I’ve had the opportunity to describe albums on the blog in the past with the words “should not work”. If I’m being honest, that term really means “I never thought of this musical combination”. After all, there is no celestial book in which are written the musical or artistic things which “should” or “should not” work. It’s a term which connotes a certain awe, a disbelief rooted in immense respect for the artist who is able to do what art should always strive to do: break the mold. In that sense, there is absolutely no better term to describe Papangu‘s Holoceno. This album, put simply, should absolutely not work. After all, if I were to start a band and try to recruit you with a pitch of “what if we played zeuhl progressive rock and mixed it with Mastodon?” you’d laugh at me and walk way.
But the fact remains that this is exactly what the Brazilian Papangu have done. They have re-recorded Larks Tongue in Aspic or Gentle Giant‘s In a Glass House next door to Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, birthing forth a weird, hallucinatory, and incredibly satisfying mix of the style. Tall order, right? But hey, just throw in “Água Branca” and see for yourself; listen to how the thick, redolent synths (some of them reminiscent of the Hammond tones of the golden age of progressive rock and some of them setting sail towards weirder tones) blend with the furious, non-stop, scattered in the best of ways, drums. Listen as the guitars, with a shimmering multiplicity of tracks, makes mince meat of the overall structure of the music. But then keep listening into “São Francisco” and encounter…growls.
That’s right, the third track on the album opens with the sort of deep, epic growls (sung in Portuguese by the way, which works really well with the album’s sound) that wouldn’t be out of place on any stoner metal album. The mode of the music shifts with them, the bass now deeper, the riffs faster and more furious, channeling the aggression and destruction of the ecological disaster concept story behind the album. It’s the same band though; you can hear the similarities in approach and in tone. Later on, the progressive vibes return to rule, though the heavier, metallic edge never quite leaves the band’s sound. At one point in the track, it’s hard to tell one sound from the other, as the stoner metal riff merges with the zeuhl intensity and the growls to create an impossibly satisfying and blistering crescendo in the middle of the track.
And thus, we end up at the beginning: for crying out loud, this shouldn’t work as well as it does! The different tones and influences used here should be incongruous; they should clash and result in an album that we’d call “ambitious but ultimately misguided”. But, instead, Papangu have found the way to deconstruct of all of their influences and find the places where they meet, right down in the bowls of each genre. Through a shared penchant for sporadic, scattered aggression, Papangu have merged progressive rock, sludge, avant-garde, and stoner metal into one massive, hulking, impossible album. And yet, it moves! And boy does it move fast. This is an album you’ll be sinking your teeth for years to come, trying to full parse everything that’s happening around your ears. And even then, you’ll probably fail, as Papangu stay one step ahead of you, and me, forever.
Holoceno was released on June 25th and listen, you need to go to the band’s Bandcamp and listen to it at least once. And then, if you know what’s good for you, buy it.