7 Songs, 1 Hour 2 Minutes


Ratings and Reviews

Powerful, shamanic, transcendent


Byron Metcalf is a master world-percussionist whose music I’ve enjoyed immensely for many years. On They Were Here, he teams up with fellow shamanic practitioner and vocalist, Jennifer Grais, with whom Byron first recorded and performed in collaboration with Steve Roach on his 2004 album Fever Dreams II. Comprised of seven compositions spanning a little over an hour, They Were Here explores the bonds that have long existed between horses and humans – paying musical homage “to the eternal spirit and mystical healing abilities of these treasured (but quickly disappearing) icons”. Like the very nature of these beautiful creatures that inspired it, the album’s musical essence is elegant, mysterious and powerful – as fervent trance-shamanic drumming melds with atmospheric textures and the often-sound of horses running wild. Jennifer’s resounding voice possesses a gothic-tribal quality that's stylistically similar to Lisa Gerrard – with her expressively soulful wordless singing and seemingly extempore ecstatic chanting serving as the perfect complement to these deeply immersive, organic-electronic soundscapes.

The title track, “They Were Here”, unfolds gradually like epic moving images in slow motion. Within just the first two minutes of hearing the piece I can tell that the rest of what lies ahead on this album is going to be phenomenal. Byron lends earthy, polyrhythmic percussion that envelops the listening space, while Jennifer’s invocation-like vocalise feels both transcendent and primal in nature – as if seemingly carried by the wind. Subtle didgeridoo further grounds the listening environment on the one hand, while suspended atmospheric chords effectively lend it an intangible ethereality on the other. “Opening to Freedom” – one of my favorites – considerably revs up the pace with deeply reverberating shamanic drumming, rhythmic shakers and cavernous vocal intonations. “Soul of Mestengo” comes bursting forth with fiery drums that seemingly rise from below into an upwards climb and vibrate throughout every fiber of the listener’s being. Another favorite, “Near & Far Away”, is comparatively slower-paced and guided along by a gentle yet powerful rhythm. Likewise, Jennifer sounds more softly supernal here, as if turning our attention more towards the sky.

“Womb of the Serpent” is perhaps the most darkly dynamic piece on the album. Conveying an ancient, ritualistic essence, its potently encompassing rhythm seemingly echoes throughout a vast chamber, as Jennifer delivers some of her most intensely seraphic and spontaneous ecstatic chant. The aptly-titled “Run” exudes an air of freedom and wild instinct – employing a fast-cycling rhythm that brings-to-mind horses majestically running in open terrain. “Song for Solo” perfectly concludes the album with spacious chords and nocturnal sounds, as softly sparse drums echo like thunder in the distance. Here, Jennifer’s mesmerizing intonations effectively soothe and center, as if one is being gathered into a metaphorical calm within the eye of a passing storm.

A sonic immersion overflowing with passion and power, They Were Here feels sacredly attuned to the earth and rooted in nature’s essence. Destined to be one of this year’s most outstanding releases, this music is made for moving to yet also deeply meditative – and in my experience best played at night. As a side note, I was somewhat reminded of Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser album at times – and fans of that musical style, along with Byron Metcalf’s unmistakable signature motifs, will likely be especially pleased with this beautifully magnificent work!

From MainlyPiano


"They Were Here" is a collaborative project by Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais that explores the archetypical horse-human bond. It is also a tribute to America’s vanishing wild horses and an elegy for their loss. The blending of Grais’ haunting and heartfelt vocalizations with Metcalf’s tribal-trance drumming and distinctive production style results in an hour-long celebration of the grace, beauty and intense tribal power of the wild horses that inspired the project. Both artists are shamanic practitioners in addition to their musical projects and first worked together when they appeared as guest performers on Steve Roach’s 2004 album "Fever Dreams II."

The instrumentation on "They Were Here" is as original as the music itself. Metcalf performs on frame drums, rattles, udu, ceremonial drums and synthesizer. Additional instrumentation is provided by guest artists Ron Oates (keyboard, synthesizers and orchestral arrangements) and Dashmesh Khalsa (didgeridoo and Hybrid Electro Groove). The seven tracks range from about 6 1/2 minutes to a little more than 14 minutes, but each piece segues into the next without a pause so that the album plays continuously as one very hypnotic track. Flowing seamlessly from one track to the next, the transitions are organic - never sudden or jarring. The drumming can be very intense and in the foreground, gradually fading back to a quieter vibe. Grais’ vocalizations range from energetic chanting to soul-stirring poignance. The closing track, “Song For Solo” is a touching remembrance of Grais’ longtime horse companion who recently passed away. She says that this piece “reminds me that despite loss, there is still magic in the world, and allows me to connect with the good things in the Universe.”

Overall, much of this album is very ambient. The background orchestrations are more of a drone with strings and/or atmospheric keyboard sounds. There is a very strong Native American influence, of course, bridging the time spans from the past to the present and reminding us of the need to preserve and treasure the natural world before even more of it disappears. Grais’ vocals are mostly wordless vocalizations that become an incredibly expressive and emotional musical instrument. "They Were Here" is a unique and truly exceptional musical project!

About Byron Metcalf

A drummer who specializes in shamanic trance, Byron Metcalf is a musician, producer, and educator based in Arizona. A professional drummer since the age of 15, he played on hit albums including Kenny Rogers' The Gambler before earning a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology. His dozens of new age recordings include collaborations with composer Steve Roach.

After deciding to focus on the healing arts instead of session work in the late '80s, Metcalf released the solo album Helpers, Guides & Allies: Navigating the Shamanic Landscape in 1998. An album with Roach called The Serpent's Lair followed in 2000. He then self-released his second solo LP, 2001's Not Without Risk. Subsequent albums included 2003's Wachuma's Wave and 2004's Mantram, both with Roach and Mark Seelig, and 2005's The Shaman's Heart. The latter featured Metcalf on drums as well as instruments like rattles, beads, udu, and seed pods. A Warning from the Elders followed in 2007, and another record with Roach and Seelig, 2008's Nada Terma, marked his debut with Projekt Records. Induction: Breathe, Surrender, Repeat arrived in 2009.

In the 2010s, Metcalf continued to record his meditative, drum-based music at a steady pace, issuing Dream Tracker with Roach and Dashmesh Khalsa in 2010. The Shaman's Heart II: The Healing Journey and Earth Om: Sacred Resonance both followed in 2012. Earth Om featured credits such as gong, didgeridoo, om chanting, and nature recordings. Metcalf and Roach's Tales from the Ultra Tribe started off 2013, which also saw the release of Medicine Work with Rob Thomas of Inlakesh, and the solo LP Holiday Shamanic Journeys. The Seelig collaboration Intention and his own A Healing the Earth Journey were issued the following year, and 2015 brought Monuments of Ecstasy (Metcalf/Roach/Thomas), The Strong & Powerful Heart Meditation (Metcalf), and, with Sandra Ingerman, The Spirit of Healing. His next album, 2016's Earth Luminous, paired him with electronic musician Erik Wøllo. With guests on synthesizers, chants, and drones, Shamanic Trance Dance arrived later that same year, as did Inner Rhythm Meditations. A collaboration with vocalist Jennifer Grais titled They Were Here followed in early 2018. ~ Marcy Donelson