Nearing the quarter-century of their existence, Norwegian proggers conspire to serve up an incendiary magnum opus.
Never pretending to be arsonists and preferring a slow-burn approach to immediate gratification, this ensemble pull all the stops on the inflammatory “Fireworker” that sees them return to the large-scale concept the collective have seemed to abandon after 2016’s “Demon” – but there’s a fresh grandeur to what the veterans present here. There’s no cosmic bleakness of “Soyuz” now: its follow-up achieves existential catharsis through intense, sanguine movements whose signals might be coded but the messages are clear. Bookended with two epics, the group’s eleventh longplay will go for immense thematic unity and stylistic variety which clothe personal issues in a multicolored cloak to unhurriedly unfold over the course of five pieces.
It’s impossible not to listen in awe to the almost 20-minute “Space Cowboy” where surprises are aplenty, as prairie-wide oratorio passages give way to heavy riffs after Jan Henrik Ohme’s intimate prayer is sprinkled with delicately scintillating ivories and vocals paint the sonic space with deceptively disjointed images that gel into hypnotic whole further down the line – only stasis doesn’t belong in this inebriating, dynamic brew. When Thomas Alexander Andersen’s organ waves roll in, the sizzling continuum begins to sway only to get suspended in ether once again and chill before choirs elevate the solemnity to a completely different realm and let the band rock the orchestral soundscape heating up the drama to the boiling point. And while the chamber vibe of “Hourglass” adds fragile translucence to the spiritual uplift, Mikael Krømer’s violin anchors the rise to the ground as the lyrics suggest inferno, rather than paradise, as the album’s environment.
The spectral, lachrymose balladry of “Antique” is bound to confirm this suspicion in no uncertain terms, yet if the entrancing strings-drenched and acoustically tinctured Spanish passion play of the title piece should feel superficial at first glance, its danse macabre conceals a lead-laden stygian depth and swells with Kristian Torp’s bass. But then the many layers of “Sapien” – ticking like a bomb, expanding on a tide of Jon Arne Vilbo’s guitars, and harboring a moment of near-silence – turn nightmare into a velvet reverie that’s full of inner light. Such contrast has rarely been part of GAZPACHO’s method, so we may witness an onset of a new, bright era in the ensemble’s development – a truly fiery progress.