Album Reviews

Issue 2024-024

Carpet — Collision

Germany
2024
46:30
Carpet - Collision
The Moonlight Rush (8:20), Dead Fingers (5:11), Ghosts (5:41), P Is For Parrot (5:14), Passage (5:03), Lost At Sea (7:29), Cosmic Shape Shifter (9:32)
7
Greg Cummins

Carpet is yet another new band to me and finds themselves amongst the general moniker of being a melding of progressive, psychedelic and stoner rock with a smattering of jazz here and there. This is the band's fifth album to appear since they debuted in 2009 with The Eye Is The Heart Mirror. It has been suggested their music is like putting Motorpsycho, Jaga Jazzist, the Notwist and the Beatles in a studio to create new material together. That might seem a little too diverse in regard to genre similarities but let's persist to see where this all leads.

The band consists of Maximilian Stephan (guitar, vocals), Jakob Mader (drums, percussion), Sigmund Perner (Fender Rhodes, synthesizer), Hubert Steiner (bass), Martin lehmann (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Maximillian Worle (percussion, backing vocals).

From my perspective, stoner rock really came to the fore when bands such as Monster Magnet, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Queens Of The Stone Age and The Atomic Bitchwax began plying their wares from the late 80s / early 90s with some of those bands remaining true to their roots and gaining an enviable reputation for creating some captivating music. I was not a huge fan at the time and to this day have tended to stay generally clear of most bands that fall into this genre category. Having said that I need to remain focused on what I am hearing to see if there has been something I might have missed.

As is often typical of this style of music, the production is somewhat muddy but not quite stodgy while the vocals are more melodic in parts where you might expect them to be otherwise. Additionally, the instrumentation is quite engaging without being of a truly mind-blowing and awe-inspiring style so often found with some of the better progressive rock or jazz fusion maestros of the world. It possesses just enough variety and diversity with the instruments to ensure it doesn't get bogged down with too much mediocrity or predictability.

After a somewhat sombre opening track, Dead Fingers fires up with a definite and nice grungy riff that penetrates all the way and is backstopped by a decent keyboard riff that adds nicely to proceedings. It is probably the most accessible if not heavier track on the album and gives the listener an idea of what to expect for the remainder. I also hear a vague similarity to The Beatles with a slight John Lennon sound but just don't expect as much accessibility or melodicism as it simply ain't there. The middle part of the album contains a number of decent songs of roughly 5 minutes duration but none of them really excite the ears enough to stand out from the pack. Lost At Sea is probably one of the more interesting songs the album has to offer as it's beginning has a rather unique background riff that would not be out of place on a song by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Caravan or National Health if it were not for the overwhelming muddier sound of the recording. The final track, in particular, possesses far more melancholic sections than I am used to hearing from stoner rock bands in general but that just ads to its intrigue. The song does amble on a bit too long and if truth be told, ends up sounding a little too trite for my liking.

Considering the incredible benefits the world has enjoyed when it comes to sonic improvements with equipment and recording techniques, I have always wondered why bands opt for a lesser quality for their final output. I know the muddier sound that stoner bands use might infuse their music with the desired raw and dense atmosphere to suit their fans expectations a little more, but I have often thought, "why not try and make it sound cleaner and clearer?" Producing music with a crystalline output and an open sound stage is the long sought after desire for most record producers. Is it any wonder that Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), is often called upon to remaster earlier albums that are in need of some sonic enhancements.

Perhaps this ageing pair of ears derives more benefit from hearing my music clearly and cleanly so I'll be damned if I want to change that now. I guess you could also liken my wondering why a bands vocalist would engage in growl vocals if their clean vocal ability was so much better or easier on the ears. Maybe I'm getting too old for some of the more recent music, but I simply put it down to a preference for a style that suits my temperament more. Your mileage may be different so don't allow these observations and opinions to sway your own desires to try new music. I fully appreciate stoner rock is a very popular genre for many fans, so I won't argue with your preference.

I have noticed on RateYourMusic, the band has released 3 other albums that have scored a higher rating than their latest offering so in this regard, it might be better to try either their second, fourth or first album (in that order), to see if what you hear is sufficient to encourage you to flash the plastic. From my own perspective, this is one sub-genre of music that I will still probably avoid as I derive so much more benefit from those genre that have graced my collection for more decades than I care to acknowledge. Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad album by any stretch but needs a few more inspiring ideas to really pull this one over the line. Try the last 3 albums from Kyuss or the first handful of albums by Q.O.T.S.A. for something a little more inspiring.

