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SEVEN IMPALE - Contrapasso

Their debut "City Of The Sun" would have easily been my favorite prog whatever album of 2014 (besides the swan song of the then still existent Cynic). The only reason it didn't make my list here is that I bought it a little too late.

I still wrote a review though and even if you don't understand german you'll easily realize that it was a namedropping fest through fortyfive years of prog, metal, fusion, art rock and rocket science.

Now Seven Impale have released their sophomore album "Contrapasso" and even before I had heard any of it, I decided to write an english review this time - just to bring in some variety, in case I had to go through all those names and musical styles again.

Few fans would have complained about a "City Of The Sun, Part II". But luckily the band still has shifted its sound in several respects, so I'm not forced to just translate my old review.

SEVEN IMPALE - Contrapasso (2LP) (2016)

Thou shalt never try to fully understand the work of Costin Chioreanu, because you risk to look like a fool, but I am pretty sure that the cover artwork depicts how Seven Impale themselves feel about this double record. It reprises the debut's cover, but here an abyss has opened and demons are swallowing the sun city. It's a continuation as well as a deconstruction.

And indeed the opener "Lemma" starts with a heavy riff directly plucked from the debut's final epic "God Left Us For A Black-Dressed Woman" (a song which is quoted even more obviously halfway through the album in the instrumental interlude "Ascencion"), only to fall into a less familiar tone,  repeatedly asking the question "What is the next step?"

The step definitely goes into an even quirkier, very gritty feeling.

But don't be mistaken, Seven Impale are still cultivating their established trademarks. So this is without a doubt a very playful, fresh and adventurous ride through all kinds of prog rock and metal with a strong leaning to jazz, which is mostly represented in harmonic licks where the saxophone partners either with keyboards or guitar. If you had to single out just one signature element which screams Seven Impale, it would still be those tenor sax licks.
The saxophone has also matured as a confident individual voice, as it is shown only two minutes into the album, when it bursts into full-on john zornish panic.

But this goes for all instruments here; "Contrapasso" gives each of the six players even more room to shine than "City Of The Sun" did. I'm not saying it really is, but the album seems to be a little more loose in its construction, in a jazzy and advantgarde way, which gives the atmosphere and build-ups space to breathe and also provides many possible starting points for live improvisation.

So even though Seven Impale arrange their music on a very challenging level and work with all kinds of weird and shifting time signatures, it doesn't feel overly mathematic at all.
No matter how manifoldly proggy, beautiful or brutal "Contrapasso" gets, there's always an eery and slighly odd feeling in the forefront.

All in all Seven Impale stepped further away from the overly clean and micro-organized modern prog metal  (be it the Haken / Dream Theater school or more riff- and rhythm-centric djent) to something which sounds a lot more... scandinavian to me.

Also beginning with the opener "Lemma", where the crooning of the lead vocals is reminiscent to an excentric circus announcer, the band shares a lot of the blatant weirdness with their Karisma labelmates and fellow Norwegians Virus.
Anyone who likes the cool natural blend of jazz / fusion elements in the respective works of Motorpsycho or the wild sax rock of Spidergawd should quickly feel at home here.

The haunting psychedelic approach in the first half of "Helix" could easily be imagined on "Infernal Machine", the recent album from Sweden's New Keepers Of The Water Towers.
Whereas the characteristic melancholic sound of the occasionally used Akai Ewi midi flute beams me straight into the strange world of Denmark's finest Liserstille.

Every track is overflowing with creative grandiosity and has its very own identity. It would be too much to examine all nine of them here, yet one still stands out with a different structure than the rest.
With "Phoenix" being the last and longest of all compositions you would expect the classic prog climax with the most epic and bombastic song, like "God Left Us For A Black-Dressed Woman" on "City Of The Sun".
Yet "Phoenix" isn't so much a song, but more an ongoing instrumental collage of different moods, mostly kept calm and restrained, delving even into dub and ambient sounds and only displaying brief moments of the band's louder and energetic side, which otherwise is very present on the whole album. A surprisingly mellow but very welcome conclusion to a really wild prog ride, which leaves me without any further wishes.

Finally I have to mention "God Left Us..." once again, since fragments of that song also appear in "Phoenix". Thus the whole album is thematically enclosed.
And even though "Contrapasso" is a very different beast than "City Of The Sun", this really ties both albums together as two acts of a greater whole and makes it an astonishingly fluid experience to spin them back to back.

What can I say? Seven Impale once again delivered a masterpiece. I fucking love this band and demand a European tour with Virus!

And to those out there who are still thrown off by the darkness of "Contrapasso" (I've read those fans exist): Well I can't help you with this one, but if you like your exciting brass-heavy prog with more pop appeal and positivity, there's another band on the other side of the Atlantic, which I can wholeheartedly recommend... And I will, soon on this very blog. ;)

Highlights: Heresy, Languor, Phoenix, Lemma, Helix

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