Corsair: Of Whales, Warrior Women and the Ghosts of Proxima Centauri

With their second self-released EP, Ghosts of Proxima Centauri, Virginian heavy rockers Corsair seem to tone down the spaced-out elements in favor of harder-driving classic rock crunch. The Charlottesville four-piece, who made their debut with 2010’s Alpha Centauri (review here), have solidified a sound more their own across these six tracks, the double guitars and vocals of Paul Sebring and Marie Landragin still very much leading the way, but in a more specific direction. The structure is progressive and although engineering for the rhythm guitar and Aaron Lipscombe’s drum tracks is credited to Lance Brenner, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some relation to Against Nature’s John Brenner as well, given the warmth Corsair affect in their tonality and in the mix by bassist/vocalist Jordan Brunk. Through the half-hour of material on Ghosts of Proxima Centauri, Corsair sound like a fast-maturing and technically proficient band of songwriters, working on a brew of riffy heaviness that’s never too self-indulgent for its own good and never loses sight of the “rock” end of prog rock.

Although opener “Wolfrider” starts out with sampled howls and molasses-thick rumble, the song has much more in common with the likes of Valkyrie and Bible of the Devil than it does with Earthride or any of the sludge to be found bubbling up from the fertile Virginia underground. The song is an instrumental showcase for the guitar work of Sebring and Landragin, and at five minutes, it might go on a little too long – not the piece itself, but opening even an EP with an instrumental signals listeners that “Hey, this is an introduction,” and at five minutes, even with the charming underlying runs from Brunk on bass, “Wolfrider” might be a bit much to start with off the bat. That’s a sequencing issue more than any misstep stylistically or in terms of approach. “Wolfrider” has an effective build and a couple genuinely scorching solos, but it might have better served the flow of Ghosts of Proxima Centauri as the third track behind the catchy “Warrior Woman” and the Thin Lizzy-esque “Burnish the Blades” – also the most Against Nature-style moment on the EP – than it does in being the launch point. No matter, as by the time the chorus of “Warrior Woman” comes around, all is forgotten in favor of hoist-worthy riffing, accomplished vocals from Sebring and Brunk, and a complexity of arrangement that Alpha Centauri didn’t dare show off. Corsair are becoming more confident in their approach, and both “Warrior Woman” and “Burnish the Blades” show that. The highlight of the EP is still to come, but they get off to a strong start nonetheless following “Wolfrider.”

“Centurion” matches “Burnish the Blades” for fret-deftness in its central figure riff, and once again, Corsair turn their multiple-vocal harmonies into an excellent complement for the guitar fork from Sebring and Landragin. The repeated chorus line “Hail Caesar” is all the more memorable for the several voices singing it, and the two guitarists match step for what’s probably the most accomplished solo section on Ghosts of Proxima Centauri. Lipscombe’s drumming feels pushed back in the mix, and somehow understated, but on “Orca,” it seems the whole band shines all the same. Landragin takes the lead vocal, her voice well suited to the quick-plucked guitar notes, and the song, at 6:51 is Corsair’s most progressive and most accomplished moment to date. The song affects a stylistic drama that nothing else on Ghosts of Proxima Centauri really touches on, and for a stretch, it’s not just about cool guitar parts with drums and bass following behind topped with vocal harmonies, but about telling a story through music, and damn if it doesn’t work really, really well for Corsair. Their potential was what showed through most on Alpha Centauri, and as they move across the night sky for their second release, they’re beginning to capitalize on that potential.

They still have work to do. When the music kicks in on each of these tracks (following the howls on “Wolfrider” and some synth on “Orca”), it’s the guitars always starting, and that’s fine for an EP, but on a full-length, it wouldn’t work, and that’s really the next step for Corsair. Unless they decide to be an EP-only band – hey, it happens – it’s time for Sebring, Landragin, Lipscombe and Brunk to sit down and consider the lessons they can take from these two Centauri-ly titled offerings and use them to construct a complete album. The violin and melloron-ish sounds of closer “Eyes of the Gods” are a fitting end to Ghosts of Proxima Centauri, and I find on multiple visits to the EP that I’m even more excited about Corsair’s potential with these songs than I was the first time around. Like I say, there are kinks yet to be worked out, but if the four-piece can keep the natural feel of these tracks and find a production balance between that feel, clarity, tone and memorable songcraft (easier said than done, of course), there’s no limit to where they can go creatively. The Ghosts of Proxima Centauri are plenty haunting, and one gets the sense that Corsair have the means to make the most of their growth in the time to come. Hope to catch them at Beta Centauri or coming to a star system near you.

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