Seven Impale – Contrapasso – Album Review

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Artist: Seven Impale

Album Title: Contrapasso

Label: Karisma Records

Date Of Release: 16 September 2016

I’ve been writing reviews about rock and metal of all types for over ten years now and over that time, I’ve learned a lot. One of the more powerful lessons I’ve learned is that often, you can admire an album objectively but not love it. Of course, you can experience both at the same time but as it turns out, there’s a big difference between the two. Loving an album would infer some kind of emotional connection with the music, whereas this is not essential to allow admiration. And that’s very much the case here.

‘Contrapasso’ is the second album from Seven Impale, a Norwegian sextet that have previously escaped my attention. Comprised of bassist/cellist Tormod Fosso, guitarist Erlend Vottvik Olsen, saxophonist/midiflute player Benjamin Mekki Widerøe, vocalist/guitarist Stian Økland, keyboardist Håkon Vinje and drummer Fredrik Mekki Widerøe, this is a band for whom I have developed a great deal of admiration but I fall short of really liking this record, or indeed loving it.

Now, I love progressive music. I love the challenge it often creates, the provocation of thought and the unquestionable instrumental proficiency that it usually displays. And the latter is definitely in evidence here. However, there are times when I have to hold up my hands and say ‘this just isn’t entirely for me’. By and large, I’m afraid that’s the case with Seven Impale and ‘Contrapasso’.

‘Utterly bonkers’, ‘quirky’ and ‘downright odd’ are just some of the adjectives that I could throw at this record. In fact, on occasions, I’ve even uttered something along the lines of ‘what the actual **** is this?’

There’s no denying the fact that Seven Impale are a band that have lofty ambitions and are not afraid to try anything and everything as a result. Prog rock, progressive metal, doom, jazz, ska, avant-garde and a whole host of other musical genres and sub-genres are thrown into a blender and ‘Contrapasso’ is what has come out the other end. However, whilst a first impression might consider ‘Contrapasso’ as a completely disjointed mess, a little more time and effort leads to the conclusion that there is a perverse logic to the album and that there is a definite method behind the madness. This in turn leads to a certain amount of well-earned respect, even if it is occasionally grudging.

Why grudging? Aside from a very few select exceptions to the rule, I’m not a fan of brass in my music, nor do I enjoy much jazz and these are the aspect that sets me on edge the most during this record. Unfortunately, Seven Impale do nothing to alleviate the brass prejudice, particularly given the fact that the saxophone either screeches with properly odd jazz-like abandon or engages in a ska-like approach that I simply can’t get on board with.

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For all that though, there are parts of ‘Contrapasso’ that I genuinely do enjoy and, interestingly, are even more enjoyable when juxtaposed with the bizarre and jarring sounds that surround them. They are best described as moments of clarity within a near-impenetrable fog of otherwise incomprehensible compositions.

Take the opener, ‘Lemma’ as a prime example. The track is littered with a plethora of strange sound effects, bizarre spoken-word segments, and a saxophone that sounds like a duck getting murdered. It’s the only way I can come close to describing this jarring noise. And yet I like the opening churning riff, the bruising doom vibe in the middle of the track and the epic, unexpectedly melodic and epic closing segment is really rather sublime and majestic. That guitar tone juxtaposed with such a light, carefree melody is rather inspired.

There’s something about the oddly commercial and accessible ska-pop of ‘Heresy’ that I find intriguing also, despite it being, on paper, my worst aural nightmare, particularly given the deliberately uncomfortable and discordant mid-song breakdown. I’m actually reminded a little of another band with whom I also have a strange relationship – Knifeworld, before it closes with an eerie, minimalist soundscape out of kilter with the remainder of the track.

‘Inertia’ on the other hand, is possibly my ‘favourite’ track on ‘Contrapasso’. The fuzzy and vaguely psychedelic extended guitar solo is equal parts excellent and clunky and despite the claustrophobic nature of the first half of the song, there are hints of something yet to come. And when it hits, it’s like the clouds part and the beauty of the sun and sky is revealed. More accurately, the sounds of a beautifully-distorted heavy guitar and epic ambient atmospheres break through to reveal a brief melodic respite that is nectar to my ears. I’d love this part to have been longer, but the fact that it appeared at all is enough in the context of this record.

I quite like the more laid back vibe of ‘Languor’, although I really dislike the brass embellishments – by this point in proceedings, they are beginning to seriously grate. And I’m definitely unconvinced by the new aural textures created by yet more bizarre electronic sounds and samples.

‘Helix’ begins with a bold and unusual 8-bit-esque computer jingle from the days of the dawn of the computer. It creates the foundation of the song and in so doing, injects yet another different texture to the music. Again, after an initial ‘what the…?’ moment, I can kind of appreciate the song a little more now. The slow pace is accentuated by a heavy riff that builds in intensity beneath that odd melody before a controlled explosion sees that intensity increased massively along with a heightened sense of urgency. But then the track just falls off a cliff into a minimalist environment which offers a welcome chilled respite.

Maybe over time I might learn to like ‘Contrapasso’ more, maybe even love it. But right now, I’m just not sure. I truly admire what Seven Impale are trying to do and I highly commend their sense of experimentation not to mention the way that they are seemingly unafraid to take their music in whatever direction their hearts desire. The biggest compliment I can bestow on Seven Impale is that, as much as I struggle with their personal musical vision, I won’t give up. In fact, I somehow can’t give up – I’m drawn back for repeated listens via a strange compulsion akin to a morbid fascination. As such, I just know that I will keep going back to ‘Contrapasso’. And in so doing, I live in hope that one day I can fully connect with the music. If you give this record a go, bring an open mind with you – it’s essential.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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One thought

  1. I do hope you back to this album mate, but I would commend you starting at the beginning and giving their debut album ‘City of the Sun’ as it’s a little easier a way in. As you know, I love their jazzy/proggy noise!

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