Isuldurs Bane have a long history of making exciting and interesting music, pushing boundaries, taking risks and expanding the always varied musical palette with their unique brand of chamber rock. The ensemble has always been a collective of very talented musicians, led by Mats Johansson, that have collaborated with guest musicians, a notable example being 2017 album with Steve Hogarth, the acclaimed Colours Not Found in Nature, which I had the great pleasure to review.
For this release Mats Johansson was keen to see if another vocalist he respected would like to work with them; enter the musical icon and legend Peter Hammill, Van der Graaf Generator vocalist and acclaimed solo artist – this certainly is a collaboration to get very excited about. The seeds of this idea were sown after Peter had been a guest at the band’s annual IB EXPO in 2017, Mats found working with Peter very special and wondered if they could create some new music together. Mats had a number of songs and ideas already, and Peter was more than interested when contacted with the idea of an album. Peter found that the songs were at an advanced stage and set to work adding vocals, his lyrics often portraying characters at moments of decision, adding his distinctly unique vocals to the mix.
Musically, Isildurs Bane carry a wide range of instrumentation, and they always use it to great and wondrous effect. For this release, in addition to Peter, they have guest contributions from acclaimed 25-string koto player Karin Nakagawa, also Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson and Stickmen. Both of these players have participated in previous IB EXPO events.
The album was recorded at the Red Room, Halmsted, Sweden by Mats and Axel Croné, with additional recording taking place in Copenhagen, Hammill’s Terra Incognita studio in Wiltshire and at Pat’s studio in the US. Despite the diverse locations this release has a great band feel with tight and intricate playing, indeed it gives the impression that it was all recorded in one place.
The album consists of six tracks, ranging from three to ten minutes, coming in at a listening friendly forty minutes. Such is the listening experience that at the end you instantly feel the need to hit replay (or for you vinyl lovers out there, turn it over again).
As things begin it becomes clear that the layering and textures of the instrumentation is going to give rise to something special, and you will NOT be disappointed. The opener, Before You Know It begins with an almost haunting refrain from Karin Nakagawa’s koto within an atmospheric setting; Peter’s voice joins as the band gathers a more urgent purpose, the koto continuing to provide a gentle charm as a counterpoint. Under The Current begins with whispered female vocals, before Peter takes over as the acoustic touches grow and develop, each band member adding their contribution. There is some sparse yet beautiful and exquisitely placed trumpet towards the end.
The Day is Done has a different feel; here Peter’s plaintive vocals are only accompanied by Mats’ piano and keyboard work, giving rise to some almost tender moments, a song so masterfully presented its nine minutes appear to pass in moments. The effect of this song is highlighted since it follows the ten minute This is Where, which begins in a percussive way, joined by Peter and the keyboards, the band eventually taking the song forward at almost full throttle. But as with all Isildurs Bane songs, it contains twists and turns while remaining a cohesive piece of work. The album ends with the shortest track, This Bird Has Flown with its gradually swelling and sweeping sound, building towards a crescendo of drums and effects, coming to an end all too suddenly.
This is a fresh, exciting and truly progressive piece of work from a band that does not stand still. They are continually developing and moving forward, creating the most interesting and innovative listening experience. I have been totally immersed in this album, it demonstrates a masterful craft at creating wonderful and engaging music, and In Amazonia is an album that will definitely remain in my top five of this year’s releases.
01. Before You Know It (7:46)
02. Under The Current (4:46)
03. Aguirre (5:17)
04. This Is Where (10:07)
05. The Day Is Done (9:05)
06. This Bird Has Flown (3:02)
Total Time – 40:16
Katrine Amsler – Keyboards, Electronics
Klas Assarsson – Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion
Luca Calabrese – Trumpet
Axel Croné – Bass, Clarinets, Saxophones, Flutes, String Arrangements
Samuel Hällkvist – Guitars
Mats Johansson – Keyboards
Liesbeth Lambrecht – Violin, Viola
Kjell Severinsson – Drums
Peter Hammill – Vocals
~ Additional Musicians:
Karin Nakagawa – 25-string Koto
Pat Mastelotto – Electronic Percussion
Xerxes Andren – Drums, Percussion
Adam Sass – Trumpet
Record Label: Ataraxia
Catalogue#: CD: ATX6CD, LP: ATX3LP
Country of Origin: Sweden / U.K.
Date of Release: 10th May 2019