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Round Table Review
Tracklist: I've Been Walking - Part 1 (9:49), The Wizard Of Altai Mountains (4:52), I've Been Walking - Part 2 (12:30), Death Room (18:46)
Roger Trenwith's Review
Those loveable Scandinavians, eh? Great TV, great music, and a knack for letting out all that pent up introspection by way of a darkly lit story. Combining those last two in never less than exemplary fashion is Norway's Gazpacho, and Demon, their follow up to 2012's wonderful March of Ghosts was inspired by "a conversation Thomas (Andersen, keyboards) had with his father...where he spoke of a dark force moving through history", according to the press release. An everyday chat in the land of the long nights, I've no doubt!
Andersen Snr. went on to relate a tale of a discovered dusty manuscript wherein the author claimed to have "discovered the source of what he called an evil presence in the world...So crazed were the writings that the document was donated to the Strahov Library in Prague, where it was thought it would be of interest to students of psychiatry". Thomas's dad should have written a book, but instead it falls to his son and his musical companions to tell the story in their inimitable fashion.
A trail through the mind of disturbed psyche, the album wanders down strange alleyways to a soundtrack of snippets of 78rpm records mingling with sections of European folk music, and other oddities; half remembered snatches of pop tunes and dark ambience are woven into the fabric of Gazpacho's cinematic and BIG music. It all makes for a mix of high drama that the humble listener can get lost in for the three quarters of an hour of its duration.
Not as conventional as March of Ghosts, the album is a slow burner that I'm sure I'll grow to love after I've struggled to make the pre-release deadline for this review, and the band, justifiably, describe Demon as the "most complicated and strange album Gazpacho has ever made". Have no fear, the band has not turned down the byway signposted "avant prog", but there is certainly a sense of experimentation about this album. Nowhere more so than on the closing 18 minute epic Death Room where cinematic chording, banjos and tubas rub shoulders with soulful choral parts and a Harry Nilsson melody as Jan-Henrik Ohme intones the last words from the madman's manuscript in that otherworldly voice of his.
Back to the beginning, and I've Been Walking - Part One is a melancholy tune in the grand manner of classic Gazpacho, all sweeping symphonics and thunderous atmosphere. Not having access to the lyrics results in them being largely impressionistic, as I sometimes struggle with Jan-Henrik's accent, but clues are given as the protagonist sees "no Eldorado", and later he is "lost down the rabbit hole". The end of the song has the lone mournful violin of Mikael Krømer swaying forlornly over some dark ambience, as our central character descends into a dark night of the soul. The Wizard Of Altai Mountain is the marionette's puppet dancing when no-one is watching, before it changes tack to an accordion player and his band entertaining the crowd in the town square. As for the lyrics, I have not managed to get a handle on them at all so far.
I've Been Walking - Part Two strolls past a "sycamore tree, as sick as can be", and the dread atmosphere is countered by an almost jolly keyboard figure. Is that a major key bravely raising its head above the parapet? No matter, it won't last I'm sure. A disjointed upper register voice, as if from an old 78 is joined by more BIG chords from guitarist Jon-Arne Vilbo, who once again plays a textural rather than spotlighted role. Gazpacho are not a band for solos, and this album, as has always been the way with previous releases, is a case of the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. "There is no Eldorado, there is no reward" sings Jan-Henrik in a resigned fashion as the theme from Part One is revisited.
Up to this point there is nothing that could be described as a massive departure from previous Gazpacho albums, but everything on this album leads up to Death Room, which from the off displays the kind of menace that would make Henry Spencer feel at home. The opening section is built on a hypnotic repeated three note figure and the occasional atonal violin sawing. This eventually gives way to a vocal section with soulful backing singers that is as surprising as it is successful. I really need the lyrics now!
Low rumbling bass takes us through the next section to the point where the violin plays a tune not a million miles from Nilsson's Without You, then the (presumably synthesised) tubas and banjos make an appearance, and our protagonist has "conquered fears, settled scores". Perhaps there is some redemption for our anti-hero? The epic is now building nicely, syncopated drums and piano lead the tune over the bridge, and Nilsson reappears briefly. We end with a brief reprise of the same industrial ambience that began the song.
