Album Reviews

Issue 2015-081

Gazpacho - Molok - Round Table Review

Gazpacho - Molok
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:37
Track List:
Park Bench (6:44), The Master's Voice (4:08), Bela Kiss (2:45), Know Your Time (6:07), Choir of Ancestors (4:44), ABC (3:26), Algorithm (3:11), Alarm (3:54), Molok Rising (9:38)
Patrick McAfee's Review
As a long time fan of Marillion, Gazpacho is a band that I became familiar with several years ago. Some of their material was interesting to me at the time, but overall I found them to be somewhat redundant of Marillion, and their albums a bit similar in style. I hadn't heard anything from the band in a while, so I entered Molok with a level of curiosity.

The comparisons to more atmospheric Marillion can still be made, but there is uniqueness to this album that I hadn't heard previously from Gazpacho. In fact, upon first listen, I found myself becoming more and more impressed as the album continued. Both the song writing and production is at a high quality, plus there is a definite confidence in the performances that I hadn't heard on their previous releases. This is not an in-your-face kind of band, and there is a subtlety that runs throughout the album's nine tracks. That said, the arrangements, vocals and instrument choices are consistently engaging.

As good albums often do, Molok rewards repeated listens. There is an intricacy and a flow to its songs that results in a consistently good listen, from beginning to end, and to such a level, that calling out highlight tracks is quite difficult. Yes, there are some moments that stick out, such as the entertaining, Klezmer-like interludes on Bela Kiss, the effective female vocals on Choir of Ancestors, the infectious chorus of ABC or the chant-vocal-like build of Algorithm. Overall though, this is truly a recording that is best suited to complete listens. Each track is essential, and though the album is on the shorter end of things, its length feels just right.

Ultimately, everything feels just right about Molok. It is a pretty fantastic album and a wholly convincing statement from a band that I admittedly may have misjudged a bit. It has definitely inspired me to catch up with some of their more recent albums that I previously overlooked.

Coming up with a top 10 albums of 2015 is starting to look more and more challenging as the year progresses. Regardless, I can safely say that this latest release from Gazpacho will be somewhere on that list. As a prog fan, nothing beats the opportunity to discover wonderful albums like this. I wouldn't say that I was surprised by the quality contained here, as I knew that Gazpacho was a talented band. That said, there is a creative drive to Molok that clearly represents a band at the top of their game.

That is especially impressive considering that this is their ninth studio release. It is a work of passion and quiet intensity that is impactful, compelling and extremely entertaining. In summary, the best way to end this review is to say: 'Highly Recommended'.
Geoff Feakes' Review
It's been six years since my last Gazpacho review, the rather good Tick Tock album (2009), although to be honest I've given scant attention to their output since then. High time therefore to reacquaint myself with the band, especially as their last release Demon (2014) received such high praise from my colleagues.

Like many of Gazpacho's previous albums there is a concept behind Molok (and its obscure title) which I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain here, beside which I would probably do the band an injustice. Suffice to say you can investigate yourself by visiting their website. The music is equally ambiguous, going to places rarely frequented by progressive rock (although in Gazpacho's case the prog tag is open to debate, with art rock being perhaps a more suitable label).

Uncompromising and sometimes intense, the music is often brooding and melancholic, although there are some unexpected twists and turns along the way. Take Bela Kiss , the album's liveliest track (although it has little in the way of competition in that department) which inexplicably breaks into what could easily pass as a traditional Russian folk dance. The album gets off to a low-key start however with the slow burning Park Bench, which pretty much sets the tone for what follows. Deeply earnest vocals, piano, violin and a snatch of choral voices inform the listener in no uncertain terms that this is music to be taken seriously.

There is an air of vulnerability about Jan-Henrik Ohme's singing at times (sounding not unlike Steve Hogarth), which suits the music well, as does the band's economical playing. Gratuitous displays of virtuosity are unnecessary here, just good, solid musicianship with Kristian Torp's bass and Lars Erik Asp's drums especially convincingly upfront in the mix, adding a welcome edge to the otherwise sombre ambiance that pervades the album.

Led by Jon-Arne Vilbo's searing guitar lines, Know Your Time has a haunting quality and perhaps the album's strongest vocal hook, concluding with a short but poignant violin theme from Mikael Krømer. For consistency however, Choir Of Ancestors is for me the pick of the crop, with a hypnotic quality that's hard to ignore.

Elsewhere the songs have their moments, but come and go without leaving any lasting impression and often feel like half-finished ideas. The concluding and disappointing Molok Rising is the most obvious example. Despite Thomas Andersen's atmospheric keys and the Middle Eastern overtones (a re-occurring theme throughout the album) it mostly squanders its near 10-minute running time.

The album clocks in at a very lean 45 minutes, which is by no means a bad thing, avoiding as it does the excess of bands like Transatlantic and Dream Theater. Ultimately however I found it difficult to fully engage with Molok, lacking as it does the charm I recall of Tick Tock. There is also a shortage of memorable melodies. Being moody and mysterious is fine, it's what Gazpacho does well, but a good tune is always welcome.