Ihsahn — Ihsahn

Norway
2024
48:27
Ihsahn - Ihsahn
Cervus Venator (1:19), The Promethean Spark (4:52), Pilgrimage to Oblivion (4:20),
9
Calum Gibson

Ihsahn is a legendary figure within the world's metal community, being a member of Emperor — one of the pioneers of black metal. Since then, he has been an active guest and additional staff on many other releases by groups such as Ibaraki, Devin Townsend and Leprous (of whom past and present members have joined Ihsahn for his live shows) to name a few. As a solo artist, he has experimented with various sounds ranging from metal, prog, rock and electronic. So, without further ado, lets see what his latest effort is like.

After a brief orchestral intro, we dive headfirst into prog tinged metal that dances along the edge of extreme with a mix of Ihsahn's harsh snarls and melodic cleans. There is an intensity behind it that harks back to his extreme roots, but it is melded with an intricacy that lends itself to progressive music. Lead single Pilgrimage To Oblivion is more of akin to his work with Emperor, a ferocious and aggressive mix of tremolos, orchestral blasts and foreboding melodies.

This blend of cleans and harsh vocals, mixed with the orchestral backdrop along the with the intense and brooding guitar work creates an immersive album. A Taste of Ambrosia is a dark number that grows in its intensity, utilising all Ihsahn's skills to create epic, soundscapes that bleed intent and malevolence, but retain emotion and control.

Blood Trails To Love stands out as one that is a perfect blend of prog, metal, cleans and harsh vocals mixed with a touch of ominous synths to add to the mix. The vigorous opening to Hubris And Blue Devils which delves into staccato riffing helps build on this sense of creeping wickedness too, while the cleans and chorus brings in elements of frantic desperation to the story.

The album showcases his skill at crafting narratives in the music, and the range of his influences. Cinematic landscapes form a large part of the closer At the Heart of all Things Broken, and often wouldn't look out of place in a film score by John Williams or Hans Zimmer (although, there are backed up by metal here). While punchy riffs and fiery leads soar across other areas, while all through harsh and evil sounding vocals intertwine with gentle and harmonious cleans. There is something here for everyone, and even for those who don't like prog that borders on extreme – the album is a great listen just for the craftmanship. As my mum always said, “a good song is a good song”.

For fans of his work with Emperor, you should have a listen. For those who enjoy Townsend but want something with more punch, then this is for you. While hard to pinpoint a closely similar artist, I'd generally say if you like extreme metal and you like prog, then Ihsahn should be in your playlists.

Rudź & Wolski — Pomeranian Wind

Poland
2024
40:52
Rudź & Wolski - Pomeranian Wind
Pomeranian Wind (7:33), Someone Behind (5:22), Lost Cargo (3:48), Walk In The Clouds (4:09), Subliminal Transmission (19:58)
7
Jan Buddenberg

Behind the release of Pomeranian Wind, a title referring to the Pomerania region located in the upper north-west part of Poland best known for its Pomeranian dog breed, one finds climatologist/author/producer and prolifically well-seasoned EM artist Przemysław Rudź (synthesizers) and Artur Wolski (bass, guitars) of Obrasqi and Oudeziel fame. On this fully instrumental debut the duo present four short compositions and one lengthy suite that showcases both of their artistic styles in wonderful hybrid form.

A magnificent example of this is instantly presented with opener Pomeranian Wind. Starting off with a refreshing breeze of vintage Pink Floyd inspired guitar warmth this dreamy composition continues to fuse lush synth waves and intricate tribal accents with bluesy guitar to yield impressions of early Santana and Journey. To then smoothly transform into a dreamy relaxed EM soundscape that, embraced by fine guitar work from Wolski, shines with brightness of Berliner Schüle greats like Tangerine Dream and Robert Schroeder.

Someone Behind follows this with a futuristic Vangelis styled staging of hauntingly dark and claustrophobic cinematic atmospheres in which intense slices of guitar and slowly invading psychedelic and imposing sound effects awaken a sense of fear and urgency to constantly glance over one's shoulder in anticipation of oncoming threat.

