Ashinoa — L'Oree
Ashinoa is a quintet from Lyon who formed in the closing stages of 2015. L'Oree is their third album of 'krautrock'. (The band use this term, I much prefer kosmische as the genre description). This is kosmische, mixed with electronic music, psychedelia, and dance elements. The dance elements become stronger as the album moves to its conclusion.
The album is predominantly percussion-driven with Lucien Chatin providing drums and percussion on most tracks, with Paul Renard taking the drum stool on Fuel Of Sweet. The melodies are fleshed-out by a mix of cosmic synths, drones and fret-bothering guitar that takes the music almost into space, but remains in the light and clarity of the upper atmosphere.
The album starts off earthbound though, with Vermillion and its industrial sounds, with disturbingly-whispered voices. It starts to take flight with a rolling, hypnotic groove, part space-rock, part kosmische. It comes back-to-earth with a Dobro-like slide guitar solo that is all southern blues, before it takes off again to southern India. Ashinoa pack a lot into six minutes.
On the third track, Feu De Joie, a rolling drum grooves pushes it forward to synth crescendos and reverb-laden guitar, before it gets a bit heavier. A great track.
The next few tracks are a short set of interludes of Jérémy Labarre's synth beeps and Chris Poincelot's guitar soundscapes and drones, spoken word samples and glitchy electronics. Things get back-on-track with Fuel Of Sweet with Matteo Fabbri's lithe bass to the forefront (he also contributes synth and guitar).
Jittery jazzy rhythms abound on Unknown To Myself and Selvatica, with the latter being more avant, resembling a lost soundtrack item to a 1960s Italian Giallo film. A cracking bass-line feeds Bade Baidebsz's kosmische groove of spacey guitars and spoken word samples.
The dance influences come out in grooves reminiscent of Underworld. There's dub on the unnamed Track 13 (it's on the CD I was sent). Doom grooves anchor the middle Eastern sounds and a reverberant, glitchy guitar on Yzmenet. There's even a nod to the 'baggy' grooves of Manchester in the late 80s/early 90s, among the buoyant keys and synth interjections of Koalibi; think Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses.
This is an interesting but mixed bag of kosmische, prog and alternative dance grooves. It may not all work but there is plenty here to engage with, and the ambition is admirable.
Aura — Hallucinations
Lenie Andrew, frontman of Swedish rock formation Aura, was born on February 24. Just one date out of the possible 365 annual possibilities. But since 2022 he has been pissed off enormously, for his birthday will never be the same again because of the Russian raid on Ukraine.
Instead of staying mad at Putin and all the others responsible for these tragic events, Andrews decided that he'd transform his immeasurable anger into a new concept Aura-album. On the front cover the four-piece band (not to be confused with the Italian alt-prog outfit with the same name) show Putin's head in their hand against an intense blood-red sky. It sounds more horrific than it actually is.
Apart from Andrews, who plays keyboards, guitars and D-drums and takes care of the vocals as well as the 'sounds', Aura consists of Magnus Ekman (guitars), Paul Munin (bass, balalaika) and Tommy Petterson (drums, percussion). Additional musical input comes from Joacim Sternkrans (guitars) and N. Kuckovic (drums), while Ruby Lisa Simonsson and Anna-Maria Andersson support Andrews in the lead and backing vocals on several tracks.
The album comes with a nicely-designed booklet containing the lyrics of the songs, as well as some not-too-flattering photos of the Russian leader. They make a strong point, showing the world on which side of history the band wants to be seen.
In that respect this Aura-album is not an easy meal to digest. The band state that their inspiration comes from legends such as Pink Floyd and The Beatles. That may be true, but I do want to hear some hints to these classic bands in the music.
To start with, most songs on this album flow nicely from one to another as if they were trying to record another Abbey Road or The Wall. Too bad this band is worlds apart from the quality, originality and production level of these albums. That is primarily due to Andrew's lead vocals. He has a thin voice which is very limited in vocal range and expressiveness, reminding me immediately of Magna Carta's Chris Simpson.
