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Caspian: "Tertia"

img  Tobias

So they've finally cut the knot. Ever since recording one of the most successful Post Rock albums of the past few years, Caspian seemed to be torn apart between the chance of gaining global recognition and the difficulty of ignoring whatever hopes others were installing in them. On the one hand, they were touring the USA and Europe, making new friends and finding professional label partners. On the other, they were confronted with the vision of being able to live off their art and „make it“ as musicians – traditionally a crucial moment for stories that once began with four guys in a garage. It took three years of deliberations and detours, composing and conceptualising, obstacles and rehearsal-room-ordeals before the band decided to ditch all external expectations and simply record the follow-up to their international breakthrough „The Four Trees“ on their own terms. You can never enter the same river twice, however: Just as much as „Tertia“ offers the recognisable sound and vocabulary of the quintet, it also bears the marks of the hardships preceding it.

None of the latter is outwardly apparent in their tune-building. Defying suspicions of a writer's block, coming up with new material, in fact, never seems to have been an issue. As a result, „Tertia“ now comprises ten songs clocking in at 55 minutes and decidedly feels like an epic journey. In terms of melody, Caspian never seem to be straining themselves and again, there is plenty of meat here for those enjoying romantic motives and fluent tension archs. As on their previous two albums and in sync with many of their colleagues, the Bostonians like to develop tracks from harmonic Guitar-licks, which, through cycles of organic repetition and clever variations, gradually take on anthemic character. Many of the more subdued compositions here follow this approach without making use of all-too-predictable climaxes and dynamics. From their own notes on the production, the band were looking for a markedly more heavy sound, an intention which seeps through in the brawny Riffing of „Malacoda“ and „Raven“'s wall-of-noise approach. But overall, their focus is still firmly on writing songs without words rather than dishing up purified metal.

And yet, the record also sees them taking on new challenges. Even allowing for the fact that Caspian were never shy of branching out into different genres to begin with and always found inspiration in anything from Drones to Classical Music, the variety of styles on display is remarkable. There are echoes of Dub and Stoner Rock, pointed Indie-rhythmics and soundscapes. Ambient and complex songstructures. Electronics were already an integral part of textures on „The Four Trees“, but on „Tertia“, they have turned them into a veritable second layer of sound - introducing tracks like „Ghosts of the Garden City“ with industrial darkness, infusing „Epochs in Dmaj“ with bucolic beauty and entering into a dialogue with discreetly interwoven shadows of acoustic instruments such as the recurring tenderness of a Glockenspiel.

The most demonstrative change, however, has taken place in the arrangements. There is a pervasive smell of Progressive- and even (albeit only occasionally) Kraut-Rock running through the music, with pieces both convulsing into Babushka-like constructions with twisted rhythmical changes and interrelated themes as well as establishing moments of hazy drift, when Drummer Joe Vickers and Bassist Chris Friedrich are laying down a metronomic groove which could potentiall go on forever (such as on the first single off the album, „La Cerva“). While the shorter pieces on „Tertia“ have retained some the band's original, endearing naivete, much of the rest sounds ambitious and searching. A track like“Sycamore“ might have been nothing but an interlude on „The Four Trees“. Here, it is kept bleeding for nine full minutes, growing from a peaceful opening to a plaintive outcry and fading into a tranquil silence with deliberate, controlled delay.

You can tell how proud the band are of their inventions and how liberating the act of stringing them together in the studio must have been. „Tertia“ virtually glows from the inside with ambition, energy and creativity. On the other hand, it has not quite turned out the coherent, immersive work that their previous full-lengths were. That need not be a bad sign and to many, without a doubt, the extension of the timbral and compositional palette must come as a refreshing extension of their vocabulary. Still, one can't help but feels this is yet not the end of the ride, as though the record were still a transition on the road to something different. There are a lot of hints and openings here, which all but demand a continuation. The knot may have been cut, but there still seems to be a lot of deliberating and conceptualising ahead.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Caspian
Homepage: Make My Day Records

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