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Upsilon Acrux - Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum

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Artist: Upsilon Acrux

Album: Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum

Label: Planaria

Review date: Oct. 11, 2004

San Diego’s Upsilon Acrux never had a real foothold in the short-lived brutal prog explosion. Since they were never especially brutal, anyway, Upsilon Acrux were somewhat of a step-sibling to bands like Orthrelm, The Flying Luttenbachers, and Ruins, anyway. The quintet were, however, the most obvious students of the prog tradition, both in music, and references to their musical forefathers (the album title In the Acrux of the Upsilon King should be evidence enough of the latter). The aforementioned album, wordy title and all, was over 70 minutes of intricate, athletic music, but a sameness and lack of surprise made it seem like more of a showcase of flexibility and dexterity than anything else. On Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum, however, Upsilon Acrux make inconsequential any past imperfections with an album that deftly both pays homage to and modernizes the old school of progressive rock. While there are still plenty of musicians who first made their marks in prog and, to this day, remain musically significant (Fred Frith and Robert Wyatt come to mind), there’s something revitalizing about hearing a band like Upsilon Acrux hitting their stride like they do on Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum.

The complex time signatures and breakneck tempo changes one might expect haven’t been abandoned by the group, not by a long shot, but Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum relies on more than these jaw-dropping pyrotechnics to be successful. The band has always utilized ambient constructions, and while such material exists in less overt forms here than its predecessor, the quintet still have the ability to make instrumental music interesting at any speed. It’s Upsilon Acrux’s songwriting that sets them apart, not flashy instrumentalism or fiery bombast. An impressive cover of Goblin’s “Night of the Goblin,” is a great link between the past and the present, and the stereo split of drummers Derek Bruns and Jesse Klecker is another novel attractor.

The band’s self-termed “maximalist” aesthetic has reached its fruition on Volucris Avis Dirae-Arum. It's tastefully done, without heavy-handed resurrection of the more clichéd fragments of prog’s past.

By Adam Strohm

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