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Kaukasus - I CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.92 | 113 ratings

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4 stars Kaukasus is one of those albums that completely threw me for a loop, unable to get my creative juices flowing and write a decent review. I had little difficulty in admiring all the sundry elements that jump out so obviously at first glance, such as the background of the storied musicians involved, the cool Nordic gleam of the music and the murky yet compelling artwork. The seven mid-sized tracks are drenched in copious amounts of mellotron, sultry electronic detailing and solid rhythmic propulsion. So why all this procrastination? Well, the main reason is that it's all quite experimental and yet commercially endowed, a collision between the concrete and the unreal that can really complicate the description of the music that is unleashed to the unsuspecting audiophile. There is a song within each song, some sonic exploration that is quite unexpected and stunning, making for a rather complex assumption on the merits of this project. Rhys Marsh, Mattias Olsson and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen have concocted a rather unusual mixture of styles and sounds, many beyond the scope of comfortable prog (surges into electronic soundscapes, mystifying world music tendencies and odd instrumental observations). Individually the pieces are exploratory and significantly adventurous.

"The Ending of the Open Sky" is a great song but as an opener, it asks more questions than one could possibly hope for and deal with. Brooding and chaotic in that very pristine Norse sense that we all enjoy, the syncopated almost primal urgency expressed by the Olsson drums blends nicely with the bombastic synthesizer cascades, the suppliant voice of singer Marsh that winks at Landberk's Patrik Helje and some dark and somber atmospheres.

A colossal masterpiece like the nearly 9 minute "Lift the Memory" is of world class pedigree, a true wizard of a track that settles comfortably into the brain and provides immediate and incredible pleasure. The lead vocal is particularly exalted, a wispy drugged-up cottony wail, loaded with unbridled pain and serenity. Marsh is a truly first class vocalist, as well as a supplier of guitars, bass and keyboards. Mattias Olsson spares little effort in bashing long and hard as only he can. Einarsen then infuses some Eastern/Asian tendencies that shoot for the distant stars before a brutal bass and drum attack reintroduces that plaintive and soaring theme.

"In the Stillness of Time" and "Starlight Motion" are twin and blending tracks that combine to keep a similar style and yet compelling enough to visit new musical galaxies. The first has an almost piano-led Joe Jackson jazzy urban cool a la "Stepping Out", with subtle electro colorations and a downright sweet Rhys Marsh vocal. Mellotron squalls enter the fray only to heighten the anguish, the bombast equally up to the task. The latter half is interesting in that there are some cavernous ambient passages, ultra-electronic scapes laden with effects and veiled voices as well as more conventional prog details to keep the edge honed and sharp. There are slight hints of Eno, Can and various similar audio-experimentalists.

The mellotron-shrouded "Reptilian" shakes the tree and veers off into another zone, perhaps more immediate and pulsating than the previous, more ambient pieces. Syncopated and oblique, the coiling arrangement has as much dissonance as it has direction, a gruesome desolation at times that hint at the deepest abyss, seduced by some fluttering flute expectation. This is a combination of profound, jarring and unsettling melancholia, yet also quite romantically seductive and appealing in a way. Hard to finger it in simple terms but its smart music to say the least.

"The Witness provides the answer" aches the despondent voice of Mister Marsh, a gloomy and solemn piece that flirts with late Talk Talk/Mark Hollis minimalism. Echoing pools of light, lugubrious shadows that momentarily shroud the view, a solitary flute searching out some respite and a timeless sense of escape are all characteristics that leap out from the speakers.

"The Skies Give Meaning" shuts this one down, an 8 minute escapade fueled by some manic drumming and lush percussion work, a slowly building vortex of emotions and rhythmic splendour. Half way in, the mood intensifies to the point of volcanic explosion, a psychotic Marsh howling like a midnight wolf, violent, disturbed and angry. If you like your prog dark and shadowy, Kaukasus is where you need to travel to.

I see this as autumnal music, which may explain why the sunny and hot summer did not bring out all the intoxicating aromas and delicate flavors of this Norwegian debut. A difficult indoctrination perhaps at the outset but repeated patient returns will flesh this fine release out to anyone's satisfaction.

4 central Asias.

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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