Guapo Black Oni

[Ipecac; 2005]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: progressive rock, avant-prog, experimental rock, doom metal
Others: Mr. Bungle, King Crimson, Circle, Fantomas, Magma


Guapo's Black Oni, the London trio's sixth full-length, is allegedly the second in a musical triptych of albums which began with last year's Five Suns, released on Cuneiform (the third and final part is anticipated to be released on Neurot Recordings later this year). This time around, the band's kindred spirits at Ipecac Recordings have opted to be the vehicle for this release. Needless to say, Black Oni is very much spiritually aligned with many of the other offerings on the label's roster, with its combination of technical, progressive time signature changes, horror-film keyboard melodies, jazz-inflected bridges and overtones, a muscular rhythm section, propensity toward experimentation, and dark, schizophrenic musical energy.

Though the record does not exactly break new ground with regard to contemporary progressive rock, Guapo play it well, bridging the gap nicely between the melodic and timeless work of King Crimson and the much more minimalistic, experimental work of contemporary avant-prog artists like the Finnish band Circle. The album is essentially a single piece (read: concept album) broken up into five distinct "symphonic" movements, simply numbered "I"-"V." The fifth and final movement is unmistakably the album's highlight. Brooding, epic, and majestic, this piece is a sprawling, but masterfully successful exercise in composition, tone, and form that at times flirts with non-Western musical scales.

While the first, second, and fifth movements tend to adhere to a more traditional neo-progressive formula, the third and fourth are much more subdued and minimal, veering into almost dark ambient territory at times. Ominous and leaden, the fourth movement features eerie dissonant strings and tone clusters that almost recall Penderecki's modern classical piece "The Dream of Jacob" from 1974. The third movement is a particularly cinematic piece that serves as a showcase for Daniel O'Sullivan's impressive Fender Rhodes playing, which also imparts upon Black Oni a measure of jazz fusion. In fact, John Zorn's inspirational presence is felt on the record; at times, quite palpably. Like the John Zorn album Naked City, or the Zorn-produced proper debut record from Mr. Bungle, Black Oni features quiet, jazz-flavored interludes punctuated by bursts of musical ferocity and stunning dexterity.

While the album, as a whole, demonstrates the not inconsiderable level of technical proficiency possessed by the band, the musical showmanship on Black Oni is kept remarkably low-key. Mercifully, Guapo sacrifice the overly cerebral for the pleasantly cinematic on this outing. This, however, is not to say that there aren't moments of technical brilliance to be found here. The time changes and composition on the album's final piece are executed perfectly, culminating in a single movement that serves as one of the most memorable pieces of contemporary progressive rock in years. Furthermore, the trio sounds impressively tight. As a whole, this is the type of record that makes the listener long to hear live interpretations of these pieces. If their studio recordings alone are any indication, these guys must really rock live.

1. I.
2. II.
3. III.
4. IV.
5. V.

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