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Yugen - Death By Water CD (album) cover





3.85 | 137 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars After a six year long wait the avant-prog collective YUGEN led by the professor of complexity Francesco Zago, at long last release their anticipated followup to "Iridule" with all those avant-prog gymnastics that have become expected of them. Despite having formed all the way back in 2004 in Milan, Italy, they have been quite conservative and are now only on their fourth album. DEATH BY WATER does an excellent job at not only delivering all that complex progressive rock meets chamber rock yumminess but cements their position as one of the most celebrated outfits in the esoteric realms of what has become known as brutal prog, which is the type of progressive rock that is absolutely unapologetic and relentless in its pursuit to create the most convoluted and bizarre roads to the promised land. If Occam's razor is the principle of reaching a goal by the paths of least resistance, then YUGEN has stubbornly taken the road that bifurcates and twists and turns through unforeseen complications only to arrive at the same conclusion, but a more interesting journey indeed. While this sort of avant-prog can test even the most hardcore prog rock lovers, YUGEN is one of those rare acts that has found the perfect way to balance their intense and demanding musical visions with an underlying swing and avant-groove that keeps the whole thing from collapsing. Therefore this is not complexity for complexity's sake but rather controlled chaos with tension so thick that you could suffocate an entire urban center.

YUGEN waste no time cutting to the chase. Upon the very first millisecond of the opener "Cinically Correct" the sonic frenzy slaps you in the face with each instrument existing in their own universe and somehow coordinating their whereabouts in the musical spectrum as to arrive in bizarre syncopation so interspersed in frenetic time sigs that you will be going WHOAH! There's music where there should be silence and silence where there should be music! And all in strange time sigs that change at super challenging speeds in perfect unison. Pianos, guitars, woodwinds and brass all dance around as if a voodoo ritual that had been crashed by zombies with chainsaws and all the rules had suddenly collapsed in a heap of fight or flight response. My impressions are immediately that this indeed channels the spirit of Zappa but takes it further and enters Mr Bungle territory only in a more disciplined way. I hear all kinds of references to the avant-jazz snippets from the first Mr Bungle album where jazzy chaos swirls around like an imploding gas line and the guitar and glockenspiels reminds me a lot of "Platypus" from the Disco Volante album. Also reminding me of the very same album is the crazy scatted female vocals that pop in randomly when least expected. Perhaps it even reminds me a bit of the first Steve Vai album "Flexible" and YUGEN makes me think that this is what Vai would have sounded like had he continued his virtuosic development more into the realms of avant-prog a la Zappa rather than down the metal shredder path as the virtuosity is stunning.

While much of the album is instrumental and where the magic lies for the most part with one cartoonish musical frolicking session after another with a rotisserie of no less than 17 musicians leapfrogging over each other while playing Twister, there are a few vocal surprises on here as well. While the instrument parts range from chaotically frenetic ("Cinically Correct" being the most explosive), others have more of a spacey and post-rock type of feel such as the title track. The three vocal tracks starkly contrast with the frenetic instrumental pieces and are all quite different from one another. "As It Was" doesn't sound anything like the rest of the album as it takes on a more Maudlin Of The Well type of spacey post-rock and reminds me very much of Toby Driver's projects but not quite reaching his level of otherworldliness. "Der Schnee" is the best of the vocal tracks and delivers a very Nico meets Björk type of feel. Nico in the spacey surreal music department but sounds like an operatic version of Björk as the singer can venture into post-punk mode and then leap to high diva notes that could shatter glass. The final closer "A House" is a surprisingly uneventful folk song that only lasts over a minute but seems totally out of place.

Overall YUGEN have released yet another top notch assemblage of complex art rock that only THEY could unleash with the precision timed complexity that weaves the web of progressiveness that purple proggy dreams are made of! The instrumental pieces on this one are magnificent and vary greatly with some providing staccato attacks, some over the top metal leaning distortionfests and others simply using melancholy and atmospheric manipulation to create startling emotional contrasts. If not for the vocal tracks i would find this to be a masterpiece of extreme experimental music but unfortunately two of the vocal tracks just don't work for me. As stated "As It Was" brings Toby Driver's project too much to mind and the closer just sounds like a rather mediocre indie folk song with nothing much to add. I can understand the intent of adding these as i'm sure they are meant to pacify the riled listener after such brutal prog attacks on the senses and i'm not even against the idea of such. I simply find that YUGEN doesn't come close to pulling off these avant-ballads in an original way like they have with their choppier outstanding instrumental assaults. Still though, despite these quips, this is one of my absolute favorite prog releases of 2016. For the most part, uncompromising prog that still manages to keep an inner groove that keeps it all intact. Bravissimo!

4.5 rounded down

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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