Gazpacho – Fireworker
Progressive Rock | Art Rock
It boggles the mind to think of how far humanity has come to reach this point. One unbroken line stretching back beyond all of recorded history, back thousands of years before all known civilisation. So much of that journey is lost to time, but it’s surprising how far back we can go and yet find the influence of works from ages long past still being felt today. Take Plato for instance… bear with me on this one! Not all of his ideas have stood the test of time, he once compared humans to featherless birds after all, but some of his work can still be thought provoking nearly 2500 years after the fact. Take his idea of the “Tripartite Soul” – that our spirit is split into three distinct parts. The rational thinker dealing in logic and reason; the beating heart ruled by emotion; and the base animalistic appetites that drive self preservation and procreation.
Let’s cast aside the rest of the philosophy lecture and focus on the third one, as it’s that same primordial drive that inspires Fireworker, the new album from Norwegian prog outfit Gazpacho. This concept album gives that part of ourselves sentience, depicting it as some eternal parasite that has lived on within countless generations of people. Its only concern is to keep its host body alive and ensure that the next link in the chain is born. For the most park lurking unseen in the darkest recesses of your mind, only revealing itself and its intentions as a last resort. That instinctual fight or flight response that takes hold in a moment of terror, that part of you that would do unspeakable things in order to stay alive in a moment of true desperation – that’s the Fireworker seizing control to enact his will.
It’s such a unique and fascinating foundation to build a story around, and I only wish that Fireworker did a better job of exploring it. Now, I adore delving into a good concept album. The ones that clearly lay out a grand story for you to follow are a rare gift, but then to my mind half the fun is about going the extra mile. There’s something rewarding about an album that requires a little extra thought and research in order to fit the pieces together. This record follows that approach but sadly goes a bit too far. Without having the meaning already laid out for you, there’s a very slim chance of it jumping out at you from the lyrics alone. ‘Antique’ and ‘Sapien’ probably do the best job, but even here the disjointed phrasing and archaic language make it feel more like an abstract poem or some magical incantation. What clear glimpses you do get are merely of the premise, while the story, about a journey inward to confront the ageless being driving your existence, is even more obscured.
While it’s a shame to see a great concept fall by the wayside, it’s in no way a deal-breaker, as Fireworker is still a stunning listen. There are so many rich and diverse soundscapes overlapping here. It always feels grand, but never shows all its cards at once and veers into excess. It manages to be imposing even in the quiet introspective moments by making each movement of a track feel like a glimpse through a window at just a small piece of a much larger musical world.
‘Hourglass’ opens with mournful piano and the soft swell of vintage mellotron, and offers a dramatic choral section and a stunningly arresting violin solo at it’s heart, to form the record’s most elegant work. From its frenetic and off-kilter acoustic riffs, the title track launches into robust percussion contrasted against the soothing rise and fall of the backing vocals, before the fire finally ignites with fierce riffs in the final few moments.
The real selling point of the record however is in the two 15+ minute epics that bookend it. While a little disjointed, at times feeling more like a collection of vignettes than on cohesive piece, ‘Space Cowboy’ is nonetheless a remarkable musical journey. It brings together everything that the album offers, from the airy melancholic piano and atmospheric synths to the bombastic otherworldly choral sections and gargantuan riffs. It’s ‘Sapien’ that proves to be the record’s crowning glory however. It does such a superb job of building an atmosphere, throwing samples and subtle electronics into the mix, reminding me a lot of their previous album Soyuz in places. The spaced out mid section gives Porcupine Tree a run for their money, the simple yet soulful guitar solo that follows just makes your heart soar, and throughout the track the band always know when to bring things back down and how to perfectly build the tension back up. What this record sadly lacks in storytelling it more than makes up for by letting you hear master craftsmen at work, building a vast, vivid and thoroughly engrossing world of sound.