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Yugen - Death By Water CD (album) cover





3.85 | 137 ratings

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4 stars Yugen is an Italian R.I.O/Avant-garde chamber prog collective formed back in 2004 who cite Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Frank Zappa and Thinking Plague among others as initial influences, with a large ensemble of players present on their latest recording `Death by Water', arriving four years after their intense and defining live instrumental recording `Mirrors' in 2012. The current line-up boasts the participation of musicians and singers from a diverse range of (mostly experimental) Italian projects such as Nichelodeon, Not a Good Sign, Ske, Homunculus Res and Gran Turismo Veloce, even French group Loomings and Greek band Ciccada, and it not only contains all the maddening, splintering musical spasms that race about in endless directions of their past works, but a few welcome thoughtful and moody unhurried ruminations to break up the frantic energy.

From the opening seconds, Yugen founder, composer and guitarist Francesco Zago (a complete universe away from the I.Q/Genesis-modelled Night Watch band that he initially played in long ago, although the album is hardly guitar-dominated) and his musical friends tear into the schizophrenic `Clinically Correct', a grinding and playfully malevolent noisy f*ck-snap explosion that sounds like a bomb going off, but it's also deliciously and completely delirious! It's a storm of violent guitar splinters, pounding drums, manic vibraphone, unravelling synth spirals, Zeuhl-ish bass grumbles, creeping sax, twitching female vocal ticks and skittering programming, with every musician offering demented little fills throughout this addictive free- form mental disintegration! The nightmarish and gleefully wicked `As-Matter-Of-Death' somehow lurches into fleeting dirty grooves amongst deranged operatic trills, shadowy gothic piano doom, crashing percussion stabs, wild drum tantrums and a lengthy dark-ambient drone in the second half that all together sounds like the Devil's symphony, but the aggressive senses- shredding female vocal convulsions of `Der Schnee' are likely to engage and enrage in equal measure!

There's also several little interlude pieces that run from 1-2 minutes - `Undermurmur' is a breakdown of infernal tinkling piano, pumping horns and runaway synth ripples, the brief but snarling `Ten Years After' comes the closest to a heavy metal blast, `Studio #9' is loopy and psychedelic jazzy playfulness, sure enough `Drum N' Stick' is a Chapman stick and drum musing over droning soundscapes, and `A House' is a fragile reflective acoustic ballad to close the disc in a gently melancholic manner.

Yet for all the musical multiple-personalities leaping about, it's the pieces that are more focused and slowly build a careful atmosphere that deliver some of the most striking moments, such as `As It Was', a pristine piano and plaintive vocal reflection with a searing Mellotron rise. But perhaps best of all is the sumptuous title track, grand and deeply emotional with Post Rock echoes, a melancholic instrumental of tense acoustic chiming and reaching early Pink Floyd weeping guitar strains over haunting piano and subtle percussion that grows and falls back and forth with restrained power.

The musically discordant, impeccably-performed experimentation of `Death by Water' will ensure it's another divisive release as always for Yugen. If your preferred idea of Italian progressive music only extends to the melodic RPI groups that perform in a theatrical and symphonic manner such as Le Orme, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and P.F.M, then it might be wise to avoid this disc. But if your brain is wired in a way that responds to the challenging, genre-shattering music of groups from that country like Area, Stormy Six and the works of Claudio Milano, `Death by Water' is waiting to destroy and test your understanding of the term `progressive music', and it's an essential purchase for the R.I.O/Avant crowd and lovers of demanding and ambitious music.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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