The fifth release by Carlos Plaza's Kotebel sees another major change in direction, comparable to their original shift from a delicate keyboard project to the wildly imaginative mixture of rock and classical themes with serious operatic support which dominated their second to fourth albums. With Ouroboros, gone is the soprano diva and the sweet keyboard layers and in comes a darker, heavier machine with challenging musical structures and clever twin keyboard interplay. The theme of the album is an exploration of a number of exotic mythical creatures from the familiar Satyrs and Behemoth to less well-known creatures such as the Simurgh (king of birds), drawn from Arabian folk tales.
Each piece is an individual representation rather than a running concept as such with the creatures used mainly as an imaginary frame on which to hang the compositions. "Amphisbaena" (a serpent with a head at both ends) opens the album with an angular arrangement of organ, fluctuating guitar chords using RIO influences and an insistent bass line. Piano and guitar snap and bite at counterpoint with some excellent drumming from Carlos Franco controlling and directing the numerous pace and time changes. Semitones and tritons are sprinkled through the piece giving it an edgy character overall but with occasional soft melodic reflections. Rising piano chords compete with sudden drum fills and injections of guitar while the piece escalates with addition of organ rising up the scale toward its climax. An impressive opener which foretells both the quality and the direction of the album as a whole.
The title track is a lengthy suite of 7 'variations' on a theme and a coda. Here the classical influences take over both in structure and in feel. You might hear Ravel, Stravinsky or Debussy in here as the main theme is stated and then embellished with synths, piano and guitar. There is also a Yes-like quality in parts, of the era which produced the better elements of Topographic Oceans. Overall the work is less ferocious in style and has a good mix of soft and crusty textures through the 7 variations with the sixth forcefully restating the original theme before a trippy little coda, almost Canterbury in style, rounds off the number.
César Garcia Forero (guitars) penned the next piece, "Satyrs", which starts with a fuzzy guitar riff over a dark bass rhythm from Jaime Pascual Summers, eventually making way for keyboards and a series of thematic changes delivered in a dynamic, stop and turn approach. One of the more dissonant arrangements on the album, the track also has the ever-present quality to take unexpected turns such as the jazzy little piano piece in the middle and its almost metal styled rocky outro. "Simurgh" is another long one at 13 minutes. A simple blend of piano and keyboard figures awakens the song gently before synthesised voice and an eloquent ethereal guitar float in for a brief period after which the song cuts back to its original figure and guitar. A second level of development ratchets up the volume slightly as the theme repeats and builds. The guitar lines here remind me very much of the opening to Asia's Arena album. An incisive piano and drum/bass injection stabs the flowing melody short at this point and the arrangement turns darker with semi and tri-tonal keys and guitar gnawing at an impressive percussion delivery. This denser and more complex section continues for several minutes, again frequently ebbing and flowing between shorter, more melodic modes. The piece then fades out in a spiritual ending, signifying the birds realisation of the truth of their existence.
The synth opening to "Behemoth" hints at ELP before Garcia's very un-Lake-like guitar adds a sinister edge. The eerie calm induced next is a prelude to the slow wakening of the beast, perhaps as the morning sun unfolds across the primeval land. A brilliant warbling guitar sequence is trimmed by delicate piano and tinkly percussive keys after which the lilting guitar rises to a series of crescendos backed by dramatic organ chords. Finally Behemoth veers off, closing out as it came in. The short "Legal Identity V1.5" closes the album and contains some of the best twin keyboard interplays of the entire disc between Carlos and Adriana Plaza along with more tasty guitar and sustained drum/bass arrangements. Legal Identity is a dynamic and fitting ending to an excellent set of works but the bonus is the 16 minute live performance at the Portugal's 2007 Gouveia Art Rock Festival of Mysticae Visiones, the title suite from their second album, featuring the wonderful voice of opera singer Carolina Prieto.
This is an album which mixes rock, jazz and classical concepts in equal measure and takes several spins to really appreciate the intricacies of composition and the flavours of the music which only emerge gradually with repeated listens. At times delicate and at others dense or bombastic, the album draws on a wide range of influences without being beholden to any; a remarkable feat in itself.
6. Legal Identity V1.5
7. Bonus: Mysticae Visiones live at GAR 2007