Mark Stewart

Metatron

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Following his eponymous 1987 album, Mark Stewart continued his collaboration with producer Adrian Sherwood and the Maffia (Sugar Hill's Keith LeBlanc, Doug Wimbish, and Skip McDonald); in 1990, he released Metatron, his most accessible record to date. On his first three albums, Stewart had juxtaposed expansive dub-oriented numbers with more experimental tracks that made for decidedly uneasy listening. That harsher, more difficult dimension of Stewart's sound is absent from Metatron, which trades experimental cut-ups and electronic noise for relatively seamless, tight techno funk workouts. Indeed, the emphasis here falls on the stellar rhythm section of LeBlanc and Wimbish, who provide a solid foundation for this material. At times on "Mammon" and "Faith Healer," Stewart's fraught, distorted voice is almost buried under that heavy groundwork, while on numbers like "Hysteria" his vocals occasionally pierce through the weighty arrangements. On Metatron's slightly uneven predecessor, Stewart had shown a more introspective side, something that several critics took as a blunting of his political edge. Here, Stewart achieves a more fully realized blending of the personal and the political; his characteristically nihilistic pronouncements concerning the sinister effects of authority and technocracy on everyday life sit well alongside explorations of individual psychology and dysfunction on tracks like "Shame" and "These Things Happen." All the components of Stewart's sound converge to maximum effect on "Collision," as the heavyweight beats and distorted vocals are topped off with something bordering on heavy metal guitar -- there's even a brief solo. But Stewart can get away with such excesses; on the previous album, he'd already done the unthinkable, sampling the guitar from Billy Idol's "Flesh for Fantasy." Although Metatron is a homogeneous record, "My Possession" changes the equation somewhat with its house groove and minimal keyboards. Stewart would pursue that sonic diversity six years later on his follow-up album, Control Data.

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