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(72:06, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Amphisbaena 7:28 2. Ouroboros 16:07 3. Satyrs 7:25 4. Simurgh 13:07 5. Behemoth 7:39 6. Legal Identity V 3:54 7. Mysticae Visiones Live 16:22 (b/t) LINEUP: Carlos Plaza – keyboards, pianos Cesar Garcia – el. & ac. guitar Jaime Pascual – bass Carlos Franco – drums Adriana Plaza – keyboards With: Carolina Prieto – vocalizations (7)
Prolusion. Led by Spanish composer and keyboardist extraordinaire Carlos Plaza, KOTEBEL is one of the most innovative symphonic progressive acts on the genre’s modern scene. Released by Musea Records six months ago, “Ouroboros” is their fifth album to date, following "Omphalos" (2006), "The Fragments of Light" (2003), "Mysticae Visions" (2002) and "Structures" (1999).
Analysis. Previously an octet, Kotebel appears as a five-piece on this recording. Singer Carolina Prieto, flutist Omar Acosta and cellist Miguel Rosell all quit within a year after the band has issued “Omphalos”, hence (not counting “Structures” which was planned as Plaza’s solo outing and is largely his ‘all-alone’ effort indeed) “Ouroboros” is their first album not to feature any chamber instruments or vocals either. There are also certain changes in their style, and although I’m not sure whether those are directly linked with the above fact, the group’s turn to a less academic approach is more than just evident. This time their inspiration comes from both symphonic Art-Rock and what would probably be – or at least can potentially be labeled as – the genre’s most avant-garde manifestation. Their new creations, Amphisbaena, Ouroboros, Satyrs, Simurgh, Legal Identity V and Behemoth, run for 55+ minutes and are all excellent, albeit varying in the level of progressiveness, and also in structure. Regarding the first two of these (the most advanced compositions here, particularly the latter): in both cases the main reference points are Genesis and King Crimson, both circa 1973-’74: so think purely art-rock arrangements alternating with mixed ones (which bring together symphonic and more avant-garde – at times even Present-evoking – musical constructions) and a jazz-fusion twist in some occasions. Both also contain a lot of solos by analog synthesizers as well as mellotron patterns, generally standing out for their lush vintage colorations, whilst most of the rest of the material finds Carlos playing pianos much more frequently than other items from his keyboard arsenal. The only exception from that ‘rule’ is the relentless, heavy Satyrs – the most intense composition here, full of manic energy of a sort. While listening to it I often get much the same feeling as on Anekdoten’s “Nucleus” (not only due to the instrumentation, of course) and therefore King Crimson’s “Red”, too, though I think Genesis shouldn’t be written off in this case either, as their “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” is also rather rich in pronouncedly heavy bass lines, albeit those aren’t as brutally aggressive as the ones on the first-named disc. Legal Identity V and Simurgh (a mythological bird symbolizing wisdom, justice and happiness – one of the central features of Uzbekistan’s National Emblem) both seem to have quite a good deal in common with Satyrs, and yet each is less and much less heavy, respectively, the latter additionally revealing several quietly-atmospheric intermezzos. Well, I must admit I find it difficult to define either of these otherwise than as avant-tinged Art-Rock. As all the already described pieces do, Behemoth (a demonic creature ‘hailing’ from the Old Testament Book of Job) also evinces highly skilful compositional as well as performance craftsmanship, no matter that it is basically slow-paced almost throughout. Finally, the live version of the title track of the band’s second disc, Mysticae Visions, was recorded in 2007 and is quite impressive, too, even though it is twice as short as the original one. Besides its mid-section where Carolina Prieto’s vocalization hovers over what reminds me strongly of symphonic Ambient, the epic moves back in forth between quasi Jazz-Fusion and classic Symphonic Progressive, very much in the style of mid-‘70s National Health and Rick Wakeman, respectively.
Conclusion. If my memory doesn’t let me down, “Ouroboros” is the first Kotebel effort to reveal distinct outside factors – thankfully not to the detriment of its overall quality, besides which the group’s original voice is still present and is instantly striking, also. Either way, this is a masterwork – one of the most compelling 2009 releases that I have heard so far. Unlike most of the other modern art-rock and related bands, these Spaniards have been climbing the ladder (in terms of creation of course) all over their period of activity, paving their own special way to the golden throne of the genre. Very highly recommended!
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