(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CD review - Spirits of the Dead, The Grea God Pan (2011)

Marrying folk rock and progressive rock, Spirits of the Dead make their own rules

Norway's Spirits of the Dead raise more than just ghosts. On The Great God Pan!, the band threads a path between several eras and genres of rock music, ranging from folk rock to progressive rock. The trail wanders to take in psychedelia, classic rock, jazz, and art rock, too.

Despite the range of sounds, the 6 songs on The Great God Pan! have a smooth flow. Contrasting musical elements are complementary, as if to prove that they aren't so different after all. This often leads each song to be its own day trip journey. Here's a rundown of the tracks:

Starting with Mighty Mountain, the song fades in on an idyllic Yes or Hawkwind interlude. Merely by adding a crunchy guitar and bullhorned vocals, the sound shifts into something closer to Hey You from The Wall. The noisy intrusion sinks back into the swaying guitar figure. Halfway through the song, a harder beat coalesces, for a modern prog section reminiscent of Trail of the Dead.

Next up, Leaves of Last Year's Fall is my favorite track. The jazzy groove is based on 5/8 rhythm that throws in regular 6/8 measures. Think Dave Brubeck's Take Five merges with one of Traffic's jams. The acoustic chords, meandering electric lead, and busy melodic bass mesh together into smoothly interlocked flow. It's a beautifully balanced piece, but Spirits of the Dead can't resist twisting it further, with a bridge building into a trippy jam band style interlude. The heady sound gets chaotic, yet eventually resolves back into the earlier feel.

The acid rock intro to Pure as the Lotus is built from a distorted guitar line like L'America by the Doors. The eastern hypnotic melody has a snaky feel. This drops out as the vocals kick in. Somewhere between Argent and Deep Purple, the song has a classic '70s rock sound. The lyrics are evocative of the period's art rock:
Just formed from the sky, an elephant's eyes
The signs are in the sand
The darkness I've known will cover the sun
The falling of my soul
Pour me all your love (pure as the lotus)
It's an amalgam of psychedelia, classic rock, and art rock.

The title track fades into a jam already in progress. The sound is both old and new, merging indie folk with an early King Crimson art rock. The drum work is especially impressive, leading me to go back and relisten to the whole EP with a percussion-centric filter. The subtle beat, crossing a restless snare line over a steady kick, propels the song forward. (download from AOL Spinner)

The mood shifts again with Casting the Runes. A driving beat and stalking bass line support a dark, dreamy feel. The vocals are amplified whispers that recall Pink Floyd's Careful With That Axe, Eugene. The darkness collects and the song builds into a higher, nightmare energy before sinking back into a troubled sleep.

With Goldberry, the sleep relaxes again, releasing the tension. It's a perfect closer for The Great God Pan! The groove meshes Pink Floyd's Breathe with Neil Young's Down By The River...

I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's exactly what I hear.

The opening soft portions set up a Breathe feel that's not too far from the softer verses of Down By The River. The song shifts into a bridging section to transition into an assertive declaration like Down By The River's chorus. Goldberry's flow follows Young's song, as well, bouncing from gentle to forceful before building into an intense, tortured jam. Like a wave subsiding, the cathartic intensity eventually ebbs back to the loose open sound of the start.

Running a mere 34 minutes, The Great God Pan! crams in an album's worth of riveting music. Spirits of the Dead have set themselves a challenge for future releases. With no shortage of interesting musical ideas to draw on, I'll be keeping my ears open for them.

The Great God Pan! releases August 1.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. This band is definitely evocative. I keep hearing large portions of this album and their first eponymous album as sounding very much like the Vancouver-based band BLACK MOUNTAIN.