Album Review: Moura – Moura

mouraBand: Moura | Album: Moura | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock, Galician folk | Year: 2020

From: A Coruña, Spain | Label: Spinda Records

For fans of: Pink Floyd (pre-1973), Magma, Van der Graaf Generator

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Near the end of last year, I reviewed the debut album of the band Híbrido. In that review, I praised the label Spinda Records for giving underground prog and psych in Spain a platform. Not long after I published that review, someone from the label reached out and told me to keep my eyes on Moura, a band from Galicia.

Moura’s self-titled debut record is a tour de force of psychedelic progressive rock. This quintet blends the dark psychedelia of Pink Floyd (c. 1968-1970), the compositional and instrumental complexity of acts like Yes and Van der Graaf Generator, and the native, Celtic folk of their native Galicia. This confluence is then draped in a druidic, occult atmosphere that in turn creates a menacing aura. (Galicia is a region in northwestern Spain which historically was populated by Celtic peoples and today retains significant Celtic influence in the local culture, particularly the music.) Continue reading “Album Review: Moura – Moura”

Album Review: Aridonia – Aridonia

arBand: Aridonia | Album: Aridonia | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Jujuy, Argentina | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, Kyuss, Baroness

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Aridonia hail from Jujuy, a city in Argentina’s extreme northwest. That high-elevation, arid backdrop makes itself well-known on Aridonia, the band’s debut full-length record. Blues and stoner rock are the backbone of most songs here. The four musicians in the band are skilled and creative, so they’re able to twist those influences into something weird and exciting.

“Abismos” opens the album on a foreboding note. A simple, minor-key guitar pattern rings out, and haunting vocals join thereafter. It’s not long before the distortion kicks in, though, and the band begin playing a weird, high-energy stoner-jazz riff with subtle Middle Eastern touches. Aridonia pull out all the stops for this song. They cycle through odd musical themes, seamlessly blending stoner metal and jazz-fusion. “Fantasmagoría” begins with more traditional stoner metal fare, but the jazziness and exercises in technicality reemerge after the first verse.

“La Serpiente y la Manzana” opens up with a fittingly slinky, slithery guitar line. It maintains momentum well for its first five minutes, but by the time it ends, it’s begun to overstay its welcome. This piece is also one of the more straightforward, bluesy tracks on the album, lacking much of the progressive flair seen elsewhere. “Magia Negra” is similar, in that it’s high-energy and pretty fun but not exactly proggy.

“Panacea” builds slowly. Its opening is gentle and gives the feeling of floating. But as on “Abismos”, the band quickly turn to distortion. The band incorporate some post-rock influences in the form of big, strummed riffs between their frequent jazzy explorations. Those explorations do lose their focus near the song’s end, but by this point we’ve already had seven-plus minutes of solid performance. Post-rock touches can also be heard on “Oda a la Memoria”, which is slower-moving and more atmospheric than most of the rest of the album.

The album-closing “Leviatán” is befitting of its name. It begins on a storming riff that soon segues into an abyssal doom metal theme. The echo on the vocals here effectively adds to the weightiness of the song. A long, murky guitar solo follows; the lead guitar feels trapped beneath the weight of the backing riff. As the song enters its second half, though, the tempo shifts upward, and the bassist gets an opportunity to shine with a brief solo.

Aridonia isn’t without its flaws. As with many other acts, this album could have benefitted from some tightening-up. Tracks like “La Serpiente y la Manzana” and “Oda a la Memoria” last for a minute or two longer than they should. Solos can also feel drawn out, even on standout tracks like “Leviatán”. The vocals are rough on this record, but that’s only a minor ding against the band. They make that ragged shouting work most of the time.

Aridonia have crafted a respectable debut record. The instrumentals are flashy but not overbearingly so, and the ways songs evolve keep you invested in the music. This quartet have managed to bridge stoner and prog better than most acts, and I think if they fine-tune their focus some more, we can expect them to make something spectacular in the future.

Score: 75/100

 

Album Review: Slift – Ummon

sliftBand: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records

For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.

Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding.

The title track opens with an echoing guitar line over building bass and drums before launching into the main riff. These destructive, metallic blasts give way to a verse which is more menacing than outright aggressive, and the clear backing vocals are deployed as an excellent counterweight to the hoarse lead vocals.

The third track, “Thousand Helmets of Gold” is one of the most straightforward pieces on the album. The vocal melody is engaging, and the riffage between verses twists and squeals in exciting ways. Synthesizers are deployed to great effect; the lush textures contrast with the grittiness of everything else.

“Citadel on a Satellite” begins with the most overtly doom metal-inspired riff yet, but that quickly dissolves into slightly-askew space-jazz. The intensity does build up again, and it’s not long before the listener encounters some of the craziest rhythms yet. Cascading guitar arpeggios pair alongside tumbling drums and biting bass. (In fact, the bass work is out of this world on all of Ummon.) The last four minutes of the song give the listener a bit of respite as a wiggly synth line winds the song down over a quiet backing track.

The band’s more melodic garage rock roots show up in the vocals on “Hyperion”. “Altitude Lake” is the rare example of a song starting off slow, rather than bursting out of the gates, only to pump the brakes midway through. That’s not to call it an idyll, though, as Slift’s signature walls of distortion do of course show up.

