Sonus Umbra - Spiritual Vertigo

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Self-released (The Sound Of The Shadow)
Catalog Number: SU5313
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:38:00

There is cohesiveness between each track on Sonus Umbra's second release, Spiritual Vertigo. That is, there's a musical narrative thread, even if the songs aren't linked together other than by overall concept. You'd think that that would lead to samey-ness feel, but other than atmosphere, each song has its uniqueness. The true constants are overall tone and lead vocalist Andres Allut's delivery; once you drill down to what each instrument is doing, their interplay and how the arrangements are constructed, each piece develops its own character.

For most tracks, vocals are presented in a "soft-focus" way that recalls the atmosphere that Alan Parson's applied to many of his Project and Band works. A sort of hazy approach that gives the pieces a dreamlike quality, never more so than when Allut's vocals deepen. What you get is mix of smoothly delivered vocals and, at most times, harsher instrumentation. There is one exception to all of this however, which I'll mention in a moment.

Musically this a beautiful album, the arrangements lush and rich using not just a rock context, but jazz as well, without the tracks being overtly any one genre. When Allut's vocals give way to the instrumentation, the complexity of the arrangements show through, no more so than on the dramatic and epic "Fascinoma," one of my favourite pieces on the album. It's especially dramatic when the bass and drums throb in unison, full of portent. From this steady beat, chaos soon creeps in as piano rides over this "simple" beat, only to give away to a sultry, singing guitar phrase. That isn't to suggest that Allut's vocals get in the way, they don't. His accented delivery, most noticeable on the "r"s, gives his voice a character that either some will like (like me) and some won't. Guest vocalist Lisa Francis has a stunning voice, so it's a treat to hear her on the few places where she sings lead, enhancing those pieces where she adds backing vocals. Drummer Jeff Laramee also provides vocals on a pair of tracks; his voice, in comparison to Allut's, sounds very "American." He is, of course, but the sound is pronounced, owing for the extra dramatic effect needed for the tracks he sings on.

The album opens with "Bone Machines," which matches churning bass (band leader Luis Nasser), industrial percussion (Laramee), with strained, thin steel-stringed guitars (Ricardo Gomez) that flit and flutter like the angelic figures on the cover. "Fools Arcadia" begins and ends with plucked guitar and tinkling piano, in a gentle, whispy piece (though for the ending passage, Nasser's bass can also be heard). But in the middle this takes on a darker tone - in fact, I thought of a less severe Metallica in Allut's delivery and the song's overall arrangement. And "Man Of Anger And Light" is more of a tango as bass and percussion dance with each other to the guitar's rhythm, vocals leading the way. Drums are at the forefront with "Self-Erosion," maybe a little too much up front. Shimmering guitar makes a nice appearance in "Timequake," though really the guitar work here throughout is quite nice. And I like the subtly "ticking clock" sound of the percussion (actually, it sounds like a xylophone and so I'm guessing its keys) that "ticks" faster than a clock and comes in contrast to the Allut's relaxed delivery. We do get an intensely rhythmic bit at the end.

The album's epic, both in terms of intensity and length is "Snakes & Ladders," which takes every element that has come before and brings it all to bear. In it you hear echoes of "Bone Machine" (perhaps it?s the industrial percussion), but there's also the dark and grinding elements from that track and later pieces that tie everything together.

The track that shifts style is "Amnesia Junkies." What comes first is the guitar led "Amnesia Junkies Pt 1 (Pax Americana)," which reminded me of Volitar's Murder, Mystery, Mayhem, mainly due Laramee portraying Reverend Phillip T. Phister, it's a "stage play" kind of presentation, though the Rev is a televangelist. Francis guests here as Lady Liberty. As it says on the band's website, this part of the song is "A little ditty on the malaise and the hypocrisy that lie at the core of the world's 'greatest democracy'..." In other words, how soon we forget our own injustices perpetuated on others when condemning that of others... and then committing our new injustices... "Amnesia Junkies Pt 2 (Pax Israelica)," is much darker, throatier - both literally in that Laramee deepens his voice, but also instrumentally... darkly throbbing bass, drums, with contrasting piano. These darker tones brought to mind to mind, for me, The Guess Who's "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" (more so the latter part of the song, I should note). "Amnesia Junkies Pt 2" asks a provocative question, and one that surely brings up debate: has Israel forgotten how Jews were treated at the hands of the Nazis in their own treatment of the Palestinians? And you can see the parallels between part 1 and 2.

"Rust In My Sleep" falls somewhere between the dreamier tracks and the one mentioned above. It features Laramee and Francis on vocals and yet often has the hazier feel of the rest of the album. And be prepared for the end of the album, as it comes after a long bit of silence... have it too quiet and you'll only hear the final gunshot... too loud and that gunshot is like to have you jump out of your skin. And yet, it is effective at any volume.

Though "Amnesia Junkies" seems out of place among the other songs, it effectively provides a break, a change of pace. There is nothing wrong with this album; it's affecting in a subtle way, the lyrics inviting thought even as you hit "repeat" to listen again not just to the lyrics but to the interplay. It's one of those unassuming gems that comes around not often enough.

Bone Machines (5:56) / Fool?s Arcadia (8:40) / Man Of Anger And Light (4:18) / Fascinoma (7:10) / Self Erosion (6:03) / Amnesia Junkies Pt I (Pax Americana) (4:19) / Amnesia Junkies Pt II (Pax Iraelica) (3:42) / Timequake (5:31) / Rust In My Sleep (3:31) / Snakes And Ladders (10:58)

Andres Aullet - lead vocals
Luis Nasser - bass, keyboards, acoustic & crunch guitars, odd vocals
Ricardo Gomez - lead guitars
Jeff Laramee - drums, vocals

Special Guests:

Lisa Frances - vocals
John Grant - additional lead guitars

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

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin MX

Added: March 29th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 887
Language: english


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