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Kotebel - Ouroboros CD (album) cover

OUROBOROS

Kotebel

Symphonic Prog


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Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is a glorious perpetuation of the sort of musical magnificence that we, Kotebel followers, have come to naturally expect from this excellent Spanish-Venezuelan ensemble - "Ouroboros" has to be one of the most outstanding symphonic prog releases in the year 2009, and why not, extensively in the new millennium. For this concept-album around a bunch of mythical figures, Kotebel operates as an all-instrumental quintet with featured room for dual keyboards, which means that the flute and female vocals are now absent in the band's sonic arsenal; but, in the end, the absence of these two items that had been so immensely relevant in the band's previous two efforts ("Fragments of Light" and "Omphalos") has been efficiently compensated by the remaining instrumentalists. The musical ideas remain equally inventive and the instrumental amalgamation continues to be grandiloquent in its infinite elegance. Indeed, this "Ouroboros" album is a total master opus for our current times' progressive rock scene worldwide. 'Amphisbaena' opens up the album with tenuous textures during its brief introductory theme, until the whole ensemble kicks off and settles in through the colorful display of the fusion-friendly motif. The combination of jazz-rock ambiences and Gentle Giant-ish tricks, when merged into the overall symphonic framework, results in an abrasive exhibition of excitement and grandeur. The interplaying among the two keyboardists is effectively massive, with virtuosic guitarist César García Forero spreading his eclectic input all over the place, complementing the keyboard developments and playing amazing leads. The piano-dominated passages during the track's last third states a proper expectation for the coda, wich starts ethereal and ends quite bombastic. A tremendous opener such as this can only be followed by a suite, and so Kotebel deliver the namesake track, which lasts 16+ minutes and comprises 7 sections. This intensely progressive journey is a constant climax of textures, orchestrations and controlled exhibitionist deliveries: the main motifs are clearly signaled, with variations and jams that go on succeeding each other in a perfectly fluid fashion. The melodic sense is brilliant, the harmonic sensibility is flawless, and both prove to be a demanding thing particularly in those passages in which the band uses a dynamic mixture of chamber-rock and jazz (i.e. 'Variation II'). 'Variation IV' is built on soaring atmospheres that may remind us a little of "Incantations"-era Oldfield, although the moment in which the lead guitar and drum kit settle in makes the track move toward momentary bizarre moods. The next 'Variation' is patently more evocative: it starts with a piano solo, then a soft orchestration is set in to evolve into a special climax, bombastic but not overdone. The punchy swing of 'Variation VII' gives way for a vibrant passage whose clever articulation allows to build a well-ordained crescendo, which ultimately leads to a 'Coda': this one culminates the overall suite's architecture on a melancholy note, yet evidently energetic in its own terms. Following this suite is a dirty job to do, but it is left to 'Satyrs' do it, and it does it by going to a different territory. 'Satyrs' is more guitar-orientated than the preceding two pieces, and it is less pompous as much as it is rockier. There is still much musical complexity to rely on while listening to this track: there is a funny tango-based interlude, for instance, and there is also a slow-paced psychedelic that provides an ounce of grayish density right before the splendid closure. The album perseveres in its wonderful majesty with the other suite, 'Simurgh', perhaps the most purely symphonic track in this catalogue: there are some Latin-jazz cadences utilized strategically in places, but they mostly serve as vortexes of varying dynamics to enrich the main motifs? developments within a consistent eclecticism. 'Behemoth' is quite awesome, a special favorite of mine. It bears a stylish tension that owes quite much to the Scandinavian standard of Crimson-inspired retro prog: the big beast after which this track is entitled meets an adequate musical portrait, featuring mellotron-like washes, eerie dissonant guitar phrases and a slow, heavy rhythmic scheme. The track's overall mood is surreal in the sense of a weird dream, almost mystic, consistently mysterious. The studio tracklist ends with 'Legal Identity V', plethoric and bombastic without any boundaries, which is reasonable since its 3+ minute span can clearly allow the musicians to think less about constraint and more about explicit expression? in typically progressive terms, of course. The bonus track is quite long, a live rendition of extracts from the "Mysticae Visiones" suite (from the namesake album) as it was delivered at the Gouveia Art 2007 festival. This item conveniently shows the listener all about the power and color that this band solidly displays in live performances; it is also a sweet reminder of the important input that the female vocals and flute used to offer to the band's whole framework in earlier times. All in all, and paying focusing my attention on the studio tracks exclusively, I?m prepared to give this album a 5 star rating. "Ouroboros" is indispensable in any good symphonic prog collection.
Report this review (#218593)
Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars Laced with exotic melodies and a quite naturally a Spanish flavor, this is a brilliant and wildly creative venture. The biggest downside for me are the disjointed arrangements- there's an awful lot of "start-stop" antics, particularly in the longer tracks that really interrupt the flow. However, the musicianship is top-notch, and there's so much to appreciate here. For those desiring something beyond run-of-the-mill symphonic music, this is a great acquisition.

