Album Title: Cosmos
Label: Indie Recordings
Date of Release: 19 November 2021
I have never been the biggest fan of instrumental music, as I tend to find that it can be a little underwhelming, a touch boring, and often an exercise in technical prowess over memorable song writing. Of course, this is an over generalisation, and a few years ago, I even awarded my album of the year to Earthside who are predominantly an instrumental outfit. Another band that have singularly failed to read my personal script go by the name of Navian. And, having waxed lyrical over their debut EP, ‘Reset’ during the summer last year, I am delighted to be able to delve into ‘Cosmos’, the Norwegian trio’s debut full-length studio release.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that the press release that accompanied ‘Cosmos’ quoted a line from my review of ‘Reset’, but the bigger, even more pleasant surprise was the one that greeted me when I pressed the play button for the first time. I had high hopes for this album based on the EP, but I can safely say that those expectations have been greatly exceeded by ‘Cosmos’.
With an unchanged line-up for ‘Cosmos’, Navian remains comprised of guitarist Martin Stenstad Selen, drummer Ola Dønnem and bassist Christian Alexander Espeseth. However, the trio have taken their output to a whole new level, to the point where I’m going to have to re-think my Top 30 of the year list, so soon after finally getting to a point where I am happy with it. It’s a good hassle to have though, and should speak volumes as to how good this album truly is.
My quote used in the press release states that their EP demonstrates a “freshness and a bounce that is entirely infectious.” I stand by that quote, and would absolutely apply it to ‘Cosmos’ as well. In fact, the quote is probably not forceful enough to be used for this album, because it is the kind of music that radiates utter joy, happiness, and so much fun. I’m still not au fait enough with the likes of Plini and Animal As Leaders to make accurate comparisons (it has been a busy and difficult year in many ways), but I would definitely go with these as reference points to assist with gauging Navian’s chosen sound. Add to this though, a smattering of Voyager in the djent-like riffing in places, as well as the overall way in which the music makes me feel. Then stir in several other styles including fusion, jazz, pop, and metal, and you’re beginning to piece together the final product that Navian creates.
Technically adept and tight as anything, the three musicians make everything sound so effortless, smooth, and beautifully dynamic. Bursts of heavy riffs assault the ears one second, before a delicate atmospheric passage takes over. Then a scatty, bouncy section will lead into a gloriously uplifting melody, something to carry me away from the humdrum world around me.
Navian start as they mean to go on, opening with ‘Luna’, a thoroughly perfect composition that opens with a bright, atmospheric intro, immediately welcoming. From there, a stunning lead guitar melody takes centre stage, alongside subtle rhythms and notes from drums and bass alike. The djent riff that emerges reminds me of latter-day Voyager thanks to the technicality and sense of playfulness, blended with bold but soothing synths. How anyone can remain immune to Navian’s charms even so early on is beyond me – they have my undivided, rapt attention.
Follow-up track, ‘Ghost Stories’ is, if anything, even more technical than its predecessor. The intricacies at play are highly impressive, as are the complex time signatures and rhythms. The song never stands still, creating pronounced peaks and troughs that incorporate chunky riffs and smooth lounge jazz breaks that actually work, despite veering dangerously close to elevator music. And it all works thanks to the strong melodic ideas incorporated within.
The electronic elements of the Navian sound are pushed to the very forefront within the intro to ‘Apricity’, one of the most captivating songs on the entire album. The central melody is euphoric and it genuinely warms my heart every time I hear it. Mind you, I could say exactly the same for the equally beautiful ‘Silver Lining’. Again, the melodic heart of the song beats strong despite an abundance of technical flair, dexterity, and flamboyance. If anything, the melody has a bittersweet hue to it, and could be viewed as either a happy piece of music, or a very emotional, sad one. I’ve listened to it numerous times and it affects me in different ways each time. The important factor either way though, is that it does affect me, because that’s the hallmark of a quality composition.
Navian clearly have the Midas touch because everything they try just turns to gold. There is not one moment wasted within any of the eight tracks that makes up ‘Cosmos’. ‘Temple’ features yet more strong melodies, whilst even the more overtly pop-influenced ‘Breeze’, with more pronounced electronics and effects works its not inconsiderable charms on me. As its title might suggest, this is a bright, effervescent song, full of wicked cheekiness that comes and goes swiftly but with a twinkle in its eye and a god-natured smirk on its face.
‘Dutchess’ has an air of shoegaze about it thanks to some nicely-layered synths and electronics. The minimalist portions of the song are stunning; full of atmosphere and fragile beauty, they gradually build in intensity, to overflow with life and real power. The song also features the talents of Circus Maximus’ guitarist Mats Haugen just to add a thick layer of sweet icing to the already delicious cake.
It’s left to the title track to close ‘Cosmos’ and, at nearly eight minutes, it’s far and away the longest individual piece on the album. I an captivated by the way the song spends much of its time subtly building up pace until it reaches a point where it easily delivers the most intense section of music on the record, before dropping away only for it to then return for a fitting crescendo towards the end, complete with lead guitar flourishes, and a muscularity to the rhythms.
Progressive, nuanced, occasionally eccentric, but always playful, inviting, and richly melodic, I have been blown away by ‘Cosmos’. Navian have effortlessly shattered any preconceptions that I or others may have had that instrumental music delivers an inferior listening experience. They have also, equally effortlessly, proven beyond any shadow of doubt that technical wizardry and multi-faceted ideas can co-exist alongside gorgeous hooks and melodies without either element ever being compromised. In short, Navian are a breath of fresh air, air that I would happily breathe whenever the opportunity arose.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: