Review Summary: The mass for goddess of fate and destiny...
There's something about Norway. Taking Motorpsycho and Gazpacho as examples, the country seems to be able to churn out some of the most stunningly consistent prog bands around today. Coming directly off the astounding musical success of their opuses Night
and Tick Tock
, Gazpacho finally gave up their title of "the best unsigned band in the world," only because they signed with Kscope for their 6th album. And with it they have done the impossible.
Missa Atropos is breathtaking in every sense of the word from start to finish. Perfectly emulating its beautiful, yet dark and brooding artwork, the atmosphere is airy and weightless with an emotional subtlety that will pierce its way into your heart.
The album consists of 13 songs, split into three 'movements' split by interludes, with a number of shorter songs perfectly contrasting the three 7+ minute epics. From here the band builds up an undefinable concept with lyrics creating strongly mystical imagery, such as Vera's "A wild feast / On a cruel sea / Where the weakest link is strong / In ecstasy."
What truly makes
this though is Jan-Henrik Ohme's unique, delicate vocals, proving to be the centrepiece of the album. When he isn't in the forefront, his gentle croon supplements the guitar and drum-work as an instrument equal to them.
One of the album's greatest merits is this subtlety, the album containing very little in terms of bombast or grandiose. Jon-Arne Vilbo rarely solos, and when he does they are fairly simple. This is in no way a complaint since he, as well as the entire band, is able to pour intense emotion into every note. Simply his delivery will give you brief rushes of adrenaline, interlude Mass For Atropos II being a perfect example of this, as a simple wind-like drone lingers behind his slow acoustic picking and a woman's voice reads out an encrypted Cold War intelligence message, of seemingly random numbers.
The single most incredible aspect of Missa Atropos however, is Lars Erik Asp's percussion. He appears to use every different drum possible, creating the slow and sombre atmosphere at the beginning of the stand-out epic title track with light cymbal use, to the searing intensity that ends 'River' and 'Vera.' This is done by what must be the world's mellowest use of the double bass pedal, building to a crescendoing burst of energy that finishes his finest performance on Vera, the album's best song. The ending of opener 'Defence Mechanism' is equally as jaw-dropping, his explosive splash cymbals almost leaping out of the music as fireworks of every colour.
These longer songs are certainly where the album hits its heights, giving the band time to move through several stages, developing the mood and building to overwhelming emotional climaxes. This finishes with 'Splendid Isolation,' which evolves out of the haunting, choral Mass For Atropos III (that Ohme sings as a lullaby to his children every night) into a magnificent summation of all the album's themes and emotions.
The final track, 'An Audience,' that follows this feels slightly unnecessary and serves as a reminder of how, because of the epic length of the key tracks, the shorter ones often barely reach 3 minutes, and don't function well out of the album's context. Despite this, the absolutely heart-wrenching She's Awake does everything to prove their virtues and leaves me with a poem that speaks for itself Missa Atropos' beauty...
She’s awake now
In the cold night
Life is rushing in upon her from her window
She leapt with faith to invent herself
And found a corpse on awakening
Like stories from another time she hears
The broken wind chimes