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Khatsaturjan - 2015 - "Beast, Machine & Man"

(61:29, Musea/Musea Parallele Records)


1.  Suite Phobia Utopia 5:54
2.  Wrong Kinda Socks 3:35
3.  My Canon, My Way of Life 6:10
4.  In Pursuit of a Haunting Singalong 11:47
5.  Domain of Love 8:36
6.  Beast, Machine & Man 4:00
7.  American 33 7:47
8.  St. Angelus 8:12
9.  The Actor 5:28


Ilkka Piispala – vocals; drums; keyboards, bass
Atte Kurri – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards
Ilkka Saarikivi – vocals; keyboards; cello
Matti Muraja – bass; violin

Prolusion. The Finnish band KHATSATURJAN has a history that can be traced all the way to the year 2000, then initially formed as a band for a specific event only, but a short time later this one-event project settled as a regular band unit, releasing their first recorded material as en EP back in 2002. Four full-length studio recordings have been released since that point in time. "Beast, Machine & Man" is the most recent of these, and was issued by Musea Records in 2015.

Analysis. To give credit where credit is due: Khatsaturjan is an ambitious and creative group, and whether it is by accident or design they do at times venture out into realms few others have ventured before them. Navigating uncharted territories is, obviously, somewhat more of a risky business than staying put in waters well mapped out already, and a few aspects of this production documents the dangers of such ventures fairly well, I think. The most major of them is probably the second track, Wrong Kinda Socks. We have a saying in Norway, when someone say something exceedingly stupid. We'll then comment, as a question that doesn't merit an answer: "Have you smoked your socks?" Placing this particular track on this specific album is a statement that merits such a question. Progressive rock is, at the core, about expanding the boundaries of music true enough, but I don't think the world will ever be quite ready for music that attempts combining the aesthetics of ‘50s style rockabilly and early ‘80s Van Halen. Even if the track as such is fairly accomplished for what it is, it is a combination just about as tasteful as polka and chamber music. Otherwise my main associations when listening through this album is early ‘80s neo progressive rock actually. Not in a purebred form by any means, but as a common and recurring aspect throughout. Floating, at times ethereal keyboard textures combined with plucked guitars in vocals-dominated sequences, soaring elegant keyboard textures supplementing either the wandering elegant guitar, firmer dark toned riffs or as a contrast to a wandering, steady bass line, and mood-laden, crying guitar solo details. These typical neo-progressive features find their way into most songs here, and often placed inside unfamiliar contexts. In the more musical-oriented My Canon, My Way of Life it's actually a rather tasteful addition to the proceedings, while combining it with sequences of plucked acoustic guitars and laid-back, funk-tinged jazz rock as on Domain of Love, which also sports a beefier, AOR-ish recurring detail, is a combination where my internal jury is still out considering the verdict. Khatsaturjan also dips their toes into more ordinary waters at times, using organ and orchestration in classic symphonic progressive rock manner with a fair degree of success, and also opts to include some harder edged, galloping bass and riff excursions with more of an AOR-ish hard rock vibe to them into their multifaceted creations, and while not every arrangement used will be in the heartland of progressive rock, the compositional structures and development shouldn't leave anything to be desired in this general context. The band can be both quirky and challenging, in a good way, when they want – or are able – to. Among the most impressive cuts on this production, title track Beast, Machine & Man documents this quite nicely. While this is more of a personal feeling than something I can point to from a professional point of view, I did find the vocals to be rather underwhelming throughout the album. I suspect, this may partially be due to the mix and production, as some of the busier, layered arrangements came across as somewhat chaotic-sounding to my ears. Which may indicate that there are some mix and balancing issues at hand here that make the end user experience a bit lesser than what it ideally should have been. I'm not a craftsman in that profession, so this merely a listener’s subjective opinion at this point. Whether or not there are factual reasons behind that perception is something a professional sound-man will have to weigh in on.

Conclusion. I applaud the spirit and adventurous approach Khatsaturjan applies to the art of creating progressive rock. There are mishaps and mistakes on this album, and there are details I find lacking in execution, but while one may focus on some weak points, this is also an album that, by and large, is mainly an intriguing one as well. While not a production that can be recommended to those seeking a flawless album, I'd say that those with a certain affection for an adventurous band that broadly fits into a symphonic progressive context might want to investigate this CD, and then especially those who enjoy listening to a band that does have some unexpected details in their repertoire. Anyway, the band’s first two albums, "Aramsome Sums" (2003) and "Aramed Forces of Simantipak" (2006), are both way better than this one or its predecessor, “Disconcerto Grosso” (2010), either.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: October 4, 2015
The Rating Room

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