Album Reviews Arabs in Aspic - I to III

Published on 1st July 2021

Arabs in Aspic – I to III (Progeria [EP] / Far Out in Aradabia / Strange Frame of Mind [Reissued])


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The first album I heard from Arabs in Aspic was their 2013 release, Pictures in a Dream. This year, the band’s releases prior to that have been re-released by Karisma, giving the first opportunity for many (including myself) to hear them. And I have to admit to being mightily impressed. The journey begins in 2003 with the Progeria EP, and it’s absolutely amazing for a debut release. After a rather odd, but quite beguiling introductory track, the EP blasts into being with Silver Storm. You can definitely hear the Black Sabbath influence here, as you can throughout the Arabs in Aspic discography, but what I’ve always loved about the band for is how they pile great masses of psychedelia onto the massive slabs of doom that form the base of the music. It gives a lightness that really lifts it. I opened my review of Arabs in Aspic’s most recent album by commenting that Madness and Magic was like Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, and clearly that has been the case from the beginning.

That said, there is still a difference in how the band has taken on these sounds. While they may still be referencing the same old influences, the differences between Progeria and 2020’s Madness and Magic are surprisingly vast, showing just how Arabs in Aspic refuse to repeat the same old formulas, allowing their music to progress and remain fresh and interesting. Again, to reference myself and my review of Madness and Magic, Arabs in Aspic take sounds that are recognisably someone else’s and make them totally their own. The Black Sabbath vibes almost seem to intensify as the EP progresses, but the music is also reminiscent of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Atomic Rooster, on the heavier side; and on the lighter side, as well as Floyd there is some Camel, and an unmistakable Caravan reference (albeit delivered in a heavier fashion) in the EP’s final track, Megalodon, which is a fun touch – and that is something I have always found about Arabs in Aspic; they are simply a fun band to listen to.

Progeria gives a glimpse of the glory yet to come. It’s more melancholic than melodic. The band definitely deliver greater melodies and harmonies in future recordings, but there’s something about the raw and monolithic sound of this heavy, guitar squalling maelstrom that I think is in a way more appealing than some of their more polished later works. It’s a perfectly packaged EP, and at almost half an hour, it’s actually a really decent length. The debut album, Far Out in Aradabia, followed a year later. Both Progeria and Far Out… received a re-release as a double LP set in 2011, following the success of their second album – so this is actually a re-re-release! Far Out… begins with the song Arabs in Aspic II, which I guess refers to this album being the second Arabs release, since I am unaware of an Arabs in Aspic I. One influence I haven’t mentioned yet is King Crimson (whose Larks Tongues in Aspic is referenced in the Arabs’ band name), and that’s because I didn’t really hear much Krimson in Progeria – but I certainly do in Far Out…. As one might expect from the ‘Aspic, it’s very much the Wetton-era Krimson that is the influence here, which suits me as that’s my favourite era of the band.

The major difference between Progeria and Far Out… is the addition to the band of a full-time keyboard player. (Also notable is that this album is the first to have artwork from Julia Proszowzka, who the band have used ever since.) While keyboards appeared before, the music is now drenched in swathes of Hammond, Rhodes and other sexy keyboard sounds. The music on this release sounds quite loose, and there’s an improvisatory feel at times, but at no point is this ever a negative. On the contrary, it sounds awesome. That the band like to jam is clear by the final track, but it’s evident throughout. My favourite two tracks are Siseneg and Talking Mushroom, both of which are expansive pieces that I imagine could be stretched out and jammed upon in a live setting to great effect. Shall I add Hawkwind to the already lengthy list of bands I hear within the sound of Arabs in Aspic? Why not.

There were a number of years before the next Arabs in Aspic album, and when the band regrouped they were even known initially as Arabs in Aspic II. The first album from this new Arabs, 2010’s Strange Frame of Mind, is far closer to how the Arabs sound today, compared to the previous two releases. More technical, more progressive, and all about melodies and harmonies. Everything seems fresher and more vibrant with this release. It’s somehow both tighter and fuller in sound. The percussion is nifty, the style of the new keyboard player is more daring and more delicate. The final number, Arabide, is sublime. Yet for all the polish and precision, I think I prefer the two previous releases from the previous Arabs incarnation.

I suspect I will probably be in the minority, though, as Strange Frame of Mind is one of those albums that fans of, for example, Wobbler will snap up and love to bits. It’s an album both wonderfully retro and redolent of ’70s prog, yet sounds not at all dated. Retro, but not re-tread. It’s the start of a new phase for the band, but it’s my least favourite from this phase. The band both came from, and went on to, for me, much greater things. That said, please don’t infer I don’t like this album. I love it. There’s not a release from Arabs in Aspic I haven’t loved, so least favourite by no means suggests it’s not good. All three of these re-releases are well worth snapping up while you have the chance – before they inevitably end up out of print again. They can be purchased separately or as a boxset. Don’t miss out!

TRACK LISTINGS
PROGERIA (2003)

01. Progeria (1:47)
02. Silver Storm (8:01)
03. Shelob’s Cave / The Great Shelob / Wizard in White (7:38)
04. Megalodon (9:51)

Time – 27:17

MUSICIANS
Jostein Smeby – Guitars, Vocals
Eskil Nyhus – Drums
Terje Nyhus – Bass
Tommy Ingebrigtsen – Guitars
~ With:
Rune Stavnesli – Organ
Kurt Sprenger – Radio Voices
Snorre A. Hovdal – Radio Voices

FAR OUT IN ARADABIA (2004)
01. Arabs in Aspic II (6:54)
02. Seventytwo / Hair of the Sun (7:34)
03. Siseneg (5:29)
04. Talking Mushroom (6:18)
05. Come to Me (6:05)
06. Butterpriest Jam (Live) (18:47)

Time – 51:07

MUSICIANS
Jostein Smeby – Vocals, Guitar
Tommy Ingebrigtsen – Theremin, Acoustic Guitar, Scream
Magnar Krutvik – Hammond, Rhodes, Korg Sigma
Terje Nyhus – Bass
Eskil Nyhus – Drums, Percussion
~ With:
Line Valsjø – Vocals, Spoken Voice
Kurt Sprenger – Spoken Voice

STRANGE FRAME OF MIND (2010)
01. Aspic Temple (0:56)
02. The Flying Norseman (4:14)
03. Dive (1:06)
04. In to My Eye (3:17)
05. Mørket (4:32)
06. Fall til Marken (7:14)
07. TV (4:52)
08. Strange Frame of Mind (3:32)
09. Have You Ever Seen the Rain Pt. 2 (2:46)
10. Arabide (7:39)

Time – 40:08

MUSICIANS
Jostein Smeby – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Vocals
Stig Arve Kvam Jørgensen – Hammond, Rhodes, Synth, 12-string Guitar, Vocals
Erik Paulsen – Bass, Fretless Bass, Vocals
Eskil Nyhus – Drums, Cowbell, Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Karisma Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 18th June 2021

LINKS
Arabs in Aspic – Website | Facebook | YouTube | Bandcamp

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