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(46:53, Karisma Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. I Wow to Thee, My Screen 8:22 2. Lullaby for Modern Kids, Part 1 8:19 3. Lullaby for Modern Kids, Part 2 2:06 4. High-Tech Parent 4:34 5. Madness and Magic 6:47 6. Heaven in Your Eye 16:45 LINEUP: Jostein Smeby - guitars, vocals Stig Jorgensen - organ, vocals Erik Paulsen - bass, vocals Eskil Nyhus - drums, cymbals Alessandro G. Elide - percussion, gongs
Prolusion. Norwegian band ARABS IN ASPIC has been a part of the progressive rock scene in Norway for more than 20 years, with the greater majority of the band's output appearing in the last 10 years. "Madness and Magic" is their sixth full length studio production, and was released through Norwegian label Karisma records in the early summer of 2020.
Analysis. Arabs in Aspic has something of a historical reputation for being what many describe as a retro-oriented progressive rock band, with a certain affection for harder edged and majestic arrangements as key aspects of their sound. The band have developed over their more than 20 year long existence though, but the part of the reputation that still sounds undeniably true is that their focus is more on the past than the present as far as sounds, moods and atmospheres is concerned. As a matter of fact, this latest album of theirs strikes me as something of a journey through the moods and atmospheres of a great deal of bands that had their heyday back in the 1970's. Not as in replicating the bands in question, but rather to use and perhaps even amplify some of their tendencies and then run them through an Arabs In Aspic filter, and then add a liberal amount of seasonings from other bands to create a rich and tasty stew. Looking at this album in that context, I'd say that the albums opens rather firmly placed inside a late 70's Pink Floyd context, continues on with some serious nods of the hat in the direction of both King Crimson and Gentle Giant, a breather in classic pastoral English landscapes follows and then a slight detour into more classic rock oriented territories with what might or might not be inclusions of details borrowed from artists such as Deep Purple (organ details) and Santana (percussion details). Possibly with some Van der Graaf Generator seasoning too. All of this explored in a cohesive manner, with the lead vocals one of those details that emphasize the identity mark of the band alongside the overall atmosphere. Different songs, but undeniably from the same band. The icing on the cake comes in the shape of the massive 'Heaven in Your Eye' however, a massive 16 minutes plus long epic that concludes this production on a number of different notes. Light flowing pastoral landscapes paired off with monumental Black Sabbath meets Deep Purple recurring passages, playful jazz rock oriented details popping up here and there, with exotic tones and scales added in for a few extended passages reminding the listeners that the first part of the band name is Arabs. There's also room for cosmic sounds, a more delicate pastoral interlude and a stage that might or might not sound familiar to fans of classic era Genesis. And in this context, it's actually appropriate and fitting that the song concludes with a final part I'd describe as a cosmic, psychedelic techno flavored affair. Fans of 70's era classic rock and progressive rock will have a field day sorting their associations with this one, but at the same time this isn't a band that replicates anyone to a great extent. It is more a case of using some derfining elements, at least that is my impression, and giving them enough emphasis to stand out but not to the extent of being replicas or totally dominating the proceedings. It gives the songs something of an instant familiarity of course, an aspect that may well be accidental but still one I think deserves a mention as a positive aspect of this album. Mix and production also has, in my view at least, something of a warm, organic and retro feel to it, which when done right is a positive as well. And this is one of those albums where this has been executed as it should, indeed.
Conclusion. Arabs In Aspic is a seasoned, veteran band at this point, probably very well aware of what they are doing, what they want to achieve and how to go about it to get the desired end result. The band also strikes me as one with a strong affection for what they are doing, and with a creative spirit still going strong too. A very strong production by a veteran progressive rock band, and an album that warrants a check by those who treasure progressive rock bands with a retro-oriented sound and approach combined with an eclectic and expressive spirit.
Progmessor: July 2020
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