When a band chooses to fill one of the pages in its debut CD booklet with a detailed, tiny-text history of their home country dating back to before the birth of Jesus Christ, you better be prepared for a serious listening session. And the six seasoned Armenian players in Artsruni - led by composer, singer, guitarist, poet and band namesake Vahan Artsruni - deliver by expanding on traditional Armenian melodies that teeter between progressive rock, jazz, folk and classical.
Cruzaid opens with "Aditon," which by its midway point sounds almost exactly like Jethro Tull - thanks to the fanciful flute of Arman Manukyan fluttering around Vahagn Amirkhanyan's wild guitar. "The Lost Symbol," meanwhile, showcases the fusion-fused drumming of Levon Hakhverdyan, and the heavy riffs in "Cruzaid (Part Two)" wouldn't sound out of a place on an old Metallica record. Artsruni the man sings the only two vocal songs performed by Artsruni the band, and they're both sung in an intricate foreign tongue. "Im Ser" incorporates a warm voice, distant power chords, a jaunty piano line and a crying guitar solo all within the course of six minutes, while "Call of the Wind" closes the album with a magnificently soaring track that incorporates all of Artsruni's musical strengths.
Granted, the non-English lyrics take a little getting used to ("WHAT are you listening to?" my wife inquired while I was spinning "Im Ser"), but the vocals eventually become another instrument. Cruzaid crosses accessible melodies with skilled players to make an elegant album that seldom falters. And if you take the time to actually read the history of Armenia as this disc flows from your speakers, you may even gain greater cultural insight into the band's music.