If I had to use colour as an analogy in describing Molok, it would be a kind of dark grey with occasional (but all too few) splashes of reds and blues. Personally I prefer a broader, more colourful palette, and as such this is not an album I'm likely to return to that often.
Kevin Heckeler's Review
Having never heard anything by Gazpacho, I'm intended to be the 'control' in this round table review. Lately my progressive interests are leaning towards the more modern and harder side of the genre. However, I'm a fan of good music in all forms, so when the call went out for the round table, I eagerly signed on.

One thing that became very clear to me is that this album sounds much better on headphones than in the car, where I listened the first five times. There's a lot of gentle musical elements, random light drum taps and delicate instruments hard-panned that were lost to road noise. It's a good reminder that intricate/detail-oriented music must be listened to in ideal conditions to be most appreciated. Aside from the unappealing over-compression on ABC, the production is one of the album's many strong points. It elevates the subtlety.

Musically the band is languid. When they do kick it up-a-notch it comes off as theatrical, where they may have intended it to be 'energetic'. There's an absence of lead instrumentation and heavy riffing. The genius (yes, I dare call it that) is in the details. If you want to be wowed by a thousand notes a second, this isn't going to fill your cup. But if you're looking to immerse yourself in an other-worldly soundscape, then there's no shortage of pleasure here.

Jan-Henrik Ohme's vocal delivery, range and timbre is reminiscent of what would have resulted as the unlikely progeny between Amy Winehouse and Thom Yorke. It is often breathy, sometimes melodramatic (Choir of Ancestors, Alarm), and occasionally very dark (Know Your Time). I found his vocal is matched perfectly to the compositions and is generally the standout element on each track, partly due to the lack of lead instrumentation to steal the show, but more likely the result of the overall quality of his performance. It is a welcome change to hear such a capable vocalist deliver the goods consistently, confidently, creatively, and emotively. Unfortunately the lyrics are a mixed bag (what I could make out of them, there was no booklet provided).

The album is a sum of its many pretty parts. My ambivalent first impression became a distant memory, as I dove deeper with each listen, until the music eventually connected. Once I set aside the proper time and space in my life to allow the recording to be absorbed, it paid back handsomely.
James R Turner's Review
Most bands are happy enough trashing hotel rooms and destroying TVs, but this isn't enough for Gazpacho, as their latest album Molok contains, in part of the final track, a small piece of code that generates a random number. If that number corresponds to the actual position of all the electrons in the universe, then technically the universe could be destroyed. Beats driving a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool doesn't it?

Mind you Gazpacho has always been more theoretical than visceral, the musical equivalent of the quiet kid at the back of the classroom who then invents the internet whilst at university.

Not for these guys songs merely about boy meets girl. Oh no, they love high concept, and this is as high as it comes. Named after the biblical demon that crunches children between its teeth, Molok tells the story of a man wanting to believe in God, but only if God exists, and so he builds a machine that replicates the universe from birth to death, and calls it Molok.

There's obviously a lot more going on than just that, and the same applies to the band themselves. This is their sixth concept piece in a row, and is the follow up to 2014's Demon.

Now I haven't heard Gazpacho for a long time. I reviewed Tick Tock when it was first released and whilst I enjoyed it, I did think there were hints of Marillion on the album (somewhere on the shelf I own Night, which cost me 50p and I haven't got round to listening to it yet!). So this was a pleasant surprise to listen to.

I love a good concept, but what I don't like is where the concept overpowers the music, and things are shoe-horned in, to fit the concept, regardless as to how the record sounds. Thankfully that doesn't happen here, as the album flows seamlessly and beautifully, with the opening song Park Bench (thematically anyway ) bringing Jethro Tull's Aqualung to my mind (another musical treatise on life, death and God). Whilst sound-wise they sit far more on the atmospheric Steven Wilson/Pineapple Tree/Tim Bowness side of the fence than being mere Marillion soundalikes.

Gazpacho are an immensely talented bunch of musicians, turning their hands to atmospheric pieces like the opener which starts with a slow build, until Thomas Anderson's organic keyboard work, a Gazpacho trademark, kicks-in to give the track a satisfying climax.

Multi-instrumentalist Mikael Kromer however really comes into his own on Bela Kiss, a Balkan folk workout featuring the wonderful accordion of Stian Carstensen. Imagine Bellowhead crossed with Gogol Bordello and you're only halfway there.

Familiar musical themes crop-up throughout, as the band musically jousts and spars with each other, particularly pulling the album forward on the epic prog workout that is Know Your Time, whilst the more introspective and reflective Choir of Ancestors features some amazing vocal work from Jan-Henrik Ohme.

The closing grand finale that is Molok Rising starts with some superb percussion, played by guest musician, Norwegian musical archaeologist Gjermund Kolltveit, whose collection of antique instruments and percussive work on the Norwegian singing stone means Gazpacho have included the oldest musical instrument in the world on their mighty big finale. The track wraps the concept up, pulling the disparate strands together in a Floydian epic and closing this eclectic album off in style.

The music breadth and conceptual scope on this album is fascinating to behold. Not a note is wasted, not a lyric superfluous, and the fact that it holds your attention across the record is a testament to the strength and musical skill that Gazpacho possess.

Most bands want to make music to save the world, it appears Gazpacho want to destroy it. Still I can think of worse things to listen to as the stars come crashing down.
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10
Geoff Feakes: 6 out of 10
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10
James R Turner: 8 out of 10
Album Reviews