This has not been helped by a decision to record the vocals in a very cold manner, making it sound as if the recording equipment was put in an isolated ice cellar on a very remote Arctic place. The songs in which his vocals are accompanied by the female vocalists belong to the highlights of the album. The best example to show the difference is the three-part song cycle Apart - Apart And Separate – Separate in which Ruby Lisa Simonsson sings a very nice duet with Andrews in Apart, after which he takes over in Separate. The first part is simply beautiful and emotional, whereas the third part falls rather dead. Another negative is the almost unlistenable vocal screams in Slava Ukraini.
The album starts promisingly with 24 February 2022, a song inspired by the actual onset of the raid on Ukraine. Several soft, yet quite threatening soundscapes set the scene, clearly indicating there's something terrible about to happen. Halfway the guitar comes in, to develop the song into a fine instrumental intro of the album. This intro smoothly flows into Casus Belli with quite atrocious vocals and lyrics that are far too simple to make an impression. It was meant as a bitter accusation, but it fails to have that kind of impact.
Another highlight is the instrumental title track which has a nice proggy mood, nice sound effects and a non-linear melody which sounds good.
Unfortunately that can't be said of this album as a whole. The intentions are good, there is enough variation in the music, the use of sound effects in songs like The Vodka Circuit, and the occasional guitar solos such as in Stalemate and Will I Ever Know are welcome additions to the musical mix. But the weak vocals, in combination with the extremely weak lyrical content and the far-too-straight-forward drumming by Petterson spoils the attractiveness of most songs. It's a real pity that this band doesn't reward themselves with a decent vocalist, as well as experienced producer who would have elevated this music to a higher level.
I immediately liked the band's biting statement on Putin and his gang, which gave this album an immediate advance when I started to listen to it. In all honestly the album failed to meet my initial expectations. There are enough attractive musical ideas and there is enough quality in the band to record a decent album, but perhaps they shouldn't be doing it all by themselves.
Entering Polaris — Atlantean Shores / And Silently The Age Did Pass
Entering Polaris is a Belgian project run by guitarist Tom Tee, as a way to express his influences from prog metal plus many other genres, while using a large cast of strong vocalists. Ayreon, anyone? But not quite! As a project perhaps, but musically there is just a small overlap.
Debut album Godseed was reviewed here on DPRP.net in 2018. In the meantime, Tom has been very busy. We received not one but two full-length albums, released at the same time, with the note that he is already working on the next two.
Atlantean Shores, the first of this set of two albums, already shows in the opening track what Tom is aiming for. Merging a broad range of styles, though centred around prog metal and his guitar playing.
The Lords Of The Last changes gears and bring back happy memories of Rhapsody, but with a little more riffing and bigger contrasts in variation. A shorter track like Sands Of Time has some Savatage attitude. Six Directions Of Space was a rather unexpected epic in the middle of the album. Unexpected as I was listening to the whole album several without checking song titles or durations. And this one goes from one extreme to another - acoustic to super heavy. (And a very funny ending!) And oh, the overlap with Ayreon and the likes is of course epic symphonic rock, that is just present in a small portion of the songs here instead of filling the whole album.
The main feat here is that this is keeping the attention throughout. If you want to listen to one song only to get an idea, listen to the 10 minutes of the last track, Distant Horizons. It probably offers the widest range of styles used on the album and therefore works as an overture except that it is at the end of the album. I find a most satisfying end to a great album.
I think you'll get the gist - the variation is grand and the compositions are strong. The musicianship is excellent. The guest vocalists (see the list here) are all of high calibre and there are some big names on that list!
Although so much is happening, it's not a difficult album to listen to, not too hard to digest, which I often have with albums of this length. It demands attention of course but somehow makes it easy to keep it. The mix of complex / easier and heavy / quieter sections is just in balance and works.
The second album is titled And Silently The Age Did Pass. It is a completely acoustic affair. Drums, acoustic guitar, piano, strings (or keyoards?) and again a cast of excellent vocalists. I like the contrast between heavy and acoustic. A 47-minute album with only acoustic songs is something else, however. The storyline may connect the two albums, but the atmosphere is of course completely different.
You can hear in most of the acoustic songs that they were written by someone who is used to play metal. This does however result with a lot of anti-climax moments. Some songs are folk-rock, like Glacier and The Light At The End Of The Earth, raking back Blackmore's Night or Mostly Autumn. Always A Moment Too Late is a lovely classical piece. And Coming Of The Great Rain does have more epic sections created by harmony vocals. But in many cases I am waiting a lot for things to blow up, to go really heavy and epic, and that hardly ever comes.
