Among the current wave of progressive rock acts, few (if any) are more unique than Gazpacho. Quite simply, there is nobody else that sounds anything like them. Describing them to the uninitiated is difficult, if not impossible. I’ve tried to tell others that they are the love child of latter-day Talk Talk and Pink Floyd, but even this description is inadequate. They truly are one of a kind, and their music defies words whenever it is separated from the band’s name.
However, it’s not merely their music that makes them unique, it’s the subject matter they tackle on their albums as well. One avenue of pursuit has been to find tiny slices of history, remembered by few, and use those as a springboard for lyrical exploration. They did this on Tick Tock, using the attempted Paris-Saigon flight and subsequent non-fatal crash in the desert of Antoine d Saint-Exupery in 1935 as the subject matter foundation for that album. In 2014, with Demon, they went even more obscure, basing their album on the “mad ramblings” of an unknown apartment tenant in Prague, as left behind in writings found in said apartment.
With their latest album, Gazpacho uses the tragic loss of Soyuz One (also the title of the leadoff track) and the loss of its lone cosmonaut, Vladmir Komarov, as its jumping off point. Most people won’t know much about this, but for space geeks like me that devoured volumes as kids regarding both the U.S. and Soviet space programs, the space race with the moon at the prize, and so on, the tragedy of Soyuz One is well known. To give a little more background, Soyuz one was the first flight of a new Soviet spacecraft. While Komarov was selected as the cosmonaut to fly the mission, his backup was Yuri Gagarin, a more recognizable name since he was the first human in space and a hero of his country. Komarov was a personal friend of Gagarin’s, and refused his attempts to allow a national hero to take his place. This is important, as both men knew the Soyuz spacecraft was nowhere near ready to fly. But bureaucratic inertia and political considerations (much like what contributed to the loss of the space shuttle Challenger) overrode technical considerations. Knowing that the mission was going to fly either way, Komarov insisted on remaining as its pilot, knowing full well that it would likely end in tragedy. Sure enough, it did. Among the many things that went wrong was the failure of the parachute to properly deploy upon re-entry. Through a radio link, Komarov cursed his Soviet masters as he plunged from the heavens to his death in the Russian tundra.
From this base, Gazpacho builds an album that explores themes such as isolation and moments in time frozen in history. While only two tracks, the leadoff Soyuz One and the epic Soyuz Out, deal directly with the ill-fated mission, one can easily see how the other tracks tie to the ideas explored in the album’s lyrical foundation.
Soyuz One starts off in typical Gazpacho fashion, simple riffs stacked on top of one another, eventually building a layered piece of dazzling complexity, punctuated by some heavier riffing beginning midway through the song. There is almost a fatalistic, mysterious feel to the piece, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Next up is Hypnomania, which includes some uncharacteristic heaviness for Gazpacho – but it works great nonetheless. The next track, Exit Suite, contrasts is predecessor by being slow and subtle, with some excellent violin fade ins and outs.
Emperor Bespoke is next, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. A slightly longish piece clocking in at 7:43, it begins with a light, folky feel, but by the middle of the song has a much bigger feel – it’s very well executed and powerful. Gazpacho is great when they go big. Sky Burial is shorter, but similar in structure to its predecessor, and is very sweeping and majestic. Fleeting Things follows, and is relatively mellow most of the way through, and lyrically, expresses one of the album’s themes with more directness than any other song in this set.
Soyuz Out is the epic of the album, and the song that deals most directly with the Komarov tragedy. The piece begins with an eerie feel, which pops up in interludes from time to time. Some of the more uptempo sections include some best rhythm section work I’ve heard on any Gazpacho album, the interplay between the bass and drums pulling the listener along for the ride. And speaking of being along for the ride, Jan Henrik Ohme delivers lyrics that put you inside the Soyuz One spacecraft as it makes its final, fatal fall to Earth:
The phase of entry
The shields are burning
I couldn’t keep the angle
This devil ship – a future machine
Come in too steep on one wing
Out of Control
I know you mean this
There’s no more next time
Musically, the closing section of Soyuz Out conveys the gravity of what has happened in the preceding lyrics with haunting effectiveness that joins the temporary to the permanent, that which is fleeting becoming that which is eternal.
The album closes out with Rappaccini, ending the album in a mellow yet melancholy mood.
What an album! Gazpacho made us wait nearly three years for this one, but they definitely made it worth it. This 48 minute slice of Gazpachian goodness can stand proudly aside any of their previous works, and continues the roll they have been on since 2007’s Night. Needless to say, when I write my end of year review discussing my favorite albums of 2018, Soyuz will definitely land on the list. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that score. If you like Gazpacho, if you like prog, you shouldn’t be either.