Here's something interesting that was submitted to me from Japan. Evraak are a prog rock band, for the sake of placing them into a single bucket, but they're progressive from a sixties mindset of taking a bunch of musicians with completely different backgrounds and throwing them together in a melting pot of sonic ingredients. The resulting sound is variable but fascinating, as indeed it was when the Beatles went to India, Robert Plant met Alison Krauss or Frank Zappa sent out a batch of invites to one of his in-house salons.
There are six musicians here and that line-up has been consistent since their founding as recently as 2018. According to their biography, guitarist Hayawo Kanno and bassist Koji Kawashima are of a prog rock mindset, so I presume they're the starting point for this sound, though their influences are a mixture of English and Italian prog bands. Drummer Takeshi Yoshida is a Bill Bruford fan, so it's not surprising to hear a lot of King Crimson here, albeit without a lot of Yes. Miki Hasegawa is a keyboardist with a musical theatre background and Tengoku Imagawa is a jazz saxophonist. That makes for a fascinating mix, with vocalist Marina Seo skewing the band in a number of directions, according to her mood. She can be soft and traditional, but she can be overt and experimental.
What's most surprising is how heavy this starts out. The first thing we hear as Saethi begins is the sound of tortured guitar feedback and a lound and very deliberate beat. If we're not expecting it, and I wasn't from a prog rock album, it can shock us. It feels loud, even if we turn down the volume, especially as the second half kicks in vicious and angry, reminding us a lot more of Swans than King Crimson. Sure, Marina Seo delivers clean and clear vocals, Imagawa joins in with a smooth sax and it calms down a lot in the midsection, but it's an anomalous opener for a good chunk of its running time. But hey, it certainly has us pay attention!
While the band claim that Sacrifice is their signature piece, it's Stigma that stood out the most for me and that's where the album finds its feet. All these songs are long—the shortest takes up seven minutes—but this is the longest at almost thirteen. It's fascinating from the beginning, a deceptively simple groove giving way to a jagged King Crimson-esque workout. It's simultaneously jazzy and carefully constructed, a combination which always perks my ears up, and it covers a heck of a lot of ground. Parts of it are pure prog, technical and complex, while other parts are smooth and accessible. It grabbed me late in the first half when it juggled elegant middle-eastern themes with an ebullient squealing sax. It's quite the journey, especially during its second half, which keeps on getting better.
While that's the longest song here, I enjoyed the shortest two as well. Asylum Piece starts out as a strange ambient song with noodling piano but then a lively riff launches at us on what I presume are keyboards but which feel like bagpipes or accordion. This piece feels like world music hurled at jazzy prog rock, especially early and late, with a soft but confident vocal from Seo in between.
The other is Cure, which runs a minute longer at eight and a breath and seems the most obviously King Crimson influenced piece, from the opening riff which reminded me of 21st Century Schizoid Man—Sacrifice has some more of that. Seo was almost post-punk one song earlier on Into the New World but she's more traditional here in another song that expands musically whenever she gets involved. Again, the second half is my time, when it goes urgently exploring through the dark, to discover Seo in experimental mode.
Half of the six tracks here were previously made available on an EP, Cure among them, but Stigma is one of the new trio which debut here. That tells me that they were good two years ago when the band was new but they're putting out excellent new material too. Now, when can we expect Evraak II?