The Devil’s Staircase 2020
Marrying absolute precision of their results to spheres of harmony, international artistic crew project an impressive debut.
Math-rock ensembles rarely perceive their chosen style as literally and seriously as this conglomerate of prog performers do by applying mathematics and other sciences – as a source of inspiration and structure – to music to such an extent that the sextet strongly deny playing anything approximating the above subgenre. The band wisely leave the theories behind it to a special blog and concentrate instead on more immediate, albeit sophisticated, matter: grand instrumental ideas expressed through memorable melodies and arresting arrangements. The results seem truly impressive.
From the menacingly expansive hum of “Gravitation” onward, there’s unrelenting anxious excitement seeping out of the five spaced-out pieces on display whose soundscapes are as romantically ethereal as they are tangibly chthonic – thanks to the contrasting mélange of guitars, Aaron Geller’s electric and Tim McCaskey’s acoustic, electronica and Mellotron. With the emergence of heavy riffs and serene reeds the listener’s immersion in the collective’s wondrously unhinged, if perfectly logical, world will be complete, yet the trip the team embark on remain impossible to predict. Not as horrific as Hammill’s habitat and not as frightening as one that Fripp frequented, this world is easily transmogrified from belligerent rock to orchestral glory, but the sonic sleaze the artists offer in “Rule 34” suits the number’s subject so snugly it has to feel exquisite. Still, folky motifs lace the tune to propel the flow to frantic blues where faux-violin, strum and shredding weave Orwellian gloom only to unfold the rage of “Room 101” and stage “the worst thing in the world” as most intense, vibrant experience.
As Luis Nasser’s bass and Mattias Olsson’s drums engage in dramatic groove, and Ramsés Luna’s sax blares out despair, the dynamics run wild, yet they boil down to a deceptively tranquil dance in “Morse ..–..” until synthetic voices start to soar above the “SOS”-spelling rhythm and bring in a dose of intricate nervousness into hypnotic drift. With Edgar Arrellín Rosas’ sound designs reigning supreme in the rapturous raga of “Cantor’s Dust” – an increasingly hot melting pot of Eastern exotica and Western symphonic reserve – the ensemble’s first album lands on a finale that sets expectations for the next record rather high, yet there’s no doubts they will deliver on this promise.