As the world of music and performance evolves and changes evermore, it’s an impressive feat these days to be a band that has endured for more than 20 years. More and more often, nowadays, there are heartbreaking Facebook posts of bands breaking up because of the cruel mistress known as real life. Some bands find ways to make it work, and for others, the curtain of rock ‘n roll mystique is pulled away as we see our heroes brought low by the same problems which plague us in our own lives – bills, jobs, mundane commitments. As a fan, it’s heartbreaking; as a band, it’s all too real of a potential outcome.
Thankfully, Norwegian prog darlings Gazpacho are one of the outfits that has found a way to make it work. The sad truth is, the more difficult it becomes to survive in the world of music, the more demanding it seems the fans become, or perhaps that’s just through the omnipresent pull of social media. Just ask Mike Portnoy how many requests he receives to come to South America. And again, for some bands, heeding these requests is plausible. For others, live shows are nearly a dream. Gazpacho is a band that is, somewhat surprisingly, now ten albums into their career, starting with the release of Bravo in 2003. With each album, they have played more and more gigs, most often around Europe, but we see them now branching out a bit more than they have in the past. But with a band that gets by on their day jobs, and gives us an album every couple of years, that studio output is incredibly important… it’s really the main presence the band has in the minds of its fans.
And so it is 2018, and the release of Gazpacho‘s next studio album is here. Gazpacho always finds ways to do something a little different and interesting with each album. Whether it’s the repetitive-turned-beautiful riffing of 2007’s Night, or the promises of world destruction made by their most recent album Molok, Gazpacho always finds a way to keep each release interesting. The new album follows the same path, but takes its own meandering stops along the way. Gazpacho isn’t much for concept albums, but a band very adept at putting together albums with themes, which is where we find Soyuz.
The recurring themes throughout Soyuz, moments frozen in time, and certain unsettling aspects of isolation here and there, might not stand out to the listener on first listen, but once the album works its way into the mind, and the listener finds him or herself singing “Strand of light / in cold night” at the oddest moments, the usual Gazpacho earworm process starts to take over. The album’s title is a direct reference to the Russian space program and the line of Soyuz spacecraft produced by the program, but more specifically, the doomed mission of Soyuz One and the tragedy of Colonel Vladimir Komarov, the sole cosmonaut in the Soyuz One mission, who died alone in the name of humanity’s fascination with the stars.
Gazpacho‘s unnerving chord progressions and hypnotic rhythms support the subject matter of the Soyuz songs on the album, and as the meanings of the songs begin to imbue themselves upon the listener, images of panic and atmospheric burn-up flood the mind, right alongside images of loneliness in the dark of space and a longing for home. The melancholia of Jan-Henrik Ohme‘s trademark vocal style only serves to underline the heartbreaking moments of the album.
That said, there is – as always – beauty to be found on a Gazpacho album. The beloved violin of multi-instrumentalist Michael Krømer ends one of the early songs with the wintry Nordic feeling of double-stops and trills found throughout much of the Night album, which has become a favorite sort of Gazpacho moment among the band’s fans. The song “Sky Burial” begins with another breathtaking moment, this time from keyboardist Thomas Andersen, featuring percussive piano and wavering synth lines and strings floating out in the ether, only to be joined by what is believed to be the oldest audio recording of the human voice, from the 1860s. Jon-Arne Vilbo‘s guitar playing is at possibly its most subtle on this album. There are moments of foot-stomping rhythm guitar playing, but Vilbo is also happy to quietly and cleanly pluck his strings to add another layer to the wide and dense Gazpacho sound. And bassist Kristian Olav Torp, carries the low end as reliably and tastefully as ever, with some really nice high moments and fretless passages on the instrument as well.
Since Molok was released in 2015, the band now finds themselves without the drumming prowess of Lars Erik Asp for the first time since 2010, as he has, sadly, succumbed to the all-too-real pressures of the real world discussed earlier. As he was the band’s drummer for nearly a decade, joining just around the time this reviewer became a Gazpachoid, that absence could have left the band in a major rut. But graciously the band’s former drummer Robert Risberget Johansen has returned to the fold for the first time since 2009’s Tick Tock, and slides back into the band formation as if no time had passed. Sunrise, sunset. Welcome back, Robert.
Is this the greatest Gazpacho album ever? No. But that said, none of them are. Many fans might argue Night is, or Tick Tock. But Gazpacho is one of those special bands where each album truly is a chapter in a larger story, and the band won’t let past heralds keep them from reaching for future innovative soundscapes. Soyuz might not be the best entry point for new fans to the band; it definitely is not the most accessible of their albums. That said, if the listener perhaps thinks of it as a trilogy with their two most recent releases, 2014’s Demon and the aforementioned Molok, the three cohesively create their own arc.
There are some moments that work amazingly well and will have the listener swooning. Other moments, such as the discordant melody of “Hypomania,” in a song that almost justifies the odd comparisons to Radiohead the band receives too often, might leave the listener a bit chafed. And there are also moments that might feel a little too safe for Gazpacho, and don’t break much new ground. That said, there are beautiful lyric passages throughout the album, as Gazpacho always has some of the most insightful and poetic lyrics in progressive music, especially as a non-native English speaking band, and the album begs for the treatment of headphones on and liner notes open.
As this decade comes screeching ever closer to an end, it’s interesting to ponder how many bands might release another album before 2020, and considering Soyuz is an album that will help Gazpacho reach fans and new audiences at Be Prog! My Friend 2018 and Cruise to the Edge 2019, any output from the band at this point, especially now over 20 years into their career, is a welcome addition to a catalog any self-respecting progressive music enthusiast should embrace.
Released By: KScope
Release Date: May 25th, 2018
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Jan-Henrik Ohme / vocals
- Jon-Arne Vilbo / guitars, programming
- Thomas Andersen / keyboards, programming
- Mikael Krømer / violin, additional guitar, programming
- Kristian Torp / bass guitar
- Robert R Johansen / drums, percussion
Soyuz shows Gazpacho working together very well as an ensemble, as the band has always been more about feeling, groove, and atmosphere than highlighting any individual member's technical prowess. While there are the beautiful and brooding moments a listener expects and hopes for in a typical Gazpacho album release, the whole thing feels a bit too unadventurous at times, at least when compared to their other material. The entire album sounds great, though, and vinyl collectors will most likely have a treat in their hands when playing it.