When we say “multi-instrumentalist”, what do we mean? Certainly, at the basic level of the term, there is the technicality and skill involved in mastering and playing multiple instruments. However, composition and songwriting are also large aspects of the phenomenon described by the term “multi-instrumentalist”. We expect a kind of eclectic approach mingled with a far-flung direction, a tone and voice that would single out the “multi-instrumental” artist in our minds as a discrete, musical unit.
Clément Belio‘s career, so far, has both cemented and called into doubt the “multi-instrumentalist” label. His album from 2014, Contrast, was more of an experiment in homage, in variance around familiar themes. It was brilliant, to say the least, but perhaps lacked that innately emotive spark that would cement his direction and musical interest. Thus, we waited with baited breaths for his next release, not quite sure of what to expect. Would the next release continue the line which Contrast sketched out? Would it even be metal, when you take into consideration Belio’s extensive, musical education and background?
Finally, we have Belio’s next effort, this time under the moniker of Itzamna a band Belio is part of. Consisting of him and four other musicians, it robs the singular and solitary nature of multi-instrumentalism from Belio’s name but replaces it with a rich tapestry of sounds, ranging from jazz, adventure prog, post rock, and progressive rock. Chascade, their most recent effort, is the sound of a close knit group of friends making music they all feel passionately, in their bones. As a result, it is a convincing and, most importantly, emotionally valid creation that feels like a natural progression of Belio’s career. Instead of his sound and mark overwhelming the rest, Itzamna works as a group in truth and not only in name, featuring ideas and sound from all parties involved.
Consider “Duet”, one of the centerpieces of the album. On its fast piano runs and cheerful tones, you can hear the indelible mark of one Sufjan Stevens. This jazz-y rock, swaying back and forth across ferocity and softness, is built from all instruments communicating with each other. Drums, guitars, bass and piano all work in unison to create the roiling textures of “Duet”. Their harmony is powerful without being redundant, each instrument adding to the main theme without taking away from its fellows. This is the sign of a unit working together on all levels, composition, execution and recording included. Otherwise, all we have are main themes reiterated upon by the other musicians, bowing before the will of one artist.
Other points on the album also enjoy a “meta-harmony” among themselves. That is, harmony in variety is not only displayed within tracks but between the tracks themselves. “Je Vivroie Liement” for example, a beautiful rendition of one of the most important medieval French poems, work beautifully with “Duet” that came before it. The lilting pianos on which the latter ends feed into “Je Vivroie Liement” and are fed into something which is both modern and old, centuries old poetry come to life under featured vocalist, Carla Fernandez.
Nor is this the album’s only guest vocal spot. “Red Dragon” features none other than Matthieu Romarin (Uneven Structure). “Red Dragon” also bolsters the idea of “meta-harmony”. It is heavy, one of the only truly heavily moments on the album; Romarin’s growls were probably too good of a tool to resist using. However, instead of just throwing them into the mix and seeing what happens, which would probably have led to a disjointed and forced feeling, the piano is once again utilized to tie them into the grander whole of the album. The unique positioning of this piano over the guitars and drums, leads “Red Dragon” to feel like a heavier version of the rest of the album instead of just a tacked on track, there for the sake of being there.
There are many more worthy moments on the album (like the epic, thirteen minute closer “Dies Veniet” and its beautiful strings) but the important thing to take from this review is that Chascade is more than just another work under Belio’s belt. Instead, it is a work under its own right, crafted by several, talented musicians working together. Itzamna is the right home for Belio and his touch, as it sounds more cohesive, memorable and impactful than it ever has before. Chascade is many things: a beautiful frolic, a somber contemplation, a moving tirade. But most of all, it is the sound of a “multi-instrumentalist” working with his peers to create something great than the sum of their parts.
Itzamna’s Chascade was released today! Head on over to the band’s Bandcamp to order it.