Sonus Umbra 2020
Approaching their 30th anniversary, art-rockers of worldwide renown venture into celestial realm to find spectral closure.
It took this ensemble – split currently between Chicago and Abu Dhabi, which must have influenced their stylistic reach – almost five years to take the story started on 2016’s “Beyond The Panopticon” further down on the road, yet the septet’s sixth full-length offering feels worth the wait. For all the conceptual darkness there is, “A Sky Full Of Ghosts” emerges as a lighter and more nuanced development of the collective’s grip on progressive idiom, folksy passages taking precedence over overtly sophisticated sonic edifices. Their first album not to feature female voice, except for a final spoken word, it’s surprisingly a delicate, if solid, effort compared to what came before, and, despite the presence of a certain epic, the nine pieces on display provide the listener with an arresting, albeit not always easy, experience.
The tension that permeates the entire record doesn’t linger in limbo too long and builds right away, once the tight-but-loose waves of guitar strum and organ’s sway of opener “Antidentity” make one’s skin hair bristle with anxiety – and expectancy, too – and even the tender flute will fail to smooth the edge, as sharp riffs enter the frame and compromise the number’s balladry, only for acoustic six-string lace to allay the worry and let subtle electric surge and soft vocals to the fore and allow the instruments battle each other. Such a dry belligerence may mar the otherwise engaging dynamics of “Bleary-Eyed People” yet Rich Poston’s fretboard runs and Steve Royce’s reeds save the day and bring out a catchy tune from Roey Ben-Yoseph’s throat. Nothing can compare, though, to the 21-minute expanse of “Hidden In The Light” – launched into pseudo-orchestral space by Luis Nasser’s slinky bass and injecting this medieval tapestry with elegant funk: a tasty contrast to wondrous polyphonic singing and nigh-on cacophonic ivories – cosmic synthesizers and pure piano.
There’s enchanting, enshrouding kind of magic in “Losing My Insanity” which marries solemnity to joie de vivre, and the majestic simplicity in “The Last Menagerie” which reveals the ensemble most melodic moves and the artists’ cinematic interplay that turns in aggressive jazzy wigout on “The Waves Will Devour The Sea” and calms the storm on “Apogee”: the story’s finale… and a place where another tale has to begin. A great trip in and out of the gloom.