Friday 20 December 2019

Sentryturn - Upon a Mess (2019)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Flickr | Official Website | YouTube

Here's an interesting album from Germany's Sentryturn, a prog rock band with three guitarists who sound rather like Tool might if they were friendlier to new ears. Only part of that is complexity, as there are complex rhythms here to enjoy; it's more that the band don't let the complexity rule the songs. I like Tool and, if that was indeed Maynard James Keenan who poured me a glass of Chupacabra red at his wine cellar in Jerome, AZ, he was a real gentleman, but I find their music as often cold and distant as enjoyable. Sentryturn is a much warmer and more approachable band.

I wonder if it's to do with those three guitars. If I'm hearing this right, the initial approach seems to be for two to build a solid bedrock while the third does something different, surprisingly not as much soloing as jangling or picking or doing something else equally interesting. Sometimes the three merge to create an even thicker sound, just as sometimes the second leaves the base to do something else. The dynamics are fascinating and immersive.

Part of it is surely that the tone is warmer, all that interplay enveloping us rather than challenging us. There are quiet sections that feel tangible, like the beginning of Monrovia, where piano notes over a subtle drone feel like interlocking ripples in water; the echoing clacking over it all reminds us that we're not watching alone. This immersion is what prompted me to run through this album maybe four or five times before I was able to put virtual pen to paper.

This band tend to create something unique to characterise a song, then shift into a groove which plays consistently with the rest of the album. They add little touches that elevate and delineate each track, while unusual rhythms counter the smooth clean vocals. Monrovia ends up with strings under it and it doesn't feel remotely overdone. Sometimes it's synth work or maybe guitar effects. Whatever it is, there's something to hook us and something to keep us captive as long as the song runs.

The heart of the album is the title track, which comes in three parts. The first, Collateral, launches right into high gear and plays relatively harsh with churning rhythms. The second, Overtones, throws out a quiet repetitive piano loop as a grounding, then swirls voices over it before adding in other instruments with a very nice use of a gong. It's achingly slow. The third is a mixture of the two, appropriately given that it's called Revised. It's an opportunity for drummer Max to showcase his talents too.

Even after half a dozen listens, there's a lot here to take in. Sure, it's a warm and inviting album, but it's a rewarding one for those who dig deep. It falls most overtly into prog rock, albeit with a notably strong alternative edge, but I couldn't compare it to any of the legends of the genre. Perhaps there's some King Crimson here and there, but Sentryturn are clearly neither Yes or Genesis and they're too alternative for the second wave.

All the complex rhythms might suggest math rock but it's far too exploratory for that. Post-rock might fit because there's a lot of soundscape conjuring but the vocals are far too dominant for that. Deep in the details, there are hints of jazz (The Purge), ambient (Overtones) and world music (a faux koto to kick off Collateral) for flavour. Line of Sight unfolds with a generous dab of glitch electronica. I might even throw in grunge, because there are points where the melancholy is overt, especially in the vocals.

Really, I think there's enough here that I'll be finding new things even on my tenth or twentieth listen. I wonder who brought what to the table, as the five members of the band have all been there since the start over ten years ago. This music hasn't been composed at all; it's been grown from five very unique seeds germinating together. The only thing I can fairly compare this to is Dusk City, the Ultima Radio album that became my October album of the month and, even there, more in approach than in sound.

And, hey, if this was forty years ago, I'm sure Bowie would be jamming with Sentryturn in Berlin. They're that good.

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