IV-VI by Arabs in Aspic

Release date: December 1, 2023
Label: Karisma Records

When I think of the progressive rock bands that have come from Norway, it is impossible to choose who are the best. Whether its Gazpacho, White Willow, Annot Rhul, Panzerpappa, Motorpsycho, or Elephant9, they can hit you with a nuclear missile at any second. But when it comes to a band like Arabs in Aspic, you can’t simply turn away from them. They have been around for nearly 27 years and have a strong sound that is impossible to ignore.

That and their continuation with the vinyl box set covering their next three albums originally released from 2013 to 2017, are like a breath of fresh air coming from the world of the Karisma label. Mind you, I’m very new to Arabs’ music. And this here is a special treat that is hypnotic, surreal, haunting, halogenic, and a shining diamond that is waiting to be unveiled to the public.

Pictures of a Dream
starts the set off with a bang. With ten tracks, clocking in at 44 minutes, it takes us towards a globetrotting atmosphere of the cosmos that the Aspics are taking listeners to. From the spooky synthesisers setting up these alarms that come out of the Woolworth with ‘You Are Blind’ it segues into an acoustic and mysterious folk-pop orientation before transforming with heavy riffs, and clashing drum textures that punches your stomach with a hardcore punch.

‘Let Us Pray’ at first sounds like a slowed-down version of Frank Zappa’s ‘I’m The Slime’ from the Over-Nite Sensation album before going deeper into the rabbit hole of unveiling some strange force, waiting around the corner not knowing what the next chapter will happen either today or tomorrow. The Hammond Organ driven dance of the waltz for the ‘Lifeguard at Shark Bay’ adds enough tension to keep us guessing.

Meanwhile, the dooming bass and sludge-like guitars go into some Alice Cooper territory that speaks of the Killer album while heading into a big bar fight that is happening on ‘Hard to Find’ and closing it up with the climatic voyage into the infinite worlds that speaks of Astra’s The Weirding with ‘Vi m​ø​tes sikkert igjen’.

If you think it’s over, guess again. We’re just getting started with chapter five as we delve deep into the more complex and maddening world with Victim of your Father’s Agony. “Good evening, everyone! Welcome to the Arabs in Aspic Italian class. Tonight’s lesson will be favourite nursery rhymes”. At first you think it’s their nod to Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come’s ‘The Teacher’, but it gets even more exciting where they tip their hat to the rock progressivo Italiano genre during its golden years.

You can hear elements of Metamorfosi, Le Orme, and the first Premiata Forneria Marconi album flown into view. They had done their homework very well on the third track. Then we go into the deeper voyages of thumping rhythm sections with more heavier riffs between organ and guitar on ‘God Requires Insanity’.

It takes a darker turn as we go into the abyss, almost entering Amon Duul II’s territory during the Tanz Der Lemminge section, but opening up more doors to King Crimson’s ‘The Sailor’s Tale’ that comes to mind. Once the chorus kicks in, you know there’s no turning back as the doors close on you in Arabs answer to Arkham Asylum.

You become trapped, and you’re locked in. There’s no way out of the loony bin as the mellotron choir rises from the grave. “You, you’re obsessed with Satan and God/But what’s wrong or right?/And you don’t believe too much/So why do you paint yourself black?” I mean, that’s a lyric asking the question on being obsessed with religion, knowing the dire consequences it can hit you, nonstop.

And its back to the tidal wave attack between a string section from the Mellotron and a Bass loop with ‘Flight of the Halibut’ while the closing title-track sees listeners entering the castle and taking this psychedelic trip with a nod to Heavy Jelly, which was Skip Bifferty in disguise, and the 8-minute single ‘I Keep Singing That Same Old Song’.

The third and final approach, The Magic of Sin (Syndenes Magi) is where all things must come to an end. This is where they had found their niche by adding in that Crimson motif which is evidential on the opening title-track. The genesis behind the album was the band originally had all of the new material ready to record in the studio. But once they saw King Crimson in Oslo, they knew the material wasn’t strong enough. And they had to come up with something great.

The kicker to this story was that the Magic of Sin was originally to be sung in English, but it didn’t work. So, they went with the Norwegian version instead as it was released on the Apollon label in the fall of 2017. When it came to remixing the album, they weren’t so sure about it at first. But working on this remix for the band to do by singing it in English, took twice more time and it sounds brilliant.

And for Jacob Holm-Lupo to be involved with the mastering at Dude Ranch Studio, followed by Julia Proszowska’s artwork, you know that’s a combination to be on the lookout for.

The first two minutes shows how much of the source material was brought on as they channel not just Red, but In the Wake of Poseidon as mellotrons, clock-ticking guitars, and the sounds of drums and percussion between Nyhus and Elide fall into place. Once they kick into overdrive by adding that killer riff which has a brutal awakening, and some scat solo vocalisation in which the band pays tribute to Purson’s Rosalie Cunningham.

You can hear Smeby’s fret work crying off into the night as it pleads for help before it calms down into a laid-down groove and then back into the roaring tidal wave occurring once more. The two-parter closer ‘Down in Darkness’ starts off with Stig’s keyboard work starting to rise from their grave before Jostein walks into an acoustic forest with Carousel-like waltz’s that come out of blue.

I can hear the sounds of Acqua Fragile’s first sole self-titled debut album that comes out of the oven with a delicious aroma, followed by the 20-minute closer as they make the journey home. There’s a nice channel by honouring Bigelf’s Damon Fox mentioning about the ‘Bats in the Belfry’ before going into Soundgarden’s Superunknown-era, paying tribute to the late, great Chris Cornell, singing in the style of ‘Black Hole Sun’.

They finally go into overdrive with heavier riffs, organ improvisations, exercising drum beats, followed by those crazy synthesised effects and African percussion beats, it becomes a motorcycling groove as it reaches its end peak. Arabs in Aspic may be a big challenge for anyone who wants to go through the looking glass, but it becomes a powder-keg that’s about to explode at any second once you put these albums on from start to finish.

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