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(46 min, Unicorn)
TRACK LIST: 1. Unstable Matter 6:46 2. New Breed 5:58 3. Art Attack-I 3:15 4. Art Attack-II 5:51 5. Event Horizon 2:13 6. Big Crunch 7:52 7. Antimatter 4:53 8. Blood Fall 5:15 9. Glassosphere-IV 1:43 10. Singularity 2:08 PERSONNEL: Anthoine Fafard - bass, guitar; programming Martin Maheux - drums Mark Tremblay - guitars
Prolusion. A brainchild of bassist and composer extraordinaire Anthoine Fafard, SPACED OUT is one of the most widely known Canadian Prog Rock bands, internationally recognized as the flagship of that country's contemporary Jazz-Fusion movement. So I don't think there is any special need for retelling their biography. I'll just mention that "Unstable Matter" is their fourth studio album and that their previous releases, "Spaced Out", "Eponymus II", "Slow Gin" and "Live DVD", all have their reviews on this site as well.
Analysis. Splendid! It seems Spaced Out will never stop astonishing music lovers. Once again (now for how many times?), a regular new CD by them becomes a major step forward in terms of songwriting, arrangement and technical execution. However this is not everything in the case of "Unstable Matter". While all the ever-present qualities that make each Spaced Out album a pleasure are still here, this their new recording just breathes fresh ideas in addition, being their heaviest and, at the same time, least jazz-inflected album to date. The music is highly intriguing, immediately grasping the listener's attention, keeping it under 'high voltage' right up to the very last chord. For the first time in their history, Spaced Out now appear as a guitar trio, though I would've never guessed about the absence of a free keyboard player had I not learned this from the booklet. Besides, it's hard to believe that all the keyboard parts are programmed, as they are highly diverse and never leave a sense of being sequenced, the arsenal of their sounds comprising piano, synthesizer, string ensemble, organ and even harpsichord. The widespread use of acoustic guitar on most of the tracks is another argument that speaks well in favor of the fact that the recording's sonic palette is lushly saturated, especially in comparison with the one we normally expect from a guitar trio. As to the album as such, most of it is nothing less than a new word in heavy progressive music. I ask readers to take this into consideration, because none of the examples I am going to cite below can serve as a direct reference point. Already the first two numbers, the title track and New Breed, are masterpieces, although the matter laid here is unstable indeed, at least considering that it receives its further development on most of the subsequent pieces. What these two are about is atmospherically dark, musically hyper-complex heavy Progressive of a mixed architecture, which embraces Techno Metal, Doom Metal, purely symphonic and quasi-improvisational elements, plus some (still heavy, yet undoubtedly) classical-like movements and a couple of brief episodes of genuine Jazz-Fusion. Having mixed all these different substances, the band created the sound that is both compound and integral, though it would be foolish to expect anything like farrago from Spaced Out. The music is filled with an aura of uncertainty, so be ready for the emotions you feel when meeting something unknown, lying beyond your customary experience, at once mysterious and highly attractive. The two-part Art Attack is similar on the general plane, but is much richer in acoustic and pronouncedly symphonic textures on the one hand and poorer in those jazzy on the other. Shortly after its introductory theme, Big Crunch reveals a Flamenco-stylized bass solo very organically inculcated into the basic fabrics. This is the most intricate and unpredictable composition and is like a fire-spitting dragon, whose appearance may scare the pants off those faint-hearted or simple-minded, but whose esoteric philosophy will delight anybody eager for a depth in any kind of the art. Try mentally to intermix Black Sabbath at their most cerebral (1973-'78, starting with their jazziest, "Never Say Die"), King Crimson in 1974, classic King Diamond, Voivod and Sieges Even, and if you like the picture you get, you are condemned to fall in love with any of the said compositions - once and forever. The relatively short Event Horizon is also compelling. Never exceeding the bounds of the progressive Doom Metal idiom, this is actually what forms the foundation of all these new Spaced Out researches. So all in all, I think this piece should have been placed at the top of the track list. Having left the material's first two thirds behind them, the band begins gradually digressing from the primary style. Antimatter and Blood Fall find quasi Jazz-Fusion starting to suppress its neighbors. Nonetheless, both still have enough Prog-Metal potential to bring a fine style crossover in quite a few places. The last two tracks are free of heaviness at all, yet not to the detriment of the album either, but displaying some new verges of the band's talent instead. The fast and intense Glassosphere-IV reminds me strongly of Classical music by means of Rock. At least in its construction, Fafard's rapid bass line that like an arrow runs all through the piece resembles The Flight of a Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov (a similar solo can be heard on Blood Fall as well). The last track, Singularity, is musically in many ways what its title suggests - a highly eclectic jam involving bass, drums, acoustic plus 'two' electric guitars. This trio are monsters: from the pulsating and complex bass lines of Anthoine Fafard to the active drum work of Martin Maxeux and the meaty guitar riffs and thrilling solos of Mark Termblay - the group is in full progress, shining with their truly collective approach. Well, Anthoine Fafard at times allows himself to do kind of brief benefit performances, but this happens much less often than before.
Conclusion. I feel no discomfort when praising artists who are worthy of that. The heavy adventure Spaced Out have undertaken this time around does really work - perhaps in the best possible way, considering their continual changing of their musical image. If you like a dark cerebral Prog-Metal you can't go wrong with "Unstable Matter". This CD is definitely one of the strongest candidates to take up the highest place in my Top-20-2006.
VM: September 26, 2006
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