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Agusa - Prima Materia CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.26 | 54 ratings

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4 stars Swedish prog quintet Agusa has returned with their fifth album, Prima Materia, a lush collection of (mostly) instrumental psychedelic rock tunes. This record was my introduction to the band and their unique tonalities that ostensibly wave the prog and psyche banners. But what made this album so engaging and ultimately so successful to me were the incorporation of folk, symphonic prog, jazz, pop, and a host of world music melodies into a cohesive and enjoyable listening experience.

Even more than that, the songs featured on Prima Materia retained such distinct and evocative character, I felt tangible transpositional elements to each track. Prima Materia transports the listener on a metaphysical journey through primal emotional content, thanks to its thoughtfully crafted melodies, innovative arrangements, and commanding instrumental musicality.

"Lust och fägring (Sommarvisan)" (Passion And Beauty [Summer Song]), the fourteen-minute opening extravaganza, immediately connects with scorching Promethean defiance. A 12-string acoustic opener breaks into a melody driven by an uptempo jazzy guitar and flute. The organ takes the spotlight for a minute, developing its own musical themes while dueting with contrapuntal flute melodies. After a quick nod to Grieg's "In The Hall of the Mountain King", the song drops suddenly, only to reintroduce itself with some tasteful flamenco-influenced guitar lines. Returning to the main theme but with a slower and more soulful delivery, the tune really opens up and breathes. When the earlier tempo returns, the song is relishing in a triumphant sense of purpose and determination. As the organ swirls in a midtempo maelstrom for a spell, the bass and drums bring back the pace for the finale. Flute and guitar deliver us to a raucous conclusion, complete with a fakeout ending. As if we weren't quite ready to get off that ride. And we weren't.

"Under bar himmel" (Under Bare Skies) stresses a conversational but contentious musical tone, almost like a group of friends in passionate debate or heated argument. Shimmering, reverb-drenched guitar opens into a melancholic flute melody, establishing a dark, yearning plea. The flute's dialog contrasted alongside the organ and guitar flourishes produces an emotional interplay between all the melodies, a musical extrapolation of drive and compulsion between personalities. Almost like a flash of anger, the flute erupts with uptempo resolve, while the organ deftly responds in kind as the guitar brings its own perspective with its scorching wah-wah solo. All the while, the bass and drums skillfully lock down the groove, establishing the tableau for this musical standoff. The song develops into a series of acoustic guitar arpeggios which add an air of questioning futility. But all does not seem lost; the themes recapitulate in the end with a sense of musical unity. The cohesion may not signal hopeful resolution, but perhaps alignment and agreement.

"Ur askan" (Out of the Ashes) opens with a melody that is intangibly Beatlesque, a statement that evokes a McCartneyesque melody somewhere on the corner of Rubber Soul and Magical Mystery Tour. But then it shifts into something distinctly Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, specifically with the scorching guitar licks and organ and flute locked in duet. Adding further flavor to the mix, the bass and drums evoke Latin and Caribbean rhythms, generating an island (if not quite reggae) feel. The distinct elements fuse well together, creating a compelling exotic listen. The final act slows into more symphonic elements, with vocal elements introduced for the first time from flautist Jenny Puertas. This leads into a high-paced ending driven by freewheeling organ madness, the flute's centralizing assurance, and atmospherically spacey guitar chords. It's as if a phoenix rose from its ashes, circled the globe, and then launched itself into space.

Finally, "Så ock på jorden" (So also on Earth) opens with a distinct folky feel, with a jauntily strummed acoustic guitar and cheerful melodic vocalizations from Puertas and drummer Nicolas Difornis. The song then takes a bouncy pop feel, with the organ laying down a thick central riff around which the song revolves. It is worth mentioning that I try to avoid Jethro Tull references to any band that prominently features flute, but there's a strong Tull riff mid song that acts as the connecting tissue between verses. Anyway, this groove continues until about four minutes in, when the song returns to the feel of that pastoral opening. There is an undeniable beauty that characterizes this section, like a pleasant breeze or a casual drifting down a lazy river. The song continues in that vein; upping its sense of energetic ebullience, but never drifting far from that bucolic essence. As it concludes with the universal recognition of a newborn's cry, "Så ock på jorden" provides a euphoric ending to the album's primal journey.

I realize I'm constantly reiterating the "journey" imagery, but Prima Materia assuredly delivers a transporting experience throughout its runtime. The band delivers a strong collection of tunes with a tremendous sense of psychedelic and prog rock groove, melody, and airy playfulness. Prima Materia doesn't simply transport us to a place, but rather guides us through an experience. It's an unabashed musical tour-de-force through the human condition, a beating heart refracted through enchanting melodic content.

Hokeyboy | 4/5 |


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