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Azusa - Heavy Yoke CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.83 | 3 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars Challenging. Intriguing. Beautiful.

The first two adjectives can easily pair together, but throw the third one into the mix, and you have a fairly unorthodox mixture. Indeed the first time I heard this album, I wouldn't have thought that my eventual judgment of it would be as such, but the material is as emotionally compelling as it is intellectually stimulating.

I bought this album on a whim while I was looking for some more experimental metal to diversify my collection. And I certainly got what I was hoping for. Up to this point I hadn't heard anything comparable to this band's material. And I certainly hadn't heard anything so challenging, so demanding of repeated listens before "getting it" since Viljans Oga by Anglagard. But this certainly isn't symphonic prog with long form pieces. This is a brisk, dense, ripshod run through eleven engaging tracks of unapologetically extreme progressive thrash metal.

At first I wasn't sure if I'd like an album that was so short (only 34:10); with track so short and plentiful, I wasn't sure if the musicians would have enough time to develop their ideas. Usually techniques like motovic transformation require longer run times or bringing certain previously-heard themes back in later tracks. But instead of doing this, Azusa chose to juxtapose several unique, memorable ideas within the same song, connecting them in logical ways. The material itself is also very dense, and these transitions happen at such a fast pace that it makes the songs feel much longer than they actually are (in a good way). This material is played by top- caliber musicians whose chemistry is evidenced by the tight synchronicity they exhibit as they fluently play these challenging yet enjoyable passages.

When speaking about these musicians, it is important to mention the vocals. Eleni Zafiriadou is the first female vocalist I had heard perform in an extreme metal band, but her performance was truly captivating. I was very impressed by her versatility in utilizing so many vocal styles. Whether it was yelling, singing, speaking, or singing electronically-treated vocal passages, each passage was convincingly and masterfully executed. It was a pleasure to hear her, and my impression is that the band was thrilled to have the opportunity to feature her unique talents. The vocals are a prominent feature of pieces, but the instrumentalists themselves (who sport pedigrees from Extol and The Dillinger Escape Plan) contribute with engaging performances of exciting and varied material. It is a very cohesive album which demonstrates a group of musicians who seem to genuinely enjoy collaborating, in my opinion.

Lyrically speaking, this album is also compelling, exploring themes of struggle, stress, and Christian spirituality. The evocative texts are replete with imagery and expressivity which appropriately compliment the heavy and varied character of the music. Zafiriadou's versatile vocalizations match the individual lyrical lines, thus adding an element of "text painting" to the songs. This type of attention to detail augments the emotional authenticity and artistic depth of the songs.

Heavy Yoke is an album I consider essential to a well-rounded progressive rock collection, in spite of the polarizing nature of extreme metal. These songs combine memorable melodies, wildly shifting rhythmic patterns, contrasting sonic textures, unique harmonies, and moving vocals and lyrics to create a highly expressive, diverse album packed into an air-tight parcel. The album does require patience, as it is very challenging to digest all of its layers in one or two listens, but like many great progressive albums, it rewards repeated listens and committed investment. I give it 5 well-earned stars.

Neo-Romantic | 5/5 |


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