Gazpacho - Molok


Year of Release: 2015
Label: Kscope
Catalog Number: KSCOPE329
Format: CD
Total Time: 44:37:00

Where to start? At the end first, shall we? In summary, Gazpacho's Molok subtly grows on you. At first glance it seems too languid and dark, too moody; but once you really listen, all the ingredients mesh into a perfect sonic tapestry. It's an album suitable for quiet reflection, whatever you wish to reflect upon. I keep finding new things each time I listen. It's not one you merely listen to, you experience. Recommended.

So, let's rewind to the beginning. Before I did a deeper dive in to Gazpacho's 9th studio album, I gave it a few abstract listenings by playing it while I worked at my day job. What rose up out of the moderate volume level were Jan-Henrik Ohme's vocals, which at times sound a bit like Roy Orbison. Yes, that's what I thought. I still think of Marillion's Steve Hogarth quite a bit, to be sure, as Ohme has both a similar tone and uses his voice to similar effect -- soft and gentle when it needs to be (fragility), but elsewhere soaring. But also Orbison, as Ohme seems to.... croon - in an understated way. You need only listen to the opener "Park Bench" to hear what makes me say that. That said, vocals are where the Marillion (and Orbison) connection essentially ends (musically speaking*); although yes, I'll admit there is a guitar solo (Jon-Arne Vilbo) in "Know Your Time" that seems to me Steve Rothery-esque.**

It is interesting that I should review three albums in a row (Anathema's The Optimist and Caligula's Horse's Bloom being the other two) where I feel compelled to say, "it's progressive rock but"...***. Perhaps it's the "rock" part of that term, which makes me prefer "progressive music" because it opens us to a wider scope. Too often saying "progressive rock" leads to expectations of a band sounding like ... the usual suspects. Gazpacho... while they may have been influenced by Marillion in some measure, it is a case of taking someone else's paint jars and doing something different with the colours. But let's not get stuck here, shall we... let's just agree that Gazpacho are progressive and not worry about further nouns or adjectives.

In many ways, the lyrics are opaque, open more interpretation than anything concrete; Molok is a concept album, but the lyrics don't tell the story, they illustrate it. The concept, as explained on their website: "[T]he album itself is about a man that sometime around 1920 decides that wherever anyone worships a God they always seem to be worshipping stone in some form. Whether it is a grand cathedral, the stone in Mecca or Stonehenge. God seems to have been chased by his worshipers into stone never to return. This harkens back to Norwegian folk myths where if a troll was exposed to sunlight it would turn to stone but it also reflects the way God has been incommunicado for a very long time," says Thomas Andersen, ; "[...] In a mechanistic view of the universe all events in the universe are a consequence of a previous event. This means that with enough information you should be able to calculate the past and the future and this is what he does. He names the machine 'Molok' after the biblical demon into whose jaws children were sacrificed because his machine crunches numbers. On solstice day he starts the machine and it quickly gains some form of intelligence as it races through history undergoing its own evolution."

The arrangements on Molok are dark and gloomy, moody, even if there are lighter-toned elements sprinkled throughout, like streams of sunlight coming through windows into an otherwise lightless space. Given the theme, I envision sunlight through church windows, but I was also looking at pictures of just that the other day (a church in Prague, if I recall correctly) ... Drums (Lars Erik Asp) are prominent throughout the mix, equal to the vocals. That doesn't preclude a guitar solo here and there taking lead, or keyboards (Thomas Andersen) starting a track, or suggest that any of the other instruments take a back seat. What Gazpacho formulate here is a very rich concoction, leaving space for all instruments (and programming for which Vilbo, Andersen and Krømer are credited) to be a part of the whole, but it's the drums that are stirring this soup.

There is nothing hurried about this album, and yet it is not plodding. It unfolds, languidly, artfully. The opening track, "Park Bench," begins with muted heartbeat of toms in a somewhat martial, funereal tattoo, making the vocals seem stark against this grim backdrop. But it shifts dynamics during its 6-minute plus length -- from trilling keyboards, to melancholy violin to something darker, more intense with buzzing guitars that fill the open spaces. Angelic, operatic vocals come in that lend a greater ethereal feel to the track... Not necessarily an overture, it does in some ways function as one, as the textures and moods introduced here are reflected in the rest of the album. For example, the trilling keyboards slide right into the next track "The Master's Voice," a track that is restrained and soaring at the same time.

Over a dreamy bed of keys, drums rumble and snap, while brief flashes of guitar appear like sparks in "Know Your Time," though it becomes harsher and snarly in the middle, harking back to "Park Bench." A romantic sweep can be found in the track that follows, "Choir Of Ancestors," as Ohme emotes over an understated backdrop of rolling drums and delicate piano. As befits the title, a choir of angelic voices joins with Ohme's. Like most epic prog, we get the big guitar solo - sweet and warm, not flashy, from the Gilmour/Rothery school. The same delicate piano notes, here in the lead role, open "ABC," a dreamy, hazy track. Although the presence of drums is never far, as Asp plays here a tattoo that is both martial, as in "Park Bench," and tribal, as they are in "Know Your Time."

