Creating an album based on a singular, defined concept has always been an intriguing prospect for lots of bands and artists. The practice seems to be more common amongst bands with artistic and progressive tendencies than ones churning out heavier fare. Norway’s six-piece outfit Gazpacho have evolved over a career exceeding two decades producing artistic and progressive rock albums built upon a variety of concepts and using several instruments to augment their storytelling. The stories and themes contribute to the music and attempt to elevate it in an endeavor to create a complex musical experience. 2018 sees Gazpacho coming back with Soyuz; an album that is built on the theme of moments frozen in time and manages –for better or for worse- to convey that feeling through the music.
Gazpacho’s tenth record beings with “Soyuz One” where the use of electronics is clear from the get-go. This is a delicate and inviting piece that ends with a brief melancholic violin section which adds an exotic touch to make things interesting. Electronics are also prominent on “Exit Suite” where they are used as an augmentation to some emotive piano lines. This track features a light hand with the vocals, as they are merely an accent in what is yet another melancholic track but possibly a little more coherent than the opening cut. The reflective mood is briefly broken by “Hypomania” which is a rather straightforward rock song with a predictable pattern and not much going on. It’s placement between “Soyuz One” and “Exit Suite” feels a bit forced and unnatural because it prevents them from fusing together to create a more consistent feel to the album.
The album’s peak is arguably “Emperor Bespoke” which features a very delicate teasing acoustic guitar in what is the most Gazpacho-like track on Soyuz. It’s steady and measured in every single transition with an emphasis on mood rather than technicality or any kind of unnecessary antics. Another intriguing highlight is on “Sky Burial” which features what is believed to be the oldest existing recording of a human voice from a Tibetan funeral ritual recorded in 1860. This is where the album’s theme of moments frozen in time is conveyed in the best way as the audio recording merges with the music that seems to be struggling to get out of a loop in the beginning yet slowly finds its way out. The ritual marks the sad occasion of someone’s death which is a natural and certain transition in life yet it also creates a static image of those who pass on in the imaginations of those who are still alive.
There are other occasions though where conveying the album’s theme is executed to a lesser degree of success, namely on “Fleeting Things” and “Rappaccini”. “Fleeting Things” has a catchy vocal pattern supported by electronics more in the first half until the guitars, bass and drums take over in the second half. The tempo is the same though and the feeling of development or progress is all too faint and the sense of being frozen in time starts to feel overbearing. “Rappaccini” also conveys that feeling of being frozen in time by playing out as a rather stuck piece, itself frozen in its own melody.
There’s a sense that something bigger and better is coming at several points across the album but it never does. The awkward flow prevents it from being a captivating and immersive experience on a similar level to the band’s earlier efforts which makes it a little disappointing since it doesn’t stand out in a different way either. The sense of wonder and curiosity that Gazpacho used to create on previous albums seems to be sporadic at best on Soyuz which makes it feel somewhat watered down. It’s always difficult to agree on when a certain band has hit its peak, but it could be even more difficult to argue for this album as proof that Gazpacho are still at theirs.