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Mother Turtle - Zea Mice CD (album) cover

ZEA MICE

Mother Turtle

 

Heavy Prog

3.90 | 114 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The northern Greece septet Mother Turtle began life as a jam band in Thessaloniki, but those improvisational skills would stay dormant until the group recorded its third studio album in late 2017. After previously aping the efforts of too many English and American role models, the band shifted its entire approach to making music, and in the process accomplished something rare in modern Prog circles: they actually progressed, far enough to be almost unrecognizable from the same musicians responsible for the excellent but more conventional 'II' album in 2016.

It was a dramatic left turn in what could have been a predictable career arc, embracing a far more dangerous form of (strictly instrumental) musical spontaneity, risky in practice but more rewarding in realization. The motivations behind the unexpected shift in style are unclear, but it was a smart move: these guys work better as musicians than as songwriters, and "Zea Mice" proves that point in sometimes stunning fashion.

The first track ("Zea Mice Part 1-Kukuruzu") opens with all guns blazing, propelled by an angry, urgent rhythm more or less maintained for the rest of the album. The distorted (Russian?) voice at the beginning sets an appropriate mood, sounding to this cineaste like a Tarkovsky Stalker warning trespassers away from The Zone (the album's digital 'cover' photo of industrial decay only heightens this impression).

A hint of heavy Space Jazz juju emerges in the second half ("Zea Mice Part 1-#Cornhub": all the track titles are inscrutably repetitive), with ace violinist Alex Kiourntziadis leading the charge. The occasional near-ambient interlude ("Zea Mice Part 2-Zeitenlik") does nothing to soften the album's exhilarating momentum; it isn't until the end of the climactic 16-plus minute "Zea Mice Part 3-Nostos" that the energy level subsides, into a surprising (but not unwelcome) mellow jazz coda totally at odds with the musical juggernaut preceding it: the musical analogue of that pensive cigarette break after a night of intense sex.

My only criticism is about the sometimes haphazard organization and editing. Individual tracks often fade into a performance in progress, and are rarely resolved in anything like a satisfactory ending. As a result the music lacks the seamless transitions that would have elevated the album into 5-star territory, but it's a mild complaint, and easy to forgive while in the grip of the performances: more of a chokehold really, and impossible to resist.

Without a doubt the album was one of the highlights of 2018, and marked a significant musical evolution for the band over the span of only a few studio albums. Apparently, for this Turtle, slow and steady wasn't going to win any races.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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