Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Atravan - The Grey Line (2021)

Country: Iran
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Jan 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's a really interesting album that I've been listening to a lot. Atravan are a five piece outfit from Tehran who play a commercial form of prog rock. They're so good instrumentally that I was surprised a couple of minutes into the second track and first song proper, The Perfect Stranger, when the vocals of Masoud Alishahi kick in as if they were always meant to be there. I see that he was the most recent piece in the Atravan puzzle, so they may have been instrumental for a few years before he joined.

While all the musicians contribute to a fleshed out sound, initially my thoughts were of bands with a heavy focus on keyboards, especially those with a penchant for effect overlays, like Pink Floyd and the Alan Parsons Project, as well as some Vangelis. If that suggests a seventies influence, that updates to the eighties and beyond with The Perfect Stranger. There's some Marillion here in the guitars and the flow and some Queensrÿche too. What's especially interesting to me is that these influences continue to build rather than be replaced, but Atravan always sound like themselves most.

A few others crop up here and there, like the Lenny Kravitz vibe that shows up late in My Wrecked House and the surprising Leonard Cohen feel that opens the title track. Alishali is able to find a similar sort of emotional resonance and even some of his spirituality, though he visits a lot of places stylistically that Cohen never went, especially in heavier sections. This song in particular gets much heavier, even if I'd never quite call it metal, even with traditional metal elements like double bass drumming from Shahin Fadaei.

Oddly, given the general commercial sound, especially of the keyboards, but also the guitars and the vocals, the songs aren't structured in commercial fashion. These are far from three minute singles, an average song running five and a half and The Grey Line notably longer. Many sections feel like this is music for musicians, making Atravan the sort of band that the mainstream rarely hears about except when other bands rave about them. Yeah, we're happy with what we do, they'll say, and thanks for the platinum discs, but you should check out Atravan.

They'll especially be talking about songs such as Vertigo and Dancing on a Wire, which are exquisitely crafted, with their electronic openings, layered vocals and glorious builds. The more I listen to these songs, and it's becoming notably difficult to move onto another album, the more I hear post-punk in the early parts of the songs, with hints at Joy Division, Shriekback and the Cocteau Twins, before they shift into more obviously prog. Certainly the band have diverse tastes, given the artists they cover on their YouTube channel: Anathema, Rush, Avenged Sevenfold, even Johnny Cash.

Everyone in this band deserves a shoutout. They were formed in October 2010 with Shayan Dianati on searing guitar, Mohammadreza Delavari on an audible and notable bass, especially late in Dancing on a Wire and throughout The Grey Line, and Marjan Modarres on keyboards. Fadaei joined on drums in 2012 and Alishahi fleshed out the line-up in 2013. [Note: Shayan Dianati kindly let me know that Arwin Iranpour took over from Delavari in 2016 and plays the bass on this album. Thanks, Shayan!] Iran isn't a country we tend to think of as a hotspot for prog but a lot of what I've reviewed from there is progressive, whether its the doom/death metal of Eternal Candle, the funeral doom of Roaring Empyrean or the post-rock of Sparkle.

There are a lot of bands with albums either just out or about to be released that I'm looking forward to. It's great to see one like this that wasn't already on my radar shine so brightly.

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