Seven That Spells is a Croatian Psychedelic Space-Rock band with elements of Math Rock and Avant-Garde jazz, at least on this album. Formed back in 2003 by guitarist/keyboardist Niko PotoÄnjak, aboard on this trip are: saxophonist Lovro ZlopaÅ¡a; drummer Stanislav MuÅ¡kinja; and Narantxa on bass. My first experience with STS was on the Beta-lactam Ring compilation 'Music For Personality Disorder' which I reviewed a little while ago. The track on the comp was 'Terminus Est' which is on this album as well. I described it thusly: 'Imagine latter day King Crimson, Gong, and John Zorn thrown in a blender and set to puree. Totally chaotic and dissonant. Fans of obscure outfits like Amalgam should love this.' Well that was an off-the-cuff description, accurate to some degree, but certainly not the whole picture of this album. In order to get a little musical background on the band, I went back through some of their tracks on previous albums and discovered that 'Future Retro Spasm' isn't a whole lot like some of the stuff they've done before. My general impression of their prior work was a less focused group, maybe in part due to the influence of Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto. In any event, 'Future Retro Spasm' is an album that you can't just take blissfully lying back and expect it to waft over you. It will hit you on the head'¦HARD.
Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel's most famous amp may go to 11, but these guys' amps start at 11 and go to ??? 'Olympos' begins with Lorvo's frenetic sax riffing crazy arpeggios over an 'Astronomy Domine' style bass & drums until the Gong strikes'¦then a simple ascending motif begins and the band riffs off that on the improv. It is clearly Lorvo who is showcased here, although MuÅ¡kinja and Narantxa have their manic moments. Just when you thought it seemed like going to die down, it comes back FULL FORCE like an unstoppable freight train. Imagine LPD on STP and a totally freaked out Niels van Hoorn and you get some idea of what's going on.
'G' begins with a single repeating note anchor of guitar and sax before MuÅ¡kinja and Narantxa strike up a tight Wetton-Bruford era King Crimsoid rhythm while the guitar holds down the single repeating note and the sax riffs off it all. It gets better when Niko abandons the annoyingly repetitious note and lays down a fast Fripp-like guitar pattern which the sax plays off of. There are some moments of magic here, and when Niko's guitar takes off into the stratosphere things really heat up. Absolutely wild in its semi-controlled chaos.
I've described 'Terminus Est' before but that description isn't entirely accurate. Sure, comparisons could be made to King Crimson and John Zorn (and his various offshoots), but there are also elements of Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the repetitive riff cycles employed on this track. It has the power and fury of a herd enraged charging elephants, as the sax squealing often gives the impression of the trumpeting cry of wild beasts. 'The Abandoned World of Automata' slows it down for a calmer psychedelic atmosphere, with repetitive heavily verbed guitar arpeggios as the bass moves in melodic lines. Eventually the sax sneaks in for a bit of laconic Eastern noodling, which goes on for a good while. And that's the problem with this track. At the halfway point of this 14 and a half minute opus, the guitar switches to an ascending 8 note scale patterns before taking off into cosmic territory. I suppose they were trying to build up into it, but it just took too long to get there. It is something else though in terms of psychedelic improvisation when they finally arrive. This track could have been shorter by a third, maybe even half.
'Death Star Narcolepsy' is sheer, uncompromising manic freneticism with a Middle Eastern bent, and it's well over five minutes they keep it up before there's a break. When it does come, it turns into a mad dervish dance ending in the inevitable chaos that follows. Last track, 'Quetzalcoatl' is the shortest on the album but in a certain sense the most varied, and a definite melding of Zorn and Crimson on amphetamines. Yikes!
I'm kind of ambivalent about 'Future Retro Spasm'; what Seven That Spells lacks in finesse they try and make up for in exuberance. It's that lack of finesse that bothers me though, as it seems that control (and structured songwriting) isn't this band's strong suit and the music often comes across as heavy handed, with little in the way of subtlety. As far as the improvisation goes, there are many passages of absolute brilliance, and incredible musicianship, and if that's ultimately what you're looking for, you just may find it on 'Future Retro Spasm'.