Posted in Whathaveyou on November 10th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
From the moment the project was named, it was clear that The Legendary Flower Punk had the potential to be kind of all over the place. And what began as a solo vehicle for The Grand Astoria guitarist/vocalist Kamille Sharapodinov has played out that scenario to its most enticing effect yet on the new album, Zen Variations. Self-released by the band — yup, a band — the new full-length veers through deeply progressive krautrock experimentation. One could argue Sharapodinov‘s guitar is its guiding force, but the tracks, each of which is a “Zen” of one kind or another — much needed — toy with arrangement in a way that even The Grand Astoria at its boldest has yet to do.
Though as Sharapodinov took the time to explain, the two acts are also growing closer together in terms of lineup. Could the future belong to The Legendary Astoria? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out where it’s all heading. You won’t find me daring to speculate.
His words, more info on the new album, the lineup and upcoming tour dates for The Legendary Flower Punk follow, as culled from the internet and from Sharapodinov directly:
The Legendary Flower Punk – Zen Variations
“These tracks were written during last year and were stage tested during the tours we had in 2015-2016,” explains The Legendary Flower Punk guitarist/founder Kamille Sharapodinov. “The project now is The Grand Astoria’s de facto instrumental family outfit, since it includes TGA’s current drummer and the very first TGA bassist (the one who recorded the first album with us and then left). The music is jam-oriented and we are writing it together, which is the main difference from TGA where I write all the music alone.”
The Legendary Flower Punk, Zen Variations tracklisting: 1. Earthquake Zen 08:58 2. Urban Zen 07:46 3. Party Zen 05:11 4. Subway Zen 04:09 5. Warfield Zen 04:09 6. White Magick Zen 06:47 7. Christmas Zen 08:27
The Legendary Flower Punk is going to hit the road the release of new CD! Check the dates below.
The Legendary Flower Punk on tour: 12.11 Zelenograd (RU) “cinema” 13.11 Kaluga (RU) “garage” 19.11 Vilnius (LT) “Narauti” 20.11 Warsaw (PL) “2Kola” 22.11 Berlin (de) ” deep reason ‘ 23.11 Hamburg (DE) “227 Bar” 24.11 Halle (de) ” ha7″ 25.11 Karlsruhe (de) “Akk” 26.11 Würzburg (DE) “Cairo” 27.11 Nuremberg (de) “Artichoke” 28.11 Leipzig (de) “Mespotine sessions” 03.12 St. Petersburg (RU) “Zoccolo 2.0”
The Legendary Flower Punk is: Kamille Sharapodinov – guitars Mike Lopakov – bass Nik Kunavin – drums, percussion
The Legendary Flower Family: Danila Danilov – synth (3-6), metallophone (1) Denis Kirillov – acoustic grand piano (7), flute (7), fender rhodes piano (1) Ravil Azizov – clarinet (2, 4) Vladimir Ermolov – trumpet (1, 3, 5) Ekaterina Kulagina – saxophone (2) Slava Lobanov – trombone (2, 5) George Nefedov – balalaika (1) Alexander Karelin – mixing and mastering Sophia Miroedova – artwork
Posted in Reviews on October 7th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Last day. As ever, I am mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted by this process, but as ever, it’s been worth it. Today I do myself a couple favors in packing out with more familiar acts, but whatever, it’s all stuff I should be covering anyway, so if the order bothers you, go write your own 50 reviews in a week and we can talk about it. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I said. Today we start with Swans. Everything’s a confrontation.
Once again, I hope you’ve found something somewhere along this bizarre, careening path of music that has resonated with you, something that will stick with you. That’s why we’re here. You and me. If you have, I’d love to know about it. Until then, one more time here we go.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
Swans, The Glowing Man
Oh fucking please. You want me to try to summarize The Glowing Man – the culmination and finale of an era of Swans that Michael Gira began now more than half a decade ago – in a single review? Even putting aside the fact that the record two hours long, the notion is ridiculous. If there ever was a chart, the scope here is well off it. The material unfolds and churns and is primal and lush at once on “Cloud of Forgetting,” genuinely chaotic on the 28-minute title-track, and it ends with a drone lullaby, but seriously, what the fuck? Some shit is just beyond, and if you don’t know that applies to Swans by now, it’s your own fault. You want a review? Fine. I listened to the whole thing. It ate my fucking soul, chewed it with all-canine teeth and then spit it out saying “thanks for the clarity” and left me dazed, bloodied and humbled. There’s your fucking review. Thanks for reading.
