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(43 min, Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Houndstooth-1 4:06 2. Houndstooth-2 5:29 3. Expo '67 5:02 4. Flossing with Buddha 4:35 5. Grey Shirt 8:29 6. Green House 3:49 7. Saffron Myst 4:02 8. Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service 7:46 LINEUP: Graham Epp – guitars; keyboards Jesse Warkentin – guitars; keyboards Scott Ellenberger – basses; electronics Andy Rudolph – drums, percussion; electronics
Prolusion. Following “Do5” from 2008, the 43-minute “Senna” is the sixth album by the Canadian band MAHOGANY FROG, released at the tail end of 2012.
Analysis. On the one hand, it’s clear that there’s much in common between this album and its predecessor, since the prevalent styles are in both cases Art, Hard and Space Rock as well as progressive Space Metal; but on the other, it’s also obvious that the latest offering from Mahogany Frog finds the band’s formula little changed from their previous release. There are neither acoustic guitars nor trumpets here, but then there are several electronic devices. Used widely on the album, they much more often reminiscent of ones in Djam Karet circa “Ascension” than those in Ozric Tentacles, as opposed to “Do5”. Also, gone are Gong- and Steve Hillage-style space fusion arrangements, as well as ‘garage’ riffs in the vein of early Clear Blue Sky, though elements of both of the genres still appear on some occasions. Sympho-prog moves are part of many of the album’s eight pieces, almost all of them done in a more original way this time, normally avoiding the influence of ELP. One way or another, the best tracks here are ones that sparingly use electronics, namely Houndstooth-2, Expo ’67, Flossing with Buddha and Green House, the last two of which are classic Symphonic Progressive of the first water. As to the former two, each of them can overall be described as a bone-crushing excursion into heavy Space Rock and Metal with some excellent keyboard solos appearing along the way. Archetypical is Flossing with Buddha with its dual guitar riffs and melodies, careering tight ensemble playing and sledge-hammer dynamic. Even more powerful is Green House with its stuttering unison riffs, reminiscent of similar stop-to-play work by Frogg Cafe. In both cases, the music is for the most part fast and highly intense (rushing almost like an avalanche, figuratively speaking), at times evoking something halfway between Hawkwind circa “Levitation” and late ‘80s Voivod. Well, all four of the described compositions do catch fire and hold up well against the best pieces from the band’s previous album. The other tracks, however, are somewhat underwhelming in their effectiveness, as a solid part of each of them consists of semi-ambient, semi-electronic soundscapes. Two of those, Grey Shirt and Houndstooth-1, are overall good, however (albeit the latter uses programmed drums, its opening theme sounding almost not unlike the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”). Both of them begin peacefully and evolve through a few sub-styles (of Ambient) before finally climaxing as a guitar-driven progressive barnstormer. To put it in a different way, the guitar work is solid and confident, albeit mostly safe and exploratory, sitting comfortably in the grooves, only at one point riding the harmonies with proven metal licks and phrases. The same words are also relevant to the album’s closing piece, Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service (7:49). The rest of it, however, consists of sound effects, almost all of which are ‘created’ spontaneously and are fillers in the final analysis. The simple chord progressions and straightforward beats (of both programmed and real drums in this case), manipulated into a balladic groove in a quasi symphonic style, are what the remaining track, Saffron Myst, is overall about, but it’s at least melodious.
Conclusion. The end result is an album that, for fans, doesn’t sound like they might at first expect. The heavy guitars are really heavy, but the ambient stuff isn’t really ambient, blended with electronic music and other stuff. I can’t rate it higher than I did, because its last two tracks leave much to be desired (particularly its closing item), but most of the preceding ones are excellent, if not masterpieces. Recommended with reservations.
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