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Gourishankar, The: Close Grip

The Gourishankar are a rare breed: a Russian progressive rock band trying to win an international audience for their music. Formed in 2002 by guitarist Nomy Agranson in the small provincial city of Syktyvkar near the Ural Mountains, The Gourishankar self-released an EP, Integral Symphony (2002), and an album, Close Grip (2003). After signing up with Unicorn Digital, the album 2nd Hands was released in 2007 to widespread, international critical acclaim, resulting in the re-release this year, after re-mixing, of the original Close Grip album. All of the songs are of the band's composition with the exception of "For Nobody" which is a Gentle Giant cover.

It's quite astonishing, I think, to us from the privileged West, listening to all the propaganda about life in those remote areas of Europe, to see such accomplished music coming from near the Ural Mountains. Astonishment that is muted when one thinks of the great classical Russian composers: Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky - I could go on - the point is, the area has a rich musical tradition; music is ingrained in the peoples' blood, so really it should not be a surprise to hear such music. I apologize for using the word "astonishing".

I've not heard 2nd Hands, so am unable to say how the band progressed from Close Grip, but the reports that I've read in some reviews that 2nd Hands contained a "metal approach" certainly don't apply to Close Grip. There is guitar, for sure, which at times is heavy, but the instances and duration of that kind of burst of activity are too few to justify the "metal" tag. Close Grip sounds to me closer to the ongoing line of progressive rock that stems form the approach of bands like Genesis and IQ. Listening to it, another comparison that was raised in my mind was to Echolyn - I went to listen again to as the world and there is a sonic link there, even if it's not major. In any case, for The Gourishankar's name to be mentioned in the same paragraph as bands like these is a tribute to their music making: certainly, if you're fans of that style of progressive rock you may well find plenty to enjoy on Close Grip.

Three tracks, "Gripped by Fear", "In the Hope" and "Close to Death", are instrumentals but the lyrics on the others are rather good. Interestingly they are based on English translations (by the band themselves?) of poems by the classic Russian poets Tutchev and Pasternak. The 16-page CD booklet is very good, containing images from the band's homeland, that are evocative and which have clearly inspired the music. It's an excellent all-round package.

However, I must say that it's not my favorite style of progressive rock. The tracks that I most enjoyed were "Sweet Earth" and "Autumn Frost", the two which contained perhaps the sweetest musical passages, but even in these compositions the predominant feature of the keyboards-dominated soundscape is that it is constantly changing, far too often to allow me to relax and really live the music. Ultimately, there were no melodies or riffs that stuck in my mind. I prefer the Dream Theater or Spock's Beard/Transatlantic/Neal Morse line of modern progressive rock to this. Equally, there will be many other music fans who disagree with me - and if you prefer the slower, more keyboards oriented Genesis-IQ line (some will argue the more purist "prog-rock" line) then you can safely increase my star rating by one.

Track Listing
1) Gripped by Fear (2:04)
2) Insomnia (7:28)
3) Sweet Earth (8:02)
4) In the Hope (2:17)
5) Wind of Night (8:59)
6) Autumn Frost (10:57)
7) Close to Death (3:13)
8) For Nobody (bonus) (4:39)

Added: September 8th 2008
Reviewer: Alex Torres
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2251
Language: english

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