Oslo trio Virus have long since established that they’re a band working on their own wavelength. Memento Collider (on Karisma Records) is the jazzy post-black metallers’ first album in five years and brings together adventurous rhythms, poetic declarations, dissonant basslines and – in the case of “Rogue Fossil,” the occasional hook – in ways that are unique unto Virus. Look at this site and see how often I use the word “unique.” It doesn’t happen. Virus, however, are one of a kind. Memento Collider makes for a challenging listen front to back on its six-track/45-minute run, but it refuses to dumb itself down or dull its progressive edge, bookending its longest (that’s opener “Afield” at 10:41; immediate points) two tracks around jagged explorations of sound like “Steamer” and “Gravity Seeker,” which engage and intrigue in kind after the melodic push of “Dripping into Orbit” and leading into “Phantom Oil Slick,” a righteous affirmation of the angular thrust at the core of Virus’ approach.
In 2010, Moscow troupe The Re-Stoned issued their first EP, Return to the Reptiles, and being obviously concerned with evolution, they’ve now gone back and revisited that debut release with Reptiles Return, a reworking of the four studio tracks that made up the initial version – “Return,” “Run,” “The Mountain Giant” and “Sleeping World.” The opener is a straight re-recording, as is one other, where another is remixed and the other two remastered, and Reptiles Return – which is presented on limited vinyl through Clostridium Records and a CD box set with bonus tracks via Rushus Records – pairs them with more psychedelic-minded soundscape pieces like “Winter Witchcraft,” “Walnut Talks,” the proggy “Flying Clouds” and sweetly acoustic “Roots Patter,” that showcase where founding multi-instrumentalist Ilya Lipkin is taking the band going forward. The result is a satisfying side A/B split on the vinyl that delights in heavy riffing for its own sake in the first half and expands the scope in the second, which should delight newcomers as well as those who’ve followed The Re-Stoned along this evolutionary process.
It may well be the fate of San Francisco’s hard-touring, ass-kicking, genre-refusing duo Castle to be terminally underappreciated, but that has yet to stop them from proliferating their righteous blend of thrash, doom and classic, fistpump-worthy metal. Their latest outing, Welcome to the Graveyard, arrives via respected purveyor Ván Records, and entices in atmosphere and execution, cohesively built tracks like “Hammer and the Cross” and the penultimate “Down in the Cauldron Bog” finding a balance of personality and delivery that the band has long since honed on stage. The Dio-esque barnburner riff of “Flash of the Pentagram” makes that cut a highlight, but as they roll out the cultish vibes of “Natural Parallel” to close, there doesn’t seem to be much on the spectrum of heavy metal that doesn’t fit into Castle’s wheelhouse. For some bands, there’s just no justice. Four records deep, Castle have yet to get their due, and Welcome to the Graveyard is further proof of why they deserve it.
One can hear a new wave of modern doom taking shape in Chained to Oblivion, the Prosthetic Records debut from Arizona one-man outfit Spirit Adrift. The work of Nate Garrett alone in the studio, the full-length offers five mostly-extended tracks as a 48-minute 2LP of soaring, emotional and psychedelic doom à la Pallbearer, but given even further breadth through progressively atmospheric passages and a marked flow in its transitions. To call it personal seems superfluous – it’s a one-man band, of course it’s personal – but Garrett (also formerly of metallers Take Over and Destroy) brings a palpable sense of performance to the songwriting, and by the time he gets to the 11-minutes-apiece finale duo of the title-track and “Hum of Our Existence,” it’s easy to forget you’re not actually listening to a full band, not the least because of the vocal harmonies. Calling Chained to Oblivion a promising first outing would be underselling it – this is a project with serious potential.