Composition-wise, however, there is a lot to enjoy! I guess with this second album in the same style as the first would be quite overwhelming, but then again they could have been released with some time in between.
I do not know the story behind releasing the two albums together. The digital edition on Bandcamp, at least. It looks like the CD and LP versions will be sold separately, which I think is a good thing. My rating is for the first album only. The second album I will regard as a bonus disc. But I can see some will thoroughly enjoy disc 2 as an item on its own as well.
Fargo — Geli
I do remember those days when I didn't like instrumental music and hadn't yet discovered post-rock. I'm not saying it was a life-changing experience, but it opened my eyes to a new type of music that somehow invites you to participate. Not having someone singing, can make you feel like you're the one deciding the feelings in the songs; and sometimes they feel different depending on your personal mood. Maybe I'm being too transcendental but that is what's happens to me when I listen to post-rock albums. Of course not all of them make me feel that way but when I find one that does, it is a rewarding experience.
Is this new album from Fargo among the aforementioned ones? Yes it is. Is it a masterpiece in its genre? No, but Geli, the third effort by this Leipzig based combo, is a superb album. Like their previous releases, this album is a short one in terms of the number of songs, but with long compositions it reaches a comfortable 36 minutes.
That's a good thing because each song has enough space to develop and evolve. This is a typical characteristic in post-rock songs and Fargo knows how to mix all the usual ingredients to sound a bit different from the rest of the bands in the genre.
Apart from the regular and known influences by Russian Circles and the likes, I can find some similarities in their sound with some Spanish bands that I know well and are releasing great albums lately. One is El Altar Del Holocausto, with their interesting mix of post-rock, doom and really quiet passages, and Syberia, with their great dynamic intensity.
This interesting mix is what the listener will find in Geli, from the energetic and heavy opener Dresden, travelling to Regensburg and its atmospheric vibe, before making another stop in Berlin, in which you will need time to discover the song thanks to the typical crescendo.
The final city of this tour is Pforzheim, a personal favourite and the darkest track, including some final samples of Winston Churchill encouraging people to fight against Hitler.
This is a highly recommended trip if you are willing to listen carefully and immerse yourself in the sound of another, but not just another, post-rock band.
Oudeziel — Oudeziel
Regular DPRP visitors may remember that during Progtober of 2021 and 2022 I declared my love towards Obrasqi's mix of dreamy electronic indie-pop, ambient, alternative rock and progressive art-rock. Next to astoundingly well-crafted and beautifully-arranged music, I loved Monika Dejk-Ćwikł's enchanting voice. Following their magnificent sophomore album Szepty Ciszy I truly believed their international break would only be a matter of time.
Time they were not given, because shortly after their captivating three-song performance for Radio Szczecin disaster struck when on the 13th of December Monika went missing while walking her dog and an unfortunate drowning accident led to her untimely passing at the age of 33. This tragic loss instantly meant the end of Obrasqi, resulting in their Facebook account changing to moody black, and information streams falling into complete silence.
That is until April, when Artur Wolski (composer, guitars, keyboards) confided me with the knowledge that he and Jaroslaw Bielawski (drums) had started a new project named Oudeziel (Dutch for 'Old Soul'). On the 1st of May this was followed by the independent Bandcamp release of Fluistert (Dutch for Whispers), a discontinued four track EP that omits Reis (Dutch for Journey) and features a slightly different running order as presented here.
Their first live performance as Szepty, in support of Collage on the 2nd of June, with Slawek Matuszak guesting on bass, took away the mystery behind Oudeziel's musicians. Now Oudeziel's eponymous, digital-only, debut EP has been officially launched by the Dutch record label Rock Company.
The EP starts off with Life whose ambient opening shimmers with psychedelic echoes of Pink Floyd and, surrounded by atmospheric darkness, glides onwards with melancholic, weeping guitars that deliver delightful Porcupine Tree impressions. Building momentum into heart-warming feelings reminiscent of Obrasqi, the melodies are then guided onwards by intricate rhythms and glowing guitar melodies from Wolski. This opener is a perfect demonstration of Oudeziel's strength and ability to convey emotions with their music. Combined with the stunning visuals (see video) that show a collage of life and nature and the marvel of how our human lives affect this beauty and wonder, this emotive composition regularly sees me fighting inner tears prompted by recent personal losses.
