(All Album Reviews by avestin)
The art of building, dismantling and rebuilding again
I was scrolling around the Cuneiform releases one day and stumbled across this band called Kombinat M. Not a very attractive name for a band. But I got intrigued as I do every time I learn of a new RIO band. There were samples to listen to and I was impressed by what I heard because it was in the same spirit of other bands I liked (read on). I was lucky to find it and even for a ridiculous price on Wayside music (which belongs to Cuneiform) and I could enjoy the entire album. And I do mean enjoy!
This Austrian band, although unknown, are very much as capable as other more famous groups in this ballpark. They produce disturbing sounds, full of pain and anger, and then they can all of a sudden shift to a softer, relaxed beat that makes you wonder if that is the same band. Their music, like others in this genre at that time, is not dense, but they do create a rich sound, although the drum computer sound in some tracks is a bit disappointing. They swing back and forth between the more rock oriented tracks (“Fryday”) and the more avant-garde ones (“Bored to be wild”, “Trottel Lustig”, “Seeking Scapegoat”). The overall result is a very cool and interesting mélange of different approaches to tracks – from a more direct rock approach to a more unorganized, chaotic and experimental approach. The musical range is too as wide as the experimentalism is. Read further on to understand what I mean.
There are sometimes similarities to 5UU’s, a faster and rockier Univers Zero, John Zorn, Forever Einstein, Massacre and Miriodor. But in the same time the album is different, deviates from their sound and has its own special musical path. Another aspect in their music is the apparent post rock feel. And yet, this is from 1990-1991. If you go on with the review you can read what I mean by this, however this is no post rock album, just that there are post rock trademarks here that would later appear in post rock bands albums (and I find it hard to believe they were influenced by this, so I am not implying this is a pioneering album). This band was not afraid to experiment, as is evident form this album. Each track has its way of going about in a ‘strange’ path and its method of trying new sounds and forms of compositions. Even for Rock In Opposition, this is not a regular album, because it does not follow a ‘straight’ path; it is not a one-dimensional sounding album, and goes in multiple directions and explores various branches of musical possibilities. And in my opinion, does so quite good.
I will not go over all the tracks, only give details about those that I believe will give a clearer view of what this album is about.
Ah, blissful madness… yes, this is what you get as soon as you put this album in the CD player. The saxophone is running all over the place. You get a full dose of avant-garde jazz sax improvisations, which are sort of similar to what John Zorn does with his saxophone when he goes ‘insane’. They then go on to create the ‘usual’ dissonant Rock In Opposition sound and enhance it with a clarinet and violin whose sound is purposely slightly out of tune to augment the dissonant sound. Now comes in the violin, which shows that it can be as insane but in his way. The track keeps evolving throughout its duration, changing constantly. There are enough musical directions here to compose several tracks.
The second track, “Fryday”, is going on for about 2:30 minutes with a repetitive guitar pattern along with the rhythm section and it is slightly developed then with the reinforcement in the shape of the sax and violin. It brings to mind a faster version of what certain post-rock bands are doing in their music. It doesn’t develop much more, but it is a good track nonetheless.
The third track, “Trottel Lustig”, returns to the more nutty approach lead by the violin and a tortured guitar. It goes on about 50 seconds and then calms down leaving the scene for the sax and violin to play a nice, but slightly dissonant sounding tune with weird percussions. And then it returns to the initial insanity of the debut, and at the end, as impossible as this sounds, they manage to mingle those two different paths together. This track wants to explore more than to exhibit.
Track 4, “Dunakorall”, starts with a blast of drums and the obvious heroes of this album – the violin and sax. After several seconds you are a bit in disbelief as you hear what seems to be, low and behold, regular sounding music… but not for long. It has a twist, of course, as one of the instruments can’t just let one of the tracks be perceived as a normal, ordinary one, so each time you have the volunteer instrument that spices things up. I find this track to be one of the highlights of the album. The successful mixture of normal and abnormal is so natural for this guys and comes out effortlessly and sounds very good. This is a personal favorite of mine in this album.
“Schone Tiere” starts with the guitar trying to break out of a closed space with the drums trying to help them. When they realize it won’t do, they both calm down and remain silent and let the sax play relaxed amorphic, abstract sounds until about 2:00 when they reemerge with what again can be a reminder of the future sound of post rock, only a bit faster. You hear a semi acoustic guitar playing fast several accords and the drums giving a low tone background. It develops slowly and ends abruptly about 3- 4 minutes later, giving way to the sax and violin, our heroes, the front stage. Only they use it to play what first appears as an unclear tune, when then, all of a sudden the same ‘post rock’ theme returns and you realize that what our heroes play and the post rock theme mingle in perfectly. A great showmanship this demonstration was. This is a track that is so great to hear for the first time; the time you realized what they were doing. This is why this album needs to receive your full attention; otherwise you miss so much of the small and even bigger nuances.
The next track too, “Geobruckneo”, seems to have preceded some of the post rock bands by several years. Again, there is the same pattern of rhythm that is fast and develops a bit with some instruments wandering around it, and maintaining it.
“Einsame Ameisen” shows how they take what could have been a nice tune and distort it while preserving slices of the original sound so you can imagine what it sounded like originally. It is a nice track without a rhythm section and is probably the less noticeable in the album.
“Virus”, the 10th track, has a wide range of styles portrayed – jazz and free- jazz, “classic” dissonant disjointed RIO, chamber rock, noise rock, spacey guitar improvisations and finally you get to hear some vocals as well. This one too, is a favorite of mine in the album. It seems it comes so easily for them to create such complex and multi-layered compositions.
Rather original and very enjoyable and I think it is worth the bother of getting it. They manage to fuse various styles of music successfully and make it sound very good. What I also admire about this album is that when they created the tracks, they seemed to have a clear and very perceptive view of what they wanted to achieve. Moreover, in the process of composing they seem to have deconstructed the tracks back to their basic building blocks and rebuilt them in a combinatorial way so to be able to achieve different sounds. A good example of this was described for “Schone Tiere” (track 5). They experiment with their compositions and with their use of their instrument. I think it does not come at the expense of the quality of the record; on the contrary. It adds to it, making it sound more special. This band seems to be full of new ideas all the time and it is a real shame they did not manage to get more output besides this one. This album is the sole album Kombinat M, and it is a pity, as this release is a great promise and debut.
Bottom line: I can recommend this album to those people who like any of the bands mentioned above and any people into the more complex, experimental, original and chaotic side of Rock In Opposition. Not an essential album, but not one to regret getting either.