While my only prior exposure to Peruvian collective Don Juan Matus was their 2008 self-titled debut, their third album, Más Allá del Sol Poniente (Espíritus Inmundos) finds the five-piece a much more eclectic, genre-bending outfit. Lineup turmoil and artistic growth alike are to blame, but whatever did it, their sound has matured into dark textures of classic adult prog, with glimpses of the raw stoner sound they came from, but a more engrossing take overall on it. The eight tracks that comprise Más Allá del Sol Poniente’s 35-minute runtime span a wide sonic array, and although each seems to have a personality and drama all its own, there remains a flow to the album that’s essential to its ultimate success.
The way intro “Bajo la Sombra del Arbol de la Vida y La Muerte” bleeds into the riffier, classically plodding “Kadath/Más Allá del Sol Poniente,” for example, is just one of Don Juan Matus’ resident smooth transitions, going from piano and guest synth from Carlos Torres Fuentes to Alfonso Vargas’ crashing drums and what might be Más Allá del Sol Poniente’s most accomplished vocal performance from singer Alex Rojas. The semi-title-track also represents the more guitar-led side of Don Juan Matus, which doesn’t come out on every track, but when it does, comes out cleanly, the guitar work of Richard Nossar (who also produced the album and contributes synth and vocals), Manuel Garfias (also bass) and/or Veronik (also flute, theremin and vocals) sounding big enough to make an impression but not so large as to leave no room for the more experimental side of the band to come out on other tracks, such as the bass-driven instrumental space psych synth of “Ectoplasma,” which follows immediately. At just over two minutes, “Ectoplasma” is more of a transitional moment, a kind of warning to listeners that anything could happen on Más Allá del Sol Poniente, and in that it’s effective, since instead of a turn toward the weird, it leads into the riff-heaviest cut on the record, “Mundo Alterno.”
An album highlight for sure, “Mundo Alterno” closes the first side of Más Allá del Sol Poniente with an ultra-Melvins guitar progression so well done I have expected Buzz Osborne to start singing over it. He didn’t, but the song was no more a disappointment for that. Nossar’s guitar is front and center, and the Spanish-language lyrics blend well into the surrounding music, not sticking out quite as far as they did on “Kadath/Más Allá del Sol Poniente” but not taking a back seat either. The longest cut on Más Allá del Sol Poniente, “Mundo Alterno” boasts a long instrumental and solo break before coming back to its central riff and grooving out the same way it came in, allowing a couple seconds of silence to precede the next interlude, “Visiones Paganas.”
Considering the 35-minute runtime and the natural break between “Mundo Alterno” and “Visiones Paganas,” Más Allá del Sol Poniente feels like Don Juan Matus structured it with a vinyl release in mind. If such a thing is planned, I don’t know about it, but the side A/side B connection works either way, the vocals and drums of “Visiones Paganas” sounding definitively like an introduction and lasting not much longer than “Ectoplasma.” “Summerland,” which follows, reminds of Boris, but moves in a different, more outwardly melodic, direction for its chorus. Rojas (at least I think it’s Rojas; there aren’t per-song credits on the album) is clearly reaching for some of the notes, but he gets there most of the time, and the traditional rock construction of the song is carried over well.
Don Juan Matus’ only real misstep on Más Allá del Sol Poniente follows, and it’s not even a conceptual issue, just one of time. The track “Espejismos” is a 4:41 drum solo mostly dedicated to bass drum hits and cymbal washes, and while it sounds cool for about the first two minutes, the rest gets trying and once you realize that’s all that’s coming, the inclination is to simply skip ahead. It’s psychedelic in its way, and if you have Más Allá del Sol Poniente on in the background while you’re doing something else and not really paying attention, you might miss it entirely, but for active listening it goes on too long, effectively ending at 3:20 and coming back unnecessarily.
The vibe on closer “Verde Nocturno/Las Horas Azules (Version)” is moodier, a soft guitar line, synth and quiet drums opening the song and leading to builds and payoffs of various degrees. Javier Mosquera contributes a guest guitar lead, and Veronik’s vocalizations and flute work only enhance the ambience. There’s something woodsy about the cut, but the natural feel is nothing new to Don Juan Matus, who sounded live even on the more rudimentary first album. On the whole, Más Allá del Sol Poniente might not appeal to some because of its Spanish lyrics or progressive indulgences, but the record proves there’s still stylistic ground to be covered in stoner rock and doom, and its reaches toward classic guitar ground it mostly anyway. Its highlights are genuinely that, and there are a few moments on these tracks where it sounds like Don Juan Matus is the result of visionary creativity. For those moments, Más Allá del Sol Poniente makes itself required reading.
[NOTE: Richard Nossar sent over some factual clarifications for the review, and in the interest of being as correct as possible, I reprint them here:
There's no keyboards on “Ectoplasma” and “Verde Nocturno/Las Horas Azules (Version).” Both tracks involve theremin, not synth. On the other hand, as you can read on the album credits, I wrote the lyrics for “Mundo Alterno,” but didn't play on that song. Veronik played the rhythm guitar and Garfias did the wah-wah solos.
About the lead vocals, Alex Rojas sings on “Kadath,” “Mundo Alterno” (along with Veronik), “Visiones Paganas” (along with me) and “Summerland.” The guitars on “Verde Nocturno” are played by Manuel Garfias and myself. Javier Mosquera plays only on “Las Horas Azules.”
Finally, the album is a co-release by the labels Golden Procession (Japan) and Espíritus Inmundos (Perú).
Carlos Torres Fuentes only plays synth on “Kadath” (as credited on the album). All keyboards on “Bajo la Sombra del Arbol de la Vida and la Muerte” are played by myself.
I apologize for any inconvenience errors on my part may have caused.]
Tags: Don Juan Matus, Espíritus Inmundos, Lima, Peru