Sonus Umbra - Snapshots From Limbo

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Moonchild Artists
Catalog Number: CD 7275
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:37:00

While the title is Snapshots From Limbo there's nothing uncertain about Sonus Umbra's album. This is a solid and assured release, very tight, with a great range of dynamics, both on the arrangement end and the production end.

Take a dash of Marillion (guitars - occasionally), Alan Parsons Project (Andrea Aullet's smooth, breathy Eric Woolfson-like vocals), and Iluvatar (arrangements) and you'll have a bit of what you can expect to hear here. "Demons" starts out sounding a bit like "Pinball Wizard," and like...well, I thought of Episode when Aullet and co-vocalist Lisa Francis sing in harmony, but latter day Minimal Vital might also be a point of comparison, but for the Parsons like atmosphere. Ricardo Gomez and John Grant are the guitarists here, both playing electric and acoustic guitars, though Grant's is a 12-string. The acoustics are most evident on the gentle "Soul Dusk," which has a Gordon Lightfoot quality about it (and saying that, there are hints of Lightfoot elsewhere in Aullet's tone).

The album opens with the sounds of a music box, which melds into a sparse guitar and keyboard piece that is reminiscent of Fish, of Pink Floyd, and of several neo-prog bands. It segues almost seamlessly into the instrumental "Doppelganger." This is a very muscular track with many Rush-like characteristics - bass and percussion up front. While it doesn't sound like "XYZ," it does make me think of that track on occasion. At about three minutes in, the track begins to strut while the guitar razor blades a solo over the top - though it's a blade with some smooth edges (not soft, just not raw). Overall, the track is dark, gloomy and ominous without being plodding...something wicked this way comes, but is coming fast. There comes a point, too, at about six minutes in where I thought of Iluvatar's "Eagle Fly," solely due to the light, steel-stringed guitar strumming at this point. This leads into a beautiful keyboard passage, either Aullet on his Korg Trinity or Luis Nasser on his Korg 01W.

Speaking of steel-strings, the tone that begins "Seven Masks," one of the most Alan Parsons Project like tracks here, reminded me of Craig Chaquico. I'm sure he's not the only steel-stringer out there, but there is a certain tone he gets from his plucked strings, a certain reverb and tone color, that either Grant or Gomez get here. This is a beautifully understated track, the lyrical guitars singing just as much Aullet is, even more so. A wonderful synthesis of the two voices. Aullet's vocals, for all their Woolfson-ness, also are slightly accented. I bring this up not because they detract from the song or the album, but because they don't. They add a little seasoning that I find very pleasing.

"The Eagle Has Landed" begins with a loping guitar refrain (a la Marillion or Shadowland...or Iluvatar), which is then subsumed by the harmonized vocals of Aullet and Francis, though you can still hear the basic rhythm underneath, carried by Luis Nasser's bass. Nasser is the main composer here, having done so on all but 4 of the album's 10 tracks, though parts of that fourth track are also Nasser's. This is their most "neo-prog" moment and their least Parsons, though you can still hear elements of it.

Keyboards drive the intro passage of "Erich Zann." Where "Eagle..." loped, "Erich" gallops, verily it swoops, flying close to the surface. Jeff Laramee's percussion is very "tribal" like - that is to say, very rhythmic rather than bombastic - bongos versus the bass drum. But, Laramee switches between these and the full drum kit...providing the silver to contrast with the amber. A middle-eastern accent provided by Tapabrata Pal on the tabla.

"A Season In Hell" is very much like stuff from Fish's solo career, but trying to pin it down to any one particular track is proving elusive. As expected there is a dark feel to "Season," even if Aullet's vocals are on the brighter side. Deep throbbing bass provides that dark undertone; the slow paced arrangement is just this side of sluggish until the keys kick in. Like other tracks on this album, we start sparsely and slowly build to rich instrumentation. It helps having the multi instrumentalists to fill out the sound, meaning the use of keyboards add to fullness of the arrangements without dominating them.

Sonus Umbra aren't all gloomy, as "Homo Homini Lupus" has a bright, jangly arrangement - almost danceable. Those luminescent steel strings aid this. The later guitar solo soars like the best of them...meaning it's one of "those kind" of solos. Notes lovingly played and sustained just long enough to hit the right emotions. Keys come in next, one taking on a piano aspect, accented by shimmering cymbals. I thought of Mexico's Cast, actually, though I can't exactly place why. I should note that the band's original home was also Mexico, but it seems they've relocated to the Baltimore area (or so their inclusion on a Exposé Magazine sampler would indicate (see news for 1/9/01)).

The "Insects" suite closes the album, using the developmental stages of insects as both metaphor and microcosm - we are the insects and we are like the insects. We begin with "The Watcher (Larval Epiphany)" - how watching the insects go about their instinctive tasks, we see we are no different from them other that the emotional baggage we are saddled with...that which often puts us in the limbo depicted in the rest of the album. The second movement is "Metamorphosis" - which is about retreating from dealing with the baggage. In part three...well, this isn't a pretty image we get here: something growing and festering inside, perhaps mere metaphor, but pretty gruesome if visualized literally...the disengaged human dies, alone, becoming the breeding ground for more insects.

Pretty damn good album I say - nice mix of rock and acoustic sections. Well mixed and recorded. With the death of Moonchilds' founder, so, too, did the label. Hopefully another label will pick Sonus Umbra up and help make this more widely available. Terrific debut and I'm anxious to see where Nasser and crew go next.

Ghosts From The Past (2:38) / Doppelganger (7:52) / Seven Masks (7:42) / Demons (3:50) / Soul Dusk (4:28) / The Eagle Has Landed (4:19) / Erich Zann (5:27) / A Season In Hell (4:55) / Homo Homini Lupus (7:45) / Insects (12:13) Part I: The Watcher (Larval Epiphany) Part II: Metamorphosis Part III: Imago (The Meat Sickness)

Andres Aullet - vocals, Korg Trinity
Ricardo Gomez - electric and acoustic guitars
Jeff Laramee - drums, percussion and vocals
Luis Nasser - bass, Korg 01W, acoustic guitar and vocals
Lisa Francis - vocals
John Grant - electric and 12-string acoustic guitars
Tapabrata Pal - tabla

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

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin MX

Added: January 1st 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 606
Language: english


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