Jason W. Walton, familiar to most as the bassist for Agalloch, has quietly been finalizing Mara, a solo project which he began back in 2013. A composition created around various sounds captured throughout Jason’s experiences over recent years, Mara is a two-track EP that manipulates these sounds into something deeply and mysteriously ambient. It’s an experience unlike anything we’ve been exposed to so far this year.
We are all familiar with the grandiosity of Agalloch’s take on folk metal, and we all know Walton’s role in the creation of that sound. But it’s time to forget all about that. It doesn’t belong here. In fact, after researching Jason’s history, we’d need to retreat back to the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a time in which Walton focused on his ambient noise project titled, quite simply, Nothing. A decade and a half later, we’re brought back to that ambient noise through Mara. The combination of barely distinguishable individual sounds take us far away from any definition of music we may know, and instead leads us on a far more personal journey into Jason W. Walton’s reality…and eventually our own.
There is plenty of backstory to this piece. In a lot of ways, it’s a personal exploration of Walton’s life over the past few years—a span of time that saw the loss of loved ones, struggles with sleep paralysis, and endless travels. All inevitably serve a role in this composition. But the reality is, when given time, Mara becomes equally as personal to its listener. On the surface, this is no more than a two-track, twelve-minute collection of noise—and if you don’t allow this sound to develop around you, that it is all it may ever be. But when listening to Mara, we become aware that it challenges its listener. It requires isolation and focus. And it requires an open mind. If you let each piece of sound breathe, and you let each moment develop, it takes on a far more complex form—one of struggle, mystery, and anguish that any of us can relate to.
We start with “Alp,” which builds slowly with a barely audible voice eventually growing enough to partially decipher. It’s a voice we do not recognize or understand, but its existence is one we can appreciate and find a sense of comfort in. It’s surrounded by ambiance, influenced by a static pulse that ebb and flow as the moments tick on. It formulates a sense of haunting that only increases as radio waves fade in and out. It’s all accompanied by a variety of added sounds that we all recognize, yet manage take on previously undiscovered forms. For almost six minutes, this carries on in a traumatically dark fashion before falling away.
With the second track, “Yakshi,” we are immediately introduced to something “Alp” lacked: a clear, concise lyrical form. You may recognize Obsequiae’s Tanner Anderson on the vocals; even with the heavy echo and relentless static surrounding his voice, you can hear him clearly bark “You fucked up everything!” and his call to “Wake up!” These are simple phrases delivered in an incredibly complex form, giving the underlying message far more depth and variability. Surrounded by a similarly manipulated collection of sounds, “Yakshi” compounds the feelings of pain and suffering. And as the minutes continue forward, it forces the listener to recount moments in their own lives that brought such struggles. Eventually, we spend the final minute trailing off into silence, but not until we’ve allowed ourselves to experience a far more ambitious listen than we could have expected.
This isn’t a composition you listen to casually or out of curiosity. It’s also not something you will understand until you devote time to it. With that given time, it will evolve and change your perspective with each minute that passes. It may be unrecognizable at first, but it’s something you’ll appreciate. There’s a dark comfort in the ambiance it surrounds you with. I encourage you all to challenge yourself and listen to this with a focus on the multi-layered sound Walton has created and the variety of forms it takes. After all, it’s a sound comprised of things we all recognize—and that’s what makes it most impressive.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”