Gazpacho – Raising Demons

ImageThis bombing went on for five years. The Supreme Court never passed any judgment on it and the military speaks with pride today that five years of the bombing of Cambodia killed 16,000 of the so-called enemy. That’s 25% killed, and there’s a military ruling that says you cannot kill more than 10% of the enemy without causing irreversible, psychological damage. So, five years of bombing, a diet of bark, bugs, lizards and leaves up in the Cambodian jungles, an education in Paris environs in a strict Maoist doctrine with a touch of Rousseau, and other things that we will probably never know about in our lifetime — including, perhaps, an invisible cloud of evil that circles the Earth and lands at random in places like Iran, Beirut, Germany, Cambodia, America — set the Khymer Rouge out to carry out the worst auto-homeo genocide in modern history. Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia, 1987

These papers were supposedly some sort of manuscript or document or diary.  According to the story, he had been tracking a demon throughout history.  If the manuscript exists or not I have no idea.  That’s not the point.  It got me thinking, what would this manuscript look like, what if the story was true? What happened to the guy? It was supposed to be us trying make an album of what we thought that manuscript would look like and at the same time use that opportunity to look at evil. Thomas Alexander Andersen, Gazpacho, 2014

One of the albums that is so good that after the initial listens it has to wait for me to have time and peace of mind to give it a proper listen. Michał Pawłowski, guitarist/vocalist of newspaperflyhunting, on Gazpacho’s Demon, 2014.

Gazpacho’s Demon lives in shadowy place, vector-connected to other works in my head, where history seems to open up and then close back down, leaving the created work seemingly alone amidst a sea of ordinariness.  Set against the elegantly melodic, mid-tempo electric arrangements typical of Gazpacho’s other works, particularly Night and Tick Tock, and the elongated notes of Jan Henrik Ohme’s vocal, Demon is Gazpacho’s most effective demonstration yet of their approach to a music that is less concerned with genre and more interested in expression of thought.  Mikael Kromer’s accordion and violin interplay lend an earthy, acoustic grounding to the mix, while the rhythm section of Kristian Torp and Lars Erik Asp continue Gazpacho’s penchant for the deep groove, revealing a jazz past more commonly prized by generations of musicians growing up in Europe than in the States.  Combine these with the power brought by the electric core of the band, Thomas Alexander Andersen’s keyboards and Jon Arne Vilbo’s restrained, powerful guitar, and the heady result is a drama of sound, the actual sonic imprint furthering the narrative as voiced by Ohme.

Demon is nominally about the memory of a journal left by a man pursuing a demon across geographies and chronologies. This creates an interesting triple remove for the songwriters, as the story is less about the man or demon than the idea of the journal.  The brilliancy of Gazpacho taking this tack is hard to overstate.  The purity of a demon, a universal among religious or moral systems, balanced against the uncertainty principle that is humanity…and the messiness of a human chasing his devil as filtered through a diary (of a seer or a madman?).  What would such writing look like? How would I perceive it and where would I locate the demon, in the memory, the journal, the man, or the malignant spirit itself? How would I express it to someone else without becoming a demon chaser or a hellhounded man? I think what is so immediate about this record and the way Gazpacho engages its subject is that the story is entirely impressionistic, the images suggestive of the mirrors within the non-narrative.  I comprehend what’s going on in this album lyrically as a next-century response (or sequel) to the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.  Yet I would venture that our evils feel perhaps more deeply woven than they did five decades ago, our inability to find our demons and our continued need for the chase leading inexorably back to ourselves.

The tendency to dark drama in European metal is present, but in the place of a gray/black is a kind of constant waning light, a colored gloaming.  I’m consistently astounded by the ability of Scandinavian musicians to conjure qualities of light in the sounds they create, and Gazpacho’s talent for this on Demon is peerless.  As the lengthy I’ve Been Walking begins unfolding, with its crushing guitar matching the lyrical denial of our various versions of paradise, we see internal arguments on faith and evil’s meaning within it.  The Wizard of Altai Mountains follows, a radio-friendly reflection on following someone/something wearing “red pants and the ghost of a grin,” having to follow, despite a bone weariness and a sense of revulsion.  The accordion-driven outro to the song, given as much space as the lyric, reinforces the feeling that Wizard could easily be a Tom Waits tarantella, but where Waits would bring irony Gazpacho goes for something else entirely, a folksong sincerity that we’ve all but lost in modern music, except in progressive rock, which is one of that genre’s key strengths.  I’ve Been Walking then continues, embedding even more deeply folksong, like treasure in the buried, scratchy 78 verse:

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”

Not this tide.

