Ion, "Madre, Protégenos"
The problem is, new-age ethnic claptrap is still new-age ethnic claptrap, even if it’s put out by an underground label and not sold in Starbucks.
Metal has always had a weird kissin’-cousins relationship with ambient, folk and neoclassical musics; those genres are kind of what would happen if you took the metal out of metal and recorded what’s left. So to speak. Which itself is fascinating: extreme metal of most subgenres is not really related to pop music at all; where, in an earlier age, one could have once said that heavy metal was simply rock and roll overdriven, extreme metal these days—especially the european kinds—draws much of its harmonic, aesthetic, or lyrical inspiration from classical or European folk music instead of whatever rock and roll is currently on the charts. This fact, one most outsiders would fail to grasp, is what lends so much of metal its particular nobility, what imbues it with its peculiar strain of pre-modern values.
So many of us have always had a sympathy, and sometimes a real interest, in those strains of folk and dark ambient music which have themselves been puttering along, unnoticed by pretty much everybody, on their own parallel course, for more a good 20 years now. 2006’s Maaäet, by Finnish folk ensemble Tenhi, made a sizable splash, and with good reason; it was a collection of beautiful, sparse, otherworldly songs. Madre, Protégenos, by Íon (current project of ex-Anathema member Duncan Patterson, though that shouldn’t matter much to anyone), can not say the same of itself. The title, a macaronic mixture of Spanish and Dog Greek (or maybe it's all just really bad Spanish. It's a tossup), under a Gaelic moniker, sadly foreshadows the album’s facile mishmash of musical traditions that, though trumpeted in the liners as a “fus[ion of] varied instrumentation … from Greece, Ireland, Mexico or Australia” (what, they don’t know?), bears more resemblance to the aforementioned New Age pablum which, lacking any actual musical character of its own, bears only the non-descriptor “ethnic”. One’s fears are immediately confirmed, as the first track is nothing more than—after a couple minutes of acoustic guitar figures so uninteresting as to make you forget you’re hearing them—recordings of various people repeating the album title’s nonsense phrase in a zillion languages—French, Italian, Greek, Latvian, Lithuanian, Basque, Portuguese, Russian—as though each language he could include would increase the record’s essential ethnicity, and thus its credibility.
Though there are a few scattered moments of instrumental interest to be found, when Mr. Patterson’s band of generical folk instruments begin, for a moment, to put an actual song—or at least an actual bridge—together, the majority of the duration is occupied by a female voice moaning out, without taste or interest or variation, a book of quavering lyrics about nothing, the same shallow Celine Dion-isms that those of us in this camp usually snort derisively at when we hear them on FM Radio. I am told that there are in fact “several” female singers (again, their nationalities proudly trotted out, like a soccer mom telling you about the real Greek lady in her book club), but to be honest I can’t detect any variation in the voices. The whole thing is so generic. But since it includes wordless female moans and hand percussion, let us upgrade that “generic” to “ethereal”.Z.D.Smith