Unpredictable from the start of opener “Flesh ‘n’ Steel,” Once upon the Wings is a first-time multinational collaborative effort from Robbi Robb of California’s 3rd Ear Experience and Paul Pott of Germany’s The Space Invaders. Its five tracks/42 minutes arrive through no less than Nasoni Records, and provide a curious and exploratory blend of the organic and the inorganic in sound, as one finds the 11-minute “Grass” no less defined by its percussion solo, guitar line and ‘60s-style vocal than the electronic drums that underscore the layered wash of noise in its midsection. Further definition hits with the 16-minute centerpiece “Prophecy #1,” which works in a space-rocking vein, but the shorter closing duo of the catchy “Looney Toon” and darkly progressive “Space Ear” show a creative bent that clearly refuses to be tamed. Robb & Pott, as a project, demonstrates remarkable potential throughout this debut, as they seem to have set no limits for where they want their sound to go and they seem to have the command to take it there.
Most of the tracks on Brooklyn progressive noise rockers Family’s second album and Prosthetic Records debut, Future History, come paired with interludes. That cuts some of the growling intensity of winding pieces like “Funtime for Bigboy” and “Floodgates,” and emphasizes the generally experimental spirit of the record as a whole, broadening the scope in sound and theme. I’m somewhat torn as to how much this actually works to the 51:50 outing’s benefit, as shorter pieces like “Prison Hymn” and “Transmission,” while adding dynamic to the sound and narrative drama, also cut the immediacy in impact of “The Trial” or closer “Bone on Bone,” but it’s entirely possible that without them Future History would be an overwhelming tumult of raw prog metal. And while the play back and forth can feel cumbersome when one considers how effectively “Night Vision” bridges the gap between sides, I’m not sure that’s not what Family were going for in the first place. It’s not supposed to be an easy record, and it isn’t one.
France’s Les Discrets haven’t had a studio offering since 2012’s Ariettes Oubliées (review here), and while they released Live at Roadburn (review here) last year documenting their 2013 set at that festival, there’s little there that might presage the stylistic turn the Fursy Teyssier-led outfit takes on their new EP, Virée Nocturne (on Prophecy Productions). With four tracks – two new, complete recordings, one demo and the last a remix of the opener by Dälek and Deadverse – Les Discrets attempt to find a stylistic middle ground between post-rock and trip-hop, and for the most part, they get there. “Virée Nocturne” itself leads off and can be jarring on first listen, but successfully blends the lush melodicism for which the band is known with electronic-driven beats, and both “Capricorni. Virginis. Corvi” and even the demo “Le Reproche” continue to build on this bold shift. The finale remix adds over two minutes to “Virée Nocturne,” but uses that time to make it even more spacious and all the more immersive. For anyone who thought they might’ve had Les Discrets figured out, the surprise factor here should be palpable.
Presented across four tracks beginning with the 12-minute and longest-of-the-bunch (immediate points) “The Corpse of Dr. Funkenstein” (double points for the reference), II, the aptly-titled second album from Liquido di Morte expands the progressive atmospherics of the Italian four-piece’s 2014 self-titled debut (review here) without losing sight of the performance and spirit of exploration that helped bring it to life. Isaak’s Giacomo H. Boeddu guests on brooding vocals and whispers for “The Saddest of Songs I’ll Sing for You,” which swells in seething intensity as it moves forward, while “Rodents on the Uphill” casts a vision of post-space rock and closer “Schwartz Pit” rounds out with crash and wash that seems only to draw out how different the two halves of II actually are. Not a complaint. Liquido di Morte make their way across this vast span with marked fluidity, and if they prove anything throughout, it’s that they’re able to keep their command wherever they feel like using it to go.
