The Demon Part:
Most of the reviews of Gazpacho’s latest album, Demon, are already in (including Progarchy’s own reviews). Mine here … well, it’s a little late, considering the album came out in spring and we are now on solidly in autumn. Nevertheless, I am going to pat myself on the back and say I’ve made quite an improvement for timeliness for Gazpacho reviews. You see, in June of 2013, I reviewed Tick Tock on this same site. Considering that album came out in 2009, my review was approximately four years after the fact. Now, I’ve whittled my Gazpacho review time down to mere months from release – an order of magnitude improvement! Note: you are not allowed to mention that I’ve never reviewed Missa Atropos or March of Ghosts, capisce?
So, about Demon itself? Haunting is one word that can be used to describe this album. Strange is another one. This album … it’s out there. At times it gives me the creeps, the willies, and the heeby-jeebies. You know what else? It’s damn good, brimming with excellence on par with the other great albums they have released beginning with 2007’s Night.
Demon takes us on a journey through the ramblings of a disturbed individual descending into outright madness. The idea behind the album originates from the writings of an unknown apartment dweller in Prague, with the lyrics based on these ramblings. I’m not going to pretend to have any deep understanding of these lyrics; I don’t. I’ve read through them numerous times and followed them through a few listens of this album. Sure, I have my own ideas as to various possible interpretations. But I do not grok them at this point.
Musically, the album has a very experimental feel to it, or at least more so than the typical Gazpacho album. Sonically, it has a sound quite different than any of their previous works, and yet it is unmistakably Gazpacho.
The album kicks off with I’ve Been Walking. The introduction is light, with a sound effect and some soft vocals before ever so slightly picking up the pace. Throughout the track, slower, mellower, minor key parts alternate with occasional louder, wall of sound bursts. Piano, choral arrangements, mellotron, and the smooth vocals of Jan Henrik Ohme all take their turns as the feature instrument. The track closes with some melancholy solo violin which has become a trademark of Gazpacho. This track is extremely effective in setting the mood for the album as a whole.
Next up is The Wizard of Altai Mountain. This song is almost whimsical sounding in it’s first of two very distinctive parts. At about the halfway point, the music takes a noticeable change of direction, to a folky accordion that reminds me of some traditional, Eastern European music. It fills me with the urge to drink vodka – no small feat with me being much more of a whisky/beer man. My mind’s eye can picture someone dancing the kazachoc, a traditional Slavic fast dance in which the dancer squats and alternatively kicks out his legs (yes, I had to look that up).
I’ve Been Walking (Part 2) follows, with a much different mood, one of a resigned sadness. Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are excellent throughout the album, but they are especially great on this track. They are particularly effective in expressing the melancholy realization that comes with shattered illusions:
There’s no Altai Mountain
No eternal chord
Lost a diamond
No El Dorado
There is no reward
In the background of this piece a remote, old 78 plays to great effect. The mood of the track shifts a little bit toward the end, maybe as to signal some acceptance that there is “no El Dorado.” It’s one of the lightest parts of the album, along with the first half of The Wizard of Altai Mountain.
The final track, Death Room, is where the strangeness of this album comes to a head. The track announces itself with subterranean rumblings and electronic buzzing before settling into three note mandolin figure which produces some unbelievable tension that is occasionally punctuated by short saws of dissonant violin. This is one of the creepiest, strangest parts of an album full of them, and I can imagine Edgar Allan Poe feeling right at home listening to this as he spun out another macabre tale. Percussion soon joins and pulls the music along, until the piano announces itself and changes the mood with a sudden subtlety that nobody can pull of like Gazpacho. From there, the music progresses through a series of different moods, all suggestive of the unknown apartment dweller losing grip on his sanity. The track and the album proper ends with some very strange percussion that suggests the grip has finally been lost.