Lost Cargo successfully relieves this palpable level of danger via brightness of 80s pop influences that beat with Jan Hammer appeal and richness in synth flows, rhythmic programmed textures and attractive guitar melodies that harmoniously complement each other. In a musical approach very similar to that of Oudeziel, it's Walk In The Clouds that fully transforms this into feelings of safety and security, thanks to bluesy guitars and elegant post-rock that attractively evolve into heart-warming guitar melodies, illuminated by comfortably embracing synths.

The most relaxing illustration of the beautiful symbiosis achieved between Rudź & Wolski is the epic concluding suite Subliminal Transmission. This meditative and transporting composition opens with soothing oriental percussive elements, dreamy synth waves and carefully developed intricate flowing themes that express calmness and serenity. Halfway through, it gains subtle momentum. Wolski's guitar, reminiscent of Frank Marino, begins to gently weep with emotive blues. And ultimately finalises in a captivating oasis of peaceful melodic synths and delicate guitar embellishments which will surely enrapture the hearts of many a P'Faun enthusiast.

Overall this is a well-crafted and beautifully refined work of art, available digitally and upon request on CD/LP via pomeranian.wind@gmail.com, that comes highly recommendable for progressive orientated EM fans and those familiar with previous works from either Rudź or Wolski.

Vimma — Tornadon silmässä

Finland
2023
38:57
Vimma - Tornadon silmässä
Maailmanloppu (3:25), Antrasiitille (3:50), Kielot (2:51), Sateenkaari ja ilmapallo (4:19), Kasveille (4:18), Unohdetaan (2:16), Tornadon silmässä (3:04), On syy (3:06), Seisahdumme pieneen huoneeseen (5:02), Apokalypse (Maailmanloppu) (German edit) (3:23), Apocalypse (Maailmanloppu) (3:23)
7
Jerry van Kooten

The term "progressive folk" is used a lot. And to be honest, it covers a lot of ground. The "folk" part is the tricky one, as that has different meanings. It is often used to describe Celtic folk, but folk music is an ethnic issue by definition, so it depends on where you are. This is especially true for Vimma.

I had not heard of Vimma before, but the DPRP Search page tells me my fellow writer Owen Davies reviewed their 2019 album Meri ja avaruus. And now we have their sophomore album, Tornadon silmässä (In The Eye Of The Tornado) under review.

First impressions lean more towards an alternate form of pop music rather than folk or progressive, in structure, but things change quite quickly. The sounds and arrangements are what elevate the music, with some slight post-rock tendencies here and there. But several more styles make themselves known all over the album, often in unexpected moments. That is where the progressive attitude in songwriting lies.

The folk part shines through in several parts of course. Antrasiitille for instance is a mix of repetitive but hypnotic percussive melodies over folky violin sounds. With its post-rock build-up towards the end, it makes for captivating listening.

The poppy intro Kielot is misleading, as shortly after, a sad ballad evolves, broken by a post-rock mélange of sounds that draws the tears from behind your eyes. The beauty of sadness is lovely.

These descriptions are the format I could use for the rest of the album as well. We're in the middle of a venn diagram of pop, folk, and post-rock, beautifully arranged. Sections never last very long, every song flows (and sometimes jumps) from one style into the next.

The Finnish lyrics add something mysterious for those billions of people who do not speak that language. It might not work for everyone but to my ears the vocals are just another instrument. Eeva Rajakangas' voice is very pleasant, from the darker restrained to the more powerful, like in the title track or the post-rocking part On syy. It is here I realised I had to think of Choir Of Young Believers a few times.

Interesting that most of the music has been written by violin player Pessi Jouste, while the violin sounds under-used, often in favour of guitar or full-on band sound. He must be a composer who happens to play violin.

The booklet contains the lyrics in both Finnish and English. This is both interesting as for most people Finnish will look like a funny language. But it is done with great care, where even a Finnish pun, otherwise untranslatable, is explained.

The CD contains two bonus tracks, being different versions of the opening track. The difference is that the first bonus track is sung in German, the second in English. My knowledge of German tells me it is much more than a translation. The lyrics sometimes tell a different thing than in English. Making everything fit must have taken some time. The German and English vocals (also Eeva) hardly have an accent. (I have no idea about the Finnish lyrics of course, but I assume she is a native speaker!)

With 39 minutes, and one song in three versions, it is a rather short album. But a rather beautiful one.

Please note that the Bandcamp link in the info above links to the Nordic Notes Bandcamp page. For the band's first album Meri ja avaruus and a live EP, visit the Bandcamp page under their former label Eclipse Music.

Album Reviews