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Wobbler / Indukti - Hinterland / S.U.S.A.R

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Artist: Wobbler / Indukti

Album: Hinterland / S.U.S.A.R

Label: Laser’s Edge

Review date: Sep. 29, 2005

As unfashionable as it may be, I have a soft spot in my heart for good prog rock. I grew up on King Crimson (about whom more later) Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, PFM, Yes, early Floyd, UK – the list goes on. In a time when we witness daily the simultaneous birth, death, aftermath and rebirth of genre, it’s refreshing, even comforting, to hear some good old-fashioned symphonic art-rock, as offered on these two new Laser’s Edge discs. Certainly, many of the more orchestral drone/minimalist groups employ lush textures and slow sweeping builds in grand style, but there was a sound, a combination of vintage instruments and a love for “classical” music’s trappings, that 1970s art-rock kept for itself.

It wouldn’t be fair to posit that Norwegian progsters Wobbler have staked new ground; in fact, they don’t seem to have the desire to do so. Both the melotrons that open their debut album and its 30-minute epic title track speak to a heart-on-sleeve reverence for times and music of yore.

From the first few moments of the opening track, “Serenade for 1652,” we are plunged into a brooding but fabricated darkness, suggesting, along with its title, a Nick Drake or Robert Fripp influenced view of the baroque, replete with strings and minor chords. Suddenly, what sounds like a huge, amplified and reverbed intake of breath is heard, leading smack into the organ-driven complexities of the title track’s opening moments. These sudden dynamic and textural changes define this group’s retro-sound, as they do the genre overall. A long-drawn string swell may glide unceremoniously but satisfyingly into acoustic guitar and flute reveries, and Wobbler have the stereotypical gestalt down perfectly. The music has time to breathe, grow, develop and build, so that when what serves as the chorus comes back some 20 minutes into the track, the journey seems complete.

The other tracks – the shortest of which is 12 minutes – follow similar models, and the readily apparent influences range from ELP to Gentle Giant. The latter is a rather unfortunate case, as the vocals on this disc do not even hold a candle to GG’s well-executed multivalent voiceovers, but this is really the only drawback to a solidly produced and very well-performed disc.

Much more infrequent were the ’70s bands that favored harmonic and compositional innovation over orchestral wash and swim. Bill Bruford-era King Crimson was certainly one of these, employing many avant-garde techniques in both composition and recording processes. Polish rockers Indukti follow bravely in the Crim footsteps, eschewing the classical mythology of Beethoven and Wagner for the alternately hot-and-sweetly dissonant musings of Shostakovich or Bartok, all overlayed with smoothly searing guitar work, crunchy violin and miniscule but effective synth squawks. The five musicians, all classically trained, are clearly up to the job and to their chosen lineage, and from the opening spacious harp gestures, the disc sizzles and crushes by turn with energy and intensity. There are certainly quiet moments, the center of “Uluru” providing a momentary respite from the onslaught, but much of the album thrives on grungy gut-bucket riffage altered by subtle time signature change, sometimes from bar to bar. This temporal play doesn’t call attention to itself for its own sake; rather, it usually serves a textural purpose, introducing a change in orchestration. When vocals are used, they are heavily effected but quite powerful, making this disc marginally more satisfying on repeated listening.

I hadn’t ingested very much prog for years, and reviewing these two releases was refreshing and exhilarating. Like many, I was under the impression that the genre had largely faded or died, save in small pockets of resistance. It’s good to hear that fine compositions are still being written, that there is still something to be said in a language that, to my amazement, remains vital and important.

By Marc Medwin

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