Kaukasus: I
  • Composition
  • Musicianship
  • Production
  • Originality
  • Great band chemistry

If they haven’t already gotten your attention, they should. Kaukasus, a new band out of Scandanavia, unites Mattias Olsson (White Willow, ex-Anglagard), Rhys Marsh (The Autumn Ghost, Opium Cartel), and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (Jaga Jazzist, Motorpyscho) for a distinctive debut record which blends elements of prog, kraut, and even world music. This album by the star-trio, titled I, is an infectious dive into dark, catchy, and meaningful music done in a style of prog that is recognizably Nordic and makes extensive use of vintage and analog gear such as we can expect from the aforementioned musicians. That said, Kaukasus is no mere clone of these musicians other projects, be it ones they have worked on separately or together; is a thought provoking and original album that comes as a breath of fresh air as it marries classic sounds of the past to our modern 2014.

I starts off very raw as woodwinds make way for a sort of primordial psychedelic feel juxtaposed with Rhys’ slowly sustained vocal lines. When a huge crash comes in and stacks up old school string machines with synths over a pounding kick we finally get a sense of the fantastic possibilities that Kaukasus has to offer. “The Ending of the Open Sky” certainly clues us into the fact that this is a record that drips unsettling moods, but that doesn’t mean that Kaukasus is all about bleak atmospheres. The followup “Lift the Memory” certainly provides the overall dark tone of the album with a few rays of sunlight.  This single, while more or less being “the pop song,” is really all a catchy track should be. It’s emotional and contains everything from great vocal melodies and expression to a huge chorus that’s embodies a sense of upliftingness (albeit in a melancholy way). It really capitalizes on its rich wall of analogue timbres that clearly accentuates the chord changes and even lays down a great droney middle section that leans towards world music. All of these elements intersect to make “Lift the Memory” one of the most memorable songs on the album and a great piece to use when you want to introduce your friends to prog that is meaningful but still accessible.

As the record continues on we get a bit more of the krautrock influences with some of the use of electronics, drum effects, filters, and things of that nature. “In the Stillness of Time” certainly demonstrates several of these aspects while nicely molding them around Rhys’ passionate vocals and subtle Rhodes piano. But my oh my, the real treat here are the moments when this song gets absolutely huge and wide on the chorus and beyond, particularly after the second one where we are launched into the pure bliss of epic Mellotron melodies. The followup, “Starlit Motion,” basically shouts out ‘bring in the arpeggiator!’ and definitely puts it to good use as it grows increasingly powerful as a backdrop to swirling synth leads and fluttering flutes, creating a sea of organized commotion. Then there’s “Reptilian,” quite possibly the coolest song on the album, a track with great old school vibes that opens up with a nice beat from Mattias and some chillax vocals in the first verse from Rhys. What isn’t apparent from the start, however, is the level of darkness that this piece is headed for; when the first verse ends and the Mellotrons come in this song oozes with sinister and foreboding melodies. A strong Crimsonesque presence is noted although calling it a KC ripoff would be far from the truth; Kaukasus firmly maintains its own identity throughout the track. In the end, if you’re looking for a sort of global picture of the record summarized in one song, you need not look past “Reptilian” seeing as how it spans across some of the most relaxing and brutal moments on the album and finds ways to subtly incorporate world and spacey influences at various points of the song. 

Finally, the album takes us on a ride through two complimentary pieces, “The Witness” and “The Skies Give Meaning.” The former references the latter in lyrical content but is a shorter track done in a completely atmospheric and non-rock style, featuring guitar, woodwinds, piano, and subtle synth textures.  The transition to “The Skies Give Meaning” is slow, steady, and methodical. Here, Kaukasus takes time to build up the ambiance and provides plenty of time for Mattias to have fun with different percussion (probably of his own make) while carefully growing his drum part. The atmosphere gets more and more dense, synths growing, reverby flutes swirling, and guitar feedback creating a slight sense of unease until more defined chord changes eventually lead to a full on doomy drumbeat over thick, distorted guitars and powerful ad-lib vocals from Rhys. At this point the piece is really dripping with emotion that has been marvelously crafted through meticulous building of minimalist material into a huge wall of nearly tangible sound that leads into a finale of Rhys uttering some echoing metaphysical dialogue. All in all, this duo of songs is a splendid and powerful ending to a great album.

Despite the fact that we’ve seen these musicians work together before in various contexts to make fantastic music, Kaukasus is perhaps their first collaborative effort to exhibit a truly deep level of prog appeal. Furthermore, there’s something special about this group that clicks, the way they sort of take the best of Rhys’ singer songwriter style but place it in an extensive environment that Rhys, Einarsen and Olsson have, quite frankly, turned into their prog playground. I give huge compliments to all three in saying that is a spectacular album that has a strong sense of emotional weight, an record to be taken seriously and reckoned with in and of itself, and a release that while not being perfect, clearly demonstrates that if these guys produce a second album it is sure to be a masterpiece. Kaukasus is surely to be considered one of the best new bands of 2014 and is likely to rank up there with the best albums of the year.