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Azazello: Seventh Heaven

Russian progressive metal. Those three words aren't often heard together, but Azazello is that country's leading prog metal outfit, and the energy and the cultural spin they add to the genre is at once interesting and challenging. By the album's name and the song titles you'd guess that Seventh Heaven would be an English-language piece, but the lyrics, the real song titles, the artwork are all Russian. The 4-piece band was formed in 1995, named for a character in Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, and they have released 4 albums, of what they called prog-metal. But this is the first Azazello record that is really comfortable in that genre - it is quirky, classically influenced, and more prog than metal.

Seventh Heaven is 7 songs spread over an hour. The first and last tracks, called "Beginning" and "Blessing" but subtitled "Intro" and "Outro", bookmark five 9- to 12-minute pieces. Well four, really, because "Microcosm" and "Macrocosm" are really joined at the hip, and together they form a 22-minute epic that form the standout track(s) on the album. Like the rest of the album, the two "Microcosm/Macrocosm" pieces are very technical and there's plenty of the wankery that seems to be endemic to prog-metal - and the song structures are complex with constant changes that will keep your attention. The use of a flute, played in an energetic, restless style, a Hammond-sound played in aggressive staccato bursts, and a guitar and drum-tight rhythm section that can't find a note longer than a semi-quaver drive this music with a restless energy that some listeners will find too exhausting.

Unlike the other songs, "The Mystery" is a somewhat pedestrian-paced piece. A simple folksy melody, focus on flute, acoustic guitar and piano work along with the traditionally-oriented melody lend the impression that it might be a modified Russian country folk song.

Alexander Kulak's vocals deliver the all-Russian lyrics in a clean, well controlled mid-to-upper range, but they're more lightweight than you'd expect in any metal genre - again supporting the contention that despite an occasional heaviness, Azazello's style leans closer to prog than to metal.

There's a quirk about "Outro". Azazello employs an incredibly annoying little mechanism that is becoming increasingly popular. After about a minute and a half - i.e. the real "Outro" - there are 2 minutes of silence, then a 6-minute 'hidden track' pops up, which is simpler and less technical than any of the other songs, but it's also a more melodic, and a pleasing listen.

Azazello is more technical than emotive, focusing on complex structures and very skilled performances more than on expression or sentiment. Still, Seventh Heaven is an interesting listen and worth the purchase. But be advised - you'll want to lay in a stock of Red Bulls before tackling it - this music never lets up.

Track Listing:
1. Beginning / Intro 2:17
2. Macrocosm 12:02
3. Microcosm 10:51
4. The Mystery 8:29
5. Restless Rest 10:49
6. Seventh Heaven 8:55
7. Blessing / Outro 2:59

Added: March 11th 2006
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Related Link: Azazello's Web Site
Hits: 2539
Language: english

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