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Amarok - 2015 - "Hayak Yolunda"

(110:05 2CD, Azafran Media / Musea Records)


*****

Prolusion. The Spanish combo AMAROK is a veteran band on the Spanish progressive rock scene, and from their formation back in 1990, they released new material at a fairly steady pace for the first 15 or so years of their existence. The number of new albums has slowed down after that, and following their seventh studio album "Sol de Medianoche", the band disbanded. "Hayak Yolunda" is the eighth studio album by this seasoned, now resurrected band, and was jointly released by Azafran Media and Musea Records in the fall of 2015.

CD 1 "Hayat Yolunda" (57:32): *****

TRACKLIST:

1.  Universo 8:06
2.  Revelacion 6:02
3.  Gestacion 6:00
4.  Despertar 5:04
5.  Incertidumbre 5:22
6.  Rubicon 7:59
7.  Cenit 6:28
8.  Camino de Vida 3:34
9.  Principio 8:57 

LINEUP:

Robert Santamaria  keyboards; guitars; glockenspiel, percussion
Marta Segura  vocals 
Manel Mayol  flutes 
Pau Zanartu  drums 
Alan Chehab  bass 
Xavi Saiz  guitars 
Analysis. Amarok is a band that appears to be mainly regarded as one belonging inside a folk-oriented aspect of progressive rock, which, on a surface level at least, comes across as appropriate. Not that this band, at least as experienced on this album, is a unit that appears to have a deep desire to blend a vast amount of folk music inspirations to a progressive rock context as such, but because they use some key and trademark sounds throughout that give a strong folk music association, even if the overall style is of a slightly different nature. In terms of general context and orientation, I'd rather state that this is a band exploring a distinctly vintage brand of progressive rock, and a careful one at that. On this album, we're presented to music that, first and foremost, is characterized by being of a careful nature, where dramatic elements and stark contrasts are generally avoided, and the great majority of the different arrangements are rather unobtrusive in nature. Soft and elegant, at least to some extent, and fairly dream-laden at that, but also fairly sophisticated, with multi-layered instrumental arrangements, distinct developments and firm alterations applied on a consistent basis. All the compositions, to a lesser or greater extent, alternate between three distinct modes: mellow, pastoral sequences with plucked or otherwise gentle guitars supporting the lead vocals and fairly often a flute motif or solo, a more elaborate symphonic oriented approach with mainly vintage keyboard arrangements as the dominating element, and then a third variation that blends some or all aspects of the first two. The latter two will also occasionally feature electric guitars rather than acoustic ones in support, and heavy riffs will at times add depth and darkness to the proceedings as well. As for the keyboards, we're treated to both gentle floating textures, more spirited swirling or surging motifs, and also a fair amount of vintage organ details, adding an occasional harder edge to arrangements that, otherwise, might have been a little too soft and unobtrusive. The splendid lead vocals of Marta Segura fit right into this setting, her voice a well controlled one, able to add an edge to her delivery, always indicated that there's more power at hand if needs be, thus providing a subtle and unobtrusive yet still very present nerve to the compositions, of many careful details that in sum add up to material that remains interesting and intriguing, despite the mainly careful landscapes explored.

CD 2 "Archives 2009-'15" (52:33): *****

TRACKLIST:

1.  Imdhalaia 4:48
2.  Trio 2:14
3.  Nannania 5:05
4.  Touts and Frogs 5:26
5.  El Meu Petit Cel 3:24
6.  La Vinyota's Jig 1:59
7.  La Edad Avanzada 7:10
8.  Norwegian Wood 3:08
9.  Semillas 5:02
10. Goblins' Song 2:43
11. Stratosfear 11:34

LINEUP:

Robert Santamaria - keyboards, guitars, sax, accordion, percussion, vocals
With:
Marta Segura  vocals 
Manel Mayol  flutes 
Manel Vega  bass 
Xavi Saiz  guitars 
Coloma Bertran  violin 
Victor Estrada  theremin 
Miki Gelabert  drums 
Pau Zanartu  drums 
Analysis. The bonus CD features an array of material that was partially made in the final phase of Amarok's first active period, for Santamaria's new project Dafnia in particular, additionally containing a few other odds and ends, including some cover tracks. By and large, this CD comes across as almost as interesting as the main album at hand, and it also showcases a band rather more diverse in their stylistic expression. Opening cut Imdhalaia explores more of a world music style, while many of the successive tracks have more of an English and possibly even Celtic touch to them. Some elegant instrumental mood pieces have been tucked in as well, but what all of them have in common is a more dramatic expression than the compositions on the main album, where the addition of violin and accordion in particular brings a livelier general spirit to the table. The lead vocals, when present, also have more dramatic and spirited flair, and overall, the songs come across as edgier and more vibrant in character, but perhaps not always quite as sophisticated in terms of development and arrangements. Personally I find the cover versions to be the most charming parts of this CD, and then in particular the reinvention of The Beatles classic Norwegian Wood to an instrumental dampened affair that develops to an edgier, psychedelic-oriented expression. The addition of plucked guitar details and a spirited guitar solo to the alternate take on Stratosfear makes the piece sound charming too, but, at least for me, not quite at the same level as the reinvented Beatles classic.

Conclusion. This production by Amarok comes across as something of a water-shift creation, where the main album presumably indicates the kind of material we can expect to hear from the band in the future: delicate and relatively unobtrusive compositions that blend elements from folk music into a dampened, sophisticated take on vintage-era symphonic art rock. The bonus CD comes across as something of farewell to the kind of material the band explored in the past, partially due to the marked difference in style on those compositions, partially due to the descriptions given this material in the booklet of this double-CD release. Both CDs are quality productions though, and, first and foremost with the main CD in mind, I'd recommend those, who tend to enjoy bands such as Camel, to give this outing a check. Top-10-2015

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: April 1 & 2, 2016
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Azafran Media
Musea Records
Amarok


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