“When do you think that he’ll come back?”

Not this tide.

“Has any one had word of him?”

Not this tide.

“When do you think that he’ll come back?”

Not this tide.

…and in its second section, with a guitar intro suggestive of Alex Lifeson’s intro riff on Rush’s Xanadu, the song contains one of the most richly gorgeous vocal melodies I’ve heard, delivering words like disconnected pieces of a puzzle.  Much is made of Ohme’s similarities with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, but Ohme’s voice is more a bowed instrument, sustaining notes and finding variations in them as they decay.  The sympathy between Ohme’s approach and the band’s is quite remarkable, and the album’s conclusion, Death Room (on the CD there is a “bonus track,” Cage, that isn’t on the LP), is where the risky length, over 18 minutes, pays off precisely because the band knows how to arrange its material with such great dynamic effect, including the most tasteful use of a gospel choir out of context I can remember.

This is a great record from a great band who remains at a summit of creativity, and leaves them to grapple with a demon of their own: what next?

Note:  A beautiful and thematically rich record deserves the kind of packaging Kscope has given to Demon.  For the CD version, its yellowing journal look, courier typeface, and booklet of lyrics does justice to the music.  I cannot comment on the LP.  I was going to pony up for it, but the bonus track Cage was not included, and unfortunately at this writing Kscope doesn’t clarify if LP buyers will receive the MP3 for free if they aren’t buying through Burning Shed, their distributor.

8 thoughts on “Gazpacho – Raising Demons

  1. Thanks so much for writing this, Craig. It’s simply–and not surprisingly–an excellent review. I consider Gazpacho one of five or so favorite bands, but dealing with Kscope was so infuriating that my whole attitude toward this Gazpacho release soured. I’m at the point, that I’m not even going to try to deal with the label anymore. Too bad, as I think they’re producing some of the most interesting music out there, especially from Giancarlo Erra, Sam Healy, and Gazpacho.

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  2. Kscope’s in an interesting space, a real record company with a curatorial direction, in an era that doesn’t much like record companies or such defined aesthetics. I wonder about their unresponsiveness — I think their marketing in North America is fairly abysmal, as I suggested in the review regarding the LP (in my mind the record companies should be giving away MP3s with each vinyl sale as a matter of course, and that I should even have to wonder if this is the case reflects poorly on Kscope). I would have purchased the vinyl from Amazon for around $26 if I’d known I could get a digital download as well, because that gives me the listenability I prefer on two fronts. Purchasing from Burning Shed would have cost me $30, and that’s just beyond what I want to pay (or to turn that around, what I think they should be charging). Being a smaller company with a built-in fanbase gives them a lot of flexibility I don’t think they take advantage of, at least in the States.

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    1. Very solid thoughts, Craig. Sadly, they’re only hurting themselves and their artists. I, for one, am done with the label. I’ve bought almost every Kscope release over the past 5 years. No more. I’ll write a farewell to them in the near future. I wish them well, but I’m not going to promote the label anymore–at least personally.

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  3. Michał

    After I finally had time to listen to “Demon” properly, attentively, and repetitively, I must say that it’s absolutely gorgeous. Stunning. A masterpiece. Once in every few minutes there is some tiny detail, a piece of melody, an arragement idea, a vocal/instrument interplay, or something more intangible which is absoulutely beautiful. I am also a fan of well-executed concepts (including packaging), especially if they are rather understated, so “Demon” delivers in this area as well. I said earlier that there is not much release (as opposed to build-up) on the album – and now I’m glad this is so, this gives the music space and lets it avoid the unnecessary sense of urgency.

    So in a word: thank you Gazpacho! And Kscope, too;) And Craig – for quoting me in your post.

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    1. Thanks Michal, for your thoughts! I had to use your quote about needing to give the album time. It’s true, and I think it’s going to continue to reward repeated listens. Demon really caught me by surprise.

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  4. Pingback: Demon – A Love Story (or: My late, yet very timely review of Gazpacho’s latest offering) | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  5. Pingback: “I’ve Been Walking (part 2)” by Gazpacho – soundstreamsunday

  6. Pingback: soundstreamsunday: “I’ve Been Walking (part 2)” by Gazpacho | Progarchy

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