London combo Asian Death Crustacean, if I’ve read correctly, sprang from the joining of members from jazz fusion and black metal bands. Now black jazz, or jazz noir, or whatever label it goes by these days, does exist, but I’ve never heard it in this form. And what form! Baikal is a single continuous 45 minute composition (broken into six movements, for those who baulk at the concept of such a long-form piece), which is all over the place musically, yet retains a uniformity and cohesion that many other long instrumental pieces lack. Conversely, it manages to avoid repetition and redundancy, which are easy traps to fall into, when attempting to keep such a long-form piece uniform and cohesive.
Overall, I suspect this will be labelled post rock, but there are plenty of jazzy interludes and blast beats to remind any listener of the origins of the band. At its loudest, there are momentous breakdowns, and earth-shattering riffs. The drums steamroll through your brain, and the bass is stomach-shakingly deep. And yet, there are also sections so delicate as to be almost ambient. There’s tight and technical playing, and far more spontaneous and improvised sounding jazzy breaks. The music is precise, yet organic. Honestly, there’s so much going on in just one movement, let alone the whole 45-minute piece, that it’s impossible to become bored or complacent.
I have to give special mention to James Kay, because for me his drums make the album. They are the backbone of it all, often highlighted by being the sole instrument, or one of just two almost ever-present, and holding the whole piece together. The broad template he brings to the band is amazing, from the obvious extreme metal tropes (like the aforementioned blast beats), to the jazzier grooves. But what’s really neat about the drumming is Kay’s use of space. His judgement of frequency and intensity is impeccable, and the space he leaves is as important as any fill. I absolutely love the drums on Baikal!
Of course, that’s not to take away from the other musicians, and to be fair to them, they all have that same grasp of the importance of space. There are crescendos and climaxes galore, but there are also as many brilliant quieter passages. Asian Death Crustacean are equally adept at calm as they are at chaos. The band clearly know absence can be as important as presence, and the care taken in making these more ambient passages as impactful as the heavier sections is obvious. One of my favourite parts of Baikal straddles Parts III and IV, where some of the loudest and some of the quietest passages of the piece meet. It’s so expertly done, and the waves of sound (which swell without cresting) within Part IV simply takes my breath away.
The following Part V must surely be the heaviest movement of Baikal, though – erupting and thundering out of Part IV with a brutality unmatched elsewhere in the piece. Like any storm, this cannot last – and Part V subsides. Although it returns briefly to a reprise of the heavier passage, it is not with the same intensity. It leads beautifully into the final movement, which provides the calm after the storm, and the ambient/electronic nature of Part VI makes it another favourite moment on the album.
Given the length of the composition, I assume there must have been some predetermined structure, and (as aforementioned) the arrangements and dynamics generally sound quite tight. And yet, there still seems a spontaneity and a sense of free flow leading me to believe that as much as most of Baikal is pre-composed, some was still improvised. I would be interested to know how the album was recorded, as I suspect it wasn’t within the six movements. The track divisions, if not wholly random, do seem a little arbitrary. You could just as easily segment the piece in two, or in eight or twelve movements. To listen to the movements separately, in my opinion, is as fruitless as attempting to listen to the separate “movements” of The Mars Volta’s Cassandra Gemini.
The album is an exercise in co-existence. Individual tracks are meaningless to me. Baikal is a single, continuous 45-minute composition, designed to be listened to as such. And it’s absolutely fantastic. Kudos for the name of the band, because if they didn’t have such a ridiculous moniker I’d never have taken this album on for review.
01. Baikal, Part I (6:36)
02. Baikal, Part II (7:33)
03. Baikal, Part III (8:20)
04. Baikal, Part IV (5:51)
05. Baikal, Part V (10:39)
06. Baikal, Part VI (4:33)
Total Time – 43:36
Dan Peacock – Guitars, Sound Design, Pre-Production
George Bunting – Bass Guitar, Pre-Production
Rob Doull – Guitars
James Kay – Drums
Michael Crean – Violin
Dave Bush – Saxophone
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th June 2020