Monday 29 April 2024

Full Earth - Cloud Sculptors (2024)

Country: Norway
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Here's something special and notably ambitious from Norway. Few bands tend to start out their debut albums with twenty-one minute instrumental jams, even within the psychedelic rock world. Fewer follow it up with a twenty minute title track. That's an album right there, but precious few keep on going, delivering four more tracks, none of them quite as long as those openers but two more making it past ten, with the second part of the opener bookending the album and pushing that track to almost thirty-five minutes alone. There are eighty-five minutes of music here.

Of course, that's exactly what Full Earth do here and they had me completely riveted by the end of that first piece of music, Full Earth Pt I: Emanation. I wasn't immediately sold, as the drums are pretty routine as it kicks off and the guitars are clearly repetitive, but everything builds and I do mean seriously builds. I had to temporarily ignore the rest of the album by starting it over again the moment it ended. The first step up is around the two minute mark, then again at three and a half, once more at four and a half and over and over again until I was totally mesmerised by all its swirling chaos.

There are five musicians in Full Earth and they play the typical rock instruments—Ask Vatn Strøm on guitars, Simen Wie on bass and songwriter Ingvald Vassbø on drums, with both Wie and Eskild Myrvoll adding additional guitars—but two of them are also credited on different keyboards and the fifth member, Øystein Aadland, provides a whole bunch of them. This is like we're watching an entire galaxy form and develop and eventually explode. There's much to take in but it's glorious. I'm not at all surprised to find that Vassbø is playing with Motorpsycho nowadays, as well as being a long-standing member of Kanaan, along with Strøm and Myrvoll.

The section that kicks in at around 13:45 when Wie's bass introduces a heavy riff and Vassbø starts improvising drum fills but the keyboards continue to dance is breathtakingly good and that's not my only favourite section. There's already been a gorgeous step up in pace that shows up around eleven minutes and the finalé is wonderful too. Much of this is built on repetition and slow build, so there are ritual and trancelike elements to it, but there are solos all over the place too, from both guitars and keyboards, and so this never quite falls into drone territory.

However, that influence is definitely there and so are a host of others. Their Bandcamp page has a few names listed on that front, not just stoner rock bands like Sleep, Elder and High on Fire, but a collection of minimalist and avant-garde composers too, both ones I know like Terry Riley and the incomparable Györgi Ligeti and ones I don't like James Ferraro and Onehotrix Point Nevers, who are names I clearly must check out. These are cited as inspirations for the two short organ pieces, Weltgeist and Echo Tears, but there's experimentation in the middle of Cloud Sculptors.

Talking of Cloud Sculptors, the title track feels like whatever deity we're playing here pressed the zoom button and whipped inward to focus on a single planet. It isn't ours, as the fluttering flutes and liquescent guitar paints an alien landscape dominated by frolicking butterflies and keening land whales. The drums vanish entirely at points to reflect a King Crimson influence, but that wild and fascinating midsection is something else again, feeling like the pulsing of a planet that may be bursting at the seams.

I have to admit to feeling that this was my long overdue first 9/10 for the year during the opener, but I started to think during The Collective Unconscious that it's the first contender for my album of the year, because, once this one gets going, it's even better than the opener.

I had wondered a little because Weltgeist is a plodding ambient organ piece, almost a turn based improvisation with notes shifting up and down on a particularly ruthless beat (Echo Tears is more of a Philip Glass rhythmic effort), and The Collective Unconscious starts out in a similar vein, but it grows a few minutes in with some sumptuous seventies organ that brings King Crimson promptly back to mind. That gives way to searing guitar solos and a bludgeoning road home that brings up scale again, one way or another. I can't tell if I'm a galaxy watching a neighbour form or one single cell watching a human body evolve around me, but it seems utterly momentous. There's more of that in the closer, Full Earth Pt II: Disintegration.

And, beyond sounding momentous, this is energy-infusing stuff. I haven't felt particularly down at all this week and I've been getting stuff done, but I feel thoroughly revitalised listening to this. It will be hard to move on from it.

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