Foremost, the shamanic psychedelia of Megaritual would seem to be teaching. What are the lessons of the LP Mantra Music, released by White Dwarf Records in limited blue vinyl to match the sky on the record’s cover? First, that you don’t need personnel to make something sound lush. I’ve heard density conjured by one-pieces and six-pieces, but getting a genuine sense of space is harder. Megaritual is comprised solely of Australian multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dale Paul Walker, also guitarist in Gold Coast metallic rockers Mourning Tide and reportedly in instrumental psych outfit Sun of Man as well, and through layered arrangements of guitar, sitar, bass, drums, chanting vocals, effects and so on, Walker (who also engineered, mixed and put together the aforementioned cover art) casts an enviable breadth and patience into the 44-minute/eight-track offering, while still making tradeoffs between quiet meditations and louder push, as on “Stormbringer.”
Second lesson? That when it comes to psychedelia, time can be rendered irrelevant. The two sides of Mantra Music are drawn from two separate releases — both EPs released by Walker to introduce Megaritual to a public audience. Mantra Music (Volume One) arrived in 2014 and brings the tracks “Is the Heart of the Mystery…,” “Top of the Mountain to You,” “Stormbringer,” and closer “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?,” as well as a manipulated version of the artwork, while 2015’s Mantra Music (Volume Two) featured “Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping a Tree Falling in the Woods?,” “Tatt Tvam Asi,” “Over Hill and Veil” and “Infinity” (listed as just its representative symbol: “?”).
These two shorter releases were recorded and issued within months of each other, but still, it would be easy for there to be some disparity between them. Rather, the sitar drone and acoustic blend of “Tatt Tvam Asi” and subsequent hugeness of the guitar wash that emerges later in the track make an excellent complement to the earlier swing and multi-tiered push of “Top of the Mountain to You,” and when listening to Mantra Music — the compilation — either split onto its component two sides or straight through in linear digital fashion, its headphone-worthy hypnosis flows regardless of the origin point of a given song. Granted, part of that no doubt stems from similar recording circumstances, similar intent, instrumentation, not that much time between, etc., but maybe Walker was making an album over the course of those months and didn’t realize it until afterward. That’s what Mantra Music feels like: A debut album.
From the introductory “Is the Heart of the Mystery…,” which unfolds drones and chants and ritual guitar and percussion over the course of less than two minutes, to the electronics-infused percussive thrust of “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?,” where it’s cymbals that do the washing more than guitar, which instead offers a celebratory flourish of lead work before the cold, surprisingly sharp finish, Megaritual keeps a watchful eye on the progression of the release as more than just the sum of its parts. That’s evident even in how the songs are arranged in the tracklisting, not merely split between the two EPs one-per-side, but with the acoustically-grounded “Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping a Tree Falling in the Woods?” pushed up next to the material from Mantra Music (Volume One) to provide a transition to the second EP tracks while “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?” closes. These decisions affect how one hears Mantra Music on the whole and make it a richer, deeper listening experience.
A third lesson might be that self-awareness doesn’t necessarily need to stop sonic exploration. Pun titles like “Top of the Mountain to You” or “Over Hill and Veil” (or “Dirty Black Summer of Love,” which closed Mantra Music (Volume Two) but was left out here for time constraints along with “…The Mystery of the Heart?,” which rounded out the first EP) would seem to indicate a wink and nod from Walker to his listenership, but the conversation goes further than that. Three of the eight cuts on Mantra Music are questions, and I have a hard time believing it’s a coincidence they appear at the beginning, middle and end of the tracklisting.
Walker is directly engaging his audience, and while both the moniker under which he’s operating — Megaritual — and the title of the long-player — Mantra Music — are apt descriptions of the aesthetics at play, the (expanded) consciousness at root does nothing to undercut that engagement. As “Over Hill and Veil” and “Infinity” push increasingly outward into Eastern-tinged acid folk and instrumentalist guitar-led cosmic monolithia, respectively, Mantra Music is intimate, not insular. By then, the invitation has long since been handed out and it’s up to the listener to answer, though the gloriously immersive and true-natured heavy psych of “Tatt Tvam Asi” doesn’t seem to brook much by way of refusal. Nonetheless, there isn’t a moment on Mantra Music in which Megaritual feels held back by the fact that Walker is no doubt carefully constructing its ambience one painstaking layer at a time, and if anything, the collection is even more impressive for that, since its primary impression is one of vibe, not structure — though certainly “Stormbringer” and “Over Hill and Veil” have their hooks — and it still manages not to lose its overarching purpose in indulgence of wash.
Does that make balance a de facto fourth lesson? Possible. While the sonic elephant in the room throughout Mantra Music has to be New Zealand’s Lamp of the Universe, who would seem to be a direct influence on Walker here, it is ultimately the balance between heft and expanse that distinguishes Megaritual from that other one-man outfit, and one can already hear that balance continuing to develop on the 2016 single-song EP Eclipse (featured here) that Walker has issued in the wake of Mantra Music itself. But I’d prefer to leave the fourth lesson up for interpretation, since if there’s anything one can take in the end from Mantra Music it’s that the growth Walker has begun to undertake is no less open in its possibilities than the actual sound is vast. Perhaps most important of all, as he’s teaching, he’s learning.