Review & Full Album Premiere: Pelegrin, Al-Mahruqa

pelegrin al-mahruqa

[Click play above to stream Pelegrin’s Al-Mahruqa in full. Album is out Friday, Sept. 13.]

The fluidity Parisian three-piece Pelegrin conjure throughout their self-released debut album, Al-Mahruqa, finds them easily crossing lines between styles like post-rock, prog and heavy psychedelia, and as their first outing, it blends them with marked poise. Comprised of five tracks running a total of 40 minutes, it is a purposefully immersive listen, drawing its audience in throughout the nine-plus minutes of opener “Majoun” — named for a Moroccan fruit and nut confection often used as a hash jam edible — and moving with grace through “Farewell,” “The Coldest Night,” “Dying Light” and the closing title-track, each one adding to the story arc of the album as a whole while creating a sense of journeying further through its psych-infused desert expanse. The title Al-Mahruqa seems to be taken from the name of a Syrian village, and given some of the sonic influences at play throughout, that seems a fair enough place for guitarist/vocalist François Roze, bassist Jason Recoing and drummer Antoine Ebel to end up, though of course one has to consider the civil war that’s raged in Syria since 2011.

Whether that’s taken into account on Al-Mahruqa — one would wonder how it couldn’t be — the French trio do well in establishing the voyage early in “Majoun,” which opens with a smattering of voices and a percussion-laden departure over winding, ebow-style guitar in Middle Eastern minor key. An immediate touchstone on paper would be Om, and perhaps in some way they’ve been a conceptual influence, but the actual experience of Al-Mahruqa shares little in common with that Al Cisneros outfit, other than perhaps a gaze directed at the region and an overarching interest in the mystique surrounding desert spiritualism. “Majoun” unfolds in heavy rolling fashion with deceptive smoothness, almost catching one off guard by the time it’s made its full impact, a drop-out after five minutes causing reflection on how far one has already come, and indeed how far there still is to go through the energy buildup that follows and pays off in a hard-hitting shove only to give way to a call to prayer that leads directly into the drifting guitar at the outset of “Farewell.”

Already, Pelegrin have made their intention plain. Al-Mahruqa is not at all lacking for character, but neither is it simply letting things happen. I have no doubt some of these parts and stretches were born in the studio or rehearsal space in off-the-cuff fashion — Roze recorded and mixed, while Wo Fat‘s Kent Stump mastered — but whether it’s the louder post-rocking sun-bake-into-desert-triumph that marks the early crescendo in “Farewell” or the more patient and masterful roll that ensues when the cycle comes around again, no single element feels haphazard. Even when the effects seem to create a wash, that wash has a purpose serving the overall song the album of which it’s a part. Given that general level of consideration, it’s perhaps less of a surprise to see it extend to the structure of the record as well, which alternates between longer and shorter tracks in such a way as to maximize the flow between them without the listener getting too caught up in one expectation or the other.

With “The Coldest Night” as the centerpiece, Pelegrin embark on a pivotal stage in their travels with a due sense of increased heft, rightly considering their interaction with those making the trip along with them as they thicken the fuzz in Roze‘s guitar and the thud in Ebel‘s drumming — Recoing‘s bass isn’t lacking weight either, since we’re on the subject. Still, it’s the floating lead over top that takes hold just before the eight-minute mark that lets one know they’ve gotten to where they’re going, and it’s that lead guitar that remains floating on the fade after the rest of the layers have made their way out. And when that goes? Footsteps. How could it possibly be anything else? Pelegrin have made the point thoroughly by the time “The Coldest Night” is through that they’re going from one place to another, taking the listener from one place to another, but those footsteps only reinforce it.

And as the penultimate “Dying Light” touches on a post-metallic march with a still-gentle verse overtop that takes off into a solo, there’s a somewhat more aggressive undertone — it’s in the drumming as well as the 5:21 song nears its midpoint — but the atmosphere stays consistent with “The Coldest Night” and the material preceding both through its measured pace and through its melodic insight. These are no less prevalent as themes through Al-Mahruqa than the concept that bears out across its tracks, but of course less explicitly stated. “Dying Light” caps with lead and rhythm layers of guitar in conversation with a formidable nod of a groove, drifting at their finish into what sounds like a field recording of ritual chanting and percussion, in turn giving way almost immediately to “Al-Mahruqa” itself.

As the only cut to top 10 minutes, the closer earns immediate distinction among the rest of the album — not to mention it’s the title-track — and with additional percussion alongside the drums and a more uptempo initial stretch, it holds to that sense of ritual that closed “Dying Light.” They slow it down soon enough and play back and forth across volume shifts and across an instrumental hypnosis that works well in crafting an otherworldly vibe, but it’s ultimately a heavy, crashing march that rounds out the capstone of Al-Mahruqa, that terrestrial ending followed by the sound of a rainstorm and then a noise that could either be water going down a drain or a door closing scraping on rock. Something concluding, whatever it is. Pelegrin leave a likewise heavy silence when “Al-Mahruqa” is done, giving a due reminder that in fact their journey is only beginning — this is their first album. What it might lead to, I couldn’t say, but the collision of elements and styles at play throughout is only loaded with potential for future expansion of style, arrangements, and general reach, though even if nothing of the sort takes shape, it remains plenty full-sounding as is. Still though, something here makes one think that perhaps Pelegrin are a band with a clear progression in mind. An effect of all that journeying, perhaps.

Pelegrin, Al-Mahruqa (2019)

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2 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: Pelegrin, Al-Mahruqa

  1. […] Cinq titres à écouter comme un ensemble pour une immersion totale dans ce bel univers dont certaines clés sont présentées ici : http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2019/09/09/pelegrin-al-mahruqa-review-stream/. […]

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