In late 2020, I reviewed the debut album from Compassionizer. Anyone who read that review will know that the files I reviewed from were not fully titled, so I was perhaps coming to the music from a different angle than had I known the full titles. And yet, much of the time what I heard in the music really wasn’t far from what I think I would have heard had I known the actual titles and I somehow reached the same place, which says a lot for how vivid the imagery evoked by instrumental music can be, and how great a composer Ivan Rozmainsky is. Although I probably should have known (from my knowledge of Roz Vitalis), it didn’t occur to me how much of the album is wrapped up within Christian imagery. Perhaps because I’m an agnostic atheist, I simply don’t recognise this way of thinking unless it is presented overtly. Upon discovering the full titles of the tracks of Caress of Compassion, the Christian imagery does become overt. Yet, lest this puts anyone off (and it shouldn’t), it is not overbearing. Rather, it seems to me that Rozmainsky uses the Bible as an analogy for events and circumstances occurring contemporaneously.
I’m going to quote my opening paragraph to my previous review, as I think it is still appropriate here: “Compassion sounds like a warm and fuzzy word. And yet, when you think about it, it is almost the opposite. Compassion is essentially the sympathetic consciousness of and concern for the suffering, distress and misfortunes of others. Its Latin roots translate it almost literally as ‘suffer with’. Not so warm and fuzzy then? I mention this because it is something I hadn’t thought about before listening to Compasionizer’s debut album, Caress of Compassion. I was expecting something cosy and comfortable, warm and inviting, and what I heard did not always match those expectations. So, then a ‘Caress of Suffering’, an almost paradoxical combination of ugliness and beauty wrapped up in twelve exquisite and atmospheric tracks, at once subtle and grandiose.”
The caress of compassion is possibly a nod to the compassion of Christ, which can also be called the suffering of Christ. But that Christian imagery is not so much the message of the music (at least, as I hear it), so much as a means to an end. I still reached that end without that means, but it’s interesting now to look back and listen again with fresh ears. The first track of Caress of Compassion, I knew only as “Whole” when I was reviewing it. Its complete title is actually The Whole Creation Travaileth in Pain Together, which is a near quote from the Bible equating life as we know it to childbirth. It’s a hopeful message of salvation that neither ignores nor dismisses human suffering. Pain is real, and we all experience suffering. There is acknowledgment that pain is not pleasant, and that suffering is miserable. The analogy is to a woman in labour, because we all know that no woman wants that pain, itself, but she is willing to endure it because of the joyful result it brings. That is a universal message, regardless of whether you are theist or atheist, gnostic or agnostic.
Compassionizer’s latest album begins with a similar message. Like The Whole…, Follow After Meekness appears to be an abbreviation of a Bible passage. Meekness is one of six traits that are suggested we follow, the others being righteousness, godliness, faith, love, and steadfastness. Meekness in this sense is often given as gentleness, and could even be called… compassion. So, in a sense (even if it is one only of my own thinking), it’s the perfect title for the second album, showing us what follows after (Caress of) compassion, as well as providing what seems to me to be the central theme and concept of this new album. To me, An Ambassador in Bonds seems to be a reaction to the world-changing events following the introduction of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The advice given in the Bible, of which following after meekness is part, is mainly about the avoidance of evil, of false doctrine, and pseudo-intellectual debates. I don’t think I need to say more, in that respect. Similarly, …Seat of the Scornful in its title might also imply not taking this “counsel of the wicked”.
But this is all speculation on my part, and I should probably attempt to concentrate on what I can actually hear, rather than what I infer. So how does An Ambassador in Bonds sound? Well, quite frankly, marvellous, and Follow After Meekness is not only an impressive introduction to the sound of Compassionizer’s latest offering, but is also easily one of my favourite pieces on the album. It’s a magnificent opening statement, which also makes clear right from the start, that the experimentation in instrumentation that was begun on the intermediate EP, Your Gold and Silver is Cankered, is continuing. The sound of the harpsichord which I enjoyed on the EP is integrated more effectively into Compassionizer’s sound for this album, and never sounds too much. Neither too present, nor overbearing, it provides one more layer of texture and colour to music that blends beautifully with all the others. The sound of An Ambassador in Bonds is fuller than its predecessor, but still contains all the elements of the debut that made it such a delight to listen to.
I love the nod to continuity and connection with a fourth part of Caress of Compassion, before An Ambassador in Bonds serves up its own multi-part title track. The whole affair continues the wonderful melange of styles such as ambient, avant and classical. There are hints of the fabled Canterbury sound, via Constantinople. I love the quite different ways the three parts of the title track approach its melody from quite different directions. And, in a sense, the track Different Sides of Ascension is the album’s sound in microcosm: on one side, there is a positivity and optimism that was almost entirely absent in Caress of Compassion; but on the other there remains an undercurrent of unease and uncertainty. But while these are, indeed, two different sides, the victor of the two is shown in the ascension – for An Ambassador in Bonds is ascendant, and jubilant. This also dovetails nicely with the idea of an ambassador in bonds within the Bible, as while it might seem paradoxical for an ambassador to be in bonds (just as the combination of outwardly contradictory and conflicting styles and moods of Compassionizer might seem paradoxical), the message still rings clear, and is delivered despite any barrier, and without prejudice.
The album concludes with Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens, which bookends the album nicely for me, with my interpretation of the album – even though it may not be the intended one at all. During the last couple of years, those who have followed after meekness, and not sat in the seat of the scornful, and those who have worn the masks, and been vaccinated. Not to protect themselves, but to protect others. Ultimately all precautions against COVID-19 have been based on selflessness, not selfishness. There have been two different sides of ascension, with those who have faced adversity with positivity and taken up the precautions offered – even when they offer protection more for others than oneself; and those who have expressed unease and uncertainty about those precautions, and even railed against them. I’d like to think that in the world, as on this album, the positivity seems to outweigh the uncertainty, and that the message of compassion and empathy and shared suffering is growing, despite any and all bonds. The bookending, for me, is not just with this album, though, but the predecessor as well. To return to The Whole Creation Travaileth in Pain Together, we are also waiting for the day when the suffering will end and all will be made right. With Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens, we are getting closer to that day.
I know there is probably a more personal meaning for Ivan Rozmainsky, and my own interpretation is likely way off the mark, but every listener takes ownership of an album in their own way, and this is how An Ambassador in Bonds speaks to me. An album of the times, for sure – but absolutely certainly also a timeless album that I shall treasure for years to come.
01. Follow After Meekness (8:15)
02. Different Sides of Ascension (3:54)
03. Caress of Compassion (Part 4) (3:35)
04. The Man That Sitteth Not in the Seat of the Scornful (3:34)
05. An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 1) (5:00)
06. An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 2) (3:05)
07. I Am Sitting on the Pier (3:12)
08. Hard-Won Humility (7:17)
09. An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 3) (4:10)
10. Bear Ye Another’s Burdens (13:20)
Total Time – 55:22
Bayun the Cat – Synth Bass, Tbilat, Cowbell, Recording
Serghei Liubcenco – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass Guitar, Rubab, Doira, Other Percussion, Drums, Recording
Leonid Perevalov – Bass Clarinets, Other Clarinets (tracks 5 & 8)
Ivan Rozmainsky – Conception, Harpsichord, Arturia MiniBrute, Other Synthesisers, Bell, Recording
AndRey Stefinoff – All Clarinets (except tracks 5 & 8), Recording
Oleg Prilutsky – Trumpets, Recording
Kira Malevskaya – Recording of Harpsichord
Record Label: ArtBeat Music
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 1st October 2021