This may all make far more sense when I see the lyrics, but I hope my semi-coherent ramblings are giving you some impression as to what Gazpacho are doing here. The arrangement is the key, and is surely the most difficult thing to get right where crowd pleasing prog epics are concerned. Very few modern prog bands can pull this kind of thing off, but Gazpacho are certainly one of them. The eighteen minutes of Death Room are never tiring, and the band keep their collective eye on the ball for the song's entire length. An epic it may be, but an understated and subtle one at that, and a piece of music where unnecessary bombast never rears its ugly head.
If I were to recommend a Gazpacho album to a newcomer to their music, it would have to be the more accessible March of Ghosts, for Demon is a slightly darker prospect. Fans will love it, no question, but it is a difficult one to mark so quickly after hearing it, as I strongly suspect it will be a grower. Come back in a couple of months and my mark may well have gone up a notch.
Finally, roll on 14th April, when I will be hopefully witnessing large chunks of Demon being put through its paces at The Assembly, Leamington Spa.
André De Boer's Review
On reviewing March of Ghost about two years ago, I ended the article writing: "So I hope Gazpacho will get the desired progressiveness into their next offspring in the future. Luckily they are a very productive band so I'll wait and see. Think Golem guys, please. And expand from there...".
We are at that point right now. The new album. While waiting, some questions came to mind: Will they change the style and soundscape that was used for the last few albums? Will Gazpacho take their time to reflect and hopefully change? Will the band be able to enchant us again with their very own beautiful and mesmerizing music?
Now that Demon is here as the legitimate successor, I've tried to find the answers. What we find is that the soundscape has changed - and changed for the better. Changed in such a delicate, smart way that Gazpacho manages to not lose their original charm and appeal by giving in too much. Instead of delivering albums and stuff almost every year, now they take their time to make it possible to rethink and regroup. And in the way that I see it, the result is just splendid. It holds the perfect answers to the questions asked and feels like a cheering ride back.
Only a few songs, existing of different parts that add up and connect, in spite of differences. All the songs, although not alike, are equally beautiful. The short second track The Wizard Of Altair Mountains, however, stands out. If you have the chance, use that song in order to touch and feel the atmosphere of the album. It has a second half that hides a perfect, amazing and honest violin break that will melt everyone. The songs I've Been Walking part one and I've Been Walking part two both contain pieces of opera-like singing that are lovely and are magically and seamlessly interwoven into these songs. All together this album is a true work of art. Gazpacho does not forget to add the violin that has always played an important part in their music and uniqueness. The violin still amazes me, being played in a more authentic and eclectic way now.
With this magical and magnificent album Gazpacho has returned to the highest level. It provides an outstanding musical journey that will endure time for decades.
Gazpacho is touring already and I can't wait to see how they will move the audience. Visit one of Gazpacho's gigs in April and find out for yourself. Both this album, out on 17th March, and the tour are highly recommended!
Brendan Bowen's Review
Careful not to sound complacent in the niche Gazpacho has created, Demon is the answer to anyone's suggestion that their sound might be samey. If anything, Demon is the ADD version of Gazpacho that I did not see coming.
I've Been Walking - Part 1 opens the album much as their trademark sound would anticipate. Toward the end of the nearly 10 minute song, however, an edge forms and intensity builds that firmly seated my first impression in a brand new light. Finally ending with the mellow singular sound of what is credited as a violin but the tone has the depth of a viola. It is clear that Gazpacho is only improving in their ability and flair for the dramatic.
The Wizard Of Altai Mountain takes an unusual turn. This one has some old world flair that morphs into a string and accordion ditty with audience noise backing it. Played by Stian Cartensen it is a complete shift in mood that makes an interesting blend between the two I've Been Walking parts.
I've Been Walking - Part 2 is decidedly another notch in intensity. A sad movement leading in with a sick Sycamore tree that stretches through a series of, again, unusual vocal effects intoned with LP crackle and stanzas that wouldn't have seemed like Gazpacho and are an incredible surprise. This song highlights Jan Henrik Ohme's solid vocals that are framed around great migrating melodic ebbs and flows throughout the 12:30 minutes.
The album ends with Death Room that will likely end up on the best song of 2014 list for next year's prog awards. It is an 18:30 minute opus that features a loose string bass (Kristian "Fido" Torp) juxtaposed to quarter note mandolin and deep-pocketed drums (Lars Erik Asp) that will squeeze your soul as it oozes between slow and delicate features that embark on the many changes throughout. Odd musical characters interweave including a variety of spacious vocal effects that create a highly complicated and enjoyable 3D soundscape.
