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Estradasphere - Palace Of Mirrors CD (album) cover

PALACE OF MIRRORS

Estradasphere

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.25 | 101 ratings

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Uroboros
5 stars A soundtrack to a possible world

I stumbled upon Estradasphere about two years ago, in a time when I thought I had already discovered just about every crazy thing possible in music (now I'm pretty sure I'm far from that). I was reading a review somewhere and it said something along the lines of "honestly, this must be the best band in the world". I was amused and intrigued and got their first album, It's Understood , to find out what it was about. I was so shocked and hooked that it took me months to get over it and pass on to another album. Now, after hearing Buck Fever and Palace of Mirrors , I have to say all these albums are consistent in quality, although the latter does show a heavier sound and tighter interplay.

The music on Palace of Mirrors is insanely diverse and charmingly incoherent in style. The album reveals a cinematic intent from the beginning, with the opening sounds on "Title", seguing into the track that gives the album its name, which displays a glorious soundtrack quality, as if taken out from a Hollywood production of old. The album cover also points towards such an interpretation, suggesting past romantic scenes, opening subtle doors to the listeners, expecting them to create their personal imagery around the music, beyond the threshold of shattered mirrors. The track is led by a string ensemble and serves as a fine introduction.

However, next we are treated with a totally different beast: "A Corporate Merger", after a few jazzy opening chords, blasts with an accordion playing a Balkan-flavoured groove in 7/8. The band use the theme as a starting point for an extended piece, they deconstruct it gradually, introducing alternating time signatures and improvising around it with funky bass and a guitar solo, until the whole thing becomes an outright metal affair, with syncopated riffs sounding like Meshuggah, but with violin on top. The track ends with some speed/thrash madness, a recurrent trend later in the album.

"The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" is basically a Hawaiian-style guitar workout, while "Colossal Risk" brings the cinematic mood back, only this time enriched with an extravagant brass section and some angelic female vocalizations. Following these is the creepiest track on the album, dubiously entitled "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold", a crushing industrial experiment, adorned with screeching and echoing hall-like samples.

"Smuggled Mutation" is a wonderful blend of authentic Romanian folklore and thrash metal riffage. This is the first time I hear what is called a "žambal" (traditional Romanian percussion instrument, somewhat resembling a xylophone, but more complexly structured) used in a Western-made piece of music. A great thumbs up to the band for that! The vivacious, up-tempo groove of the track, led by bucolic violin and žambal, often gives waz to lightning-speed riffs and double bass onslaught, completing the picture and adding novelty.

The album continues to diversify with a waltzy piano number ("Six Hands"), followed by the soft, laid-back jazz of the brass-soaked "The Debutante", which reminds me of the kind of jazz band you're likely to see peforming on an improvised stage in the middle of a crowded city on a rainy Sunday afternoon to the delight of the accidental passerby.

"Flower Garden of an Evil Man" is another highlight - a feast of dissonance, led by programmed percussion and the weird, processed screams of what sounds like a muted saxophone, but could very well be a violin or some crazy instrument... all on a bed of creepy harmonies building up to a climax and finally dissolving into disharmonic chaos.

If the next two tracks don't bring anything new to the table, the album's finest moment is kept for last. The ending piece, "The Return", might just be the best thing I've heard the whole year. It opens with some seriously menacing riffs, built around a crazy rhythmic pattern, resembling Meshuggah once again (but with an accordion on top, obviously), followed by a build-up section where soaring violins play a tremolo in unison over some black metal-type blast beats... From that point onwards, the whole track is a constant release of tension and I can't imagine any metalhead in their right mind not headbanging to this stuff. The framework of this track is tech metal at its finest; the drum work is brilliant and is just about as close as anyone could get to Gene Hoglan or Sean Reinert without actually being them; and - on top of it - accordion, violin and guitar solos fly all over the place like crazy bumblebees in flight.

To conclude, Palace of Mirrors is a great offering from Estradasphere, unique and unpredictable music building a colourful world of sounds and suggestions. The production on this one is better than on previous albums, the songwriting, although as diverse as before, is now more focused, and the playing is significantly tighter, providing more cohesion when compared to their past works.

The palette of styles employed on this album is huge. Some people may find this instantly appealing, others may need repeated listens. However, I believe everyone (except prog dinosaurs maybe) should give this a try, at least in order to keep in touch with the great music that is being made right now and here, under our noses.

Uroboros | 5/5 |

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