[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
(55:41, Musea-Parallele Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. M76 1:20 2. Bharmad 20:23 3. Stella Maris 6:53 4. Phantom 5:07 5. 2M78 4:43 6. Sand & Stone 6:36 7. Antares 4:06 8. Wormhole 6:04 LINEUP: Issei Takami - guitars, guitar-synth Shin Ichikawa - bass Max Hiraishi - drums
Prolusion. BARAKA is a Japanese trio who launched their tenth Anniversary last October, the memorable date having had coincided with the release of their seventh outing, titled both simply and unsurprisingly, "VII". The press release isn't too informative. The English version of the band's website does not contain their bio either, but I did learn from there that they quite often give live concerts, and that with the exception of "Bharmad" (third album) and the eponymous Baraka compilation (fifth release), all their creations are 'titled' with Roman numerals.
Analysis. The press kit lists Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson and Frank Zappa as the main sources of Baraka's inspiration, which in many ways conflicts with my personal vision of the matter. I don't find any traces of Zappa's influence here, while the King Crimson connection only manifests itself on one of the album's eight instrumental tracks, Bharmad, and only then in places. Though never simultaneously, Alex Lifeson and Jimmy Page both come to mind with guitarist Issei Takami's riffing approach, while when playing solos he much more often echoes David Gilmour, Mick Rogers and Allan Holdsworth than Hendrix or Page, let alone Robert Fripp and so on. In short, it is Rush, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Allan Holdsworth who appear to be the trio's primary benefactors, listed in line of descent according to their influences' overall weight in the recording, though as regards the first two, signs of their legacies are perhaps far and wide here. I'll begin with M76, Stella Maris and Antares, the simplest compositions in the set. The music on each is a slow moving, groove-oriented landscape with a bluesy, fluid, very Gilmouresque guitar solo hovering over it. In other words, this is smooth, atmospheric, ballad-like post-Pink Floyd Space Rock, the opening track turning out to be monothematic in the end. Similar moves are part of each of the yet-to-be-named tracks too, but they're in the minority there, being deployed to diversify the music. Although to a somewhat lesser degree, the remaining five pieces, 2M78, Bharmad, Sand & Stone, Phantom and Wormhole, all have common ground between them too, their style uniformly representing a confluence of (classic, relatively conventional) Hard Rock and (most often Rush-patterned) Prog-Metal with elements of Blues, Space Rock and Jazz-Fusion. On the last three of these the latter component assumes a more distinct shape, and since only these three are really kindred creations, the first two each be viewed separately. What most of all distinguishes Phantom from the other four is its hard-rock constituent, which is heavy Rock & Roll in fact, and also the inclusion of movements where the band demonstrate their skill in slackening or accelerating their pace, as well as some solos played backwards. The 20-minute Bharmad is definitely the highlight of the album, despite there being a couple of quotations from famous compositions to be found here, excerpts from Jacob's Ladder by Rush and Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. Although hard arrangements are prevalent, the level of intensity remains high everywhere save for a few brief episodes where Baraka flirt with spacey soundscapes, the overall sound coming across as alternately aggressive and more laid-back. The axeman devotes a lot of his attention to hard rock and related textures, but just when you're about to label him as merely another metal head, he brings out some fine blues or jazz playing. All in all, the variation of energy and mood within the epic makes it quite a riveting listening experience. On each of the remaining three pieces, 2M78, Sand & Stone and Wormhole, the attentive advanced listener might easily detect the hand of Allan Holdsworth, although being much less evident in the playing than in the writing. Besides sonic landscapes that instantly evoke the aura of Allan's "Metal Fatigue" LP, each abounds in hard, intense Rush-like maneuvers as well as mellow Pink Floyd-inspired moves, the second half of each finding the band at their most adventurous. However, my progressive nature rebels against, well, the first third of each, in all cases a simplistic, repetitive groove with the guitar lazily crawling over it, the rhythm section being literally in the clutches of a theme their leader sets as a base for his, if they may be called so, improvisations.
Conclusion. Baraka is a very well rehearsed and technically skilled band, but compositionally they aren't too advanced. Unlike many other Japanese artists actively exploring the legacy of English and American Rock music, these, though also revealing a thorough knowledge of the matter, avoid any significant reformations while ascending to the already-conquered summits. In the final analysis this is a very good album, but can only be recommended highly to fans of progressive Hard Rock.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 10, 2008
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]