Style: Psychedelic Rock
Release Date: 12 Apr 2019
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The first 9/10 album of the year for me was an instrumental psychedelic rock album from Turkey, Uluru's Acrophilia. This is the closest thing to it that I've found since and, while it's neither as good nor as wild, it's a strong album that I enjoyed a great deal.
Cracked Machine come from the West Country of the UK and this is a follow-up to 2017's I, Cosmonaut. I haven't heard that album yet but this is a strong and varied release that suggests that I should go find it. The track names look like different languages but they really represent a set of mythical dragons or serpents from an intriguing set of cultures. That's a cool idea but I didn't feel an exploration of those cultures in the music.
Jormungandr is the closest to the Uluru album, a heads down jam built on a solid set of riffs. As you might imagine, Jörmungandr is a serpent from the Norse Eddas, the World Serpent who grew so large that he was able to wrap himself around the entire planet and grab his own tail. It's also a really good piece, the most up tempo and in your face track on the album, but it's also relatively simple and straightforward compared to what's to come.
Illuyanka is a lot more thoughtful, starting with a spoken word intro in a language I don't recognise but is presumably Turkish, given that Illuyanka was a dragon slain by the Hittite sky god. It builds slowly but surely but remains much more meditative than its predecessor. The story of this dragon is sad because of the sacrifice involved and some of that is easy to find within the music.
Kirimu is a lot more progressive, with a fantastic swirling riff, far more overtly psychedelic than the opening tracks. While the guitar has been the focal point thus far and it gets wild here, the bass refuses to play second fiddle here (if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor) and the drums shine. The dragon this time out comes from the Congo, the master of the deep forest in stories of the Nyanga people. He's a scary beast, with seven heads, seven horns and seven eyes and, while I didn't get a lot of African vibes from the song, the drums of coming closest, I did get a scary vibe.
These tracks get longer as the album runs on, five minute songs becoming six and then seven, eventually wrapping up with an eight minute epic. That gives the band more opportunity to explore their subject, though I struggled often to find connections. Yamata no Orochi, for instance, is all about a Japanese dragon with eight heads but I didn't hear anything Japanese in the music. I enjoyed the track, which lets the synths come to the fore, rough enough to perhaps suggest a shakuhachi flute but I'm really stretching there.
I love the idea of an instrumental album all about mythical dragon creatures but I'd have loved the result more if there had been more exploration of the cultures involved in the music. As it stands, the Japanese track segues for me right into the Persian track, Azi Dahaka, named for a dragon king. Both tracks are great but I just don't hear what I'm expecting to hear given the context.
And really that's where I have to go with this album. Never mind the theme, just lie back and let the music wash over you. Blazej Gradziel's drums are a real highlight for me because it sounds like he's hitting those drums really hard and he refuses to merely underpin his bandmates for the whole album. I liked the synthwork of Clive Noyes too, which often act as a sort of audible fog machine, adding atmosphere while Bill Denton's guitar swoops and swirls. That leaves Chris Sutton on bass, who is worthy too, whether setting a tone or taking the focus.
Talking of atmosphere, the most atmospheric song on the album is Typhon, a serpentine giant in Greek myth. Noyes sets the scene with his synths before bass and guitar battle for dominance. Without the drums, this evokes a pit in a forest which might just be a portal to somewhere fantastic. With drums, it feels more ritual in nature, so maybe a portal to feed with sacrificial victims. As the rhythm escalates, we wonder if those victims are going to start coming back.
Vritra, the Vedic personification of drought, wraps up the album with more of the same as Typhon, especially from Gradziel. It's another standout track for me, though a little simpler than Typhon, highlighting that there's post-rock in the line-up of Cracked Machine influences as much as space rock and psychedelic freakouts. Again I have to highlight the drumming, especially as the album fades out.
I liked this a lot and I've run through it half a dozen times already. It's a lively trip and I look forward to throwing it onto my headphones late one night in the dark. What it isn't is a cultural exploration of serpent myths, which is a shame. To throw a mixed compliment into play after a positive and negative, while it certainly isn't as good or as varied as Acrophilia, it's the closest I've found over the last five months and that's something.