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Estradasphere - It's Understood CD (album) cover





4.04 | 61 ratings

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4 stars There must be a reason I haven't reviewed the discography of Estradasphere. I believe for a time the band didn't have a page on this site.

Yeah, that had to have been the reason, because there is no excuse not to give these guys a listen.

There are two key factors I always use to grade prog albums: innovation and accessibility. Sure, prog music isn't written to hit the billboard charts, but no one is going to listen to Karlheinz Stockhausen's music because it's got a catchy chorus. I've played and listened to many contemporary pieces in college, and although musically and technically they're groundbreaking pieces, once you hear them once, you're not likely going to want to hear them again in the near future. So if you're going to do prog right, make sure its prog you want to come back to over and over again.

That's why the Beatles shook the world with "Sgt. Pepper", each song had a different texture or culture or influence that broke the norm, but each one was catchy and memorable. It completely rewrote the possibility of what music can achieve. From psychedellic, to classic British marching bands to raga to circus music to teary soundtrack string quartets, nearly every musical influence under the sun could be found on that album. The same of which can be said of Estradasphere's albums.

Which is why even during its (relatively) brief tenure, Estradasphere is on of the greatest prog outfits to walk this planet. Bar none.

What other band incporates elements of middle eastern and Turkish music with jazz, surf rock, death metal and video game chip tune music, and actually gets you coming back to listen to it over and over again? Go ahead, I'll wait. In the meantime, I'll wax poetic on their debut album.

Right away, the band comes in with a bang with their 19 minute colossus "Hunger Strike" (the longest song off any of their albums btw). Immediately the Turkish/middle eastern elements come in with Timb Harris's violin, but for the most part this track is very jazz oriented, with multiple sections for each instrumentalist to strut their stuff, like a cool jazz guitar solo by Jason Schimmel that segues into a cool funky flamenco groove. John Whooley's sax is ever present and rips like no one else. Throw in a few seconds of banjo and a few seconds of spastic grindcore beats and you've got yourself a winner. To cool you off after that monstrosity, "Cloud Land" takes you on a 1 minute time capsule back to your Super Mario Bros. playing days (because let's face it, everyone played one of those games at least once).

"The Transformation" is a bit looser with the influences. It's a bit funkier, perhaps even livelier than "Hunger Strike" at times, it's jazzier, it's got cuts of classic 50's soundtrack influences, and even breaks out into full out swing, capping off with a phenomenal display of drums by Dave Murray to close out the song.

The lengthy titled "Dance of Tosho and Slavi / Randy's Desert Adventure" once again goes cultural on us, this time veering more towards Jewish and Greek influences before cutting into early Mastodon-ish metal, verging on full on blastbeats with Whooley wailing and screeching away on the sax like it was a Mars Volta song. This is just loud and busy. It erupts into a flurry of screaming and growling before Whooley's sax fades into a soft, jazz-rock interlude before the metal chords kick in again in a more controlled march before the song closes with a reprise of the opening Jewish/Greek theme.

In case you got tired of all the middle eastern or foreign influences, "The Trials and Tribulations of Parking On Your Front Lawn" goes full bluegrass. Yes. Bluegrass. With some sax, because why the hell not? Oh, and some death metal. For like 30 seconds. Because again, why the hell not? (Sidebar: Schimmel SHREDS the banjo)

Sure, there are some cuts here and there that are very abrupt, but the songs are still listenable, still melodic. Ok, if you're not a big fan of death metal, you may get turned off a bit, but there's no denying the fact that a) these guys are all talented as hell and b) nothing you've ever heard sounds like this and nothing even remotely comes close. "The Princes" is a quick dance of sorts, "Los Dias Sin Dias" is a Spanish influenced ballad, "XQuiQ" is another middle eastern groove with a bit of a side-step kind of beat, while "Hunnahpu and Xbalanque" continues the trend with a banjo lead. I like to consider these four tracks all part of a four movement suite as they all share the same musical influences and for the most part segue nicely into each other.

"Spreading The Disease" is the only iffy one of the lot. It's basically a death metal track build around a sort of yogi meditative thing, although I think lyrically it underpins more religious elements and possibly even hints at rape? It constantly segues between meditative music and death metal breakdown and there's no real synergy or smooth transitions, and overall just feels very uncomfortable to listen to, and that's ok because it's followed by "Planet Sparkle/Court Yard Battle 1", so the happy video game vibes come back and everything's ok! Yay!

This phenomenal groundbreaking album concludes with the second monstrosity "D(b) Hell", clocking in at around 12 minutes, and once again roots around middle eastern dance traditions with some loose jazz improv. Overall it's quieter than "Hunger Strike", and it ends with just annoying noises and screams by the band members and random audience applause thrown in at the end.

So yes, it has its flaws, yes, it's not for everyone, and no, I didn't give it a 5 star despite my raving about it because of these little foibles. It's the abrupt transitions into death metal breakdowns and random noises and clips they throw in that just throw off the whole momentum. That said, it is their first album, and it's more middle eastern/turkish heavy than say "Buck Fever", but it's still the groundwork for an incredible band that released 4 albums in only 6 years. It's an outlier in the world of prog music, groundbreaking musically and culturally, but still listenable, and begs you to come back again and again to hear something new you missed last listen.


Wicket | 4/5 |


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