coming through in the form of a light, sparsely populated piano melody that filters through towards the back-end of the track. It ends with a moment of irony – the sound of grinding metal bringing to a close a track that isn’t really metal and yet it’s probably one of the most brutally cold and grindingly heavy pieces of “music” I’ve heard in a while. If you thought things couldn’t get darker, you’re in for a rude awakening. “3:21 AM – Yakshi” is even more callous and remorseless than its predecessor. Featuring the guest vocals of Tanner Anderson (Obsequiae and Celestiial), the echoing rantings of this madman play out over even heavier and more intensely chilling ambient noise clips, reminiscent of some of the dank offerings of Carpathian Forest, Nattefrost‘s solo work and Skitliv, and degrading chants of “you fuck up everything” really drill the track into your psyche.
My first interaction with Mara left me confused and unimpressed. I knew nothing of the background of Walton‘s work and I expected music in the traditional sense, maybe in line with his main band… I got none of that. After doing a little research and understanding the process behind Mara, learning about Walton’s struggles with sleep paralysis, spending time closing off the world and really immersing myself into the two tracks, listening to them on repeat play, I got a glimpse into the dark, anxiety drenched world Walton is thrust into each time he closes his eyes. I grew to appreciate what Mara represents, the songs developed patterns, they grew to take hold of my memory. This growing appreciation left me with my biggest disappointment: the album’s just too damn short.
In an age where bands seem to have forgotten how to edit their work, Walton‘s gone to the other extreme. A few more tracks, a little more meat to really bite into could have seen Mara a top contender for my album of the year. If you need a weirded out fix between Agalloch albums, get this!