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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars First album from this fairly new Flemish group (from Antwerp like their older brother DAAU) that seems to draw much inspiration from their country's tradition of Chamber prog music. Their debut album was issued with the help of the Flemish culture ministry. Indeed a cross of Univers Zero, DAAU and Julverne, Aranis is a fully acoustic septet (with five missus in the line-up) that draws much on the classical period as well as the modern classical. All their music is written by contrabassist Joris Vanvinckenroye; mainly instrumental music, but when sung, it is by the only non-Belgian Jana Arns.

From the opening piano notes of Indrigo, soon accompanied by a bass and a shrill flute, the group gets into a solid groove, lead by Kennes' piano to the closing sinister Wespengraf's death throes, you'll find yourself on familiar territory if familiar to Belgian avant-prog. Their music hesitates between folk (mainly induced by Cools' accordion, reminding of Cro Magnon's latest album) and repetitive hypnotic (sometimes even haunting) modern classical, not veering atonal, but nearing into the dissonant (Pantra & Labyrinth). Somehow their type of music is also reminding me of Quebec's Mundi Domini. Leader Vanvinckenroye gets help from his brother Edwin on violin (and deeply imbedded vocals) in the album's centrepiece, the stunning medieval-sounding 15-mins Zilezi, which dwarves many other songs on this album by its sheer sense of drama. Of the second part of the album, Labyrinth is the most interesting, partly because of its tension throughout the track's duration, but the closer is also interesting with its doomy (UZ is not far away) atmosphere contrasting with the album's more joyous start.

Typically in the fashion of the Belgian chamber prog, Aranis manages a splendid fusion of folk, modern classical with a twist or pre-classical, and they can logically be called DAAU's little sister. As interesting as Artanis can sound, you might want to check out the other groups mentioned all through this review.

Report this review (#164256)
Posted Wednesday, March 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Aranis' debut is a strong example of the Belgian Chamber Rock scene. It is the brainchild of bass player Joris Vanvinckenroye, also known from the band he formed with his two brothers named Troissoeur (which is either proof of their goofy sense of humour or of the decline of the French language here in Flanders).

I would describe their sound as half Univers Zero and half Philip Glass. You can hardly call them innovative but they make great compositions. Especially the first half of the album is breathtaking: energetic pieces heavy on pulsating bass guitar, sharp violins and splendid accordion playing. Also the flutes are very prominent. The acoustic guitar and piano play second fiddle and are used to add details and rhythm to the pieces.

I have seen two live concerts from Aranis and I must conclude that a live setting must be the environment they feel most comfortable in. This album is really excellent but does not fully capture their overwhelming live experience which would deserve 5 stars from me.

Report this review (#250697)
Posted Sunday, November 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars Flemish and frequently feminine, these fine performers fabricate (so the alliteration failed me). I am not altogether sure what would qualify this album as avant-garde music in any sense of the term, but I do not care. This is absolutely gorgeous music birthed from completely classical sensibilities. My only major complaint is that during the second half the compositions themselves run out of fuel, thereby becoming more and more uninteresting. No, this is not rock- not in the vaguest sense of the term- but for those with any penchant for classical or chamber music, this is a must. Aranis's debut is quite a delightful surprise from a previously unknown Flemish septet.

"Indrigo" What an opener! Stuccato flute moves in, giving way to jabs from the violin and a steady, concentrated bass line. The pairing of the violin and flute create a concentrated blend of melodies that flow over rhythms that wax and wane in intensity.

"Jona" Subdued, yet with rich bows of bass sweet violin, this is a piece that lavishes the listeners with robust passages full of strings, but some massages the eardrums. I can only close my eyes and absorb the grandeur of the music.

"Vuur" The music is far busier here, with a driving rhythm- it makes me think of a spider quickly weaving a web and scurrying over it. The accordion and flute have a field day over a steady building rhythm, but the violins and piano do not allow them to have all the fun to themselves (just most of it).

"Yosu" The hum of the accordion brings in low piano and soft vocals. It has a clear melodic theme that the rest of the music revolves around in both exceptional harmony and slight discord.

"Oyma" One violin is bowed, the other plucked. The strings are the primary force behind this driving piece, while the other instruments perform more subservient roles.

"Zilezi" The beginning of this soothing piece is a musical balm that grows into its own infectious, bittersweet charm. For five minutes the repetitive bursts of sound continue until a pair of violins remain, droning on in the ether. The first traces of actual percussion emerge, ushering in powerful thrusts from the violins. The third section of this elongated piece involves a simple backing over which a forlorn accordion meanders, and then male vocals materialize. This vocal performance is perhaps the most "out there" aspect to this record, but despite the occasional falsetto cries and bursts of vitriol, it is still restrained and artistically performed.

"Questosteron" Acoustic guitar has a more prominent role in this piece, even though it only creates a foundation for the host of other graceful instruments. Soon the double bass backs up the guitar. Since this music has been compared to cinematic music, my mind wandered and I found an association with the Michael Keaton film Beetlejuice, as bizarre as that may be.

"Pantra" More elegant strings work through the introduction of the piece before turning into snarls. It becomes more stylish and sweeter as the composition progresses.

