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The Gourishankar - Close Grip CD (album) cover

CLOSE GRIP

The Gourishankar

 

Eclectic Prog

3.75 | 80 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars THE GOURISHANKAR is one of those prog bands that doesn't quite fit neatly into categories. This band from the city of Syktyvkar on the European side of Russia straddles the line between classic retro prog and creative experimental touches that place it firmly into the newer camps of progressive rock ingenuity. The band formed in 2002 and has gone through lineup changes over the years but in the beginning the band released an EP titled "Integral Symphony" that featured Igor Rachel on vocals and Paul Gen on bass guitar but they would soon depart leaving the lineup as Vlad MJ Whiner (vocals), Alexander "Nomy" Agranson (guitars, backing vocals), Doran Usher (keyboards) and Cat Heady (electronics and loops). The band used a couple session drummers as well as electronic drum programming.

With the new lineup the band wrote and recorded its first album CLOSE GRIP which came out in 2003 and crafted seven highly original recordings as well as a bonus cover track of Gentle Giant's classic "For Nobody" on several CD releases. The name of the band's name apparently comes from the Himalayan mountain which is spelled Gaurishankar and is the second highest peak of the Rolwaling Himal located in Nepal directly between Katmandu and Mt Everest. While clearly based in modern symphonic prog for a great deal of time, the band also exhibits many moments with sailing neo-prog style guitars, heavy metal power chord bombast and Porcupine Tree styled space rock effects. The band itself describes its music as "The music for mystical dancing in the opium saloons." With moments of downtempo electronica, mystic musical scales from Eastern influences and English lyrics that are translated from classical Russian poetry, it's fair to say that THE GOURISHANKAR is quite an eclectic band.

It's perhaps this eclectic streak that took me a while to warm up to this band as CLOSE GRIP left me cold the first couple of spins. The music is based on highly melodic and happy compositions that often sound like Pendragon, IQ or Arena however the keyboards can get pretty wild and deliver some virtuosic outbursts and the band likes to engage in unexpected hairpin turns as well as some slightly off-kilter time signature changes as well as modulated strange juxtapositions of major and minor keys. At its most energetic the band even generates enough steam to fall into Dream Theater territory with heavy guitar bombast, sizzling keyboard antics and although never quite going all the way into metal territory certainly goes as far as possible without actually crossing the line. Four of the seven tracks are quite lengthy and go into serious prog territory which wending and winding compositional heft that takes the time to expand melodic developments and experimental procedures.

Despite the lyrical themes mined from Russian poetry, there are no indications that this band comes from Eastern Europe as it has totally adopted its stylistic approach to Western bands like Porcupine Tree, Sweden's Moon Safari and English neo-prog. Whiner's vocals often sound right out of the neo-prog playbook with emotive tenderly delivered lyrics but at times actually remind me of Geddy Lee's semi-goofy yelps. One of my favorite tracks is the ethereal "Autumn Frost" that incarnates Orthodox church choral vocals into the intro and select moments in the lengthy 11 minute run. The track journeys through heavy prog sections including some serious prog workouts where the instrumental interplay is off the charts with banging guitars, bantering bass, dramatic drums and cool as cucumber keyboards conspiring to craft a frenzy of proggy bliss. The bantering stops for a trippy vocal and ambient interlude before kicking in again. Even the Gentle Giant cover is quite clever as it faithfully revives the classic and propels it into the 21st century.

It truly took me a while to warm up to THE GOURISHANKAR probably due to the vocal style but once i adapted to this band's approach i'm actually quite in awe of the musical performances. This band made quite a splash with its second album "2nd Hands" and for a short time became one of the most favored up and coming prog bands but i have to say that i'm quite enamored with this first offering. CLOSE GRIP delivers everything a really good 21st prog album should be expected to and then some. There's enough melody here for the purists and enough panhead unorthodoxies to keep those elements of surprise humming along. This probably could be considered a more eclectic style of neo-prog because that's where it exists for the majority of its run but the artistic ingenuity is quite impressive.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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