Toundra have an interesting career. This Spanish post rock/metal band have been operating in the same semantic fields as bands like If These Trees Could Talk, Sleeping Bear or Afformance making their way through the uncertain and, sometimes, downright disastrous, genre of heavy post rock. They were making music way before the current resurgence of the genre and, in Heavy Blog circles at least, were often cited as a light in the darkness, something original and fresh in a genre which seems to have lived out its welcome. Their second album, aptly titled II is a masterpiece, one of the best groovy/heavy post rock releases around. But now, when plenty of other bands are making fantastic music in the same vein, are Toundra still relevant? Following up on some releases that weren’t as powerful as the all-mighty II, are Toundra still up there with the best of them when it comes to making expansive, instrumental music?
The answer is, happily, a resounding yes. Having released their first non self-titled album (apart from a split way back when), Toundra have managed to dispel any worries we might have had following the release of IV. And we had some worries; it was a good album but didn’t seem to live up to the legacy of the band. All of that is gone though, as Vortex injects the band’s sound with some much needed rejuvenation. The core of the sound is still the same; you’re going to get powerful, groovy, bass-centered post rock that’s all about making you move rather than making you cry. Crescendos are not the center of Toundra’s sound (thank god), but rather a constant momentum, a focus on riffs and licks that make the band shine with power.
It’s a formula you might have heard plenty of on the blog recently; Toundra are basically precursors to the type of post rock we’re seeing everywhere these days. On Vortex however, this sound has been magnified by an absolutely massive production, especially when it comes to boosting that all important groove section. Vortex feels thicker, the bottom end of the guitars more resonant and dominating than before, not to mention the massive kick drums that constantly pulse in the background. Listen to “Tuareg” for example, arguably the best track on the album; the drums are doing plenty of work on floor drums and cymbals but the unmistakable spine of the kick drum is always there, supporting the infectious riffs in the middle of the album. These are of course also upheld by the fantastic bass work; everything comes together to exemplify the cover art, a massively dark sun looming over a desert.
Like their classic, early works, Vortex also doesn’t care about rest or stopping. It’s one hit after another, but in an intelligent way. “Cartavio” for example is a calmer track after the monolithic “Tuareg” but it’s short; Toundra haven’t made the mistake of inserting an ambient, long winded piece here. This is simply a moment of reflection, a cleaning spot before we dive right back into it. It latches on to the calm beginnings of “Kingston Falls”, a track which explodes into one of the more convincing guitar hooks at the middle. This kind of give and take between release and tension, wherein Toundra shy away from the flimsy pitfalls of post rock, is what makes Vortex so great and what was missing on the last two releases from the band. Luckily, Toundra seem to have hit the ground running and are back to making excellent, polished post rock. This time, they’re also backed by a great genre which has arguably evolved around them to an extent, adding that much pleasure in context to this release.
Vortex released on the 27th of April, via Inside Out Music. You can grab it right here.