Not long ago I gave Oktopus a hard time over their name change, but now it’s time for me to report back on their new album after listening to it for a week solid. After enjoying tremendously the album’s stunning debut single, “Eyes Open,” I soon ordered a physical CD copy of Oktopus’ new album, World Apart, because the “Eyes Open” song was so awesome that I couldn’t stop listening to it.
I was unavoidably reminded of how much I listened to their Transcendence EP last year and how much I loved it. The exciting promise of this advance single was that not only had Oktopus survived the departure of Jane Gillard as lead vocalist, but that they were now in fact taking their music to a whole new level. The pure trio power unleashed on “Eyes Open” reminded me of the debut of early Rush, when three top musicians blowed the minds of everybody by doing things in a way that no one had ever heard before.
And that is exactly what listening to Worlds Apart does for me emotionally. It takes me back to the times of listening to early Rush (from Fly By Night to 2112) and classic Rush (from A Farewell to Kings to Moving Pictures), where I was spellbound by what three musicians could do when working together as an unbelievably tight virtuosic unit.
Oktopus has made me feel excitement over new music like I have not experienced in a long time. What is distinctive about their compositions is that you just cannot predict what they are going to do next; but when they do, you just absolutely love it, because it’s better than anything your could have ever dreamed up in your head, despite your vast experience of listening to a lot of music.
What does Oktopus sound like? It’s hard to describe. They are truly unique and totally original. The best I can do is describe them with the Rush analogy. But that’s mostly an analogy on the side of my subjective listening experience: i.e., it’s about how enthralling I find Oktopus as a listening experience.
More objectively, you could describe Oktopus as an incredibly powerful trio combination: it’s like having Neil Peart on drums (Tim Wilson has so much subtlety and nuance and sophistication in his playing there is no more apt comparison, especially when he goes whipping right across his toms with the perfect fills to complement whatever complex weavings his band mates are playing), along with Jaco Pastorius on bass (Samuel C. Roberts has a most beautiful tone and smoothly grooving style there is no better comparison, and I love how he slides together so tightly with the trio action), and Steve Morse on guitar (but Alistair Bell is the hardest to pin down with comparisons, because at one moment he is flying over the hot fretboard like Morse, but then at other times he is sounding like some other guitar god, yet the net result is that he has a totally captivating original approach to playing that is awe-inspiring). For the record: Alistair’s guitar sound is my absolute favorite thing in the world to listen to; it’s so hotly volcanic, no one could wield such a blazing sound unless they had the special gift, like they were destined to wield the Excalibur.
It should also be mentioned that Oktopus’s lyrics are of an impressively high standard of excellence. As you listen to “Eyes Open” (track 2), you may find yourself wondering if these lyrics were themselves penned by Neil Peart, because they have such “majesty, grace, and power” (to quote the song itself) that the very song is placed into the category of “Spirit of Radio” or “Natural Science” or “Limelight” due to its inspirational lyrical power.
The only complaint I have with this album is that it is almost as short as an EP. It is only an album in the way that its length would have been just enough for filling out the quota of a shorter vinyl LP from the good old days. Tracks 1, 5, and 7, are atmospheric “filler” tracks that are just a minute or so long. You could easily remove them from your playlist and not miss them. Rather, the essential core of the album lies in these supremely astonishing five tracks:
2. Eyes Open
3. Worlds Apart
4. The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (part 1)
6. The Hand On Your Shoulder
Track 4 is an instrumental, but tracks 2, 3, and 8 feature Alistair on lead vocals, who is so good a singer that sad as I am to see Jane go, the band is more than capable of still connecting with the listener with unbelievably effective soaring vocal lines.
Track 6 features Tim taking lead vocals, and it’s really great. This band has so much talent it’s scary, and “The Hand On Your Shoulder” has a nice spooky feel to it that it would fit right in at a haunted house. Because there is already a diversity of singers on Worlds Apart, I would recommend to the band that they include the Transcendence EP on future pressings of the Worlds Apart CD. The EP is now sold out and I am sad that I foolishly didn’t buy a copy when it was available. But there’s enough room on one CD for both Oktopus albums to fit comfortably, and the diversity in singers would be a unique feature that showcases the band’s unusual musical range. Here’s hoping they take me up on this idea.
I did order a physical copy of Worlds Apart from the band on April 1, the day it was released and the day I downloaded the whole thing from Bandcamp. I can’t wait to inspect the booklet when it arrives to meditate on this excellent album further. But here are a few closing observations about what you yourself can look forward to when you get your own copy and listen to it.
“Worlds Apart” is a wild ride that goes in many unexpected directions and yet more effectively illustrates the essence of this trio’s originality and excellence. “Eyes Open” is more accessible and will hook you right away, but on further listens “Worlds Apart” will become more and more exciting for you to listen to as you gain familiarity with its crazily exciting musical turns.
“The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto (part 1)” is a short but blistering instrumental track that distills the essence of Oktopus down to a potent shot. It’s like a mini “La Villa Strangiato,” with lots of killer change-ups and face-melting virtuosity. I’m so happy that it is “(part 1)” because I cannot wait to hear how this musical story continues. Remember the excitement when you heard “Cygnus X-1” and couldn’t wait for the next album? Yes, that is how I feel.
Sorry to keep talking about Rush, by the way, because Oktopus has their own original blend of jazz and prog and metal going on, but Rush is one of my favorite bands ever, due to the unexpected musical delights they consistently delivered to me in my formative years. So that fact, and the fact that Oktopus is now a similarly out-of-nowhere original trio with similarly unbelievable combined musical power, together makes Rush the best analogy for my reviewing purposes.
“Minotaur” is the Worlds Apart album epic (clocking in at 10:37), and it has so many great moments that you can look forward to and savor again and again as you listen. It may not be Oktopus’s “2112,” but it is definitely its “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” I especially love when it starts riding in to its climax at 7:07 and if you don’t start playing cathartic air guitar at that glorious moment, well then there’s something wrong with you. And the jaunty coda (starting at 9:25 after Alistair yells “Minotaur!”) is an unexpected bonus which seals the deal on this whole album. Oktopus is now officially in the upper echelon, and it’s no surprise they are touring with the likes of Dave Kerzner and District 97, because they belong in those best of leagues.
If you started the year by enjoying Steven Wilson, The Mute Gods, and Headspace as your favorite things to listen to in 2016, as you await the new Haken and the new Big Big Train soon to come, take the time now to listen to Oktopus. They are destined for my top ten album list for 2016. And right now they are my very favorite thing to listen to, full stop. Thanks, guys, for a superb album! Five stars.