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(47:05, Transubstans Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Descending 9:55 2. Prevail 13:59 3. Trap 5:31 4. Labyrinth 17:40 LINEUP: Tom Uglebakken – guitars; vocals; flute, saxophone Morten Tornes – drums; vocals; glockenspiel Arne Ton – analog keyboards Stig Joran Rygg – bass
Prolusion. The Norwegian outfit GARGAMEL was formed back in 2001, and issued their first three-track EP the following year. Following a period of frequent line-up changes, the band settled a few years later, and was signed by Swedish label Transubstans Records in 2006, who subsequently issued their full length debut "Watch for the Umbles" to a generally positive reception from fans and writers. In early summer 2009 Gargamel resurfaced with their sophomore production, "Descending".
Analysis. Gargamel is the name of a character from Belgian comic The Smurfs, an evil but inept wizard who never manages to sway things his way. No matter how hard he tries, something always ends up going wrong. And, while this comic book character may be the inspiration behind the band name (which at least some have surmised), I suspect that my fellow Norwegians may be familiar with the works of French author Francois Rabelais. In the 16th century he wrote several novels about the life of the giant Pantagruel, whose mother was named Gargamel. For those who have explored the progressive rock genre for some time, some bells should start ringing rather loudly by now. In case anyone hasn't grasped the connection, look up Gentle Giant’s discography. It is the choice of stylistic expression this Norwegian act has made that makes me suspect that the latter source is the inspiration for their name, as the musical landscape they are exploring is one with many similarities to this classic English outfit. Gargamel's compositions are of an eclectic nature, their overall sound is very much based on early ‘70s art rock, and they frequently indulge in quirky instrumental and compositional features. However, on this most recent feature another band may be a much stronger influence musically, namely Van Der Graaf Generator – first and foremost due to the lead vocals, dramatic and theatrical throughout, but also due to the dark moods and atmospheres created. While the former brings Peter Hammil to mind to many, the later is frequently quoted as being, at times, more like VDGG than the original outfit. Dramatic build-ups, frequent use of horns and flute on a richly layered symphonic backdrop made up by vintage keyboards, Mellotron and organ, and a select few but effective utilizations of heavy guitar riffs to add and underscore the darkest or dramatic themes explored. Gargamel does have a few more tricks up their sleeve though. Early ‘70s Eloy comes to mind as a reference at times, in particular on the title track Descending. The following composition, Prevail the Sea, has a long, folk-tinged instrumental passage closer to Jethro Tull in style, and those familiar with early King Crimson shouldn't have a hard time finding segments closer to their particular take on art rock. In addition, several space-tinged parts of final track Labyrinth bring Pink Floyd to mind. While many more or less obvious references in sound can be found on this production, this isn't a band out to replicate any particular artist or specific style though, apart from the overall 70's vibe on this effort. These musicians know what they want to do, and blend their influences and ideas in a many-faceted and, at times, rather challenging stew. Despite this, the overall result isn't as magnificent as one might hope. Those who love their ‘70s art rock will without doubt find this to be a very good effort, but personally I think that the compositions tend to get too drawn out. There's a lot of talent here and plenty of good ideas, but my impression is that they might have been compressed somewhat, first and foremost on the two epic length efforts. This is, however, very much a matter of personal taste, and those who truly love elongated thematic explorations will most likely find this to be the strongest point of this production.
Conclusion. If ‘70s art rock of the darker and more challenging variety is to your liking, and bands like King Crimson, Gentle Giant and Van der Graaf Generator are amongst your favourite acts, Gargamel's "Descending" is a CD that you will like, and most probably love. Dark, symphonic creations with quirky features as they made them some decades ago is what's on offer here, and if you fancy that musical diet you have an artist and an album you will want to get more familiar with.
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