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Oktopus - Worlds Apart CD (album) cover

WORLDS APART

Oktopus

 

Heavy Prog

3.73 | 6 ratings

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mossywell
4 stars I have seen countless prog bands and almost as many support bands. One day in early 2016, I went to see IOearth (who need no introduction) in North London, UK and Oktopus walked on stage. I guess over the years, I've become tolerant of some very dubious music with the unfortunate side effect that it takes much more for me to take notice! Within a few bars of these gents playing, I think my jaw must have hit the floor!

In terms of style, I guess Heavy Prog fits the bill, but it's not the shouty meandering aimless cacophony you sometimes hear. This music is far more structured with some welcome variation in dynamics. I'm generally loath to make comparisons with other bands to avoid the "labelled for life" syndrome. However, purely in the interests of giving people an idea, my first thoughts ? due to the way they rhythmically and harmonically modulate, was of the Cardiacs. Musically, however, it has to be said that Rush springs to mind: a three-piece with intelligent lyrics with a bit of fantasy, quite high vocals (but not screechy), virtuoso bass and guitar, and a drummer that has more fills than grooves!

Doing a detailed musical analysis isn't my thing, so I'll be brief. There are 8 "tracks".

Discord (Approach): A short track of some heavy breathing with atmospheric guitar chords over the top which acts as an opening scene. The track's name is a hint of what's to come?

Eyes Open: From the first chord, we're immediately into the fast Heavy Prog sounds. But within a minute we are introduced to a more melodic section and chorus. Just when you thought you're on safe heavy prog ground, up pops an almost jazzy instrumental that segues back into the chorus.

Worlds Apart: Another "odd" time signature feel track in the verse (and if you watch them practicing it on Youtube, it makes you wonder how they stay so relaxed ? my brow would be furrowed in concentration trying to avoid going off the beat!). This is a less-heavy track than Eyes Open with a more foot-tappable chorus. I've read elsewhere that this is considered their best track by some. For me, it's up there, but the best is yet to come. The Adventures of Jerry Troutmonto ? Part 1: [instrumental] After a drum flourish it heads down the more traditional heavy prog route with a heavy dose of prog noodling. This track more than (structurally) reminds me of the Cardiacs. It's an opportunity to show off (rightly) their musicianship. Of note is a melody used in a later track. Maybe that's why it is called "Part 1" (there's no "Part 2"!).

Haru: [instrumental]: This really feels like an old film interlude where a kitten would bash a ball of wool between two halves of a very long film. In this case, it's a short ethereal piece on wood blocks / pipes or similar. (Haru: Japanese for Spring, apparently.) I guess the idea is that we relax after spending the previous 17 minutes desperately trying to tap out a beat that keeps changing direction just when we get it!

The Hand on Your Shoulder: We're back on solid ground again. It opens up with some cross-sticking and mellow guitar riffs and the vocal is almost whispered. It has a very jazzy feel at the start. But, as the chorus approaches, we know that things will hot-up. However, it's much more restrained than the frantic Eyes Open. As is typical of Oktopus (if I can say that after one album!) you're never quite sure where it is heading. However, this is probably the tracks you'd most want to play to your mum! (I don't suggest that, by the way.) We're even treated to some vocal harmonics towards the end. My goodness, it's almost at risk of being called "normal". But it does show that these guys don't just have to do the super-avant-garde stuff.

Discord (Descent): [instrumental] A short musical piece that really could be the sound of a lift descending into the underworld?

Minotaur: OK ? a confession: I have listened to this track dozens and dozens of times and I never tire of it. It is a masterpiece. Superficially, a song about the man character facing a Minotaur and escaping. (I say "superficially" as I'm awful as dissecting lyrics. And routinely see meaning where there is none, and fail to see meaning when it slaps me in the face!) Musically, it has everything: it has great melody but isn't constrained by straightforward time or key signatures and there's modulation- aplenty. The vocal are spot on, belted out without wavering. There are great guitar riffs and solo which demonstrate the ability to add both rhythm and virtuosity. The bass playing I absolutely love as it acts as the glue or the canvas. (I don't ever recall seeing someone play something so complex and yet look so relaxed.) The drumming is as frantic as ever ? it's a lesson in how to percuss as many different things on one bar as humanly possible. Why groove when you can fill? (That's a slight exaggeration.) It ends with a belted out "Feel the best wail inside ? Minotaur!" and then a relatively mild coda to wrap the track up ? something that for the first time you can actually tap your foot to!

Overall, it's so close to a 5-star. Why not the 5 stars? 2 reasons: 1. It's so good, I want more. Yes, I know that it's ironic to say "it's so good, I'm marking it down for not being longer" but at just over 30 minutes, it's almost like a long EP. 2. At times, it feels like they're almost trying too hard to impress ? they're good enough that they don't need to impress. It's like ten thousand creative ideas all jammed into a small space that is left bursting at the seams. It's musically very "dense". Personally, it probably could have been mixed with an extra 10 minutes without diluting the impact. Also, I do wonder how they'd do a second album whilst keeping the cornucopia of ideas flowing. (That said, I very much look forward to the second album.) I just know I'm gonna regret only giving it a 4. Can I do 4.5 please? :)

Finally, if you're wondering if this is studio trickery, it's not ? watch them live ? you'll see what I mean.

mossywell | 4/5 |

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