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Karfagen - Aleatorica CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 137 ratings

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4 stars Each album Karfagen released by far tells its own, brand new story. Perhaps that's why the discography of this Ukrainian symphonic prog band is so diverse, and always surprising. In this respect, Aleatorica has been rather under-discussed so far, despite marking yet another experimental venture in Karfagen's styles and influences. Do not expect this album to take itself too seriously. Located somewhere between fantasy-Middle Ages-Balkan-like folk, a jazz jam session, and a prog record, Aleatorica is primarily playful, just like its cover art anticipates: full of (musical) color, bright, all-over-the-place. It's clear that the band had fun making this one. Which is perhaps why I am having such fun listening to it as well, even if not all tracks are of equal quality.

The album opens with "Aleatorica (Shuffler's Riddle)", a distinctly folk-prog piece with a catchy melody, and a carnivalesque atmosphere only tastefully disturbed with occasional strange harmonies and cacophonies. The following "Mad Gods of Destiny" continues the folk atmosphere with additional ethnic instrumentation. The vocals (rare for this band!) are executed well, creating a good blend with the backing vocals of other involved musicians (perhaps Olga Koganyuk's voice comes most to the forefront here) and as always, flawless instrumental arrangements. "Shadoof" is a brief string intermezzo, where playful atmosphere turns into nostalgia. It is a much- needed break, which allows to continue listening to the rest of folkish tracks without it becoming excessive. "D'Ale" impresses with its layering of instrumentation on a similar melody with changing pitches which ultimately creates a nearly hypnotic, danceable folk tune. "Gnome in the Bathroom" is rather simple and entertaining, but "Solar Cycles" right after it satisfies the craving for a more experimental, unique blend of a folkish beginning, a following high energy, jazzy tune, and even some electric guitar plus spacey keys towards the end. "Transaleatorica" is a less somber predecessor of "Transaleatorica 2" (from Spektra). While I prefer "Transaleatorica 2", both represent a special, unsettling feeling that's not easy to shake off (sublime?), and weave together two distinct phases in Karfagen's composition.

It is from here on that Aleatorica truly peaks, in my opinion. "Mystic Castles", the longest piece on the album has a consistent build-up, sounding nearly like a peculiar jam session: one that started off with folk, went through more prog influences, towards pure jazz. This track represents the journey of this album in one piece. Personally, I'd recommend anyone to start from this one to check if the rest of the album may be of appeal too. "Radio Beam" is a strange little intermezzo, a simple jingle of which role I am not sure. However, the following "Whirlabout" marks the second peak of Aleatorica, its spirit similar to that of "Mystic Castles". There is an enjoyable nod back at the melody of the opening track in there too, the element firmly pointing to the album being a coherent whole despite its multitude of ventures. "Sweetmeat" is another folk tune, which unfortunately falls a bit flat after the previous two great jams. Perhaps it could do better earlier on in the album. Or perhaps the album's climax has passed, and this is one of the symptoms of building down for a resolve. "A Day Without Rain" tells a dystopian/utopian (?) tale, with another rare occurrence of vocals. This kind of ballad is not necessarily fitting among the rest of the album's tracks, but the break from folk is well appreciated after "Sweetmeat". "Amazing Ananda" feels like a strange piano-centric intermezzo despite being longer than "Radio Beam" and "Shadoof". Finally, "Aleatorica (Back to the Alea)" together with the first "Aleatorica" frames the album with tongue-in ?the cheek modern folk, blending traditional and acoustic instruments with synths and even an electric guitar). This last piece is full of energy, unexpected, and forms a strong, abrupt outro which urges to replay the album once more, from the beginning.

Aleatorica is a lot to process. It is not Karfagen's best release, with a few tracks falling short of brilliant, but nevertheless, the artistic statement it makes is pretty strong. All in all, this is the kind of playful experimentation I signed up for. 4/5 stars.

Yo-yo | 4/5 |


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