Friday, 18 January 2019

Ars Nova - Sombra y Luz (2018)



Country: Spain
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 14 Dec 2018
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website

If my Spanish holds up, Sombra y Luz means Shadow and Light, which suggests that this second album from Barcelona prog rockers Ars Nova will be full of contrast, given that it begins with a track called Luz and ends with one called Sombra.

It starts out that way too, following the gentle piano intro track that is Luz with a real belter of a song in Diáspora, which carries on at a frantic pace, racking up notes like confetti and shredding through the lot. Vocals show up a minute in and add another layer, but it's the guitarwork that drives this one, as it does so many other tracks on this album.

From there, it settles into a consistently more comfortable vibe. Blanco slows things down considerably, but it's still bouncy. The melody and orchestration sound like they could have come from a ballad-oriented eighties hair band but it's faster and cleaner. Ars Nova aren't going for sleaze but for catchy prog rock, even when they don't sound like it.

Most of the tracks do have a little of the experimentation that you might expect from prog rock, with Alter Ego perhaps the most obvious example, playing as it does with tempos and rhythms and mixing things up completely, but all involved seems to be relatively content with playing in this style without feeling too much need to innovate around it. There's nothing new to the genre here.

Instrumentally, Ars Nova are clearly top notch, both individually and together as a band, but I'm not hearing much of the contrast that the title promised. Maybe it's a lyrical thing and I'm not getting it because Ars Nova perform in Spanish. There are certainly hints at shading here and there, in early parts of Imágenes and late parts of Aqueronte, as well as in some of the interplay between voice and instrument in Corre libre, but then those hints vanish again as if they were never there to begin with.

Oddly, Diáspora excepted, the better songs show up towards the end. Aqueronte may be the best track on the album and Volar may be the catchiest. Sombra, not too surprisingly given that it's just over fourteen minutes long, has the most substance and it plays with that idea of contrast more than anything else. It's fast, it's slow; it's loud, it's quiet. Some parts are easily more successful than others but it's an agreeable experiment, which is what prog rock is about, as far as I'm concerned.

An album with four experiments on the lines of Sombra would have been a better album. Sadly, that isn't what we get. Fortunately, what we do get is still pretty decent.

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