Sonus Umbra - Digging For Zeroes

Year of Release: 2005
Label: independent
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:18:00

This is one of four reviews in a series, beginning with Shrouded Unity - Crossing The Line - ed.]

This week is Maryland-week, and I'm reviewing at least 4 relatively unknown bands from my home state. Best known among these bands is Sonus Umbra, which was originally conceived in Mexico under a different name, but its present band members all live in Maryland.

The brainchild of bassist Luis Nasser, progressive art rock outfit Sonus Umbra shares much of its lineup with band mate Jeff Laramee's band, Kurgan's Bane, and with Andy Tillotson's Might Could - both also good Maryland bands - yet the music is very different.

This is Sonus Umbra's third CD and the chief difference is that besides playing the drums, Jeff Laramee is now on lead vocals. The man is a very capable singer and his style is well suited to the tormented tones required by the material. Listen also to the first half of "Infestation", in which he seems to be channeling Roger Daltrey. Lisa Francis sings lead on several tracks - and somehow I found her performance stronger on this record than on her home band Kurgan's Bane's newest release. Her tone is rich and relaxed, and it is unusual to hear such low-pitched female singing sounding so melodic. Listen for the duet in "Devil's Promise" in which the male vocalist (Laramee) sings in a higher pitch than the female vocalist (Francis). It works remarkably well, and I found myself wishing there had been more duets like it.

Digging For Zeroes is a concept piece about a mathematician who is driven to distraction, working alone for long stretches of time and struggling with problems that he can't resolve - and he starts losing his mind. This description was given to me some time ago and I may have the details wrong, but you get the gist of it: It's a dark, cerebral, psychological piece, and with that broad theme the songwriting has the latitude to visit all sorts of interesting places. And it is the strong songwriting with imaginative structures that sets this record apart from most. It plays like a symphony rather than a collection of songs, yet it is divided into 20 tracks. There's no clear break between the songs and many of them flow seamlessly into one another evoking comparisons with Echolyn's Mei. So the 20 track layout is deceiving - think of it rather as a sweeping epic loosely broken into about 5 songs, spread over an hour.

Here's a hint: I spun Digging For Zeroes several times on a reasonably good stereo system, and thought it was - well - okay. Then I played it again over an audiophile-standard set of headphones, and what a difference. This is not background music - it demands to be listened to, and it really comes into its own on a top class sound system.

Nasser's bass guitar work has received glowing praise on these and other pages with good reason, but it was the acoustic guitar work that caught my ear. Listen to all-instrumental "Meme Puppet Waltz," in which guitars reprise some of the album's main themes. As it progresses you have the sounds of there are two and sometimes three acoustic guitars going, underpinned by a deep, unobtrusive bass. Very elegant, and a fine display of musicianship. Listen also for the lead guitar work in "Bloodstains In Paradise". The lead solo is rather pedestrian (the solo in "Aleph" is more impressive), but it is the acoustic guitar beneath it that yields a metaphor for so much of this album - a rich blend of plugged and unplugged elements.

Closing track "Infinity" is a short instrumental with bass, piano and French horn wrapping up all the themes - and is a wonderfully soft, melodic way to close an album. This is an interesting body of work who's qualities will only reveal themselves after many listens. Pity it came out so late in 2005 ? it would have ranked higher on my best-of-the-year list. Well recommended.

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Zero (2:03) / Scream (2:53) / Sleepwalkers (2:16) / Children Of Cain (0:53) / The Laughter Of The Dead (2:08) / Foreshadows (2:16) / Invisible World (4:44) / Serial Grounds (1:46) / Infestation (7:09) / Spleen (2:54) / Bloodstains In Paradise (5:59) / Meme Puppet Waltz (3:12) / Dead Numbers (1:53) / Devil's Promise (1:52) / Aleph (3:28) / The Great Fall Inwards (4:57) / The Music Of The Primes (4:26) / From The Ashes (0:54) / Pariah (3:26) / Infinity (2:10)

Luis Nasser - bass, acoustic and crunch guitars, keyboards, backing vocals
Ricardo Gomez - electric and acoustic guitars
Jeff Laramee - percussion and vocals
Pablo Garcia - keyboards and vocals
Andy Tillotson - acoustic and electric guitars, backing vocals
Lisa Francis - vocals


Adam Zygmunt - French horn (20)

Snapshots From Limbo (2000)
Spiritual Vertigo (2003)
Digging For Zeroes (2005)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: January 29th 2006
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday
Artist website:
Hits: 1401
Language: english


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