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Guapo - Black Oni

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Artist: Guapo

Album: Black Oni

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Aug. 11, 2005

There is almost nothing interesting to say about Guapo’s latest full-length, Black Oni. Like their previous five albums, it’s a 100 percent instrumental, progressive rock record. Like their previous five albums, it is flawlessly executed, innovatively written, and infinitely complex. The London trio (drums, bass, and keys, primarily) are brilliant musicians, know exactly what kind of music they want to make, and they do it perfectly. Conceptually, Guapo are a bore.

Black Oni, on the other hand, is about as boring as being chased by werewolves through a foggy forest in the dead of night. On Halloween. It’s wildly alive, and about as billowing, sinuous, sinister, heady and massive as music gets. Eerie ascending mellotron melodies climb atop galloping, delirious bass lines and wrecking ball jazz-metal drums, then stop on a shilling, pivot, and suddenly break into a completely different convulsing configuration of evil, driving rhythms. Such frantic antics get Guapo likened to other time-signature schizophrenics like Ruins, Magma, and the rest of the ADD-rattled Ipecac roster, but in truth theirs is a particularly occult, neo-noir strain of progressive prog (how’s that for a meaningful redundancy?) that’s closer in tone and atmosphere to Popul Vuh and Goblin (circa Suspiria) than comic sugar-spazz like Fantomas.

Composed of five Roman numeral tracks, Black Oni is definitely the most malevolent entry in the Guapo discography. “I” and “II” both erupt with demonic tentacles of bass/drums violence, the harmonium keys warped and dancing in the dexterous storm. But on “III” they bravely begin with a long sparse stretch of cold, tinkling Fender Rhodes notes, ominous cymbal sibilance, and high-pitched spirit sine-waves, lulling things into a sparkling dream before deep bass drones dash in alongside a marching snare beat. Guapo only pick up steam as the piece progresses, spiraling into chaos with a pounding electric piano riff and relentless percussion. Then, just to remind the audience who’s running this show, they all completely freeze at the same split-second, song over.

Guapo reign over a very specific kingdom. Within the domain of heavy, modern prog, there are virtually no contenders to the throne. But it remains to be seen if they will ever attempt to expand their command, or whether they’re just content to wander this plateau empire forever. Frankly – and fortunately for Guapo – either option is pretty awesome.

By Britt Brown

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