posted on 5/2008 By:
Though I’m a big fan of Neurot Recordings, I don’t often turn to them when I’m looking for bone-crushing heavy metal. Comparatively recent Neurot signees Guapo are no exception; though Elixirs is often as menacing as any black metal album, there’s not a scrap of traditional distorted-guitar heaviness to be found. In fact, this is only a ‘rock music’ album in the most remote sense of the word, so those of you looking for the next Iron Maiden disciples of the week might as well clear out. The rest of you are in for a treat—true to Neurot/former label Ipecac form, Guapo have produced a dense and challenging foray into dark ambience.
Now, this isn’t ambient music in the piano-chord-and-amplifier-hum-for-90-minutes sense. Instead, Guapo function in much the same way that like-minded acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Grails do; their songcraft is always innately interesting but remains unobtrusive thanks to deliberate pacing and gradual dynamics. Deliberate and gradual don’t translate to predictable here, though. Guapo are as far the fuck out in left field as you please, and Elixirs is littered with whacked-out instruments weaving an endless skein of chimerical modal harmonies. These songs modulate and explore melodies in an almost neoclassical way, but also move along build-and-crescendo arcs—all the while delving into a wealth of ethnic motifs a la Secret Chiefs 3. