Russian heavy rockers The Grand Astoria have traveled a long way in a relatively short amount of time. With a seemingly amorphous lineup surrounding multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/principle songwriter Kamille Sharapodinov and guitarist Igor Suvarov, the band has made a point of refusing to settle either in terms of their sound or their work ethic. Amidst a handful of European tours, The Grand Astoria have released three prior albums — 2009′s I (review here), 2010′s II (review here) and 2011′s Omnipresence (review here) — the 2013 live album Good Food – Good Show! (streamed here) and a host of other singles, including a split with U.S. Christmas that coincided with a tour together. In short, they keep busy, and that extends to their latest full-length studio outing as well, the ambitiously-titled Punkadelica Supreme. While marrying influences ranging from classic metal to heavy psych and even throwing in a touch of bluegrass in opening intro “Welcome to the Club” and some prog metal on the 13:40 penultimate “Score,” The Grand Astoria — Sharapodinov, Suvarov and drummer Alexander Chebotarev — incorporate no fewer than four keyboardists, three bassists, the aforementioned banjo, a sitar and a metallophone. Outside of the core trio and backing vocalist Danila Danilov, who is fairly easy to spot, sorting out who is contributing what to which of Punkadelica Supreme‘s 13 tracks can be a confusing affair, and as the album reaches to a full 77-plus minutes, the band are making no bones about pushing the limits both of their own creativity and of the CD format itself to which it’s pressed in a six-panel foldout digipak released through Setalight Records with well-drawn and stylized artwork by Sophia Miroedova, featuring The Grand Astoria‘s unnamed mascot who has graced all of their covers to date. With that kind of runtime, it is an expansive outing in more than just its sonic breadth. Each of The Grand Astoria‘s prior studio efforts was longer than its predecessor, but even Omnipresence was a full 20 minutes shorter than Punkadelica Supreme, and with the proliferation of extended solos and jams between bursts of metallic crunch and the other experimental elements, it is a challenge to sort out the purposes one song even as it leads into the next.
That’s not to say it’s not worth the effort of doing so — an attentive listen pays dividends — just that the likelihood of the average listener being able to dedicate 77 minutes solid of their attention span to Punkadelica Supreme‘s twists and turns seems slim, particularly as the jammy, sitar and metallophone-ized “Space Orchid vs. Massive Drumkit” arrives ultra-hypnotic prior to the halfway point in the tracklist. Standout moments like the Tool reference at the beginning of “Street Credit” and the locked-in, immediate groove of the later “To Cross the Rubicon” provide landmarks along the way, but by the time second cut “Slave of Two Masters” has reached its massive, lead-laden peak, the solos have stretched upwards of eight minutes and though the opener, on which Sharapodinov sets up a narrative of looking forward to and then finally being at a show and it being great, is lacking nothing for charm, that narrative is lost almost immediately and doesn’t seem to come up again until track 10, “King Has Left the Building,” on which the famous clip of Horace Lee Logan informing the screaming young girls in his audience that Elvis is gone is aired, and even that’s kind of a stretch bringing it back to the opener. You could argue that the 1:23 instrumental jam “Intermission” that closes after “Score” is part of it as well, and that everything between is the meat of the show that you as “the audience” are experiencing. With as far out as they go sonically, I’m not sure that’s enough to tie that together, so if it’s a setup, it’s one that goes more or less without an answer. What we get instead is a richly varied but ultimately consistent — surprisingly so considering the swath of personnel involved — collection of tracks that represent the boldest creative statement yet from The Grand Astoria. There may be a lot of it, but Punkadelica Supreme is rife with engaging stretches and fluid transitions. Sharapodinov has never sounded so confident as a frontman (the backing vocals of Danilov) also go a long way in complementing), and in the arrangements of extended cuts like “To Cross the Rubicon,” “Punkadelica Supreme,” “King Has Left the Building” and of course the monolithic “Score,” show payoff for the relentless creative growth he’s demonstrated as a songwriter over the course of The Grand Astoria‘s prior offerings.