Rare is the album that can employ a contrast of the highs and lows so effectively to convey the elaborate moods on display here. With the right equipment the floor will shake (highly recommended) while high pitches are perfectly adjusted for full audible exposure.
I won't make too much of what is likely already covered by the other able reviewers here, but this is a story of a manuscript left behind by an unnamed man who recorded an elaborate detail of the history and story of a tangible evil using terms and phrasing that suggested a very intimate knowledge, even declaring it an "intelligent will". Received as a curiosity showing the constructs of a troubled mind it makes for a unique template to build a fantastic musical masterpiece.
At 46 minutes, I was left wanting more. A bonus track will be included in a limited release but it was described as a track that didn't really fit with the flow of Demon - hence the bonus status.
The sound engineering exploits the dramatic movements between light piano to gentle strumming and back to full-bodied and well-rounded dark intensity. The style and taste of Demon is directed right into my preferred flavours. So much variety while keeping the integrity laid down by the standard bearer Night is the feat I have been waiting for ever since DPRP introduced me to it.
Clearly Gazpacho took some chances by integrating banjo and accordion old world polka elements between metal riffs and unconventional vocal effects. The inclusion of Charlotte Bredesen's highly effective and beautiful choir and backing vocals truly help set Demon apart. This is creativity at it's best including an innate ability to build an audience friendly and listenable composition. Each fully attentive listen to Demon left me absolutely elated. No hesitation to give this album the credit it truly deserves - perfect.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
Firstly confession time; I am a complete novice when it comes to the work of Gazpacho. Yes, I've heard a few pieces in the past but until this new release, Demon, I had not actually heard a complete album of theirs. After hearing this album that is a scenario that I am now keen to address.
This won't be a lengthy review as I will let my colleagues who are more familiar with Gazpacho wax lyrically, or as they see fit, on the merits of Demon. Rather I will give an overview and my own impressions of this fine disc.
This is Gazpacho's eighth studio album and has been almost two years in the making. The synopsis is that these songs are based on the mad ramblings of a tenant in a building in Prague, delving into the demon that possesses him and the evil he has caused and is capable of. The four songs represent part of a story with the last part, Death Room, using the words found in the journal the unknown tenant left before disappearing.
So nice easy going subject matter then, however despite its dark overtones this is not an album of misery rather it is an album of mood; at times evocative and haunting, at times melancholy and then joyous at others. What this album does possess is a musicality and variation that sets it apart. I mean how many Prog albums feature an accordion solo??
Despite its brevity (just over 45 minutes in duration) every moment of this album has a sense of purpose and a conciseness that actually make it sound great, nothing here overstays its welcome and there are no long guitar solos nor endless keyboard twinklings (nothing wrong with either of those I must add). Instead the approach on this album is very much less is more which brings out a spacious and cinematic feel that is both very captivating and enchanting.
Listening to this album evokes images of shadowed rooms, the light and shade and emptiness of the vacated apartment that the story depicts so vividly. The album builds gradually with some very unusual twists and differing instrumentation and, for me, the accordion part on The Wizard of Altai Mountain is astounding and unexpected, taking this short song into another realm as it fits perfectly, as does the eerie violin parts on Death Room. All in all the playing on this album is magnificent, understated even, and it is this attention to detail and willingness of Gazpacho to take unexpected routes to tell the story that makes this album as good as it is. It is a disc that will repay repeated listening over time.
If you are a fan of Marillion, Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree then I feel this album may well be of interest to you. Quite how they will bring these pieces to life on stage is an interesting concept but for now I heartily recommend this album and I for one will be looking to investigate Gazpacho's back catalogue a little more in the very near future. Highly recommended.
Mark Hughes' Review
With their eighth studio album in the 14 years of their existence, the Norwegian band Gazpacho have taken a sideways step away from the 'traditional' progressive idiom, whatever that may be these days. As my fellow reviewers have already outlined the concept and rationale behind Demon there is no need for me to elucidate any further so I can just concentrate on what the band deliver aurally.
