Album Reviews

Issue 2017-076

Lunatic Soul - Fractured - Duo Review

Lunatic Soul - Fractured
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 55:33
Track List:
Blood on the Tightrope (7:19), Anymore (4:37), Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes (6:42), Red Light Escape (5:43), Fractured (4:36), A Thousand Shards of Heaven (12:17), Battlefield (9:05), Moving On (5:14)
Martin Burns' Review
On this new release, Riverside's bassist and vocalist Mariusz Duda, returns to his solo project Lunatic Soul. Fractured is the follow up to 2014's well received Walking on a Flashlight Beam. Duda once again steps into his multi-intrumentalist shoes and once again works with Indukti's drummer Wawrzyniec Dramowicz. There are also a couple of other guests, but more of them later.

On Fractured, Duda moves Lunatic Soul away from the ambient doodling that, I personally thought, marred some of Walking on a Flashlight Beam's tracks. Here, in its place, you get a full-on embrace of 1980s electronic progressive pop, channelled through Duda's superb melodic filters and his inventive structuring of the material. This means that Fractured avoids any hint of pastiche or claims of retro-styling.

This can be heard immediately at the arresting opening of Blood on the Tightrope, where a sharp intake of breath seizes the ear and refuses to let go of that particular sense organ for the next 55 minutes. The breath turns into a treated vocal phrase that cleverly becomes the bassline around which the track is built. Over this Duda layers keys, percussion and multi-tracked vocals. And if you begin to wonder if it's all a bit clinical, Duda brings in a warm piano to change the colour and dynamics, before a bass guitar led coda brings the first track to a conclusion. With this, Fractured is off to a cracking start.

The standard is maintained throughout the album, so much so, my favourite track tends to be the one that is currently playing. There is a Riverside edge to Anymore, but with whirling synths, scything out the melody. Duda's vocal performance continues on the rich vein found on Riverside's Love, Fear and the Time Machine, though here he seems to have found his inner Prince with a background falsetto of some note.

The oddest track on the album is the strange and creepy lullaby, Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes. Here, picked and strummed guitars join with the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra. This underpins a lyric where the protagonist tries to regain a lost innocence by taking power from a child's dreams. Disturbing and beautiful in equal measure, it also has a lovely, precise guitar solo.

There is a mix of Depeche Mode, Tubeway Army and Japan to the electronica and synths on Red Light Escape, coupled with Duda's flamboyant bass playing. And guest Marcin Odyniec's saxophone is just terrific, providing even more depth.

The longest track, A Thousand Shards of Heaven, sees the orchestra return to score the moving lyrics of loss ('I want to feel what it's like when sorrow turns into strength'). The track builds slowly, mixing acoustic guitar and ethereal sax with the orchestra in the first part. As it segues into an up-tempo second part, the sax adds a jazzy feel in places, before blasting free in the final section. A true epic, emotionally and musically.

Duda joins the experimental and sparse electronics, to an impassioned vocal on Battlefield. Again Duda's bass playing is terrific. The album closes in a hopeful mode with the Nine Inch Nails-like bass and percussion of Moving On.

As you can imagine, if you know anything about Riverside's recent tragedy, the lyrical concerns of Fractured has moved away from the more metaphysical explorations of Lunatic Soul I and Lunatic Soul II, to something more personal and concrete. As Duda says on the Lunatic Soul website, Fracturedis "an album of catharsis after a challenging year". This is exactly what the album does. Sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely but with always with a sense of overcoming heartbreak throughout.

Filled with style, panache and focus, it could be seen as an adventurous progressive companion to John Grant's terrific electronic pop album Pale Green Ghosts. Lunatic Soul's Fractured is a superb album of electronic progressive rock and one of the best albums I have heard in 2017.
Kevin Heckeler's Review
Riverside front man/bassist Mariusz Duda's fifth album as his side project Lunatic Soul, is a beautifully subtle progressive masterpiece. It has many of the musical elements and darkness found as staples in his prior recordings while also finding new ground for mild musical experimentation and an unexpected degree of accessibility.

Building on the successes of Riverside's acclaimed Love, Fear and the Time Machine, Fractured is firmly rooted in a familiar pop sensibility. Splendidly dark melodies, like those found on the opening track Blood on the Tightrope, pepper the entire album. Stripped down moments evolve or explode into eloquent, moving passages. These were already forms well explored on prior Lunatic Soul albums, but honed here to a fine sheen. Wasted words and notes are few and far between. The blending of the usual ingredients is done in a more refined manner than on anything he's worked on prior.

Standout tracks, including the opening track, are the Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire-esque Anymore, the delicately diverse 12-minute long A Thousand Shards of Heaven, and the minimalist epic Battlefield. But none of the tracks could be considered weak, filler, or demo-worthy. Every song succeeds and hits its intended mark. I can't help but think one or more of the tracks are in some way written in remembrance of his friend and Riverside guitarist Piotr Grudziński, who died since the last Lunatic Soul and studio Riverside albums. There's a general sadness that's familiar, but a sense of purpose in its delivery that I find unique to this recording.

The addition of horns to a few of the songs is a welcome touch, adding a soulful tone that adds eloquence to the largely electronic compositions. Duda's vocals are delicate and haunting, as is usually the case on his non-metal material. What I find amazing is he never seems to use the same phrasing. As a result I don't tire of listening to him sing, despite owning most of the material he's ever released. He injects uniqueness into every track.

There seems to be a pattern with some recent releases where artists are trending in a more palpable direction; instead of engineering complexity into their music intended to please only a handful of rabid prog fans, they're painting using a wider musical brush, with the inevitable side effect of drawing more listeners. This isn't "selling out," quite the contrary. I'm suggesting that formulating music to be complex for the sake of complying with the arbitrary progressive genre requirements, isn't a viable formula for consistently creating good music that has any immediate emotional or lasting aesthetic appeal. The expansion of what has come to be considered 'progressive' is as much a realisation of this reality as it is the evolution of the art form. Good music will always trump formula and boundaries. That is, after all, the mantra of even the snobbiest prog purists.

You'll be hard pressed to find a more credible album, where the songs are as bare and impactful without being trite or contrived. The essence of song writing is at Fractured's core. It's a folk album by design and an alternative album in execution. It's the very archetype of what it means to write a 'progressive' recording. It's the very thing we, as fans of the genre, look for in an artful expression of rock music.
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
Kevin Heckeler: 9.5 out of 10
Album Reviews