Fluistert equally captivates with comforting melodies that grow into the warmth of post-rock; rich in atmosphere and driven elegantly on by strident bass and drums. Pausing for a brief moment, lush synths and delicate rhythms then embrace the melodies with a touch of brightness. The song then gains momentum and ends with a dreamy, finalising on a haunted chord.
Binner's piano entrance at first expresses the same sort of contemplative quietness, until a touch of trip-hop and some majestic guitars elevate the atmosphere into vibrant melodies, embossed with feelings of uplift to which an acoustic guitar brings vivacity. The song ultimately wades into in an oasis of resonating guitars.
Jeremy then offers a divine finale as acoustic guitars, and melodies blessed by warmth, gracefully intensify.
The EP's pinnacle however, is Reis. After a lengthy ambient entrance, it travels into placid dusk, surrounded by synths that echo with flavours of Obrasqi heaven. Halfway through, the music then takes free flight with blues-inspired guitar melodies that develop into an overwhelming solo immersed with imprints of Neal Schon (Journey). It ultimately fades away into ambience that shines with sparkling Pink Floyd gems.
Oudeziel are now collecting songs for a full album release. For spoilers, this includes Duisternis (more Dutch: Darkness), a song already played live and which brings to mind the stunning finale of Szepty Ciszy. This song shows that there is still a beautiful afterlife awaiting those who cherished what came before.
Fully aware that what once was, will sadly never return, I once again have every faith that Oudeziel's marvellous compositions will touch the hearts of many, and that international success is just a heartbeat away. Needless to say I encourage everyone to surrender to this thrilling experience.
Seven Impale — Summit
Among the many sad truths of today's music scene is that artists are sometimes required to be very persistent and to go more than one extra mile to actually reach a jaded listener. That's something you might call success, and sadly that often comes after that artist have released some top quality material.
Seven Impale is a Norwegian sextet that has been around for roughly ten years. While they have received some international praise for their work, I developed only a mild interest in their discography. They always seemed a bit raw for me. But with Summit they have hit me straight in the bullseye; despite the fact that they haven't made any drastic changes to their sound!
But first, a quick reminder on what type of music these Norwegians play.
They share a lot of similarities with the jazz-influenced, sax-psychedelia of Motorpsycho and Jaga Jazzist (as Owen wrote) but adding much more groove and aggression. Therefore, other unavoidable comparisons are Anekdoten (especially in the vocal department), Red-era King Crimson and numerous doom-rock bands. Seven Impale clearly enjoy putting a thick, greasy, Sabbath / Elder / St.Vitus riff here and there.
It is also impossible not to mention Van Der Graaf Generator (which I am doing right now). But whereas Hammill-Jackson-Bunton's approach is rooted in intimate contemplation of personal dramas, Seven Impale couldn't care less about individual problems. They cling to material which is grandiose, heavy and (in Owen's description) epic, and that may be precisely the key word for Seven Impale's sound. Metaphorically, it's a jazzy narration about a mad wizard wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting world. It's not that often one can come across epic-sounding jazz; apart from Magma, maybe.
Sound is one thing, but what raises this band up to the higher leagues of prog is their approach to the compositions. They are well-thought-out, finding an odd balance in the contrast between heavy and mellow parts that somehow correspond with each other.
While the opening, Hunter, sounds more like a tribute to the 70s classics of KC and VDGG, the real fun begins with the second track, Hydra, when the music jumps from a moderately-groovy opening, to the chugging Hawkwind space-rock section, then to a complex interplay of rhythm section and wailing, echoing saxophone, with occasional punkish outbursts of riffs.
Ikaros is even heavier and more extravagant. The only thing I am not fond of here are the vocal arrangements. I absolutely loved the idea to merge the woodwind section, with the quasi-blastbeats that the drummer hits here. And then Sisyphus. I will not go deep into description of the track, instead I'll say that if Ikaros is Seven Impale's Arrow, then Sisyphus is their The Sleepwalkers. Majestic, bizarre, challenging.
I would have probably rated Summit with an 8; just as Owen did previously. However, this time it feels like the band has made a step forward, and really climbed the summit. So I am adding an extra “DPRP hat”. Chances are that you'll find albums that you like more than Summit, but you will have a hard time finding a more original approach to sound this year.