“Sonar” is a song where the title perfectly matches the music. Everything is drenched in echo and reverb. The main riff consists of a big “pulse” of distorted guitar, followed by an “echo” of gentler noodling. The  prominent ride cymbal, combines with the jazzy bass work to make this one of the most distinct songs on the album. That jazziness continues on “Dark Was Space, Cold Were the Stars”. That song’s outro is one of the most overtly-proggy moments on the album, with its synth part transitioning into a majestic, clean-guitar-centric piece.

Ummon ends on “Lions, Tigers and Bears”, a 13-minute monster. Slift’s noise influences are apparent in its opening minutes, with the guitar often devolving into a screeching squall of distortion. The verses draw heavy influence from punk and sludge metal, but much of the riffing is technical and melodic. The band’s penchant for repetition is most clearly displayed here. The motorik backbone of the song’s middle is at first a canvas for guitar experiments and then, later, synth excursions. The song’s conclusion blends prog weirdness with massive, ominous doom metal riffs.

On Ummon, Slift have harnessed the menace of doom metal, the energy of garage rock, the hypnotic repetition of krautrock, and the general strangeness of prog. They put those elements together in an impressive and intense package. This album is demanding, but it is worth your time and energy.

Score: 93/100

Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020

a1331639050_10Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp

The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.

Score: 75/100

a2807075973_10Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”

Album Review: Orange Clocks – Metamorphic

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Band: Orange Clocks | Album: Metamorphic | Genre: Space rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rushden, UK | Label: Bad Elephant Music

For fans of: Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Elder

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

It’s often interesting to see acts evolve across successive albums. Even within the realm “progressive” genres, some bands don’t change their sound very much. Meanwhile, others engage in wild genre-hopping on the regular. More often, you find something like you do with Orange Clocks. Their 20-song 2017 debut album was chock-full of narration and brief interludes. The music was also somewhat unfocused, drawing heavily both from early Pink Floyd and the broader world of funk.

Metamorphic, the band’s second studio album, alleviates many of the issues of their debut. The sound is more consistent, and the distracting narration is gone, giving their sophomore release a more mature feel. The presence of stoner/desert rock is considerably more pronounced as well, and elements of krautrock and drone have begun to be worked in.

“Space Witch” opens the album on an ominous note. Wah-wahed guitar slowly twists upward as heavily-reverbed vocals swirl over it. The song’s middle section gets a shot of adrenaline before ending on a bluesier variation of the opening riff. Following this is the more laid-back “Eye of Psybin”, which sounds like a stoner rock version of a song off The Wall. And despite my frequent decrials of The Wall as a mediocre record, I mean it as a compliment in this instance.

“Miles Away” continues with David Gilmour-y guitar lines in its opening. The verses are mellow, and the vocals remind me a lot of Phideaux. The middle eight is pretty weird and sinister, but this song doesn’t do much to stand out on the whole. Following this is “Let Me Breathe”, a good song overall. It has an inversion of the weakness that plagues its predecessor, though. The verses are energetic and immediately draw you in, but the chorus falls flat.

The choppy vocal pattern on “Floating Temple” has the most unique feel of any song on the album up to this point, finally shaking free of obvious Pink Floyd influence and indistinct desert rock. Its second half takes on a nearly-meditative quality. Chanted vocals and steady, propulsive drums carry it forward to a slightly-cheesy-but-pretty-enjoyable guitar solo. “Ammonite”, despite its grating, honky synth tone, is my favorite song on the album. The first half is instrumental, but it’s the second half which really stands out. It’s highly melodic and synthesizes their space and desert influences in a great way.

“Noggy Pop” closes the album. On Bandcamp, it looks a 28-minute monster, but its real runtime is only about nine-and-a-half minutes. There are some vague Spanish flavors in the opening minutes, which is another welcome bit of flair. The song takes a few minutes to get going, but by the time it reaches its climax, it’s a maelstrom of astral guitar and Ozric Tentaclesque synthesizers. Once “Noggy Pop” ends, it’s followed by 30 seconds of silence and then 18 minutes of drone and synth textures.

Orange Clocks made some big strides on their sophomore release. The record sounds cohesive, and the band members have made more of an effort to establish their own unique sound. However, the current prog scene is swamped with sorta-proggy stoner rock/metal acts. They’ve got the potential to put out something great. They also need to better synthesize the Hawkwind and Pink Floyd influences into something more distinct.

Score: 72/100

Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk

vinBand: Vinyl Dial | Album: The Flight of the Crown Hawk | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2009/2019

From: Bedford, UK | Label: Seaside Tapes

For fans of: Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Pulsar, Tool

Buy/Listen: Stream Bandcamp

Vinyl Dial has had an unusual creative trajectory. The Flight of the Crown Hawk was originally recorded and released on MySpace in 2009. However, in 2019 it got a remaster and was officially released on Seaside Tapes, a label focused primarily on DIY-electronica and vaporwave. In the intervening years, this one-man project has put out a handful of electronic and vaporwave releases, in addition to other space rock/prog rock releases.

The Flight of the Crown Hawk is not shy about just how much of the music is inspired by Porcupine Tree’s early work. The first proper song, “Shapes in the Clouds”, begins with spare acoustic guitar, airy synth pads, and murky, effects-laden vocals. It slowly slithers along for its first half, and the guitar solo sounds like it’s straight off Porcupine Tree’s Signify. The song’s second half plays with stranger rhythms, heavier guitar tones, and cosmic synth leads. Continue reading “Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk”