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Azazello - Upstairs CD (album) cover

UPSTAIRS

Azazello

 

Progressive Metal

4.38 | 17 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Russia is the world's largest nation at least in terms of surface area which means that there are a lot of places outside the largest cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Eastern part of the country is remote and hosts only a handful of majorly populated areas and i can only imagine how remote things were before the age of the internet. So what do you do to entertain yourself? Well, it seems like you can booze it up with vodka to pass your day away or you can turn your attention to something more positive like making music and with nothing else to do you can craft some of the most amazingly cool music that sounds like nobody else! That's exactly what the band AZAZELLO did having formed in the small city of Tynda which sits near the Chinese border between Lake Baikal and the eastern port of Vladivostok. Known as a crossroads of two major train routes, it is not known for much else and one of those destinations where the travel agents tell you not to waste your time visiting.

This band originally formed in 1994 under the moniker М.О.Р.Г. and released a demo the same year before changing its name to AZAZELLO which is a demonic character from the novel "The Master an Margarita" by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov. Led by singer / guitarist Alexander Kulak, AZAZELLO is one of those progressive metal bands that really knows how to deliver a satisfying album. I'm not sure of the discography exactly as different databases list different albums that precede this one which is titled UPSTAIRS and secondarily Ступени наверх in Russian. Some sources say this is the second album and some say the fourth but whatever the case, it is agreed upon that UPSTAIRS is where the band really hits its stride and found its own unique sound that adopts the intricacies and complexities of progressive rock that play well with the band's mastery of heavy metal.

This is a well crafted album that fuses symphonic prog elements with highly technical thrash metal but manages to keep things really melodic. The intro simply titled "Opening" provides a lush acoustic guitar instrumental to coax the listener into the classical melodies before the title track unleashes the metal. Sounding like a mix of Dream Theater with more adventurous guitar riffs that remind me of Watchtower's guitar gymnastics, AZAZELLO somehow keeps all of the virtuosity on the leash and keeps the melodic flow in tact although there are shifts in tempo, dynamic shifts and different jammy interludes. While only three of the tracks are vocal oriented, they are the more grounding that meaning they provide the melodic riffs and backbone of the album while the instrumental parts are allowed to sail away into the adventure zone however the melody is king on this one as twin guitar attacks and proggy keyboard runs allow at least one instrument to keep the rhythmic drive in tact as well.

In addition to the western influences AZAZELLO adds some of the ethnic Russian folk sounds which give this album an exotic feel which is amplified by the lyrics sung in Russian despite the titles of the tracks appearing in English on the album itself. Kulak delivers some extremely proggy electric guitar runs but his acoustic guitar playing is as lush and pastoral as a neo-prog band whereas the rhythmic bombast of Demitry Bakay on bass and Idris Faridonov on drums are the main providers of jittery detours of tempo deviations and Dream Theater style workouts. Vitos Afanasiev not only provides some excellent keyboard workouts that are in league with the greats like Keith Emerson but he occasionally plays flute, harp and vibraphones to give the album an extra timbral richness during the softer parts and occasionally the band bursts into some jazzier moments but generally speaking this album has virtuosic workouts much in the vein of Dream Theater's "Images And Words" although because of the melodies and folk influences sounds nothing like that album.

UPSTAIRS is one of those albums that's too good to be true. It sports some amazingly beautiful cover art with a set of tracks to match its magnanimous nature. The music is based on classical music so remains extremely melodic but yet has some of the most angular jagged workouts that gives that amazingly satisfying prog gluttony but it's never overdone and when it feels like they may stray too far, the band reverts back to a melodic prog / metal band. The softer elements are perfectly balanced with the heavier ones and the sense of familiarity is perfect balanced with the exotic sounds of the Far East. The musicianship is outstanding and even Kulak's vocals are perfect for the job. Add to that there are enough art rock elements to keep things interesting throughout. This is an amazing gem that i can't give less than 5 stars!

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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