"Amphisbaena" After a light synthesizer introduction, things get going. The Mellotron is something of a dissonant aspect to an already dissonant set of riffs, and I cannot help but think of the introductions to "Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes, and I even hear elements of Tales from Topographic Oceans when it stands alone at times. Later, dark piano, bass and drums provide the rhythm for a spiraling series of synthesizer runs.

"Ouroboros" For the lengthy title track, steady bass underlines lengthy notes on the guitar and Mellotron just prior to trickles of dual guitar and synthesizer. There are some jazz and fusion elements to this piece which arise unexpectedly, full of walking (almost running) bass and plenty of snappy drumming. Soon that sole Mellotron reenters, this time holding things down for menacing bass, electric guitar, and synthesizer leads, while the absence of the drums only serves to make it more alarming. The repetitive guitar runs do get annoying though. I think this piece runs far too long, but that still doesn't make it any less a reason to remain enthused.

"Satyrs" The bass stands out the most on this wild ride. While it serves the purpose of allowing the other instrumentalists to perform, the bass very often (usually during the transition to the next measures) lets rip an amazing riff or growling slide. The piano is the other standout instrument, adding something of a mild Latin flavor. Compositionally, I find little to like, though. The music is by and large all over the place and extremely difficult to follow. Furthermore, just when the music comes to a natural conclusion, there is a pause of a couple of seconds, and the band starts playing again, except it is rather unrelated to what came prior. In fact, during that last couple of minutes, it sounds like they are starting a new track about three or four times.

"Simurgh" Everything softens up a great deal on this lengthy track. The very prominent Mellotron is in choir mode . After a piano interlude, the tasteful guitar takes over, playing lengthy notes interspersed with speedy, but subtle runs. Altogether, this is another somewhat disjointed track, but somehow the musicianship makes up for it, especially in the piano and synthesizer department. Drummers and drum-lovers should appreciate the solid work and few solos throughout.

"Behemoth" Plucked acoustic guitar carries on while some dissonant sounds work on top of it, but while those sounds suddenly stop, the disharmonious nature of the music does not. Electric guitar and high-pitched synthesizer. The piece is loaded with Mellotron, piano, and whistling synthesizer, but it retains a devilish air, full of minor and diminished chords.

"Legal Identity v1.5" This short piece begins softly, mainly led by percussion, but eventually is likewise feverish and dark-sounding, this time with synthesizer and what sounds like a thin chapel organ running over a hellish piano. I don't care for this composition much at all, but thankfully, it's a rather brief foray.

"Mysticae Visiones" The jazzy fare returns here, with each instrumentalist taking a short turn to solo. The guitar solo following the jazz is a noteworthy shred-fest, full of lightning-fast playing that suddenly slows down to gentle swells over washes of that seemingly ever-present Mellotron. The bass in the rhythm role is outstanding, managing to play the same few riffs over with subtle variations that keep it fresh and interesting. The only voice on the album is a wistful one that comes from an enchanting female over gentle piano. The piece is really two pieces, I think, because of the lengthy break in between, during which the audience applauds the band's performance. And then the band stops and starts again, just as the fade starts, which seems a tad silly, given that this is a live track, after all.

Report this review (#229349)
Posted Saturday, August 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I had luck to get this album quite close to the release date. Thanks to the archives I saw it on the new album list, clicked into the band site, and realized that the band previous album, 'Omphalos' is now pressed on (limited addition) vinyl! I grabbed it immediately, and added the new one into the shipment. And how I glad I didn't wait too much before purchasing and listening, (what unfortunately does not occur very often, because of reasons such as lack of time, money, and endless wishlist).

The album deals with ancient, mythological creatures. Each track is dedicated to one creature. The album art work contains clear paint of every animal, with a short explanation. It is really rewarding to realize how well they manage to describe each creature, in composition and execution, in an all-instrumental album, without any lyrics or vocals to emphasize.

The best example and the prominent composition may be the title track 'Ouroboros'. To describe this ancient cycle snake, the musical form of theme and variations have been chosen. The variations spread between many styles and moods, from jazz to funky/disco, from quite to stormy, and the theme is worth repeating on. This track alone is worth purchasing the album. BTW anyone who wish to get to know this musical form of theme and variations in the prog neighborhood, recommended to listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber's variations on the famous Paganini theme.

Another composition, and a very atmospheric one is 'Behemoth', featuring heavy mellotron- like, acoustic guitars and wonderful guitar soloing, in slow, heavy mood. Personally I would like to have more drums presence in the mix and probably also in playing. And I'm not a person who would normally complain about lack of drums.

Most of the compositions are written by Carlos Plaza, the keyboardist of this band, (along with his wife Adriana). One exception is 'Satyrs', written by guitarist César García Forero. While Forero's compositions does not stand on the same league as Plaza's ones, nevertheless I can't reject too much to the excellent heavy bass and guitar riffs, the amusing tango in the middle, or the funny d-tuned organ in the background.

Kotebel does not feature in this album flutiest and female vocalist, as in the previous albums. While they manage very well to make an excellent instrumental album, still I missed the flute here, especially when played by very skilful flutist Omar Acosta. There is some flute - like sounds performed on the synths, but definitely it's not the same.

