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Amarok: Sol de Medianoche

This latest studio release from the Spanish ensemble Amarok, their seventh, features some English lyrics for the first time along with the usual Spanish and Catalan. Thematically they continue with their trademark blend of world music, folk and mythology with an even broader array of instruments than their past efforts. Anyone who has seen a live performance with its mummery and art-rock mixture will be sure to have been impressed by the way they blend their Mediterranean and world music themes in with a rock sensibility.

The short introductory piece, "Sephiroth" (presumably from the Jewish Kabbala rather than the sci-fi game) has a distinctly Middle Eastern feel to it whilst the more complex "Hermits" (sung in English) comes in 3 movements, describing rather more romantically than it ever was, Noah John Rondeau, an American Hermit's life and death. Flutes and metal harp give the main flavor to the song which moves from a very gentle intro through a dance theme to a foot tapping jig on exit (he did indeed play the violin).

The scene moves to China for the brief "XiangMao" before a bass vocal growl takes us back to North America and the mythical "Wendigo" of that continent's indigenous peoples. Robert Santamaria's Hammond initially suggests a Western European idiom until that is dispelled by the voice of the wonderful Marta Segura. Sax and organ swing the music back to the West again between verses. An excellent blend of old and new America.

A Swiss hang (like a steel drum although it looks more like something you'd put roast beef in and shove in the oven) is the visitor in "Theme for Hang and Bass" and another short percussive song precedes the next major composition, "Ishak the Fisherman", based on a story from the Arabian Nights. In five parts this song is also the most wordy of the album. Violin accompaniment initially takes Marta's warbling song, gypsy-like, through its paces. The sax which creeps in becomes quite wild in the central theme whilst the tempo falls back for the slow movements, "Far away" and the "Great Secret" which gradually builds to a fine whirling exit in "Tornado a la LLar".

A strange little instrumental with violin, synths and muted trumpet provides an interlude before the last major suite and title piece. " Midnight Sun" is in 6 parts, a mournful, pleading vocal, lightly accompanied opens the work. The tempo moves up for the "Dance of the Automatons" section, Marta's singing here reminding me a little of the singer from Chile's Matraz. A nostalgic section, "Far Away", leads into "The Great Deceit", the most vibrant part of the suite. Some tasty guitar and keyboard work here spinning intertwining melodies over a chugging rhythm. "Taiga" has a Celtic identity with its low whistle intro but Spanish guitar takes over and moves the section into a rather aggressive theme with barking dogs and an urgent lyric powered by brass accompaniment. A gentle reprise of the opening movement's theme closes the track.

The album is completed, after another little foray to China, with a reworking of Keith Emerson's "Abaddon's Bolero", using traditional ethnic percussive instruments, flutes, flugelhorn, jaws harp and accordion instead of the modern keyboards of the original. Intriguingly effective although the grating vocal chants and wailing near the end rather spoil it for me.

Nicely packaged, all the songs have translations and backgrounds included in the artwork. Overall I have to say it isn't quite up to the standard of Quentadharken which is possibly their best work to date but its still a winner and there aren't many bands making this kind of crossover music.

Track Listing
1. Sephiroth
2. Hermits
3. XiangMao
4. Wendigo
5. Theme for Hang and Bass
6. Mama Todorka
7. Ishak the Fisherman
8. Eight Touts
9. Midnight Sun
10. XiangMao 2
11. Abaddon's Bolero

Added: July 7th 2007
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: Amarok Website
Hits: 3751
Language: english

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