Earlier I offered a lame explanation in an attempt to justify the tardiness of my review, considering the album’s springtime release. But let’s get to the real reason. Currently, it’s Autumn – October to be specific. And this album is absolutely made for fall listening. The name Demon conjures up images of that most famous of October celebrations, Halloween. The CD case is a fall color, not unlike one you might see on a dying leave that is going out in one last blaze of colorful glory. And the music … well, it’s hard to define, but it’s definitely fall music. Recently, on Brad’s Facebook page, I saw him shout his love for the month of October, describing it as “purgatorial twilight.” I cannot think of a better light in which to listen to this album. Not the dark, certainly not the bright light of mid-day sun. But late in a fall day, when the last gasps of sunlight collide with the spectacular fall colors that both marvel our sight but also portend the cold grayness of winter is approaching? There could not possibly be a better time to listen to Demon.
If you are one of those lucky souls that lives in an area with a noticeable change of seasons, this is the time you need to get out this album and give it another listen (or a first listen if you haven’t heard it yet). Put the CD in your car’s player, grab your iPod, whatever. Just make sure you are outside toward the end of the day in the light described above … and immerse yourself in the beautiful madness that is Demon.
The Love Story Part:
It’s a little over two years now since I heard my first Gazpacho album, Night to be specific. Since that time, I’ve worked my way forward through their catalog, listening to and owning everything right up through Demon. While I still haven’t perused any of their pre-Night catalog, I’ve definitely heard enough to have seriously fallen in love with the music of this incredible band.
Describing the music of Gazpacho to someone who has never heard it is a bit of a challenge. In my review of Tick Tock, I described them subtle and meticulous. While those adjectives certainly ring true, they only convey a small part of the story. Another time recently, while introducing someone to Gazpacho, I described them as a cross between Pink Floyd and late-era Talk Talk. That also conveys part of the story, but by no means does it in full. On another prog site I occasionally visit, I have seen them described as crossover prog … I still have no idea what that means. And I’ve seen a number of other descriptions of Gazpacho, many of which give part of the picture, but none that quite give the whole. It’s not like describing a band such as Iron Maiden as heavy metal. That description gives you a pretty good idea of what they are about, at least in a musical sense. With Gazpacho, giving a two or three word description is never going to be sufficient.
In fact, even describing them as being progressive can be problematic. Don’t get me wrong, I would classify Gazpacho unequivocally as being prog. But they are unlike any other band in the genre.
With so much of the prog to which I listened on my initial discovery in the late 1970’s – Yes, ELP, Rush, Jethro Tull – there were always virtuoso musicians setting off instrumental fireworks. Gazpacho seems to have turned this ethic completely on its head. You don’t hear long, flashy guitar or keyboard solos, the pyrotechnic drums with a beat that is both discernable and just out of reach, and so on. Much of Gazpacho’s music is built in some very simple riffs. And yet as a testament to their supreme skill and artistry, these simple riffs are combined and arranged into a much greater whole, one of dizzying complexity that gets hidden ever so slightly below a veneer of simplicity. Using a sports metaphor, much of progressive rock could be analogized to professional football or basketball – an obvious complexity accompanied with dazzling theatrics. Gazpacho on the other hand would be more like professional baseball – a simple, subtle game on the surface with a world of complexity underneath for those willing to dig deeper.
Architecturally, their songs defy any conventional structure, unfolding instead with a brilliant logic that becomes apparent by the time you’ve reached the end. It all adds up to a mixture that is challenging to grasp, but easy to love – and one that is progressive rock at it’s absolute, boundary smashing best.
It’s when I survey the current prog landscape that it really hits me, the incredible brilliance of this band. Myself and others on this site have written much about how blessed us fans are in the current age of prog. I loved how the proggers of the 1970s pushed the envelope of rock music to new artistic heights. And yet in what may be the ultimate compliment the previous generation, the best prog bands of today are showing us how their prog ancestors were only scratching the surface. Bands such as Riverside, Porcupine Tree and their leader, Steven Wilson, The Tangent, Big Big Train, and so on – all have taken prog in various directions previously unimagined. So to has Gazpacho. But more than all of these bands, Gazpacho, at least for me, is the most difficult to describe in words. And what really makes that so is this – they are simply the most unique and original sounding band in a golden age of prog that has produced many unique and original sounds. Is it any wonder I’ve fallen so in love with these guys?