Canberra, Australia, trio Witchskull initially released their debut full-length, The Vast Electric Dark, last year, and caught the attention of the cross-coastal US partnership between Ripple Music and STB Records, who now align for a reissue of the eight-tracker. Why is quickly apparent. In addition to having earned a fervent response, The Vast Electric Dark basks in quality songcraft and doomly, heavy vibes, keeping a consistent pace while rolling through the semi-metallic push of “Raise the Dead” or the later rumble/shred of “Cassandra’s Curse.” All the while, guitarist/vocalist Marcus De Pasquale provides a steady presence at the fore alongside bassist Tony McMahon and drummer Joel Green, and what’s ultimately still a straightforward rocker of an album finds a niche for itself between varies underground styles of heavy. Between the balance they strike across their 37 minutes and the energy that courses through their songs, Witchskull’s The Vast Electric Dark proves easily worth the look it’s getting.
Kind of hard to get a sense from the video for the track, but the leadoff and longest piece on The Re-Stoned‘s latest collection, Reptiles Return, is actually pretty colorful. And by that I mean the clip isn’t. Black and white for the duration, it nonetheless fades smoothly into and out of various shots mostly of founding guitarist Ilya Lipkin — also a mysterious robed figure in the woods — as it complements the song’s dreamy tones and heavy psychedelic warmth. The Moscow-based outfit released Reptiles Return in August on Clostridium Records and also have it out as a limited box edition through Rushus Records accompanied by the band’s first outing, 2010’s Return to the Reptiles.
The titular similarity is, of course, no coincidence. Return to the Reptiles was The Re-Stoned‘s first outing and Reptiles Return, if I read it right, seems to be Lipkin‘s way of going back to the start in an attempt to rebuild and expand on the foundation that release laid down. “Return” seems to have been one of the ones re-recorded entirely — it’s two minutes longer here than in the original version — but it works well opening the always adventurous instrumentalists’ first full-length since 2014’s Totems (review here), which came out on R.A.I.G. as the band’s fourth album overall. And to hear them tell it, as they do below, there’s much more to come as well in the form of a new double-LP, so all the better.
Not sure I’d call the video a cinematic masterwork, but it gets the job done and is a cool chance to check out the track, so either way, please enjoy:
The Re-Stoned, “Return” official video
Idea, Producing & Original graphics by Ilya Lipkin, Camera by Wolfsblood, Video Editing by Arkadiy Fedotov.
Special thanks to Vasily Arzamastsev, Wolfsblood, Arkadiy Fedotov, CSBR, Maltvormast and Andrey Kiselev.
Ilya Lipkin – guitars, bass Ivan Fedotov – drums Mixed by Ilya Lipkin, Mastered by Janne Stark and Ilya Lipkin. Released on the album “Reptiles Return” /Clostridium Records – CR 022/ Rushus records – RR 03 / 2016
“Reptiles Return”- vinyl release of 8 tracks LP (Clostridium Records – CR 022) and 10 tracks on limited edition CD-R with “Reptiles” BOX Set (Rushus records – RR 03). This time the Grandmaster of this Moscow psychedelic fuzz orchestra Ilya Lipkin and associates made an attempt to rethink the legacy of the primal days of the band – the very first EP “Return to the Reptiles” with one track remixed, two – re-recorded a new and two more – remastered. The new album also includes new songs (4 in vinyl version and 6 in digital) covering more broad sonic space – acoustic pieces and psychedelic soundscapes which have been composed and recorded over the period of the last three years. “Reptiles Return” is a good appetizer for those fans tired of waiting for the brand new double LP due to release in the nearest future.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 14th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Always adventurous and never far off from their next outing, Russian psychedelic progressives The Grand Astoria have just issued a collection of tracks from members’ other outfits. This follows up on 2015’s Soft Focus quieter outing and the grandiose, classically-influenced The Mighty Few, and brings together cuts from The Legendary Flower Punk and other side-projects related to The Grand Astoria proper. To coincide with the latest in a prolific string of outings, The Grand Astoria will hit the road next month through Western Europe, hitting France and the Iberian Peninsula over the course of two weeks before August brings a few select festival dates, among them Yellowstock in Belgium.
This follows up on a run the band did between February and March of this year, as they continue to be somewhat underappreciated in the wider European sphere despite years of steady, quality work. They’re a lot to keep up with at this point — admittedly I feel like I fail to do so more often than not — but their material has always proven to be well worth the effort.
