Album Title: Achromata
Label: Independent Release
Date Of Release: 3 April 2018
When you have a soft spot for great artwork, to the point where you’ll listen to an album based purely on the cover of an album, this record was a no-brainer. And ‘this record’ is none other than ‘Achromata’, the sophomore release from Aesthesys, a Russian instrumental post rock/prog band that had previously flown underneath my radar.
But with artwork like this on offer, there was no possibility of Aesthesys evading my attention this time around. Created by the talented Kuldar Leement, the beguiling cover art is rich, vibrant and bold, with an intelligence and depth that is impossible to ignore. It is also unmistakeably a ‘prog’ front cover. In fact, it displays all of the assets that one would hope to identify within the musical output that accompanies the intensely beautiful artwork. And, after plenty of time and careful listening, I am delighted to report that ‘Achromata’ most definitely has the substance to back up the style.
But before I delve more into the music on offer, a little background about Aesthesys might be useful, just in case they are as new a proposition for you as they are for me.
Aesthesys was, at the outset over a decade ago, a solo project courtesy of keyboardist and violinist Nik Koniwzski. However, Aesthesys has evolved and expanded over the years to the point where it is now a fully-fledged band comprised of bassist Sasha Coudray, guitarist/keyboardist Victor Krabovich and guitarist Eldar Ferzaliev, alongside guests Maximilian Maxotsky (drums) and Jamie Ward (mellotron, synths). Ward also rather expertly mixed and mastered ‘Achromata’, as it sounds very powerful and clear.
On the evidence of ‘Achromata’, Aesthesys are a complicated outfit that seeks to blend a myriad of styles together to create their own aural vision. Within the eight compositions, expect to hear progressive rock, post-rock, ambient, neo-prog and neo-classical, as well as a healthy dose of dramatic cinematic aesthetics. The latter is of little surprise once you realise that ‘Achromata’ is a fully-fledged concept album.
The concept idea originally came from the band’s mastermind, Nik Koniwzski, but it has been written by Richie Sauls. Each of the eight compositions acts as a chapter within the short story, a wondrous and magical story about a world that suffers a darkness that strips it of its colour. Thus begins an adventure and a voyage of discovery for a boy who has never before seen colour in his life. Aided by a mysterious bird and its last colourful feather, not to mention other characters along the way, the world is once again restored to its bright and multi-hued glory. The glorious cover artwork actually depicts a vivid moment within the story, bringing it to life even further.
Naturally this is something of a vast simplification of the concept, but it gives you an idea of the depth of thought and effort that has been expended on this release.
Back to the music and as good as the artwork and concept both are, it is the music that really propels Aesthesys deep into my affections. Not once am I left bemoaning a lack of vocals because the compositions are so dramatic, rich, varied and cleverly nuanced.
Opening track ‘Grauer World’ begins in cinematic fashion, building the synth-led tones and textures until in comes the violin of Koniwzski, full of emotion and expressive intent. His delivery reminds me a of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ era Arcturus, but with a more pronounced folk edge. And to my mind, it is the violin above all other instruments on this record that plays the part of the narrator because of its undeniably eloquent nature and the way it weaves in and out of each composition so majestically.
The way in which the song momentarily stops dead in its tracks before launching into an even more powerful segment of music is wonderful, as is the further ebb and flow as the track develops. The lead guitar work is beautiful but the pinnacle of the track is the brief but hugely impactful closing crescendo
The euphoric ambient synth melodies that introduce ‘Filis Aureis’ are truly heart-warming and spine-tingling – a further portent of the greatness to come within ‘Achromata’. Sasha Coudray’s bass work is nicely prominent and together with drummer Maximilian Maxotsky, they lay down a beat that’s deceptively urgent and up-tempo.
It becomes evident at this point that having three keyboardists/synth players in the band is a huge bonus, one that has not been utilised wastefully. The range of tones, textures and atmospheres that bathe each and every one of the individual compositions really allows the story to come to life and ultimately, to be believable, one within which the listener can fully immerse themselves. From gentle and delicate, as witnessed within ‘Marea’, to the more heavy climes found within the likes of ‘Melanocardia’ for example.
It is fair to say that the entirety of ‘Achromata’ is very consistent in terms of quality. However, that being said, it is difficult to look beyond the magnificent ‘Himmelbarn’ when considering the album’s high point. Encompassing an enormous range of sounds and textures, it flows gracefully from one idea to another, twisting and turning with ease to create a very special composition indeed, ultimately leading to one of the heavier passages within its hectic and explosive finale. Nevertheless, an innate sense of melody underpins the entire piece to keep me coming back for more, time and time again.
I’m also a big fan of the aforementioned ‘Melanocardia’ which, as hinted at within its title, is a darker, more sombre affair. The introduction is foreboding, vaguely dystopian in tone with a commanding rhythm section accenting the vaguely sinister-sounding atmospheres at the core of the song. It builds slowly, inexorably and masterfully with the guitars of Victor Krabovich and Eldar Ferzaliev much more prominent in the mix. But again, space is afforded to some more delicate and subtle moments, where yet more beautiful melodies emerge to do gentle battle with the harsher sounds that surround them.
‘Apogeion’, with its delicacy and vague Riverside-isms is another superbly-crafted song with a beguilingly wistful and whimsical feel that I feel deserves a mention as does the bitter-sweet album closer ‘Eosfyllon’ which ends proceedings in fitting fashion.
It is fair to say that the more I have listened to ‘Achromata’, the more I have fallen under its spell. This goes some way to explain why this review comes to you after the release of the album – I simply wanted as long as possible to let it work its magic on me. And now that it has, I am thoroughly smitten and entranced by ‘Achromata’. To me, it is an expertly-crafted and clever record that keeps on giving. As such, it will take something very special for Aesthesys to be beaten in 2018 when it comes to intelligent instrumental music. Checking out this record is a must, trust me.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse