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TRACK LIST: 1. Kingly Godmanship 1:56 2. Interstellar Blessings 3:29 3. Feral Thunderbolt 3:36 4. Serpent Shoulder 4:30 5. Throne Accession 3:07 6. Guillotine 1:00 7. Harem 4:28 8. Sovereign 3:56 LINEUP: Salim Ghazi Saeedi – all instruments Pooyan Khajavi – guitar
Prolusion. Hailing from what was once known as Persia, the Iranian band ARASHK was active for a good handful of years in the 2000's, releasing a total of 4 albums prior to hitting a stage of hiatus. "Sovereign" was the second of these, and was issued back in 2007.
Analysis. Iran isn't the first country you would pull up when talking about nations producing progressive rock artists noteworthy to check out that reside outside of the typical Anglo-American territories. Sadly, I might add, as this old nation, rich in history, myths and legends, could and probably should inspire many a fine work of music based on their cultural heritage alone. Instead the ruling powers have seriously discussed law propositions that outright bans any use of music not created and performed within a strict religious framework. But such hostile waters have never managed to eliminate the creative arts, Arashk an example of that, although this CD appears to be a solo vehicle of the band leader Salim Ghazi Saeedi more than a band creation as such. And on the eight short compositions explored he takes inspirations from Ferdowsi's “Shahnameh”, a vast 60.000 verse-long poem that probably could fuel an entire musical career if explored in depth. In this case just over a handful of instrumentals are pulled out of this enormous context, many of them creations with an emphasis on moods and atmospheres over melodies and harmonies, the dynamics of the interwoven sounds of acoustic and electric guitars in particular. Slow, resonating notes from the former and dark, gnarly riffs from the latter are the main expressions utilized. Dampened bass guitar and light-intensity drums form the framework in the instances when rhythms are applied. Infrequent use of digital strings is the last common element, sparingly applied on this CD. My main impression throughout was that most of these tracks are sketches rather than the finished compositions however. Good ideas that were recorded, but perhaps not properly developed. The sad, majestic melancholy of opening effort Kingly Godmanship, pairing off light toned acoustic guitar with darker toned, reverberating riffs is an effective opener, but the following tracks don't quite manage to engage. Many fine ideas and intriguing atmospheres, the distant atmosphere of Interstellar Blessings and the otherworldly mood of Serpent Shoulder for instance, but overall there's just a feeling of being unfinished about them. This does change towards the end however: the otherworldly moods of Harem are more properly developed to my ears, and stronger feeling of a story being told on this piece too. The opening fluctuating electronic textures, breathing like noise inserts and galloping guitar riffs revisited towards the end in a more sparse arrangement mostly devoid of the initial otherworldly feeling in itself intriguing. And final number Sovereign with light toned instrumental details in its opening phase, incorporating child-like voice effects and textures with a slight psychedelic touch, effectively combined with dark-toned gnarly electric guitar riffs that gradually get the dominating spot, the initial lighter-toned motifs being reduced to an underscoring detail by way of plucked acoustic guitar. There's a distinct development there, and a strong feeling of a story explored and told. Loss of innocence perhaps the most obvious one, the invasion of real world issues into a closed in environment another possibility that comes to mind. But while being familiar with the inspirational poem will probably be an advantage, these last tracks on the CD are intriguing conceptions in their own right too, and also more or less coincidentally the ones I feel have been best developed. In terms of stylistic expression, this is an album that blends progressive metal with eastern sounding musical details, with associations towards both folk music and, at least to some extent, religious music. And while my personal opinion is that "Ustuqus-al-Uss" from 2008 explores this blend in a more interesting manner, "Sovereign" comes across as a transitional production that does have its own merits.
Conclusion. "Sovereign" from 2007 comes across as an album filled with ideas still in their initial phase, planned and recorded perhaps before the ideas had been investigated in detail. Many fine ideas and sketches explore a blend of eastern sounding traditional music and dark-toned progressive metal with roots more firmly based on Anglo-American traditions. But on the occasions where the compositions appear to be more thoroughly assembled the end result is intriguing, if instrumental progressive metal of this variety sounds enticing to you. As such this is a disc that comes with a partial recommendation.
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