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Alex Ward - The Trade CD (album) cover

THE TRADE

Alex Ward

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.92 | 3 ratings

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Mirakaze
4 stars This is the first of two solo albums Alex Ward has released this year, but it's mostly been overlooked in favour of its (admittedly superior) successor Gated, as it was released without much fanfare as a digital-only album on an obscure label without a Bandcamp page. Given that this is also a solo guitar performance whereas its successor is quite varied in instrumentation, and that both albums are similar in style but the music on The Trade sometimes feels like a mere skeleton compared to the more fleshed-out sound of Gated, it's easy to dismiss this album as just an appetizer before the main event. However, I find it to be a very intriguing listen in its own right despite its limitations.

The album is structured as an extended suite in five parts, spread across three separate tracks, all of which have a high level of dissonance and a generally disturbing tone. Part 1 sweeps the listener of their feet right away with a highly complex guitar workout that changes key and time signature just about every other second and has little to hold on to overall in terms of recognizable melodies. Even the guitar tone switches several times from clean to an Eruption-esque heavy metal tone to an atmospheric sound with the attack dialed way up near the end. To think that this was recorded in one take with no overdubs is almost frightening. Part 2 is slightly easier to follow, starting off with a more subdued section with something that actually resembles a recognizable pattern, but eventually leading into super-fast discordant picking which then devolves into pure noise near the end. Similarly, part 3, which seems to be the only part of the album that's fully (and freely) improvised, starts off relatively calm with simple chords but grows more and more intense and atonal as it goes on, culminating in another apocalyptic noisy freakout which then gives way to a haunting howling of high notes as the piece dies out.

Only by part 4 does the album grant the listener some peace, although it'd be no less appropriate to call the remaining portion of the album unsettling. Part 5 especially has a highly dour mood to it, sounding almost like a funeral march, and ends troubled and unresolved. I dare not guess what the concept behind all of this is (if there is any), or which emotional conflict the author wished to depict here, but I do know that with this album he has once again proved himself a master of the trade. Recommended for fans of John Zorn and Derek Bailey.

Mirakaze | 4/5 |

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