"Bela Kiss," which follows, is the most energetic of the album's tracks, accordions (and violins, I think) dance out a phrase that seems at once Middle-Eastern, Russian, and Spanish - a whirling dervish tango. I was going throw Gypsies into my litany, but... refrained, but have brought that thought back (obviously) because I wondered if there was a connection to Béla Bartök in the track; a bit of surfing says that Bartök had an interest in Magyar folk music... so, could be, could be coincidence. Nevertheless, this track has an old-world-ish feel, which reflects the idea of looking back to the past. At a much more leisurely pace, this same middle-eastern/old world flavor returns for the instrumental "Algorithm," which is slinky, seductive. It's not strictly entirely instrumental, as Ohme hums not unlike a motor - the engine of creation, I suppose. It lends this track an extra bit of a trippy atmosphere, and trippy it is (man); you can imagine amongst a haze, smoke curling up in psychedelic patterns.

"Alarm" is the brightest of the languid tracks; Ohme soaring vocals, the delicate keyboard notes, give it an uplifting feel. Lyrically, it is not optimistic: "All the world, in its marathon / Second childhood, mere oblivion..." and later "Now come home / I'm afraid you won't / Make it back / And I'd trade all for ..."

The album closes with "Molok Rising," a track full of tension, a sense of foreboding (keening guitar effects, sparse percussion, atmospheric keys)... visually, you know there would be wisps of hazy smoke, something lurking in the shadows... what might this Molok decide about the human race? And what do those bells toll for? Given the religious theme the album has, this is not a reference to Hemingway... and yet... if you go back to Hemingway's source for the title (English poet John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions)... there might be something there. Or not, as I know I sometimes read too much into things.

The percussion on "Molok Rising" is like clockwork; that is, like the clicking of a clock rather than imitation of a clock... a signaling of time passing like when in moments of stress you are aware of the clock ticking. That gets me back to that sense of something waiting... waiting... Like "Algorithm," the rest of the instrumentation is slinky, sinewy... luring, drawing you in. As the pace quickens, the drums strike a bit harder, guitar shimmers in and out. Norwegian music archaeologist Gjermund Kolltveit is a guest on this track, playing "reconstructed stone-age instruments: small stones, moose jaws, assortment of flutes and stringed instruments, and the Skåra stone, a singing stone." It is the latter you can hear (I am certain) at the end of the track.

And so... we get to where I started this review.

[This also came out on LP, which apparently omits the instrumental "Algorithm" -ed.]

*the band have toured with Marillion over the years, have performed at their Conventions, Marillion's Racket Records released a few of their earlier titles, Rothery has guested on an album, etc., so... there is a Marillion connection.

**I keep pulling this thought out of my review and putting it back... There are times where I think of the Beatles... it's not easily definable; a certain musical phrase or some vocal phrasing... "Norwegian Wood" comes to mind (I mean no snark given that the band are Norwegian... I have heard this song on the radio 2-3 times in the last week. It's mere coincidence). The Beatles song is much brighter, livelier, but...

**I'll note that these reviews were not planned in any sequence except that I found the most recent release by each, as they were on the Midsummer Prog Festival bill and we had an absence of reviews or a gap. The festival organizers may have had some motif in mind for in their lineup choice. Whatever the reason, there's a loose synergy going on.



Tracklisting:
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)

Musicians:
Thomas Andersen - keyboards, programming
Lars Erik Asp - drums, percussion
Mikael Krömer - violin, additional guitar, programming
Jan-Henrik Ohme - vocals
Kristian Torp - bass guitar
Jon-Arne Vilbo - guitars, programming

Guests:

Stian Carstensen - accordion, fiddle, kaval
Børge-Are Halvorsen - saxophone
Stig Espen Hundsnes - trumpet
Gjermund Kolltveit - reconstructed stone-age instruments: small stones, moose jaws, assortment of flutes and stringed instruments, and the Skåra stone, a singing stone (9)
Marianne Pentha - backing vocals

Discography:
Get It While It's Cold (2002) (OOP)
Bravo (2003)
When Earth Lets Go (2004)
Firebird (2005)
Night (2007)
Tick Tock (2009)
A Night At Loreley (2010)
Missa Atropos (2010)
London (2011)
March Of Ghosts (2012)
Demon (2014)
Molok (2015)

A Night At Loreley (DVD) (2009)
Night Of The Demon (DVD) (2015)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin NO

Added: July 1st 2017
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.gazpachoworld.com
Hits: 537
Language: english

  

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