Gazpacho return with Soyuz, their tenth studio album since 2003. There really is no band quite like these Norwegian artists, distinctive, moving and haunting, each new release imbued with their unique brand of ambitious music, full of idiosyncratic themes, inventive ideas, melancholy, emotion and drama. Having broken through with their classic 2007 album Night, in which they truly found their unmistakable trademark Gazpacho ‘sound’. They developed brilliantly on the cinematic and stirring Tick Tock in 2009, proceeding down ever darker and more mind stretching musical avenues through Missa Atropos (2010), March of Ghosts (2011), Demon (2014) and the possibly world ending (!?) Molok in 2015. This is a band that are rightly given absolute artistic freedom by Kscope records, and consequently they remain resolutely uncompromising, eccentric and inspirationally imaginative on Soyuz.
Gazpacho like to stretch the thematic envelope on their albums. Nevertheless, embedded in all their releases, however strange or peculiar, are songs imbued with insights into human experience and emotions. The title of Soyuz may suggest a sci-fi or ‘Space Race’ theme, but the title song is just the stepping off point for Gazpacho to explore the fascinating idea that moments in time pass and cannot be preserved forever. There is beauty and tragedy in the tales of individuals in moments frozen in time.
One song which could help someone unfamiliar to understand the magic and mystery of Gazpacho is the beguiling Exit Suite which will tell them all they need to know. Opening with eerie and obscured choral sounds, a simple yet lovely piano motif from Thomas Andersen emerges over a hypnotic rhythm of matches being struck and a mournful, delicate violin by Mikael Krømer. In such simplicity much beauty is suggested, touching on deeper thoughts, as explained in a recent interview by Thomas Andersen:
“Exit Suite is the cinematic sounding result of a night playing with matches in the studio. It is a song about the fear of dawn and the passing of the old day. The matches were supposed to be our short flickering lives in the dark universe and we ended up making a rhythm out of them and building a song on that rhythm.”
In contrast, the preceding Hypomania, as the name suggests, is a much more manic and powerful number and one of the heaviest songs Gazpacho have released since Desert Flight on Tick Tock, pounded out by returning drummer Robert Risberget Johansen. Jan Henrik Ohme lets rip vocally, showing the versatility of this usually much more restrained singer. The diversity of Gazpacho’s musical world is shown again on the apparently Hans Christian Andersen inspired Emperor Bespoke, embroidered with Kristian Skedsmo’s banjo and Krømer’s delightfully picked mandolin and violin. The sing-song folky feel is then forcefully punctuated with Jon-Arne Vilbo’s guitar break, before we return to the distinctive and lilting rhythm of the opening section which then builds and builds with power – I am not entirely sure what it’s about but it sure sticks in your head!
On their previous album, Molok, Gazpacho worked with a musical archaeologist (not a common occurrence in rock music!) using a 10,000 year old ‘singing stone’ to hark back to ancient man. Similarly on Soyuz Gazpacho take an unconventional approach to sound in using a recording of the French song A Clair de la Lune from 1860, which is now regarded as the earliest known recording of a human voice, in the mysterious Rappaccini. Using such a recording of a now long forgotten singer is the earliest ‘moment in time’ of a human ever recorded, their sound forever frozen in time long after the owner of that voice passed away. The ethereal Sky Burial is a mournful song is based on the Tibetan funeral practice in which a deceased human body is placed on a mountainside to decompose while exposed to the elements.
One fascinating thing about Gazpacho is that their elliptical lyrics are not didactic or obviously narrative – they present their subject through the prism of poetic and evocative language, and sometimes the meaning only becomes revealed gradually through repeated listening or via some knowledge of the song’s origins… or sometimes they remain seemingly impenetrable, forever buried in tantalising obscurity with resonant lines suggesting dream-like images, or maybe somehow speaking to listener’s own memories or emotions. The coda song Rappaccini may or may not be based upon Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1844 short story about a poisonous maiden, but in all honesty it would be hard to work that out from the lyrics!