Dates, of which there are reportedly more to come, and other info follow:
First bunch of dates of The Grand Astoria summer tour. We are building around these ones. If you are interested in booking us – please mail to: email@example.com
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 18th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s not every band in the world you’d believe when they say they’re going to play a different set each night of a tour, but coming from Saint Petersburg progressive heavy rockers The Grand Astoria — who have both the sense of adventure and the back catalog to make such a thing possible — I have no trouble at all imagining they’ll live up to their word. The prolific outfit’s latest outing is last year’s The Mighty Few, a two-song full-length exploration that melds classical and riffy ideas together in a concoction that for just about anyone else would fall flat. Somehow, The Grand Astoria make that work, as you can hear for yourself on the player under the tour dates below.
Not their first tour by any stretch, but also noteworthy since that different set each night will reportedly include a generous helping of new material. All the better from these guys, whose evolution remains ongoing.
The boss of booking is here! Come to our shows! We play different set every night. Don’t miss and tell your friends.
We promise you a nice set with a bunch of absolutely new songs from the forthcoming album! They are epic!
Poster by Sophia Miroedova.
The Grand Astoria on tour: 19.02 – Wroclaw (PL) – Ciemna Strona Miasta 20.02 – Katowice (PL) – Pub Korba 21.02 – Krakow (PL) – Jazz Rock Cafe 22.02 – Budapest (HU) – Instant 23.02 – Graz (A) – Wakuum 24.02 – Ljubljana (SI) – Gromka 25.02 – Zero Branco (IT) – Altroquando 26.02 – Milan (IT) – Cox 18 27.02 – Cremona (IT) – Circolo Arci Arcipelago 28.02 – Pescara (IT) – Orange Rock Cafe 29.02 – Palermo (IT) – Fabbrica 102 01.03 – Catania (IT) – Magazzini Sonori 02.03 – Reggio Calabria (IT) – Limitazione 03.03 – Bologna (IT) – Freakout 04.03 – Trieste (IT) – Tetris 05.03 – Maribor (SI) – Gustaf Pekarna 06.03 – Bistrica ob Sotli (SI) – Klub Metulj 07.03 – Brno (CZ) – Bajkazyl 08.03 – Ostrava (CZ) – Plan B 09.03 – Hradec Kralove (CZ) – Klub 4 10.03 – Prague (CZ) – Dead Jack Club 11.03 – Karlsruhe (DE) – Cafe Bistro KA 12.03 – Nuremberg (DE) – Artischocken 15.03 – Plzen (CZ) – Divadlo Pod Lampou 16.03 – Halle (Saale) (DE) – Huhnermanhattan 17.03 – Dresden (DE) – Sabotage 18.03 – Potsdam (DE) – Spartacus 19.03 – Berlin (DE) – Urban Spree 20.03 – Warsaw (PL) – 2Kola
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
You might not always know what Russian progressive heavy rockers The Grand Astoria are up to on any given day, but rest assured they’re always up to something. The restless and accordingly prolific outfit are looking to raise funds for an impending European tour — their umpteenth, to be specific — and have issued a new single, “Masterplan,” in order to help pay for stuff like having merch made, gas, food, lodging, etc. Their asking price for a download? A euro. I’ve seen crowdfunding efforts asking way more and delivering way less than the hook of the new track from the ever-expansive outfit.
The Grand Astoria released an acoustic EP earlier this summer called Soft Focus, and already have a 2015 full-length under their collective belt in the classically-vibing The Mighty Few, as well as a split with Samavayo that Setalight Records released as a 10″ (review here), but next up seems to be a split between all the bands associated with The Grand Astoria‘s members, whether it’s The Legendary Flower Punk or, presumably, Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds.
Cool things in the works. Here’s the info and track stream:
Hello dear heavy psych lovers and friends of The Grand Astoria Here is the new electric song by yours truly. It will be a part of the very special The Grand Astoria Family split record which will also include new music from The Legendary Flower Punk, Organic Is Orgasmic and our other side-projects!
