Ambient music has too many clichés associated with it. More often than not, novices are likely inclined to hear the term and envision toothless, new age-y soundscapes. The Menimals, however, are practitioners of genre hybridization and have married dense ambient swirls with hard-edged instrumental textures and often foreboding, highly theatrical vocals rarely rising far above a whisper. The band’s presentation is intended as a direct invocation of classical ideals, namely Platonic and alchemical concepts. The release has five tracks and, more often than not, favor lengthy pieces over condensed running times. The approach risks self-indulgence and at least a couple of tracks run a little long, but it’s still a substantial achievement and reeks of ambition.
The dissonant, snaking bass line opening “In This Unforgiving Heat” sets a memorable stage for the slow exotic march that follows. It’s a cinematic beginning to the album and, in some ways, its most conventional moment insofar as there is a much more discernible melodic shape working for this track than later efforts. The vocals are equally atmospheric and quake with emotion. The second track, “Dodecahedron”, is the album’s shortest track and shares some similarities with the opener. Of these, the most pronounced are its downbeat melodic movement and its vivid dramatic qualities rank highest. The vocals have the same hushed quality that defines Doctor Forge’s approach on later tracks. It’s quite interesting how the band, without ever aligning themselves outright with that style, share many similarities with ambient doom bands. There is a distinct European sensibility pervading these tracks embodied in their utter fearlessness. The Menimals aren’t a band with any illusions about achieving widespread appeal.
“Tetrahedron” sparkles with acoustic guitar passages and towering vocal moments. The most successful tracks on this album strike a good balance between ambient and instrumental elements while the vocals achieve an ethereal quality here that’s absent from earlier and later tracks. A previously unheralded element in the band’s arsenal, assertive rock drumming, makes its presence felt here and gives the song surprising urgency. Even one listen to the improbably titled “Transition from a Cube to the Octahedron” clearly illustrates that this is the album’s most ambitious moment. It’s also a descent into some kind of sonic hell. The swooping ambient soundscape, unearthly vocal lines, and overall resolutely bleak environment leave an icy chill on a listener that’s hard to shake. The debut’s final song, “Bird on the Wing as a Hinge” is nearly as long as its predecessor and only slightly lighter. The biggest distinctions are its clearer use of guitar and exotic percussion touches that allow slivers of light to slip into an otherwise black landscape.
by Lance Wright
In Short Words
When you strip away the high concept baggage attached to this project, you are still left with an impressive achievement. Menimals have written and recorded an independent, fully realized ambient work that incorporates elements from a wide variety of musical veins. They certainly won’t be dropping onto late night American television anytime soon and I’ve no doubt they aren’t doing it for those reasons anyway. Their self-titled debut is idiosyncratic and determined to follow its own creative ends. Joining these musicians for the journey is a worthwhile experience.