Matus, Claroscuro: Beyond Light and Shade

matus claroscuro

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Continuing the band’s progression within eerie and subtly complex rock with eight tracks/28 minutes of new material for a quick but resonant long-player, it is rife with rhythmic fluidity and engaging melody on songs like closer “Hada Morgana” and the swing-into-drum-solo of “Rompecorazones” and “Jenízaro.” Flourishes of organ, flute, percussion and layers of acousti and electric guitar emphasize a classic progressive feel, and Rojas‘ vocals play to that excellently across many of the tracks, though as ever with Matus — formerly known as Don Juan Matus — personnel and function tends to vary throughout. Matus are no strangers to changing up their approach, and Claroscuro does so almost immediately with a considerable shift in production sound between opening salvo “Umbral” and “Niebla de Neón” and the subsequent “Mío es el Mañana.”

“Umbral” serves as the album’s intro, with artful theremin — that is, more than just noise — providing a lead line over an Iommic riff and a rolling groove that emerges in “Niebla de Neón” over one of the record’s many rich basslines. That theremin returns at the end, after the song has crashed and cymbal-washed out to a closing line of acoustic guitar and transitions into “Mío es el Mañana,” which is rawer in its guitar tone, more upfront in keyboards and has more blown-out vocals atop compressed-sounding drums, like all of a sudden Claroscuro became a NWOBHM demo from 1976. That’s not a complaint, just a notable shift.

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At six minutes, “Mío es el Mañana” is the longest cut included, and it holds its form throughout, once again built on a foundation of bass that disappears to the piano, synth, acoustic and percussion of “Firmamento,” a let’s-do-the-complete-opposite-thing-now swap of South American pastoralia. Three songs in and Matus have presented three different looks, the last of them a complete departure from any sort of sonic heft in favor of an easy-flowing pop-singer vibe that, if you were listening to the CD passively, you might have to blink once it’s over and go back to be sure of what you just heard. Go figure that after a gong hit Matus launch into the Spiritual Beggars-style classic heavy rock of “Rompecorazones” en route to Carrillo‘s percussive excursion in “Jenízaro.” If you’re looking for it to make linear sense, you’re listening wrong. The best thing to do with Matus is to just let them carry you across these changes, because even when they refuse to build a bridge from one aesthetic to the next, they’re persistently able to make it work one way or another.

A sense of ’80s metallurgy resumes with the 90-second “Paisajes del Futuro,” which quickly rolls out a doomy atmosphere amid overlaid whoas like an intro to something much more grandiose before fading and giving way to the acoustic/cymbal wash intro to “Crisálida,” on which Veronik takes the lead vocal position for answer the non-lyricized vocals of “Paisajes del Futuro” in kind but in much different, more melodic, less fist-pumping context, the two-and-a-half-minute course remaining quiet but tense all the while, because honestly, who the hell knows what’s coming next.

Matus make good on the promise for weird with “Bizarro Cabaret,” which recalls some of the Alice Cooper Band-style strut on Espejismos, but keeps Veronik at the fore for interweaving layers of scat given further jazzy context thanks to guest trumpet from Bruno Rosazza and the underlying bassline that seems to feed right into the opening crash of “Hada Morgana,” another two-plus-minute push of progressive heavy rock swing that’s here and gone in a flash, turned in a completely different direction from “Bizarro Cabaret” before it, but unquestionably pulled off by Matus, who apparently don’t need any longer than 28 minutes to effectively offer more breadth than most bands could on records twice as long.

To call Claroscuro quirky would cheapen its ultimate range, and while its title refers to contrasts of light and dark, the truth is that Matus don’t even make it as simple throughout these eight tracks as pitting one side against another. Instead, they gracefully set a multitude of elements in motion and then skillfully direct the listener along a guided path between and through them. If this really is their final album — and somehow I doubt it will be; creativity like this doesn’t just stop — then it’s a bigger loss than most will realize.

Matus, Claroscuro (2015)

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