Monday, October 14, 2013

Australasia - Vertebra (2013)

It's no secret that a degree in musical theory has never been a prerequisite for enjoying and dissecting music. Any band or album that would require such a stunt isn't worth your efforts. With that in mind, there are bands that can be enjoyed regardless of your preferences or prejudices. No, there is not a band, not a single one, that is universally loved. Don't even try. But bands can transcend their genre in such a way as to welcome people who would otherwise be outsiders into the fold. With their debut album, Italy's Australasia quickly asserted themselves as one of those acts, blending together the silky smooth and atmospheric qualities of post rock with the more intense and blaring side of post metal. With that release, titled "Sin4tr4," we likened their sound to a red dyed ice cube melting into a glass of crystal clear water. But was it the metal that tinged the rock, or the opposite? Only a year later, an answer may actually be found. On their new album, a ten track, thirty minute piece called "Vertebra," the overall arc of their sound begins to take shape; and as the ice cube fully melts, you have a drink as sweet and balanced as any you've ever had.

An opening track like "Aorta" works on so many levels, but the key is that it grows organically. It doesn't insist that you listen, but gives you every reason to. The light, melodic notes are fuel for the fire, an initial blast of drum and bass that while explosive in their own right, are subtly smooth. By the time the ethereal female vocals come through with chanting grace, you've already been exposed to what you thought was the complete spectrum of sounds at the bands disposal. However wrong you may have been, the boundaries here are endless, as a song like "Vostok" is quick to prove. Electronically tinged, yet heavily rooted in the layering of guitars, it beautifully constructed from start to finish. Even the kick drum has a sound all it's own here, a rousing thud unlike others you've heard. It isn't a punch to the face; it is a poke in the ribs to remind you it exists. From clean outro to thumping intro, "Zero" bends your perception again. Bass work is key here, driving the low register and elevating the high. Without that element, that firmly planted strength, the chorus of tingling bells that follows would seem flat. The end result would be a track derailed, never realizing the crushing blackened potential it boasts by the latter half.

Instead, it transitions from one to the other, and creates a stunning contrast with "Aura." You would be hard pressed to find something more soothing, more intricately constructed, and more simply beautiful than this. It is an interlude, of sorts, but one that maintains it's own identity. What it also creates is a freedom to go in any direction. A track like "Antenna" radiates outwards, starting from humble beginnings and growing into something larger than life. It is in tracks like this that the best work is done, flowing seamlessly from quiet to loud, soft to heavy, without so much as a hiccup. It is a formula that was used on "Sin4tr4," albeit in sparing ways. But it has grown into a different animal here, and songs like "Volume" only feed that beast. Instead of a trade-off, it becomes a fusion. Hidden between the layers of booming kicks and a rumbling bass line are delicate and whispered bells and cymbals. The two come together, but not in a way that leaves one with power over the other. They work together, accentuating the strengths of the other. The title track, however, focuses on the sublime. Because while "Vertebra" is a strong statement, it does so without the aid of an ounce of distortion. Instead, it utilizes chirping birds and clean guitars to accomplish it's goal.

In moments like this, the transition from previous to next, that you realize you are witnessing a double edged sword; the difference being this is the type of sword you've waited for. It cuts you from both ends, sharp or smooth. When a song like "Apnea," with electronic beats and heavenly chanted "ooo" and "ahhh" segments can cut to the heart of you with ease, it's time to admit you are witness to something unlike the daily grind. It catches you off guard, if only slightly, and makes you begin to question your own stability. But with you now rocked back on your heels, it would take only the slightest breeze to knock you over. And at that moment, "Deficit" kicks in. It marches in like the proverbial lion, cascading cymbals and snares over you. But as it progresses, it starts to change and evolve into the lamb. The way it gently fades out seems a far cry from the stomp it entered with. But, as with everything on the album, it wouldn't work any other way. For as one track ends, the next begins. And with the chorus of thunder and rain drops, "Cinema" earns it's name. You'll find your own imagery here; whether it be the view from your attic window into a rainy afternoon, or the path through a now orange-leafed wood. That personal attachment you find is what makes the track so unique, and yet so easily identifiable.

Words are just words. It's hard to use verbiage to truly communicate sound and emotion. When you sit down and listen to the music of Australasia, a lot of words will come to mind, and a lot of those will be variations of the same thing. Beautiful. Glowing. Stunning. Mesmerizing. But as much as those words make sense, they simply don't go far enough. This band is making music as an art form, as an expression of themselves. And their success, while relying completely on you to relate, is never in doubt. If you choose to spend your time trying to answer the only question that remains when the album ends, whether this is a rock album with metal influences, or a metal album with rock tendencies, you will waste a whole lot of time, and never come to an answer. And the fact of the matter is that it simply doesn't matter. Rock, metal, jazz, electronic, or any other musical genre you can name are probably present here, no one more important than any other. On "Sin4tr4," the ice cube had just begun to melt; on "Vertebra," it has melted, mixed, and given you every reason to think you found perfection.


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