But this absence does not disturb too much to the final results, especially for those who don't know (yet?) the entire discography of this band. The overall execution, sound and production is better than before, the keyboards work is tighter, and guitarist César García Forero gets a larger room and utilize it very well. Overall this album is much more groovy and rockier than the previous. So in addition to everyone else, I would recommend it particular for those of you who did not feel comfortable with the classical attitude of the previous albums, as reflected from some Omphalos reviews here.

In my opinion, Kotebel is one of the few who manage to deliver a fresh, up-to-date, original progressive rock.

Report this review (#231552)
Posted Friday, August 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars With Ouroboros Spanish symphonic proggers Kotebel have delivered one of the outstanding releases of 2009. An improvement over their previous studio album Omphalos, which while being good, was marred by operatic female vocals which were a bit overpowering for me. They only briefly appear at the end of the album here, the rest of it being instrumental. Ouroboros is darker sounding creating more musical tension than its predecessor and with a harder sound.

The seven compositions including three pieces around the 15 minute mark are complex, dense and atmospheric, skilfully executed with lots of dynamics where the powerful interplay between electric guitar, keyboards and the versatile rhythm section gives way to melancholic restraint. The music constantly shifts through varying themes and time changes with pleasing melodies, always maintaining the listeners' interest.

There's no doubting the musical pedigree of these excellent players as they create their largely symphonic prog with some fusion thrown in for good measure. I'm reminded to some extent of Syrinx only with electric guitars replacing the acoustic favoured by the French quartet.

Ouroboros is an album I've constantly returned to over the last few months, never tiring of it. A great one to turn out the lights and chill out to. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#243223)
Posted Tuesday, October 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Spanish progrock band Kotobel prooves that almost 40 years after the birth of the progressive rock, bands are still able to make progressive rock in the true meaning of the word!' In 2017 Kotebel released their latest (7th) album entitled Cosmology , this is a look at their fifth, my favourite one, entitled Ouroboros.

Well, from the very first moment I am absolutely delighted about Ouroboros and every listening session I got more excited, what an excellent blend of symphonic rock and jazzrock (with some avant-garde sidesteps)! The six studio tracks contain very inventive arrangements (evoking the great spirit of Gentle Giant) with a lot of tension and dynamics, the interplay between the musicians is awesome and we can enjoy many strong musical ideas. The powerful and propulsive rhythm-section, fiery electric guitar and majestic violin-Mellotron waves remind me of 1974-era King Crimson. But Kotebel sounds less dark and aggressive, more in the vein of the King Crimson inspired bands that emerged in Sweden in the Nineties like Anglagard, Anekdoten and White Willow. On this new album I would like to emphasize the ingredients that in my opinion makes listening to Ouroboros to such a captivating musical experience. First the excellent interplay between the musicians, second the huge tension between the guitar and the keyboards and third the exciting breaks, build-ups, accellarations and shifting moods. Never a dull moment. The one moment a swinging rhythm with powerful bass and fiery electric guitar or an intro with tender Grand piano and sensitive electric guitar. The other moment a tight rhythm with powerful jazz rock oriented guitar and propulsive drum beats. Or from a splendid build-up from dreamy with xylophone, acoustic guitar and choir-Mellotron to bombastic with heavy work on drums, guitar and keyboards. The focus on this album is a bit more on the interplay between the harder-edged guitar and the energetic and dynamic rhythm-section. But I would like to mention the outstanding way the two keyboard players colour the compositions: from tender Grand piano, a soaring strings sound, ominous violin-Mellotron waves, spacey synthesizer sounds and impressive choir-Mellotron eruptions to spectacular synthesizer flights, sparkling piano and lush violin-Mellotron waves. Especially in the short track Legal Identity V1.5 I am blown away by the virtuosic interplay between the swinging piano and majestic church-organ-like sound. This CD ends with the long (around 16 minutes) and varied live bonus track entitled Mysticae Visiones (recorded at the Portuguese Gouveia Festival in 2007) featuring singer Carolina Prieto with her high pitched voice along lots of variety and strong solos on guitar and keyboards.

What a fantastic new album, check out their website to listen to extracts of this exciting and captivating album!

For those who want to discover more of the captivating and overlooked Spanish progressive rock, here are my recommendations (from neo-prog and fusion to symphonic rock and Rock Andaluz).

The compilations Rockandalus (1-CD), Duende Electrico (2-CD) Hijos Del Agobio Y Del Dolor (2-CD + DVD).

The collaboration of flamenco guitarists with progrock musicians by Juan Martin - Picasso Portraits (featuring Simon Phillips, Tony Hymas and Ian Mosley), Sabicas - Rock Encounter With Joe Beck (featuring Tony Levin) and Diego De Moron - Same (with members from Triana and Granada).

Rock Andaluz bands Triana, Iman, Mezquita, Azahar, Medina Azahara, Cai, Alameda and Guadalquivir.

And Spanish prog bands (past and present) Iceberg, Granada, Itoiz, Fusioon, PI2, Bijou, Dr. No, Senogul, Taifa, Albatros and The Paco De Lucia Sextet (awesome prog folk). Muchas alegrias!

Report this review (#1914160)
Posted Friday, April 13, 2018 | Review Permalink

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