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Estradasphere - Palace Of Mirrors CD (album) cover





4.24 | 108 ratings

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5 stars This album is a journey. That's a phrase that gets used a lot, but I struggle to think of an occasion it's been a more appropriate descriptor than for this masterpiece. Estradasphere manages to combine orchestral music, metal, jazz, electronica, folk, noise, and even surf rock (as well as pretty much anything else you can think of) into one cohesive trip. You won't know where you're going on the voyage that this album takes you on, but I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy your travels.

"Title," at only about a half a minute, is really just an introduction. Some interesting electronics set the scene very nicely though, and when the strings and piano of "Palace of Mirrors" come in there's already a very nice contrast established. This title track is really a stellar piece of music, with compelling melodies and orchestration that remind one of a classical overture. I must confess that the first time I heard this song I was very surprised; I think that the label of "avant-garde" often carries a certain connotation for people, but despite the label "Palace of Mirrors" is an incredibly gorgeous song that has more in common with folk and classical music than with the occasionally hard to digest "typical" avant sound (oxymoronic as that phrase may be).

"A Corporate Merger" begins on a decidedly jazzier note, though there's a decidedly European folk vibe as well. In fact, though my experience with the music of Ennio Morricone is very limited, I can hear resemblances to his music here. Violin is a dominant presence for much of the track, with frenetic, virtuosic playing and, like "Palace of Mirrors" a strong sense of melody throughout. The structure is very jazzy, with various instruments soloing over a more or less consistent drum and bass line throughout the course of the track, and I have to say the playing on these solos is some of the most compelling I've ever heard. The sound is incredibly tight as well, with all the musicians sounding completely in sync. This is especially true towards the end, as the tempo quickly increases to a light-speed fever pitch, and yet, the listener never gets the feeling that the musicians are sweating. An incredibly well-performed piece of music, "A Corporate Merger" really shows that the members of Estradasphere are nothing if not extremely competent musicians.

"The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" starts off on a much more melancholic note, no less gorgeously melodic but certainly more subdued than "A Corporate Merger." However, this all changes around the 1 minute mark as the track switches into a brilliant pastiche of beach rock and vintage, 50s sounding pop. It's an incredibly evocative combination that suggests images of old-fashioned convertibles cruising along a coastal road, and it really just evokes a kind of longing for a simpler time.

"Colossal Risk" takes another abrupt left turn, starting off with a slinky melody that wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack to The Godfather. However, the track again drastically switches its sound after about a minute, changing into what sounds like a combination of Dick Dale and a bombastic Modest Mussorgsky piece. There's a softer section towards the middle of the track as well that features lush, gorgeous strings and some wordless, almost operatic female vocals. Horns feature prominently for much of the track as well, and "Colossal Risk" ends up being incredibly varied track even by the high standards already set by the album.

"The Unfolding Pause On The Threshold" begins on a much more explicitly experimental note, with a variety of electronic effects creating a very unsettling atmosphere. Percussion takes on a very prominent role, pounding through the sound effects while still working with them to create a very heavy, insistent pseudo-melody. The combination of percussion and electronics creates an almost industrial feel, and the track as a whole is a drastic but still totally appropriate break from the strong melodic themes of most of the previous tracks. It really is impressive how many different genres Estradasphere is able to incorporate seamlessly into the album, and I think that's really a testament to the strength of their compositional abilities.

"Smuggled Mutation" has a rather idiosyncratic beginning, with a violin part that sounds raw and wavering in contrast to the lush strings that permeate most of the other tracks. However, the track quickly launches into an insanely frenetic motif, with lightning-fast violin playing and heavy guitar parts that almost have thrash metal overtones. The violin and guitar play off of each other brilliantly, and some minimally but brilliantly used horns give the track a kind of insane carnival feel. In addition, the technical proficiency here is very impressive as well, and while that's not (by itself) what makes the track so good it is a nice little bonus.

Speaking of carnival music, "Six Hands" also makes excellent use of that sort of motif, with a playful toy piano sound and some excellent folky melodies as well. However, at just over a minute it's more of an interlude than anything, though a very good one.

Next up is "The Debutante," which, despite any labels you want to put on Estradasphere's music, is nothing less than beautiful. With gorgeous, bittersweet melodies and numerous heart-wrenchingly emotive horn solos, this track has probably brought me closer to tears more times than any other piece of music I can think of. Something about it is just so incredibly evocative that I can't help but be blown away every time I hear it.

"Flower Garden Of An Evil Man," on the other hand, is the complete opposite. With rumbling, ominous drones taking up most of the first two minutes, the track is just as sinister as "The Debutante" was moving. Even when a more standard melody does come in, it sounds incredibly dark and knotty compared to the wide-open previous track. Despite that, it's still a very evocative track in its own right, with a climatic, cinematic feel that wouldn't sound out of place over the finale of an action movie. A brief, distorted section in the final third of the track breaks up this motif a bit, but the track finishes grandly before fading to a distorted electronic drone.

"Those Who Know" turns to a totally different source for melodic inspiration, with a decidedly eastern feel. Violin is again at the forefront, and the track on the whole sounds much more carefree and lighthearted than either of the previous two, with multiple breakdowns that almost have a bluegrass feel to them. Another awesome horn part makes an appearance as well, as does an amazingly orchestrated section towards the end. As a result, the end of the track feels incredibly climactic, as horns, strings, and even some wordless chants coalesce into one grand sound.

"Palace of Mirrors Reprise" is exactly what it sounds like, and it's everything a reprise should be. Drastically switching up the instrumentation while keeping the same melodic line really gives the album a sense of holistic power, as it really makes the listener feel as if upon returning to the same place they began they can see it totally differently for having taken the journey. Not content to ever let the listener feel completely in control of the situation, however, the end track spirals into a veritable wall of sound, with pulsing drones and distorted sound clips both disorienting the listener and preparing them for the final track.

?And what a finale it is. After completing the journey that is this album, "The Return" is a crashing conclusion that reminds the listener of everything great about the album. Heavy guitars interlace with insane violins, melodies clash with pounding riffs and beauty combines with pure, unadulterated aggression to create an absolute monster of a track. A stunner of a finale for what is certainly a stunner of an album.

Don't be afraid of the avant-garde label. As I've hopefully been able to convey, this is an incredibly melodic album in spite of its rampant experimentalism. This is really an album that deserves to be on any list of modern masterpieces, and with its genre bending and strict avoidance of predictability, it's the very definition of progressive music.


VanVanVan | 5/5 |


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