Nevertheless, there is a beguiling, almost mystical quality to the lines so beautifully sung by Ohme that draw you into this delicate song:
Hear the voice below.
Present, Past and Future Breath,
I’ll drink the clear stream
Here where I belong,
That I delight in and turn away.”
In contrast, Fleeting Things, unusually for Gazpacho, takes a more direct but subsequently possibly slightly less engaging slant musically and lyrically on the theme of the impermanence of existence. That theme is explored more resonantly in the two Soyuz songs which effectively ‘bookend’ the album. Soyuz means ‘Union’ in Russian, and these songs unite the tragic story of doomed Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, the first fatality in space in 1967 in the space capsule Soyuz One, with a more speculative, elegiac and poetic perspective in the more epic Soyuz Out. This focuses more on the cosmonaut’s possible thoughts as he hurtled around the globe knowing that his flawed vehicle meant that he was almost certainly dead already. Like Schrodinger’s Cat, when Kolarov entered that capsule in the knowledge that it was almost certain to fatally fail for him, he was effectively both dead and alive at the same time. There was a palpable glory in his heroic sacrifice (reportedly because he did not want national hero Yuri Gagarin to risk his life as the alternate pilot). In those last fleeting moments he was both tragically doomed and shining in glory amongst the stars he dreamed of as a child. Gazpacho’s music on this more lengthy piece is a tour de force of sound architecture with initial subtle pulses switching to waves of epic noise, underpinned by Kristian Torp’s powerful and measured bass. Andersen’s widescreen sweeping keyboards fill the mind with a range of sounds, suggesting in turns the floating of low gravity in the vacuum of space or the fiery fall to earth as the Soyuz craft disastrously re-enters the atmosphere. Vilbo’s guitars, with his variety of effects, are crucial in accentuating the juxtaposition of dark tragedy and stoic resignation for this doomed cosmonaut. Ohme’s singing is outstanding, as it is throughout the album, as he vocalises contrasting soft melancholy with much more powerful passages… and in a moment it’s finished, but some images will stay in the soul, perhaps like moments frozen in time:
…Soyuz One, Hurry Home, Through your endless flight.”
This is a work which absolutely demands that the listener sits down and sets aside time to delve in to its musical textures. Soyuz is worth investing time in, as with all Gazpacho albums. Some of it may leave you scratching your head for a while, but it will persist in your mind and the more you listen the more one can hear and appreciate the subtlety and invention that fills every song. Maybe it is appropriate to remember that Vladimir Komarov was later commemorated, along with 13 other deceased American and Russioan space crew by the astronauts of Apollo 15 with a plaque and small sculpture left at Hadley Rille on the Moon in 1971 – their heroic, tragic moments frozen in time forever on the Moon. All things pass, but we will always have those certain moments preserved in our minds, and who knows, maybe somewhere else?. This is an album full of such wonderful moments.
01. Soyuz One (6:19)
02. Hypomania (3:46)
03. Exit Suite (3:42)
04. Emperor Bespoke (7:45)
05. Sky Burial (4:28)
06. Fleeting Things (4:25)
07. Soyuz Out (13:27)
08. Rappaccini (4:08)
Total Time – 48:00
Jan Henrik Ohme – Vocals
Thomas Andersen – Keyboards, Programming
Jon-Arne Vilbo – Guitars
Mikael Krømer – Violin, Mandolin
Kristian Torp – Bass
Robert Risberget Johansen – Drums & Percussion
Kristian Skedsmo – Banjo
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 18th May 2018
– Bravo (2003)
– When Earth Lets Go (2004)
– Firebird (2005)
– Night (2007)
– Tick Tock (2009)
– A Night at Loreley (live) (2009)
– Missa Atropos (2010)
– London (live) (2011)
– March of Ghosts (2012)
– Demon (2014)
– Night of the Demon (live) (2015)
– Molok (2015)
– Introducing Gazpacho (Compilation) (2015)