Everyone’s favorite artists from Norway have released an eighth studio album, two years in the making. And, not shockingly, it’s brilliant, stunning, and ingenious. If NIGHT is the Poetic Edda of modern progressive rock, DEMON is the Prose Edda.
Our own progarchist editor, Craig Breaden, has already offered his always excellent thoughts on the album, but I can’t let a Gazpacho release go by without also discussing it. So, please consider this review a supplement to Craig’s, certainly not a replacement.
As with every Gazpacho release, on DEMON, Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are immaculate, and Thomas Andersen’s and Ohme’s lyrics reach toward the highest of the high, the most beautiful of the most beautiful.
As with all of seven of their previous albums, on DEMON, the notes linger in a Mark Hollis fashion, melodies emerge through punctuated walls of sound, Ohme’s vocals soar in an introspective aural empire, every instrument is played with loving perfection and always contributes as a sonic res publica. One can find guitar, base, drums, and keyboards here. But, strings, accordions, umpa brass, and Eastern European folks instruments abound as well. Old phonographs spurt statically operatic voices, dinner party crowds murmur, wind howls, and the natural elements create a wash of color in the background, all adding to a perfectly late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century haunting. Though frightening, DEMON’s story reflects an eerie Ray Bradbury horror rather than an H.P. Lovecraftian terrifying one.
It would be hard to find a band in 2014 more suited to long epics than Gazpacho. Really, the band’s only serious rival would be Ayreon. Here, I exclude bands such as Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer, as they rather happily create both concept albums and non-concept albums. Ever since NIGHT, though, Gazpacho has created concept after concept: NIGHT (a dream); TICK TOCK (a journey and escape): MISSA ANTROPOS (a pagan Mass); and MARCH OF GHOSTS (a series of short stories). The last especially offers a thematic prologue to DEMON.
While Ayreon reflects a deep knowledge and a loving embrace of science fiction and is close to infinity in its longing expansiveness, Gazpacho creates a fantastic and fabulist aura of quiet darkness and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ancestors (our ghosts).
In a previous post here at progarchy, I noted that Gazpacho produces what might be called Eddic prog. DEMON only confirms that. Edda is a word that has no definite origins. It’s seemingly neither of Germanic or Latin origin, yet it appears as a vital word in Medieval Scandinavia. In our modern times, we attach it to the work of Snorri Snurlson. Not quite a Saga (also a perfected art form in Scandinavia), an Edda seems, by best definition, to be an “utterance of the soul.” Really, nothing could better describe the lyrics, the vocals, and the music of Gazpacho.
While I have no intimate knowledge of the band (though J-H Ohme is quite gracious on Facebook in answering my pesky questions and putting up with my innumerable tags of him), I suspect that DEMON is meant to be a second or third chapter in a long line of stories dealing with the supernatural. It began either with MISSA ANTROPOS (the calling of the Muses into this world) or with MARCH OF GHOSTS. The latter, though, seems more of a follow-up rather than a beginning. MISSA ANTROPOS certainly has the makings of a prologue or opening chapter to a long novel. If I could offer Gazpacho one piece of advice, it would be this: make the next album about Scandinavia. Images of Sigurd (baptized St. Michael after Christian evangelists appeared), the gods and heroes of the Seeress’s prophecy of Ragnorak, and the modern works of Sigrid Unset would all serve to continue this story so imaginatively begun by Gazpacho.. Imagine the use of traditional Scandinavia folk music (which bled readily from the pagan into the Christian/Lutheran), melodies, and instruments; and the imagery of Nordic prowess, AllThings, rune stones, and the Stave churches. My wannabe Viking heart swells just thinking about the possibilities.
Many reviewers have compared Gazpacho’s music to Radiohead or Sigur Ros, but I don’t hear that. If anything, Gazpacho offers a much more energetic vision first expressed by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene in 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN and 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK. Yet, these comparisons are inadequate. Gazpacho, as with all great bands and artists, is at once backward looking, inward looking, and forward looking. Rarely, however, do artists display the kind of confidence that this band so joyously does. Gazpacho is its own band and never a mimicry of another band. They may very well build on the music of Hollis and Friese-Greene, but they have taken it in directions that Talk Talk never could or would.
No, Gazpacho is its own. Its own beauty, its own excellence, and its own genius. Long may they pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, even while examining the horrors of the macabre.