Sky Cries Mary
Wandering in the Vastness
It’s little more than a year since Sky Cries Mary’s last album, Secrets of a Red Planet, but here they are with a new release (their ninth) that… although there’s no mention of it on the sleeve… marks the thirtieth anniversary of their first truly great album by reminding us that they’re still capable of making a major mark.
Recorded in 1992 (for release the following year) A Return to the Inner Experience was the Seattle band’s first full length-er as they pushed frontman Roderick Wolgamott’s earlier industrial ambitions out of the room. A solid burst of space rocking psych, all soaring harmonies, mantric rhythms, techno flash and electronic firestorms, it set the band up to compete head to head with any of the genre’s historic figureheads, a status that successors This Timeless Turning (1994) and Moonbathing on Seeping Leaves (1996) only amplified.
A decade hiatus followed, but with Wolgamott and multi-instrumentalist Ben Ireland representing the “classic” Sky Cries line up, alongside long-time associate Jack Endino, guitarist Kevin Whitworth, bassist Curt Eckman and vocalist Debra Reese, it’s clear that the band’s original mission remains firmly in mind - and, on the strength of Wandering in the Vastness - firmly within their grasp, too.
The interplay between Wolgamott and Reese’s vocals is the most striking element, at least initially, drawing the album’s more meditative numbers to exquisite heights. Wolgamott alone takes the lead elsewhere, giving vent to his inner rocker across the opening “Crystal Gazing” and, even more impressively, “Can’t Find the Time,” a five minute thunderstorm that is almost punk in its delivery. In a similar mood, “Bright Biggest Eyes” feels almost Beatles-ish, before segueing almost unnoticed into the gentle rhythms of “The Dolmen.”
It’s the longer pieces, of course, for which Sky Cries are most renowned. Our first tastes come with the pulsating “Chaos at the Port” and the superbly-titled “Raga Metal Machine,” which employs everything from eternal drones to what may be backward masking to create an absolutely staggering succession of layered soundscapes and simply has to be listened to on headphones.
The closing “Dream Yourself to Sleep,” however, is the album’s key, in much the same way as their cover of the Stooges’ “We Will Fall,” “4:00 AM” and “Insectoria” wrapped up (or thereabouts) the band’s three nineties gems. Never revisiting what we’ve heard before, but invoking its spirit regardless, this latest effort is ten minutes of boleric hypnosis, and the only regret is that it wasn’t even longer. If this album ever makes it onto vinyl, that entire track should be used as a stick groove.
In terms of mainstream impact, Sky Cries Mary never came close to fulfilling their potential, a fate that can probably be traced to what was quickly revealed to be a misjudged switch to a major label. Their influence on the spacey-proggy-techno scene of the age, however, was never less than tangible, and it seems crazy that Wandering in the Vastness is being released as a limited edition of just 300 copies. A cat with no ears could tell you that there’s ten times that many who would treasure a copy, if only they were aware it existed, so make sure you're one of the lucky ones.
Sky Cries Mary deserve a multi-disc box set and maybe, one day, someone will create one. Until then, Wandering in the Vastness will show you what the world is missing.