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(47:19, Autumnsongs Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Ending of the Open Sky 5:34 2. Lift the Memory 8:53 3. In the Stillness of Time 5:57 4. Starlit Motion 5:21 5. Reptilian 9:10 6. The Witness 4:18 7. The Skies Give Meaning 8:06 LINEUP: Rhys Marsh – vocals; guitars, bass; vintage keyboards; drum machine Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – flutes, tenor horn, sax, hulusi; keyboards Mattias Olsson – drums, marimba; vintage keyboards; guitars
Prolusion. The Norwegian band KAUKASUS is something of a supergroup, at least in a progressive rock context, sporting musicians with backgrounds from bands such as Anglagard, Jaga Jazzist and The Opium Cartel. "I" is their debut album, released by the Norwegian label Autumnsongs Records in 2014.
Analysis. Kaukasus is one of those intriguing but frustrating bands to write about as a reviewer, as their style and expression generally is rather intangible. They explore territories that most others have opted to not venture into, and while those with a broader music knowledge base than what I have may have a field day in terms of associations, I'll readily admit that in this case not too many came up for me and the ones that did may not be all that relevant. This is a dark and atmospheric creation, and a brooding one at that, but somehow neither oppressive nor dramatic, the kind of album where atmospheric-laden is a fitting general description, albeit rather misleading in terms of the associations that come with that territory. We are treated to an electronics and flute-driven ambient section and a fragile creation that. in terms of instrumentation and arrangement, might be described as a ballad, but apart from those two exceptions there's nothing really or truly mellow about this album, despite the atmospheric-laden description. With fairly sophisticated and tension-inducing drum patterns as a foundation, the compositions here revolve around richly layered tapestries of sound, more often than not fairly majestic in scope, but with a firm and solid sound rather than a rich and dramatic one. Liberal amounts of keyboards and synthesizers provide a rich array of fairly dampened textures as dominant aspects of the landscapes explored, but with plenty of room for flute details, odd sounds and delicate instrument details of various kinds. These latter aspects tend to add a psychedelic sheen to the proceedings, while the flute alongside at least some of the keyboards and synthesizers at hand adds a slight touch of folk music and world music to the proceedings. But while layered keyboards, flute and psychedelic touches from both guitars and other instruments may conjure an association to the more expressive symphonic progressive rock bands of yore, it's an association that is misleading. Instead, you might get a better impression by imagining dark, layered, atmospheric keyboard arrangements, becoming majestic in scope due to the amount of layers and supporting bass and guitar details, where exotic sounds and timbres add a folk and world music vibe to what might be described as an art rock-oriented foundation, and a fairly sophisticated one at that. And on top we have Marsh' soaring lead vocals, placed upfront in the mix, his vocals the clearly dominant aspect whenever a vocals-oriented passage unfolds. It should also be mentioned that many of the songs feature elongated ambient, gentle sections of what might be described as dream-laden arrangements, albeit with a slight twist of featuring sounds and effects just a bit too unnerving to really create a dream-laden atmosphere.
Conclusion. It is always fascinating to come across a band that does explore landscapes that doesn't have well trodden paths all over them, and the dark, brooding and melancholic art rock-oriented escapades of Kaukasus are a good example of that. Layered keyboards, Mellotron, effects and rock-solid drums combined with bass and guitar to form subtly exotic, world music and psychedelic-tinged dark progressive rock on this album, with occasional lapses into subtly unnerving ambient escapades as the slightly disturbing icing on the cake. It is a compelling and well made production as well, and one to seek out for those who have a fascination for progressive rock of a dark yet not oppressive nature.
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