Band: Diagonal | Album: 4 | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2021
From: Brighton, UK | Label: Cobblers Records
For fans of: The Soft Machine, Gong, Hawkwind
Diagonal had a quick turnaround between this album and their previous release, 2019’s Arc. Compare that timeline to the five-year gap between their self-titled debut and their sophomore album, or to the seven-year hiatus following that. Needless to say, I’m glad they’re putting out music at a brisker pace than they have in the past
I’m also glad that 4 is an improvement over Arc. Arc wasn’t bad by any means, but good chunks of it felt unfocused or needlessly drawn-out. On this new release, the band sounds energized and full of new ideas, and that musical vigor shines through in the five compositions present here.
“Amon” opens the album with a fuzzy, jangly guitar line before the rest of the band joins in. Overall, 4 features more prominent guitar than past releases, and that tonal shift pays dividends here. As is typical for Diagonal, jazz plays a big role on this track. The rhythmic backbone is funky, and the inclusion of congas adds a fun textural element. The middle part of the song is mellower and more meditative, featuring a Canterbury-influenced organ solo and some pretty guitarwork. The song’s closing is slow and deliberate, and it fades into an astral soundscape for its final minute.
The opening guitar arpeggio of “Chroma” nearly feels like the lead-in to some early ‘90s tech death cut, but Diagonal aren’t making that massive of a sound change. Jazzy sax and percussion gently propel this instrumental, and wordless vocals are deployed subtly. This is the weakest track on the album, being a fairly straightforward jazz-rock cut, but it’s still enjoyable.
“Spinning Array” follows by opening with a relaxed, funky rhythm section. The slowly-enunciated vocals and rich guitar and keyboard tones add an almost ritualistic feel. A Chinese flute (hulusi) brings an exotic and haunting air to this track. There’s a certain gravity to this song which is well-served by its slow flow and rich atmospherics.
A simple drum beat serves as the opening to “Stellate” before fuzzed-out guitar and throbbing, wobbling bass burst into the soundscape. This instrumental cut began life as what the band describes as a “controlled jam,” and that genesis is evident in the way this song progresses. Elements of space rock are most evident here in the effects-laden guitar and intergalactic intensity of the soloing. In the song’s second half, bass and woodwinds take the lead momentarily until guitar once more ascends to the forefront with a searing solo.
4 ends on its longest track, the 12-minute “Totem”. Its opening moments are dreamy and floating. Echoing guitar lines unfurl slowly, establishing an unhurried mood. Instrumental elements are repeated as they accrue, adding lushness and depth to an idyllic setting. Around this song’s midway point, the band coalesces into a folky verse, reminiscent of moments on More and Meddle. Much like in the song’s first half, this part of “Totem” swells slowly. The song closes on a stellar guitar solo which starts life as long, languorous notes but builds in intensity across multiple minutes.
4 represents a shift in Diagonal’s overall sound. It’s more guitar-centric and draws more directly from space rock and krautrock influences. But it’s a shift which suits them well. I’m hoping on future releases they can even more fully-integrate their jazz and Canterbury roots with this new direction. As it stands, though, Diagonal’s fourth album is a strong entry in their discography.