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Gazpacho - Fireworker CD (album) cover

FIREWORKER

Gazpacho

 

Crossover Prog

4.05 | 112 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lukretio
5 stars Despite a name that conjures up sunny Andalusian afternoons at the beach, Gazpacho are a creature of cold, dark Scandinavian nights. Hailing from Oslo, the Norwegian sextet has been around for about two decades, their debut album dating back to 2003. Their career truly picked up in 2007 though, with the release of Night, which in prog circles is still regarded as one of the greatest albums of the noughties. After Night, the band released one after another a string of incredibly beautiful albums that received many accolades not only in the prog-rock camp, but also among metalheads ? their gloomy, melancholic and subtly metallic sound appealing to fans of bands like Anathema, Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and Riverside. Be warned, though: if you're looking for massive headbanging riffs, fast tempos, distorted guitars and screaming vocals, this band isn't for you. Gazpacho will instead appeal to those who lean towards the darker, more atmospheric side of metal, like the bands named above.

Fireworker is Gazpacho's 11th album and is a strong return to form for the band, after a couple of full-lengths (2015's Molok and 2018's Soyuz) that did not quite match up to the fantastic music the band released between 2007 (Night) and 2014 (Demon). For those of you who already know Gazpacho, sonically Fireworker finds the band halfway between the difficult experimentalism of Demon and the melodic accessibility of Tick Tock. If you are new to the band, the album can be described as dark, cinematic art rock that veers into sinister bursts of metallic distortion in the most intense passages. It's music where piano, keyboards and moody bass grooves take center stage and form the backbone of the songs, while the guitars are used only sparsely, but all more effectively, to punctuate the most dramatic moments. There is a great use of dynamics, with the songs shifting between quietest moments with only voice and piano, and loud peaks of crushing guitar distortion. The arrangements are spacious and colorful, thanks to the wide range of sounds and effects employed by Thomas Andersen, Gazpacho's keyboardist and main songwriter, and Mikael KrÝmer's tasty use of violin and mandolin.

There isn't much traditional song structure in Gazpacho's compositions: there are no verses, bridges or choruses. Instead we are treated with ever-evolving music that never rests for too long in any single place, but keeps changing and moving between calmer section and dramatic crescendos, in a constant flow of melodies and sounds that are propelled forward by singer Jan-Henrik Ohme's extraordinary ability to morph his voice to fit any mood and intensity of the music. Ohme is indeed one of the best assets of the band: his singing is warm, but intensely melancholic. His voice can be compared to a cross between Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The vocal lines are poignant and melodic, but never straightforward or predictable, to the point that they may fail to properly sink in the first time you hear them. This is in fact a general characteristic of Gazpacho's music: it is undeniably difficult and requires multiple listens to be appreciated, or even liked. I confess that I did not actually like this album the first half-dozen times that I listened to it. However, as I started growing familiar with the shifting sequence of sections in each song, I became more and more immersed in the album's sound to the point where I found myself completely addicted to it: it's now been in my CD player for about a week straight, and I suspect it will stay there for a while longer!

There's really a lot to like in Fireworker. Call me a nerd, but I find the symmetric, onion-like structure of the album absolutely beautiful. It is comprised of five songs: two long and multi-part songs at the beginning and end, two shorter, piano-based atmospheric tracks in second and penultimate position, and the folksy, uptempo title-track in the middle. I love the sonic similarities between each of the two pairs of songs in the outer layers, and how they bookend the title-track, which is altogether quite different from any of the other four tracks. It gives the album a sense of circularity and closure that perfectly matches its story, where the protagonist embarks in an inner journey to discover the most instinctual, primitive and dangerous part of the self (the "Fireworker").

The two longer tracks are the obvious "prog epics" and also the highlights of the album. "Space Cowboy" clocks in at nearly 20 minutes and is divided in four sections that shift between several moods and styles. We have calmer piano-driven parts, foreboding choral passages (amazingly, the choirs are actually synth effects), an hypnotic middle segment which explodes in one of the heaviest bits of the album, and a dramatic, symphonic finale. The other longer track, "Sapien" is my favorite song on the album. This song is built around a palm-muted, rhythmic guitar pattern that repeats for nearly its entire 15 minutes, giving the song a dream-like, hypnotic quality that brings me back to albums like Night or Tick Tock. Jan-Henrik Ohme delivers some of his most beautiful vocal melodies on this one, including a sinister, Nick Cave-like segment at around the 2.30 mark. Thomas Andersen's emphatic use of the Hammond also shines here, and I absolutely love the eerie vocal samples and sound effects that are scattered through the song and add beautifully to the dark mood of the track.

Overall, Fireworker is an incredibly rewarding album: one of those rare full-lengths that are more than a mere collection of songs, but a true musical journey that takes you to new, adventurous places and that will stay with you long after the needles has left the grooves. However, it is also a difficult album, with no easy points of access and that requires a substantial time investment to be fully appreciated. It is also not an album that follows the conventional metal aesthetics, and so not everyone reading this may enjoy it. But the most prog-leaning metalheads out there, especially those who are looking for a new fix of dark melancholy outside of the traditional musical territories, should definitely check it out!

(Originally written for The Metal Observer)

lukretio | 5/5 |

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