Ararat, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz: Riding to the Light

Buenos Aires trio Ararat‘s third album is their broadest-ranging collection yet. Cabalgata Hacia la Luz, released by South American Sludge in partnership with Oui Oui Records, follows two years after their second album, II (review here), proffered massive tones and open spaces in kind, extended tracks like “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” becoming synonymous with the course of the record. Prior to, 2009’s self-titled debut (review here) established Ararat as pushing against some of the heavy rocking conventions of guitarist/bassist/pianist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian‘s prior outfit, Los Natas, who released their to-date swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), that same year. With Cabalgata Hacia la Luz, Ararat arrives as a band with its own conventions and methods of working. After what they established as their sound over the first two albums, Chotsourian‘s piano is not unexpected when it arrives on “Los Viajes,” and throughout, a steady use of synth from guitarist Tito Fargo and the richly fluid drumming of Alfredo Felitte will likely feel familiar to anyone who’s followed Ararat since their inception. Where Cabalgata Hacia la Luz most distinguishes itself, however, is in its scope.¬†Granted, with a record that has 13 tracks and tops out at over 63 minutes, there’s plenty of room to flesh out, but Ararat prove more than capable of pairing off disparate sounds, be it acoustics and heavy distortion or synth and driving, propulsive rock, all while crafting a smooth full-album flow that stands up even into the later reaches and makes for an immersive listening experience well worth its runtime.

As with II even more than the debut, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz is deeply atmospheric. Fargo’s synth adds a cinematic sensibility to opener “El Camino del Mono,” which is part of a strong starting trilogy with the noise-soaked “El Paso” and “Los Escombros del Jardin,” the latter of which boasts one of the album’s several landmark choruses amid its chaotic swirl. It, along with later tracks “Nicotina y Destruccion” and “El Hijo de Ignacio” are exceptionally well placed to anchor the proceedings, whereas an organ-inclusive ambient piece like “El Arca” and the acoustic-based closer “Atalayah” might otherwise seem to float off from Ararat‘s central sound, instead they come across as the fruit of experimentation with it. Chotsourian‘s voice, smoky and recognizable, is suited both to the open spaces of “Las Dos Mitades” and the earlier straightforward rush of “Los Escombros del Jardin,” and the rumble of his bass steps forward at more than one interval to be the foundational element of songs — as on “Las Dos Mitades,” when Fargo takes to the keys atop Felitte‘s steady roll — but he’s by no means the only thing tying the diverse sounds of Cabalgata Hacia la Luz together.¬†Precisely with that sonic diversity, Ararat present a challenge to themselves to remain tight and cohesive through the sundry changes in arrangement, and it’s a challenge they readily meet. There is a strong current of songwriting within the material here, even on a rolling, atmospheric cut like “La Sal y Arroz,” which marks the drawback from the album’s initial salvo to more spacious territories with sweet fuzz, calmer vocals and a wash of cymbals. It’s a different kind of highlight — not the densely packed hook of “Nicotina y Destruccion” — but a highlight all the same.

Several of these tracks — “Las Piedras,” “La Historia de Hanuman,” “La Sal y Arroz” and “La Familia y las Guerras” — also appeared on Chotsourian‘s 2012 solo outing, 1974, but all have been reworked to some degree, perhaps most of all the latter which on Cabalgata Hacia la Luz stretches over the 10-minute mark and provides the emotional crux of not just the second half but really the album as a whole. It’s an apex not of bombastic volume, but of drama, keys underscoring the bassline and a snare march toward the end of the track where one might more generally hear the culmination of an extended build. “La Familiar y las Guerras,” also the longest of the tracks, is among the most distinct here. It sets a slow course with a languid, far-back guitar strum and Chotsourian‘s vocals up front before unfolding gracefully to the already-noted march, breaking to a grunge-style midsection of guitar, bass, vocals and drums, and then pausing to finish out back where it started. With the piano of “Los Viajes” and acoustics of “Atalayah” still to come, it’s not the end of the album by any means, but it’s emblematic of how different a record Cabalgata Hacia la Luz is from II, which had the elephantine plod of “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” in a similar penultimate position (though it’s worth noting that saying that posits both “Los Viajes” and “Atalayah” as epilogue here, which is debatable). What “La Familia y las Guerras” shows is that it doesn’t have to be about volume for Ararat to sound big. The song is contemplative, maybe a little brooding, and its meditations smooth a path into the closing duo as well as “El Camino del Mono” leads the charge headfirst into the raging pulse of “El Paso” and “Los Escombros del Jardin.”

All of this is Ararat. Nothing the band does seems out of place because they’ve set such a wide creative berth along the way. When the second record came out, I said it sounded like they were en route to mastery of what would become their aesthetic. Pretty lofty claim, though I felt justified saying it at the time and hear nothing either on that album or this one to contradict it. If Cabalgata Hacia la Luz offers an amendment to that supposition it’s that Ararat don’t seem ready to settle into anything let alone a sonic formula. Their third full-length — and at over an hour long, it is indeed full — finds them at their most dynamic, but it also pushes them to farther reaches of what that dynamic can do. That is, they have their approach pretty well hammered out, but that’s not the end of it. What Cabalgata Hacia la Luz sounds like is not rest-on-laurels cookie-cuttery, but the next step in an ongoing creative evolution. It’s rare for a band to be as full of potential after three albums as they were after one. Their triumphs are what they are, and they’re plentiful. I still think Ararat can go further.

Ararat, “Nicotina y Destruccion”

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