Published on 17th December 2020
Roz Vitalis – Compassionizer
With Roz Vitalis main man Ivan Rozmainsky releasing the debut album from a new project called Compassionizer, I felt it an opportune time to revisit its namesake. I recently wrote another nostalgic look back at an older album, with my thoughts on Anathema’s Eternity. Now Roz Vitalis is unlikely to be as well-known as Anathema (and that’s a shame, and another discussion entirely), but I’m sure every fan of Roz Vitalis has their own special and favourite albums from the band as, like Anathema, their mood and style have changed several times over the years. There are, however, pivotal and transitional moments, and 2007’s Compassionizer is surely one of the more important of those.
Roz Vitalis was created by composer and keyboardist Ivan Rozmainsky in 2001, initially as a one-man band, and (to my ears) marred by sounding too synthetic and programmed. By the second full-length album in 2003, Roz Vitalis had become a trio, with the addition of Nadezhda Regentova (keyboards, voices) and Vladimir Polyakov (keyboards). The dark electronic music of this period has far more dynamics, and is experimenting with lengthier tracks, and rapid changes within them. By their fourth album, the trio had expanded to a quintet, with Klara Metelkova (flutes, harmonica, vocals) and Yuri Verba (clarinet), the addition of acoustic instruments marking a change in the band’s sound. From this point on, Roz Vitalis sound to me as if King Crimson, Gentle Giant and a splash of Depeche Mode have been thrown into a blender without a lid, and whatever slips out the top is collated into an electronic avant-chamber symphony, with maybe a pinch of Art Zoyd. I mean that in the most positive way, as there’s not a Roz Vitalis release I don’t enjoy. For 2008’s Compassionizer, Roz Vitalis was reduced to a trio once more, still with Yuri Verba, and now also Sydius (guitar).
The album opens with the initially spacey and Kosmiche Tragic Fate. I made the point in my review of Compassionizer’s album, that compassion almost literally means to suffer with. As such, it’s hardly surprising that the prevailing sound of this album is rather cold, rather than the warm fuzziness many people might assume when they see the word compassion. Tragic Fate reminds me a lot of keyboard-led RPI bands from the ‘70s, such as Corte dei Miracoli – but twisted and distorted until they are tortured shadows of themselves. The drumming is programmed, but sounds like it’s played (on real electronic drums), and is actually a real highlight! (I’m not often a fan of programmed drums, but there are times they just work, and this is probably the best use of them I’ve ever encountered.) The keyboards are delectably sinister, and I revel in the menacing atmosphere this opening track creates.
[There does not appear to be any video on YouTube from Compassionizer, so here’s a live performance from ten years later, in 2017, of Annihilator of Moral Hazard.]
Some gorgeous piano begins the following Autumn of Hypocrisy. This is a great example of how Roz Vitalis take music of a classical nature, and infuse it with spacey textures and psychedelic layers. Menacing and cacophonic Crimsonesque tones are introduced, and the whole provides a lovely mix of atonal and dissonant parts with gentle and harmonic themes. Melody and disharmony clash and caress in equal measure. There’s some jollity in the introduction to the title track, though it sounds as if a little forced and contrived – which is quite genius. True enough, all hints of happiness soon disappear. By this third track, it is obvious that this is the most balanced Roz Vitalis release yet, and this is why it’s such an important moment in their discography for me. Where previous albums went from one extreme to another, from more truly avant moments, to passages almost veering on boring, this album has made sense of the mess. It’s still all over the place, but now in a more structured way. There is still plenty of experimentation, but the methodology behind it has improved, and the results are better for it.
Compasionizer shows real musical maturity from Roz Vitalis, in terms of the composition, instrumentation and production. It’s the first truly great album from the band, which is not to dismiss what came before, but simply to emphasise what a truly great step up this album represents. If anyone ever asks what Roz Vitalis album to listen to first (not that anyone ever has, so criminally overlooked this band is), I would always suggest Compassionizer. It’s an accessible route into their quite unique sound. There are many bands I could mention (and I already have done in this review), but ultimately Roz Vitalis sound like none of them, and no-one else but themselves. What I especially like about Roz Vitalis is the way they create a more minimalist sound than a lot of bands they might be compared to. Their use of empty space gives a sense of fragility that really enhances the music. While not often delicate in sound, the music can sound delicate in nature, and it’s quite beautiful. I’m fairly confident that some people who don’t enjoy it, will find the music of Roz Vitalis cold, sterile and hollow, and I guess to a degree I could agree with those descriptions – yet for me they work as positives, and not negatives.
Despite Ivan Rozmainsky having his fingers in many musical pies, Roz Vitalis continue to release great pieces of music. If you’ve not yet acquainted yourself with the band, then Compassionizer is a great place to start. This was the last album made by Roz Vitalis as “electroacoustic chamber ensemble”, as from 2008 they exist as “a full-blown rock-band” (in speech marks, as this is how the band is described on the Roz Vitalis Bandcamp page), so if the sound of this album doesn’t fully grab you, try one of the more recent releases. Objectively, it would probably be hard to argue it as the band’s best release, but listening to music is all about subjectivity, and often what is best and what is a favourite can diverge substantially. For me, Compassionizer remains my favourite Roz Vitalis album, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
01. Tragic Fate (7:05)
02. Autumn Of Hypocrisy (3:58)
03. Compassionizer (5:21)
04. Elusive Goodness (4:24)
05. Wakatte Kudasai (7:27)
06. Annihilator of Moral Hazard (6:22)
07. Dances of Lost Opportunities (5:37)
08. Disruption (3:41)
09. Train of Parting (Compassion Version) (7:55)
Total Time – 51:50
Ivan Rozmainsky – Keyboards, Recorders, Percussion, Samples, Virtual Synth
Sydius – Guitars (tracks 1,3,5,6,8 & 9)
Yuri Verba – Clarinets (track 5)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 1st March 2007