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(47:47, Unicorn Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Gripped By Fear 2:04 2. Insomnia 7:28 3. Sweet Earth 8:03 4. In the Hope 2:17 5. Wind of Night 8:58 6. Autumn Frost 10:57 7. Close to Death 3:13 8. For Nobody 4:39 LINEUP: Nomy Agranson – guitars, bass Doran Usher – keyboards Vlad Whiner – vocals Cat Heady – electronics With: Verkhov – drums
Prolusion. THE GOURISHANKAR is a progressive rock band hailing from the Ural region of Russia. Nominally “Close Grip” comes as a follow-up to the combo’s first official outing “2nd Hands”, whilst in fact it is their real debut album which only saw the light of day as a CD release five years after it was recorded (a Unicorn Records output, also).
Analysis. On “Close Grip” The Gourishankar appears basically as a quartet consisting of the same musicians who are behind “2nd Hands”, so it is no surprise that the albums have quite a good deal in common between them. Despite the absence of a violin player among the side participants on this recording, Kansas-evoking musical constructions are rather widespread here too, as well as those resembling Dream Theater. All five of the tracks with lyrical content, Insomnia, Sweet Earth, For Nobody, Autumn Frost and Wind of Night, periodically manifest signs of both the implied influences, the first three of these being richer in Kansas-sounding motifs, and vice versa regarding the latter two. I also hear some echoes of Camel as well as Eloy – on each of the songs, but particularly often on Sweet Earth and Autumn Frost, both of which are basically slow-paced almost throughout, during their – not numerous (particularly in the former case) – ‘heavy’ maneuvers included. Now, however, I must voice a reservation that all the similarities take place for the most part only due to the band’s approach to the arrangement and that the music never sounds overly Kansasian or Dream-Theatric, etc, either. Stylistically, all the said tracks suggest a blend of symphonic Art-Rock and either progressive Hard Rock or Prog-Metal with some quasi space-rock tendencies, though Autumn Frost additionally contains an interlude that’s done in a classic jazz-fusion fashion. On each of the semi-epic compositions, Insomnia, Autumn Frost and Wind of Night, the band diverts with long instrumental sections. Standing out for its clever thematic evolution, full of effective dynamic and textural contrasts, the first of these is the most intricate and intriguing track here, revealing plenty of dramatic transitions, complex stop-to-play moves, and so on. The other two are also rich in vocals-free arrangements and different thematic storylines alike, featuring few returns to a previously paved path as well. Overall, these are fairly remarkable compositions with many interesting ideas emerging along their way, albeit both have a light sense of sketchiness in places, as some of their instrumental segments seem to have been included after they were completed. The remaining two primary-style pieces, Sweet Earth and For Nobody, contain approximately an equal quantity of vocal-laden and purely instrumental parts, both appearing as a just alloy of simpler and more complicated passages. Either way, even if the players shine with resourcefulness and diversity within the songs’ vocal sections too, it’s still the expeditions into, say, the lands of silence that are the group’s greatest achievement in their chosen field of work, because Vlad Whiner’s singing is as heavily-to-horribly accented here as it is on “2nd Hands” and so can indeed be taken as a whine (I’m almost sure the man’s scenic alias reflects that his English is on its last legs). Of the two bandleaders, Nomy Agranson and Doran Usher, the former is more prominently in the mix as a lead soloist than the latter, providing aggressive guitar riffs and blistering, at times truly pyrotechnical, solos as well as inventive bass lines. Nevertheless each of the songs contains quite a few of lively piano, organ and synthesizer leads also, all those coming from Doran. As to the instrumental cuts, Gripped by Fear, In the Hope and Close to Death, all of them deploy programmed drums, the first two combining reflective space rock landscapes with elements of Industrial and Electronic, and the latter with orchestral arrangements, revealing also some acoustic guitar passages as well as vocalizations (in its mid-section). Though the instrumentals are much simpler creations than the songs, none are weak, far from it; each has its own merits, the latter generally coming across as a kind of little gem.
Conclusion. Despite being somewhat less diverse and adventurous than its nominal predecessor, “Close Grip” will surely please most, if not all, of those who enjoy “2nd Hands”: Recommended is the word. Here is yet another recommendation or rather piece of advice. It concerns the heroes of this occasion themselves and is put forward with the hope they’ll lend an ear to it. It’s an immediate need for you, lads, either to sing in Russian or to hire a new vocalist whose English would spare the need for corresponding listeners as well as reviewers to be lenient towards what is nothing other than a glaring defect in your creative work.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: April 1, 2009
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