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Sonus Umbra - Spiritual Vertigo

Artist: Sonus Umbra
Title: Spiritual Vertigo
Label: The Sound Of Shadow SU 5313
Length(s): 61 minutes
Year(s) of release: 2003
Month of review: [03/2004]

Line up

Andres Aullet - lead vocals
Ricardo Gomez - lead guitars
Jeff Laramee - drums, vocals
Luis Nasser - bass, keyboards, acoustic and crunch guitars, odd vocals
With help from
Lisa Francis - vocals
John Grant - additional lead guitar

Tracks

1) Bone Machines 5.56
2) Fool's Arcadia 8.49 MP3
3) Man Of Anger And Light 4.18
4) Fascinoma 7.10
5) Self Erosion 6.03
6) Amnesia Junkies Part 1 4.19
7) Amnesia Junkies Part 2 3.42
8) Time Quake 5.31
9) Rust In My Sleep 3.31
10) Snakes & Ladders 10.58
11) Sweater Girl 1.22

Summary

This is the second Sonus Umbra after their Snapshots Of Limbo which was a nice debut in its own right, original, but lacking in the production department, and also by the absence of really striking melodies.

The music

Bone Machines opens with the bang of industrial machines, the musical continuation has both droning rhythm guitars and friendly acoustics (at the same time even). The vocal melodies are not so very striking, but they are not bad either. What is striking is that the chorus is quite folky, the harmony vocals only strengthen this aspect. Although the song certainly has its proggy moments, it is at the end that the band starts to play around with mood and colour changes, reaching quite a hard edge at the very end.

Fool's Arcadia is quite a major track opening with spaceous guitars and good melodies. The first few minutes continue in this somewhat dreamy style, for a few verses even. Then the bass sets in, and the music changes character, becoming more percussive. The vocalist does not seem very well at ease in the lower regions, sounding a bit too strained. Around the four minute mark we move into a more pacey, but still easy going acoustic guitar passage. The bass work is quite good on this one, especially the fretless part. This song is a step up from the opener mainly because of the more distinctive vocal melodies. Already during this track do we see the build up into Man Of Anger And Light. Again, the band shows a strong liking for acoustic parts among the 'ordinary' instruments. Often, they give the music an extra percussive, up-beat feel. Although on the one hand becomes quite passionate, there is something vague about the vocals, they reside in a sense somewhat in the back. As such the passion in the music is not really reflected in the music.

Fascinoma is the next longish track, opening atmospherically and with a nice rolling gait and melodies. There is something of the modern psychedelica in here, but later the music gains more power and we might think we are in progmetal territory. There is a very good drive to this track, with the piano helping out in that aspect. Good instrumental stuff.

Self Erosion continues the pace, but now with the vocals being added back on. Lisa Francis comes in for some backing vocals here. The acoustic, heavy wood folkiness is of course present, being something of a trademark for the band even.

The band goes critical (on the U.S. and Israel if you want to know) on Amnesia Junkies Part 1 and Amnesia Junkies Part 2. No mincing words there or softening of blows. The good thing is that the lyrics are nice to read as well. It's not just the message and everything else going over the side or anything. However, the singing is not so great. Again the vocalist tries to sing below his voice (in the first verse). The problem is repaired in the second verse. The song itself is pacey, although the pace goes out a bit during the lazy middle part where Francis takes care of the vocals again. A bit of anger sets in a when the male vocalist returns to the mike. The second part of the song is quite percussive (both by drums and piano) and heavy again, the melody is similar to the first part.

A drawback of the special style of singing of the vocalist is that on Time Quake, the vocal melodies sound strongly like something I have heard earlier on this record. The electric lead guitar is a bit sharper and more pronounced though. The 'thunderous' passage towards the end is nice, but on the whole the song lacks in distinction. Rust In My Sleep is quite different. Audibly American the keyboards take a leading role here, while the vocal melodies are also a bit more enticing and the organ fills the song to the brim. Short, but strong.

Snakes & Ladders on the other hand is not short. In fact, it is the longest track on this album. One expects that a lot of effort is put into making this into the centerpiece of the album, showing off the various abilities of the band. Indeed, all the elements are here: the dancing folkiness, the heavy guitars, the acoustic guitars, the somber vocals. The drive is there as well, in places, the rhythm section being one of the strongholds of the band. At just over eight minutes the music stops, giving us a little time before the bonus track, Sweater Girl. And a bonus track it is. Poor sweater girl.

The lyrics are well written, although sometimes they have a bit of a hard time fitting in with the music.

Conclusion

Again I am not able to give a thumbs up for Sonus Umbra. The album shows progression on the level of production, but on the songwriting side their songs sometimes lack in distinction. One of the reasons for this lies, it seems to me, in the somewhat flat vocals. With a vocal style as this, the melodies have to be strong indeed. And sometimes his tries to go lower than he should. Backing vocalist Francis has a stronger voice, althouggh I think a male voice fits in better with the music. The style of the band is quite original: a bit of folk, a bit of progmetal and progressive rock with its signature changes in between. The sound is also quite American, with soft references to the likes of Rush and maybe a few of the modern American progbands. But like I said: the band plays pretty much its own game.

© Jurriaan Hage