Sonus Umbra: Spiritual Vertigo
Having heard their earlier offering called Snapshots From Limbo, I was looking forward to their new release with some enthusiasm. Sonus Umbra have now released their third album and feature the typical array of guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals with varying degrees of ability, technical prowess and memorability.
I have to admire these guys for trying to get everything properly in place but grimace when they get it wrong. Their opening track reminded me slightly of the 70's band called "Home" where their guitar strumming seems to emulate the sound without plagiarizing the original technique. While "Bone Machines" doesn't contain anything amiss, their second track, "Fool's Arcadia" suffers from trying to make the words fit to the allotted time and while the song has its high points, the vocals do let it down a tad. You just can't make a square peg fit in a round hole unless you manipulate and distort it. When you distort it too far out of place, things get to sound clumsy. Originally hailing from Mexico and not singing in their own tongue also makes it a bit hard to award top marks when there are those occasional timing imbalances. Having said that, however, this is still a great track musically and is perhaps my second favourite song on the album.
Their 3rd track starts off with some nice acoustic guitar and gradually builds to embrace some tasty lead work right out of the Hackett School of guitar embellishments. Nice track but nothing outstanding or memorable!
"Self Erosion" offers what is probably the most accessible song on the album but still fails to introduce anything truly memorable. An all too brief synth run gives a hint of what talent lies within, but when it's all over, you realize it never got going too far in the first place.
"Pax Americana" will have the Johnny Carson fans among you crying out to see more of "Johnny" with it's typical stab at trying to take the piss out of all that is wrong with America. "Pax Israelica" is the heaviest song on the album and reminded me of the sort of thing that bands like Leger de Main might write, although with less of a female vibe.
"Timequake is to my ears the best song on the album and although I can hear a slight influence from another band, I just can't put my finger on it. The last 2 tracks fill out the album to clock in at a total of just over an hours worth of reasonably solid music. It is not until "Rust In My Sleep" that one realizes how good the female singer really is and perhaps on future albums her prominence in the vocal department might escalate this bands chances in the grand scheme of things. I certainly prefer her voice a lot more.
This is another example of a band whose influences and direction are worn on both sleeves. They seem to be trying to grab something from the past, something from the present and offer something for the future. There are snippets of classic prog, some neo tendencies here and there and some clever musically mature pieces that are straight out of music school.
Overall, I would love to give this album a higher score but simply can't as it would fail to do justice to those albums that were significantly better. This is a decent effort but is not without its weaknesses. I still prefer their second album but also look forward to the re-release of their debut as I understand plans are under way to have it remastered shortly.
1. Bone Machines (5.56)
2. Fool's Arcadia (8.40)
3. Man Of Anger & Light (4.18)
4. Fascinoma (7.10)
5. Self Erosion (6.03)
6. Amnesia Junkies Part 1 (Pax Americana) (4.19)
7. Amnesia Junkies Part 2 (Pax Israelica) (3.42)
8. Timequake (5.31)
9. Rust In My Sleep (3.31)
10. Snakes & Ladders (10.58)
Added: March 9th 2005
Reviewer: Greg Cummins
Related Link: Sonus Umbra Web Site
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|Sonus Umbra: Spiritual Vertigo
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-03-11 06:39:26
From what I know, Spiritual Vertigo is Sonus Umbra's third studio release, though I've never heard their first one. However, having listened to both Snapshots from Limbo and Spiritual Vertigo hundreds of times, I can assure you that this band can do no wrong. They're an amazingly talented bunch of musicians led by multi-instrumentalist Luis Nasser whose main instrument is the bass. Nasser started out this band back in his homeland Mexico before he moved to the USA. I believe Spiritual Vertigo was written in America, while the first two discs came out in Mexico as independent releases.
Sonus Umbra is a very dark progressive rock band with thought-provoking lyrics, great melodies, excellent male vocals with occasional female back-ups, a thundering rhythm section and the indescribable bass playing of Luis Nasser. I am absolutely impressed with Nasser's bass guitar playing and I have to point out that I've never heard another band whose music revolves around the bass like this. It's not the technicality or complexity in Nasser's phrasing that I admire, but moreso his tone, articulation and feel. His subtle rhythmic patterns abound the compositions are like the rhythm of an irregular heart beat and draw your attention immediately. Nasser also plays acoustic and electric guitars as well as keyboards, plus he's also the primary songwriter and lyricist of Sonus Umbra. Vocalist Andre Aullet possesses a midrange, clear melodic voice that marks the songs with depth and emotion throughout. There is also Ricardo Gomez on lead guitars, though not in overabundance, yet he plays great melodies that embellish the tunes without detracting from them. I am familiar with drummer Jeff Laramee from his own band, Kurgan's Bane, who are in a similar musical vein with Sonus Umbra. Again, Kurgan's Bane vocalist, Lisa Francis, appears on this record lending her distinct vocals in a few tracks.
The music... well, this is certainly great American (or should I say Mexican?) prog rock, but it's very dark in style and composition. The music is mainly acoustic guitar-driven with occasional electric guitars soaring briefly without overstepping the songs' boundaries, and perfectly fitting melodic vocals. As I said before, Luis Nasser's bass leaves its blueprint on pretty much every song here, not to mention his analog keys and lush piano work. I could safely recommend this album to fans of Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Nightingale, Illuvatar, Chaos Code, etc. Sonus Umbra being criminally overlooked, I believe whoever discovers them would shudder in awe at their unparalleled sophistication. Spiritual Vertigo is not a concept album per se, but there's an underlying theme that nicely unifies the lyrics explored here. The album begins with scary gun shots followed by Nasser's sparse bass notes and anti-capitalist lyrical approach on "Bone Machines". The 8-minute song, "Fool's Arcadia", is very representative of what Spiritual Vertigo is about. Aullet's melodic, yet also deeply emotional vocals really come through with the help of the dark acoustic guitars and Nasser's THROBBING bass sound. This is a song about civil war and the way people are deceived by politicians. "Man of Anger" contains a greatly inspired electric solo before we are tied in with the 7-minute instrumental, "Fascinoma". The bass shudders and electric guitars wail, while the acoustic guitars provide a nice sense of contrast.
Lyrically, this album is very political. However, this isn't one of those politically one-sided discs offering no perspective. Nasser's lyrics are deeply profound and surprisingly easy to identify with. The "Amnesia Junkies" tune is divided in two tracks: "Part 1 - Pax Americana" and "Part 2 - Pax Israelica". On the former, Nasser offers his insight on American politics with Lisa Francis doing backing vocals. The lyrics here should be studied hard. Just have a look here: "This great 'democracy' reeks of death and hypocrisy/ Built on broken backs and slavery". In "Part 2 - Pax Israelica", however, the mood of the song takes a 180 degree turn and becomes this dark, angry piece. A wicked keyboard melody begins to run beneath the main riff while the lyrics explore political issues and the violence committed in Palestine. Lisa Francis does some solo lead vocals on "Rust in My Sleep" with Nasser's great bass and progressive songwriting. The climax of the album, however, is the 10-minute epic, "Snakes and Ladders", a composition marked with distinct signs of maturity and lots of rhytmical and melody changes. The song questions the aspects of human existence and delivers a very spiritual message. Unfortunately it ends with a scary gun shot that suddenly explodes out of your speakers after a few minutes' silence and that shot always makes me uncomfortable and leaves a big lump in my throat. You need this disc if you like dark prog rock.
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