Firstly, I think it is important to state that this is a very mature and considered album, the band having the confidence and ability to release something that is quite minimalist in places with plenty of space and room to breathe yet imbued with plenty of melody, tension and fine music. Just four tracks in length (or three if you consider that one of them is split into two parts) and with a running time in excess of 45 minutes each of the three long songs have much to explore. Yet it is the shortest track, The Wizard Of Altai Mountain, that offers one of the most intriguing pieces of the set. The first half of the number is a rather sedate but melodious number, wonderfully sung by Jan Henrik Ohme, but then transforms into a more traditional sounding folk number, essentially a duet between violin, played by band member Mikael Krømer, and accordion by guest musician Stian Carstensen (who also contributes banjo to the album). Talk of folk music, banjos and accordions might not sound very prog but taken as a whole, the album is as progressive, in the truest sense of the word, as it gets.
The centrepiece of the album is the two-part I've Been Walking. A major composition, the strength of the number lies in its simplicity and the fact that the band never work against each other. There are long stretches where only one or two members of the group can be heard but this works to the advantage of the music, there is a relaxing essence that draws the listener in but, cleverly, completely avoids becoming tedious or boring. Indeed, as I have already stated, there is an inherent tension within the music, an expectant excitement of what the next few musical bars may bring. The general sparseness of the arrangement makes the periods that feature the whole band all that more dramatic.
For those that remember the days of vinyl, the second side of this album would be completely taken up with Death Room, a brave and intriguing piece of music that is very...subtle. Never has so much been offered by what, at first hearing, seems so little. Yet the more one listens, the more one hears. In many ways I am drawn to make comparisons with the compositional leaps and bounds that the great Talk Talk made when they released Spirit Of Eden way back in 1988, an album that is still widely regarded as an artistic, if not commercial, high point.
Have Gazpacho reached such heights? Well probably not yet but the signs and indications are favourable. It will be interesting to see if the band can replicate the mood and atmosphere of the album live on stage; personally I'd love the album to be performed in its entirety in front of a large and respectful audience to hear where the band could take the music. That would be a concert (and live album!) to behold.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Gazpacho CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Get It While It's Cold|
|"Now all we're waiting for is a full album release of this great band - Someone, get these guys a record deal, will ya!"|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8-/10)
|Get It While It's Cold (37°C)|
|" have seldomly been blown away this much by a new band. Very accessable music, yet with good song structures, lots of variety, imaginative lyrics and pretty much a unique sound."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 9/10)
|"...this is indeed a band with enormous potential. They are not there yet though."|
(Ed Sander, 7.5/10)
|When Earth Lets Go|
|"...another great album from this Norwegian outfit and though it slightly misses the punch of its predecessor, it is still a very worthy follow-up."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
|"While music of Gazpacho is not progressive in the normal sense of the word, they certainly rank with the likes of Radiohead, Muse or even first album Coldplay."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
|"...I'm absolutely hooked, this is one of the best new bands I've heard in a long time."|
(Dave Baird, 9/10)
|"Although the band’s sound could be best described as brooding, moody and often melancholic it’s not without its colourful textures."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|A Night At Loreley [DVD/CD]|
|"It's a pity there aren't any extras on the disc."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8/10)
|"Overall, this is an incredible mood album that easily places you in that isolated and lonely lighthouse. This band has done an incredible job once again."|
(Brendan Bowen, 9.5/10)
|"If you've been curious about this band but never taken the plunge then this is a comprehensive best-of that will serve as a great introduction."|
(Andy Read, 9/10)
|March Of Ghosts|
|"On first hearing this album largely failed to make an impression, but subsequent listens, particularly to the outstanding lyrics has led me to believe that this will probably still be in my top five albums of the year come December."|
(Roger Trenwith, 8/10)
|"So sit back, relax, and give Night a listen. And if this draws an unfamiliar image into your mind, remember, you are only dreaming..."|
(Jim Corcoran, 9.5/10)
|Previous Gazpacho Live Reviews:-|
|2007:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands|
|2009:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands|
|2010:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands||Night Of The Prog, Germany|
|2011:-||London, U.K.||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands|
|2012:-||Wolverhampton, U.K.||London, U.K.|
|Zoetermeer, The Netherlands||Den Bosch, The Netherlands|
|Previous Gazpacho Interviews:-|
|Speaking to Bart Jan van der Vorst (2003)|
|Speaking to Gert Hulshof (2011)|