"Labyrinth" Accordion and violin give way to a deep bass riff. As with most of the pieces, this is more violin driven, but the violins are not content to play in conventional ways. As the music breaks off, gentle accordion and flute assume control.

"Wespengraf" Without question the most avant-garde piece on the album, this has spine-tingling blasts of violin, a languid accordion, and a dreary bass underneath it all. The accordion grows in a haunting way, but the piece seems to cut off prematurely.

Report this review (#259490)
Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Soothing, Yet Still Musically Stimulating, Chamber Rock

Aranis is a Belgian alt.classical group consisting of 2 violins, accordion, piano, guitar, double bass, and flute. Their 2005 debut album features a slightly more user-friendly and "classical" sound than RIO pioneers Univers Zero, but clearly the two bands would sit comfortably on the same playbill. UZ is listed first in a long list of influences on their myspace page, but also included are a host of post-rock outfits, noise jazzmeister John Zorn, Neil Young, Bach, Bartok, and even my favorite double bass player of all time Edgar Meyer.

Before I go too far and give the impression this is muzak, I must emphasize that this is still challenging music. For example, "Vuur" begins with a "Flight of the Bumblebee" flurry before alternating between a minor, looming UZ-like theme and an accordion-led European folk feel. There is plenty of dissonance, a little odd time signature, and certainly a good dose of adventure. Perhaps what makes this clearly easier on the ear is that the melodic themes remain strong at all times. Never do I feel like the musicians are treading into free-form avant territory. Though there are solo sections, they fit into the structure of the overall pieces.

"Yosu" features female harmony choral vocals over a slow minor pulse, but for the most part this is instrumental music. The flute (courtesy of Jana Arns) is especially compelling, ranging from idyllic melodies to quick, almost virtuosic solo spots. The string arrangements are have a little less energy, and in fact the biggest weakness in this album is that some of the songs don't develop that strongly. The stage is set well, the scenes are vividly drawn, mood is created, but then not enough happens or happens too slowly. Perhaps this is the post-rock influence the band claims. A great example is "Zelezi" which is 15 minute piece that employs a loooong slow build of emotion and very gradual changes in melodic ideas that certainly follows the post-rock formula.

One of the strengths of the album is the variety of tempo, mood, and atmosphere. Where a song like "Pantra" is deliberate and medieval in sound (with a few dissonant surprises), "Questosteron" is more swinging and jazzy. Some songs are unassuming and subtle and some are almost overwhelmingly ominous. Folk melodies and rhythms pervade some songs and are barely hinted at on others.

All in all, this is a strong chamber rock album. The musicianship is a notch higher than most any rock n' roll, prog or not. Though the chamber rock concept is far from new at this point, this band is still producing a kind of music that feels very adventurous to at least this American listener. Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, and given the narrow scope of this genre, I'm going to give 4 stars. This is an excellent modern example of chamber rock, at minimum equaling the modern output of their heroes Univers Zero, and possibly surpassing it.

Report this review (#273805)
Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars As a both closet-RIO fan and not so closed Flairck fan, I was recommended this album. And quite rightly so.

This album from these Belgium masters of RIO starts as a pure Zeuhl album before it turns around and venture into a folksy RIO territory. The opening track Indrigo sets the tone for the rest of this album. Aranis sounds like a twisted, darker version of Flairck on this album. More sinister, in fact. There is an undertone of brutalized darkness throughout this album. It is perhaps not an album worth playing in darkness. Nightmares may enter the sleep and you may spend the next hours being chased down by some angry rams....... and then you wake up in a bed, made into a swimming pool by your own perspiration. I will never do that mistake again.

The instruments on this album is acoustic and based on accordion, violin, double bass and some vocals. Flute and piano also plays a part here. The material is mostly dark and brooding. This album is not easy listening.

The problem is that although this album is a good album, it never raises beyond this level. There is no outstanding tracks here too. It is a solid debut album and nothing more. If you are a fan of this type of music, check this album out. I am satisfied, but not wildly happy.

3 stars

Report this review (#287967)
Posted Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars A bewitching blend between traditional central European folklore, structured with contemporary and old school classical music, tainted here and there with Piazzolla's like accordion riffs and a pinch of the Kronos Quartet's keen sense of string arrangements, topped with a perfect understanding of these musical roots in its music composition, as to transform them and propose a unique musical language which is fresh, daring and perfectly executed by ARANIS a Flemish acoustic septet, first 2005 release, named the same.

As their PA bio advises> "At times sounding like a mixture of Yann Tiersen and Clint Mansell. Think of "Amelie" meets "Requiem For A Dream".

Inevitable references if you are familiar with these soundtracks, but although helpful and exact, ARANIS creative range in this album goes beyond sounding just like that most of the time.

Setting this septet in PA's RiO/AV sub-genre seems the best choice considering its non-prog music songwriting and making it easier to explain to followers of these realms. So, I will add some genre related bands to explain in general the feeling of this release, therefore imagine a kind of a more serious Samla Mammas Manna crossed with Univers Zero's less obscure and more playful recent works.

***3.9 "Highly promising first release" PA stars.

Report this review (#1532876)
Posted Thursday, February 25, 2016 | Review Permalink

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