November 22, 2022

You have to step up and meet this half way, and you have to open yourself up to it and recognise that this is in effect a dark mirror to take a lesson from. It is the individual listener’s choice whether or not to step up to the glass…

Anyone familiar with previous works by multi-instrumentalist Ryan Yard, such as The Absence Of Solitude, may well find themselves surprised by the nature of this latest release, both in musical style and in terms of overall mood. Avoiding any lengthy, ‘side-long’ (in the vinyl old money) pieces evoking Mike Oldfield and the like, META (all capitals) is a fully electronic, futuristic concept album, And be warned, it is a very, very dark – at times profoundly disturbing – piece of work. There are also words this time out, telling the story – but these are in the form of spoken-word snippets rather than any actual ‘sung’ lyrics.

Musically, this has been compared quite strongly, in early reactions and publicity material, to the work of Jean Michel Jarre, and while there is certainly much to be drawn as a parallel between this and pieces such as Equinoxe, there are equally strong elements of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream (in the mid-’70s Ricochet and early ’80s White Eagle periods), with even nods towards the more ethereal output of Klaus Schulze and, occasionally, Tim Blake. It is a very accomplished album in the electronica genre in that regard, without a doubt – though the music alone does not even begin to convey the emotional depth and the feeling of disquieting dread and desolation engendered by the story being grimly laid out – via the computerised, monotone voice of an artificial intelligence as part of a network of such universally controlling technology.

A dystopian future to end all dystopian futures is unflinchingly painted via a plot which is part-1984, part-Brave New World and part-The Machine Stops, but in its own way even darker and more unsettling fare than any of those influences. You’ll know the disturbing sections when you come to them, but I shall absolutely give away no spoilers. The album has been trailed as having ‘a twist in the tail’, and it is imperative to listen to the end to get the impact of this. I for one did not see what was coming, and even long after listening it is possible to remain haunted by this work.

In places, the music could be seen to be too upbeat for the accompanying subject matter, but this, I believe, would be to miss the point. The music reinforces the impression given be the AI guardians of society’s work, leisure and discipline that all is good when put into their hands, as our feelings are ‘important to them’. Had this been accompanied by unremittingly grim and sombre musical backing, it might well have sounded good, but it would without doubt have missed the element of nightmarish contrast between the artificial reality and the crushing nature of the actual reality. It’s a juxtaposition which is expertly balanced for the most part. Depending on the version of the album you get, there is an instrumental edit available, which gives you all of the music without any of the voiceover elements, which might be enjoyable to listen to, but for me seems a little like fish and chips without salt and vinegar: does the job it’s required to perhaps, but misses out precisely what makes it special.

In summary, this is a release which is designed to challenge, to confront, to make you feel uncomfortable and to make you think. It’s far from easy listening, and despite its resemblance to the likes of Jarre, Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, unless you listen to the instrumental edit this cannot, by explicit design, function as the sort of entertaining background music that all of the above can certainly do, when consumed in that way. You have to step up and meet this half way, and you have to open yourself up to it and recognise that this is in effect a dark mirror to take a lesson from. It is the individual listener’s choice whether or not to step up to the glass…