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Music Review: From Scandinavia – Gargamel, Gosta Berlings Saga, Ponamero Sundown & Villebrad

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I really  enjoy my forays into Scandinavia. I invariably find something that rings my bell on each trip and today has been no exception hearing four bands, some of which have appeared in Eurorock columns before. The good news is that each of them has a new album out.

Gargamel – Descending
First we are off to Oslo where Norway’s Gargamel have released their much anticipated second album Descending. Their debut Watch For The ‘Umbles came out in 2006 and set the scene and confirmed that Gargamel as ‘one to watch’.

Descending is, if anything, a touch more melancholic, and definitely darker. The album is made up of four lengthy progressive tracks all of which are loaded in atmosphere, alive with energy, and deep in imagination. The band builds darkly twisting corridors of colour, and intrigue within their music something that is never more perfectly illustrated than with the album closer “Labyrinth”.

Firstly, it opens with the haunting and somewhat ominous title track which clocks in at ten minutes. It is vaguely Peter Hammill with its thickly sliced sense of foreboding, and is further enriched by a little Ray Manzarek splashed across the canvass. The chill wind that signals the arrival of “Prevail The Sea” creates ever more ominous images.

Its twelve minutes leads to the shorter “Trap”, and the sprawling and appropriately named “Labyrinth” which weaves a near twenty minute spell at the tail of the album. There is a vague, deeply lying gentle knock on the door from Sid Barrett, powerful memories of King Crimson, and some more Van der Graaf, meshed with enough conjuring of musical visions to satisfy a ‘Deadhead’ convention.

The basic tracks were recorded live in the studio and are all the stronger for the resulting energy levels and immediacy. The vast array of instruments, such as mellotrons, synths, horns, woodwinds, strings, and more, all arrived later to create the maze of sounds on the record.

Personally, I love it. Then again, I was part of the group of weirdoes that listened to Van de Graaf and King Crimson when most of the others at school were into Top Of The Pops. If you can identify with that, then try this.

Gosta Berlings Saga – Detta Har Hant
A while back I reviewed instrumental Stockholm band Gosta Berlings Saga’s album Tid ar Ljud. In my review, I enthusiastically referred to the band's website which stated, “under the heading ‘influences’, they merely write ‘ancient wisdom’. Under ‘sounds like’, they add, ‘like the band your unmarried, childless uncle with that beard and weird smell likes."

Okay, I’m pretty close to being that weird uncle and therefore was filled with anticipation over their latest release, Detta Har Hant. Eight instrumental tracks focusing on urban themes via a soundscape of darkness, are built upon their
trademark melodies that recur like a worrying dream.

Ranging from minimalistic power grooves through to epic sweeps of drama the band has delivered an organic, compulsive, and highly addictive musical trip. “Kontrast” and “Sorterargatan” both launch you headfirst into the album's core within a feast of energy. “Svenska Hjartan” arrives likes a soothing, yet dark, mist, swirling around your feet.

The pulsing “Fem Trappor” gives way to the gently satisfying opening of “Nattskift”, a track that, as it slowly unfolds, further confirms the bands development. Also worthy of a mention is the gigantic “Bergslagen” an enthralling journey through chiming guitar, interspersed with jumps into the unexpected.

A superb pairing of “Innilegur?” and the excellent “Vasterbron” bring the album to an equally intriguing and accomplished end. Gosta Berlings Saga have taken a positive musical leap forward. Detta Har Hant is brave, exciting, dynamic, imaginative, and individual. All of that is topped off with some excellent musicianship.

In the meantime I’ll definitely be busy annoying the neighbours, and my wife, with this one.

Ponamero Sundown – Stonerized
The clue, unsurprisingly, is in the title. Stockholm’s Ponamero Sundown pride themselves in producing ‘heavy rock for the 21st century.’ With Stonerized they deliver exactly that, straight to your speakers, with a blast of fuzz, stoner-rock built on a solid and memorable wall of riffs.

Twelve tracks are served up, in English, opening with “Alcoholic Deathride”, a driving ode to ‘liquid suicide.’ This is sweaty, wall of amps, low ceiling, ear ringing rock that makes you want to dive into the nearest dive.

Formed at the end of 2005 Ponamero Sundown is heavily influenced by the heavier of all things early '70s rock. Since then they have been actively spreading across Europe taking in Belgium, the UK, and Germany with their teeth jangling heavy sound. Stonerized actively captures the bands energy and keeps it raw, thick, fresh, vibrant, and uncomplicated.

This is essentially a live studio album and successfully underlines exactly what this band are about. Honest, straight ahead rock with a train of noise heading straight at you. They create that ‘clothes against your body’ wall of power you feel at gigs but do so in your own home. They will have you hitting the volume despite the bangs on the wall.

“Reborn” is vaguely Sabbath. “The Race” and “Curtain Call” both work well in a manic headbanging way while “Made Of Stone” delivers a nice change of gear. Oddly the album may have been better trimming a track or two with a misfiring “Rotten Religion” being a candidate for culling.

Stonerized is what it is, a no holds barred, uncomplicated, heavy rock album. Not for the faint hearted.

Villebrad – Ultrarapid
Sweden’s Villebrad also featured in an earlier Eurorock article when their album Alla Ar Har Utom Jag was reviewed. Back then I observed that Villebrad was formed in 2004 as a vehicle for the Uppsala-based brothers Erik and Pahl Sundstrom.

Their brand of progressive rock, experimental pop, underpinned with some complex musicianship has resulted in Ultrarapid, their latest album. Bolstered by the arrival of bassist Petter Broman, they set about building on the largely positive response to Alla Ar Har Utom Jag by writing thirteen new tracks.

The album is almost impossible to pigeon hole, a fact that makes it immediately intriguing. This is further complicated for this particular English speaking reviewer by the fact that songs are understandably sung in their native Swedish. So concentrating on the sound alone, what do we have?

Ultrarapid is a  pulsing, vibrant, confident sounding record that refuses to sit in any particular genre. If anything, it successfully straddles the fence between progressive, experimental, and outwardly pop styled catchiness. “Du ar Svag” and “Skjuten i Hjartat” are both built on a potent base and hang around long after the last notes fade away.

This is a band that is not going to be swayed by anything resembling trend and instead have incorporated elements of the band members various and diverse pasts. Together they create an absorbing and highly individual listen set amid some quality musicianship.

Stand out tracks include “Amerika”, a simple yet shining memorable instrumental, and “Feberdrom” which uses spiky layers to build an intriguing blend of pop-prog. The title track itself indicates just how determined this band are in listening to their instincts rather than trying to write music to fit everyone else.

All of the above can be found by following the various links above or by calling in on the Record Heaven / Transubstans Records label website or on their MySpace page.

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