We decided to publish the first song from it to raise some funds for our forthcoming tour! We need to rent a van, print the merch, pay for the studio so every dime will be really appreciated!!! And the most important – THIS SONG IS REALLY WORTH IT Enjoy and share!
Released to mark a month-long tour together earlier this year, the Setalight Records split 10″ between Berlin heavy rockers Samavayo and Russian genrenauts The Grand Astoria holds a few surprises along the way. Pressed to black vinyl, it’s a follow-up to Samavayo‘s 2014 joint release with One Possible Option, and for The Grand Astoria, who’ve worked with Setalight in the past on 2014’s La Belle Epoque (review here), as well as 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and several other short releases along the way.
Though on paper it might seem like an awkward pairing — come to think of it, just about anybody paired with The Grand Astoria is kind of awkward on paper; their sound is expansive, and they’re more than capable songwriters, but you never quite know what they’re going to do next — they mesh pretty well, and with a side split between them, both bands give a quick glimpse at where they’re at stylistically without completely losing a thread going one into the other.
One might notice The Grand Astoria‘s skull-headed mascot on the cover art by Sophia Miroedova walking away from a temple — or maybe having his portrait painted in front of it? — over which Samavayo‘s sun-style logo resides in the sky. Both acts, then, are represented, one perhaps more subtly than the other. It’s much the same way with the music. On side A, Samavayo offer two tracks: “Intergalactic Hunt” (4:03) and “Soul out of Control” (8:06), while on side B, The Grand Astoria reaffirm their shift toward progressive rock with “Kobaïa Express” (11:30).
Each cut is distinct from those around it, one way or another, and “Intergalactic Hunt” stands out for its immediate sense of movement, the guitar of Behrang Alavi (also vocals) setting a tight rhythm that drummer/backing vocalist Stephan Voland and bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Voland match both in groove and nuance, building and releasing tension in the instrumental verses and chorus of the first half before shifting in the second to a bridge that gradually leads them back to where they started, the guitar line that started it all serving also as the leadout. Fitting somehow for Samavayo in terms of showing their range that they should go from an entirely instrumental track to one centered almost completely on its vocal hook.
Well, “almost completely” is a stretch. “Soul out of Control” still has its riff — a more laid back chug over which Alavi calls to mind any number of ’90s alt melodies — and at eight minutes, there’s plenty of room for Samavayo to give the song a sense of space. They do precisely that, even slowing down over the last two minutes to march the way out, but “Soul out of Control” remains a deceptively quick listen for topping eight minutes, and that too suits Samavayo well, their songwriting always at the core no matter how expansive a given track may or may not be.
And speaking of expansive, The Grand Astoria‘s “Kobaïa Express” takes its name from the fictional planet created by Magma drummer Christian Vander — or at least from the train that presumably gets you there with the minimum of stops en route — and is presented in the accompanying alien language, a morass of syllables sometimes closer to Italian, sometimes more Slavic depending on where the music is going in any particular movement. And it does go. Recorded as the six-piece of Kamille Sharapodinov (vocals, electric and acoustic guitar), Danila Danilov (vocals, keys, flute), Eugene Korolkov (bass), Vladimir Zinoviev (drums), and Igor Suvorov (lead guitar) with Ravil Azizov on clarinet, “Kobaïa Express” is nigh on visionary progressive metal, at times operatic and at times grinding, but always precise, heavy and intricately constructed.
The Grand Astoria have already followed this split up with a two-song full-length titled The Mighty Few on which each track tops 20 minutes, so we know it’s not as far as they’ll push into fleshing out arrangements and the like, but “Kobaïa Express” thrills nonetheless for its direct Magma-ism and the poise the band demonstrates throughout, and Samavayo‘s inclusions, both of which were recorded at the end of last year, bode well for what they might do on their own next outing. If nothing else, the moral of the story with their split would seem to be that that must have been one hell of a tour. Even though it’s long since over, the scope both bands show here does justice to the fact that they got together in the first place and unites in unexpected ways across a bridge of progressive stylization and heavy craftsmanship.
