Last year I reviewed Sada, the second collaboration between the Spanish jazz fusion and RIO guitarist Ángel Ontalva and members of Russian psychedelic space-prog rockers Vespero. I made the comment that I have enjoyed several of their releases, but somehow missed their first collaboration. Needless to say, after thoroughly enjoying Sada, I did indeed go back to sample the delights of Carta Marina (2018). One of the tracks on that album I enjoyed the most was Sea Orm, so it probably comes as no surprise that when I saw that this third collaboration between Ángel and Vespero was made under the name Seaorm, my interest was piqued even more than it might have been otherwise. The reason for this is presumably because Seaorm includes only two members of Vespero, and I hope it is also because this trio will continue to make further releases under this name – because Olkhon is a fabulous album!
I’m somewhat indebted to Asian Death Crustacean, too, as their 2020 release Baikal led me to read more about this great lake, so that I recognised the names Olkhon, Lusud-Khan, Angara and Shaman Rock. That recognition and knowledge, along with the cover art, the name the trio had given to themselves, and the musicians that made up that trio, all added up to a whole heap of excitement and anticipation for an album I’d not yet heard a single note from. I was aware that I already had such high expectations, I might well be disappointed. Of course, you will have gathered already that this was far from the case.
If we consider Lake Baikal to be an inland sea, then Lusud-Khan is the Sea Orm that inhabits it. An orm is a serpent or dragon, and Lusud-Khan is the mysterious monster that is said to inhabit Baikal. It provides an eerie, almost primeval opening to Olkhon, and fluid, watery notes that are reminiscent of Sea Orm from Carta Marina, before moving into an almost post-rock groove with eastern notes reminiscent of Asian Death Crustacean’s Baikal – which came as a complete surprise to me. Now there’s absolutely no way Asian Death Crustacean could have had any way of knowing what Seaorm would sound like, and I am quite sure the members of Seaorm have no knowledge of Asian Death Crustacean. So what this says to me is that both bands have done a terrific job of giving a sonic description of Baikal. Even though they are completely unrelated releases, I can’t help but think of Baikal and Olkhon as being yin and yang, and (respectively) physical and spiritual descriptions of the lake, the land, and the people of the Baikal region.
But I should probably return to the music of this release. Walking on Water is almost the antithesis of the swirling depths of Lusud Khan. Given any religious sense in this album comes from shamanic rather than Christian imagery, I presume this is more a reference to being able to walk on water, as much of Baikal freezes enough to enable one to do just this. It’s a pleasant and upbeat number, which manages to sound magnificently windswept, thanks to instrumental theatrics. Indeed, the use of the instruments to portray the weather is one of my favourite aspects of this album, as it gives a real sense of place. On this track, and throughout, Ontalva’s guitar playing is sublime, and definitely deserves greater recognition. I love the tone of his playing.
Tail of the Dragon immediately sounds more mystical again, and has an almost Krautrock feel to it. (I said almost!) I love the insistence of this number, and already – only three numbers in – the variance in sounds, moods and textures is amazing. Of course, Baikal is a vast expanse, so we should expect the musical soundtrack to it to be equally vast. I swear I can almost hear the eagles of the cover art on this track. The percussion is sharp and snappy. Beware this dragon’s tail! Is the dragon Lusud-Khan, or is it the dragon whose tail is said in some stories to be have created the lake? The latter seems more likely, but if I’m honest I don’t really feel like I need to know. I just like to enjoy the ride.
Rather than the ice circles the song is named for, Ice Circles reminds me more of the circular ripples that spread out from a stone thrown into water, growing bigger and further out. It just seems to become bigger the further through it one gets. There’s certainly no sense to me that the track is going to become as great as it does, from its relatively humble (and beautiful) beginnings. It takes the melancholic opening to Demons to bring me back to earth. Though I’ve not mentioned Ark and Ivan Fedotov yet, they definitely do provide a lot to Seaorm. You cannot say that this is just Ontalva’s vehicle (indeed, though I’ve not yet listened to it, there appears to be an earlier version of this album credited to Ángel Ontalva and Ark Fedatov, called Shaman Rock.) Ivan Fedatov’s drumming in Demons is definitely impactful and enjoyable. This carries on into Kiss of Betrayal, where the rhythm section provides vital tension.
There are hundreds of rivers that run into Baikal, but only one that flows from it – Angara, said to be the sole daughter of Baikal, when the lake is personified. Depending on which version of the tale one reads, it has either a happy ending, or a sad one. Seaorm’s depiction seems to favour the sad, but this is some of the most beautiful melancholy you will listen to. Short and sweet. I love it. A Stake In Her Soul isn’t much longer, but couldn’t sound more different. Is this stake in her soul Shaman Cliff, which stands at Angara’s source, as a permanent reminder of her father’s wrath? Again, like Tail of the Dragon, I don’t care to reconcile the ambiguity. There is magic in retaining a little mystery, and A Stake In Her Soul is definitely magical: compelling and enchanting.
Thus we end at Shaman Rock, which could be either the aforementioned Shaman Cliff, or Shamanka Rock on Olkhon – formerly known as Shaman Rock. Given the title of the album, the latter makes more sense, but coming after the twin tales of Angara and A Stake In Her Soul, a case could be made for the former, too. The answer is probably revealed in the cover art, and I could probably look up photos of the two Shaman Rocks of Baikal to see which is depicted. But, as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t actually want to know the answer. Almost every number on the album has the potential for dual meanings, and I revel in the ambiguity this provides. I love the mystery and the magic, and the way the music can be interpreted in different ways. It’s suitably shamanic and spiritual, leaving listeners to take from it what they wish. I sincerely hope Seaorm is not a one-off, for on the basis of Olkhon, I definitely want to hear more of what this trio can offer!
01. Lusud-Khan (5:50)
02. Walking on Water (4:16)
03. Tail of the Dragon (4:48)
04. Ice Circles (7:05)
05. Demons (4:50)
06. Kiss of Betrayal (6:12)
07. Angara (2:08)
08. A Stake In Her Soul (3:21)
09. Shaman Rock (6:57)
Total Time – 45:27
Ángel Ontalva – Guitar, Loops
Ark Fedotov – Bass, Synths, Sampler, Drum Machine, Typewriter
Ivan Fedotov – Drums
Record Label: octoberXart
Countries of Origin: Spain/Russia
Date of Release: 28th December 2020