Arabs In Aspic -
Madness And Magic

(CD 2020, 46:53, Karisma Records)

The tracks:
  1- I Vow To Thee, My Screen(8:22)
  2- Lullaby For Modern Kids, Part 1(8:19)
  3- Lullaby For Modern Kids, Part 2(2:06)
  4- High-Tech Parent(4:34)
  5- Madness And Magic(6:47)
  6- Heaven In Your Eye(16:45)

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As a huge fan of Hammond drenched Heavy Progressive, like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, I was very pleased to discover the Norwegian five piece formation Arabs In Aspic, when I got the live album Live At Avantgarden (see review) to review, in 2018. I was blown away: cascades of Hammond organ, blended with heavy guitars, many shifting moods between mellow and bombastic, a wide range of vintage keyboards and strong vocal harmonies, wow! Then I started to scrutinize the studio-albums, these are a little bit different story, more mellow, varied and elaborate. That's also the story with this new studio-album (#6), in comparison with the Heavy Prog sound of Arabs In Aspic on stage.

The album starts with I Vow To Thee, My Screen, a dreamy piece with acoustic guitar, piano and soft synthesizer flights, topped with strong and emotional vocals, and soaring Hammond organ.

Then Lullaby For Modern Kids (Part 1) that features first a swinging rhythm and cynical vocals, it reminds me of Frank Zappa. Suddenly a bombastic eruption with heavy guitar and powerful Hammond (omnipresent in this song), the dark and compelling climate evokes King Crimson. Finally, the dreamy atmosphere returns, embellished with wonderful Mellotron violins.

Next is a ballad entitled Lullaby For Modern Kids (Part 2), it contains acoustic rhythm guitar, soaring Mellotron violins, dreamy vocals, soft percussion and a Mellotron flute. In between subtle work on the guitar, this is the gentle side of Arabs In Aspic, and I like it.

In High-Tech Parent we can enjoy a swinging rhythm and vocal harmonies, topped with fiery guitar runs, delicate Fender electric piano and swirling Hammond, the band strongly returns to Heavy Prog.

The captivating titletrack delivers lots of shifting moods: from dreamy with acoustic guitar and Mellotron flute to a catchy beat with rock guitar, and bombastic with heavy and intense guitar play. The Hammond organ is omnipresent and the vocals range from tender to desperate, very powerful and emotional, as a musical translation of the tragical state of mind.

The final epic composition Heaven In Your Eye turns out to be most varied and dynamic one on this new album. The intro is dreamy with Mellotron flute and twanging acoustic guitar, simply wonderful. Then the music gradually turns from a slow rhythm into bombastic with lush Hammond, followed by multiple shifting moods featuring strong work on Hammond and synthesizer, topped with strong vocals. Halfway the climate is very compelling, with sultry overtones, and sensational wah-wah guitar, the Heavy Prog side of the band, how exciting! The final part is more mellow, emphasizing the many musical faces in this fascinating song, and on this entire album.

***+ Erik Neuteboom (edited by Dave Smith)

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