Posted in Reviews on January 14th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria have only gotten more progressive and more prolific. La Belle Epoque, which was released last month by Setalight Records, is their first long-player since 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and their fifth overall, but in the time between the two albums, the Saint Petersburg-based outfit have unleashed a barrage of outings, including singles, EPs, splits and live releases, plus side-projects from guitarist/vocalist Kamille Sharapodinov (The Legendary Flower Punk) and lead guitarist Igor Suvarov (Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds). Their increasing tendency toward exploration has led them to a more metallic approach on La Belle Epoque, and what seemed on their earlier works like a defining core of stoner rock and punk has become only pieces of a puzzle to which, apparently, more is being added. Their first three records, 2009’s I (review here), 2010’s II (review here) and 2011’s Omnipresence (review here), showed an increasing tendency to look outside the band itself — a rotating lineup around Sharapodinov and Suvarov has been part of that; near as I can tell, keyboardist/floutist/vocalist/metallophonist Danila Danilov is the only other returning player from Punkadelica Supreme — and La Belle Epoque further extends that impulse stylistically. It is their proggiest work to date, though at seven-tracks/43 minutes it’s not like they’ve gotten so indulgent as to surpass an easy vinyl fit, but the range of their material and their ability to fluidly bring listeners along for the ride throughout is indicative of their growth. As much as it is exploring, La Belle Epoque is also a mature, not-at-all-confused offering.
Opener “Henry’s Got a Gun” makes a surprising first impression in calling to mind Faith No More sonically, and I find the more I listen to La Belle Epoque, the more that band fits as a comparison point. Not always in sound — The Grand Astoria aren’t limited to aping one group or genre at this point, if they ever were — but in method. The likeness comes more from the ability to translate experimental tendencies into traditional or semi-traditional forms of songwriting; that is, to take the experiment and develop it into a fully-realized song. Be it the slight country touch of guest banjo in “The Answer,” the Metallica groove early in “Gravity Bong,” the Devin Townsend-style harmonies and prog-metal range of the 14:05 “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” or the sweet melodicism of the clarinet-inclusive title-track and the brief, positive moment provided in closer “Charming,” each song offers something different, but La Belle Epoque does not overbake its ideas or push too far in one direction or another, instead keeping a balance sound-wise and through Sharapodinov and Danilov‘s vocals that guides the listener across the various movements on hand. Overarching flow winds up one of the great strengths of the CD — the vinyl presumably splits just before “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” — though that’s not really a surprise given it’s The Grand Astoria‘s fifth full-length. The tonal quality is a bit more of a surprise, the guitars having more bite and bassist Eugene Korolkov and drummer Vladimir Zinoviev following them on runs like those of “Lisbon Firstborn”‘s instrumental first half, which shifts after four minutes to an acoustic homage to Lisbon that in turn builds to organ-topped classic rock groove and soloing to finish out.
In many other contexts, such shifts might come across as manic or disjointed, but by the time they get around to “Lisbon Fuzzborn,” The Grand Astoria have bent the rules far enough that they can more or less squeeze through whatever they want. Of course, at 14 minutes, “Serpent and the Garden of Eden” is a focal point, and from its grandiose opening build through the metallic tension that arises early, the tight groove, psychedelic vibe in Suvorov‘s first-half solo, and progressive changes and turns made from there on out, winding up in a second-half payoff for song and album alike, it’s a singular achievement in the band’s discography in its arrangement and execution. As an example of how far they’ve come since their debut six years ago, I don’t think there’s much more one could ask of it, though one could just as easily say the same of “La Belle Epoque” itself, which clocks in at a much shorter 3:19. So it’s not just about how they’ve written a long track, or found a metal-sounding production. It’s about how La Belle Epoque demonstrates a progression hard won through constant evolution of songwriting and work on the road. Most satisfying of all is how increasingly these elements belong solely to The Grand Astoria, and how they’ve carved an identity for themselves in their willful searching for their sound. They’re only going to keep moving forward, and while La Belle Epoque features their familiar cow-skull mascot on its cover by Sophia Miroedova, the tracks on the album itself are anything but repetitive. If anything, this is one in a series of ambitious adventures that character has had, and I’d be very surprised if it’s all that long before the next one arrives.