The opening lurching guitar/organ riff sounds like the amplified machinery of a giant steamship; bellowing, relentless, ominous power. Then it morphs into a straight, almost funky propulsive groove with some very tasty organ comping while various synth and vocals effects weave in out of the background like a swirling mist.
The vocals of Stian Okland float in over the groove sounding not unlike a Satanic Jim Morrison, like a dark mirror image of The Soft Parade; simultaneously eerie and darkly comic. Saxophonist Benjamin Mekki Wideroe makes his entrance next with a frenzied atonal break. Underneath the vocal line the linear progression of the piece continues to build in intensity, the groove turning ominous, dissonant snatches of piano and sax riffs stab through creating a frenzied whirlpool.
A melodic organ & sax unison line enters and holds the arrangement together, keeping it from exploding into complete cacophony. Then it stops abruptly, giving the listener a split second to inhale, before a crushing doom riff hammers down…
That describes just the first four minutes of Lemma, the opening track of the joyously insane ‘Contrapasso’, the second full-length release from Seven Impale. This young sextet from Norway has hit upon a really potent recipe, an almost dizzying combination of influences they’ve managed to assimilate and combine in consistently surprising and effective ways.
It’s fiery, intense music, but it’s so much fun that it’s accessible despite the artfully schizophrenic arrangements. From an instrumental standpoint Seven Impale employs a mostly analog approach; Hammond organ, vintage synth and guitar sounds, saxophone, and they occasionally sneak in some more modern touches. But this is not a retro band; this is a young adventurous group that’s unafraid to be daring, to experiment and most importantly to have fun doing it.
A key factor with their sound is how the saxophone is employed. While I’ve heard saxophone featured in a few progressive rock albums this year (Knifeworld, Thank You Scientist, etc) it’s primarily fairly straight-ahead in approach. Seven Impale is one of the few newer bands I’ve heard that gravitate more toward the avant-garde jazz albums of the late 1960s for inspiration.
For the most part it’s not completely outside, but more in line with players like Archie Shepp or Pharoah Sanders. The jazz quotient on ‘Contrapasso’ is intrinsic to the success of these compositions. The majority of these songs aren’t based on traditional verse/chorus structure, but the saxophone is often used in conjunction with the keyboards to carry the melodic thrust of the song, while the vocals provide commentary.
When you combine those elements with the 500 ton weight of the guitar sound (a vicious combination of King Crimson and Anekdoten) it’s a beautiful noise. It hits the sweet spot where the saxophone fuels the experimental portion while the guitars keep it primal and firmly rooted in rock.
The album is not without its catchy moments. Inertia grooves along on a heavy guitar/sax unison riff that would probably sound fantastic in a live setting and the brief chorus is infectious. The mid-section is a fiery jam and guitar solo feature, which tips a hat to Fripp & Co. After a return to the main theme it slides into an effectively trippy psychedelic section that features some lovely keyboard & vocal harmonies before seguing into an appropriately epic, melodic conclusion.
The remainder of the album unfolds along similarly complex and intriguing lines. Like a puzzle that keeps revealing more and more levels of complexity it’s an album that takes some effort. But what I love about albums this dense is that each time you play them some new moment jumps out.
I love the whole record, but there are a couple tracks that really stood out to me.The first is Langour, which brilliantly captures the juxtaposition between the beautiful sax & cello melody and the crushing metallic guitar riff, it’s a perfect demonstration of the power this group can wield. The other is the mind-bending Helix. It’s built off the simplest of structures, a repeated keyboard riff that is methodically augmented with other instrumental voicings and increases in intensity like a storm building before the deluge. If the description sounds dramatic that’s because the music does as well.
It has been awhile since a new band has really hit me with the audacity of their approach and how effortless it seems. Seven Impale is the kind of band that reminds me that experimentation, even if it’s experimentations within existing sonic frameworks is not impossible. There are still fresh avenues to explore within the progressive rock realm, I hope Seven Impale continues the search for a long time to come.
Released 16th September 2016