VAK is a French progressive group that started in 2008. The line-up features singer Aurélie Saintecroix, drummer Vladimir Mejstelman, Joël Crouzet on bass and guitars and Alexandre Michaan playing keyboards and synthesizers. As guest musicians they employ Michaël Havard who plays alto and sopranino saxophones on the title track and Nora Froger (flutes) and Hyder Aga (guitars) on the final piece Au Fond des Creuses.
According to their biography, they draw influences from a wide range of genres, including metal, avant-rock and experimental rock from the 1970s until today. They are most easily categorized in that typical style labelled as Zeuhl music. Their album Budo was released September 2018 and consists of a mere three tracks.
First is the three-part title track which also is the longest of the pieces, making it to almost half an hour of very fine music. It kicks off with some driving loose percussion to which threatening synths are added, and soon after theatrical wordless female vocals and other instruments join in. The sound is somewhere between progressive rock and jazz-rock, and clearly influenced by the Zeuhl movement. Unlike Magma, however, there is no use of choirs or multiple singers. Here, Aurélie stands alone against the musical instruments.
Around 7 minutes, we are allowed some breathing space and a dissonant Fripp-ian guitar takes briefly over before quirky electric piano leads towards more jazz-rock influences. Half-way through there is some complex interplay of all instruments and the wordless singing with occasional solo spots for the participants and some challenging fireworks from the guest saxophone before we get a threatening build up towards the end of the piece.
Not much shorter is the second piece, Hquark, which is divided into four parts (although I really cannot hear the divide of the sections). This piece starts much more dissonant than the first track and may take a while to get adjusted to. Luckily the arrival of female chants softens the start a bit before around 2 minutes the piece launches into a layered, complex section. This is a part of the track that will sweep you along. Halfway through we enter a piece that I would call Crimsonesque- somewhere between Red and Beat. Pretty claustrophobic! Around 10:40 the mood then looses up again with pearly electric piano and female chants and around 15 minutes a rather atmospheric section.
The final piece, Au Fond Des Creuses, is short in comparison to the other two, but still sizeable comparing to'ordinary' rock songs. It provides a quiet closing to the album, starting very calmly, offering flute and gentle singing. The piece then builds up quite some tension with electric guitar and singing combatting with electric piano and flute before coming to a rather quiet end.
All in all a very fine album that I would almost describe as a more laid-back version of Magma and as such one of the easier entries for people wanting to explore Zeuhl-music, but are afraid to take on Magma as a starting point.
****- Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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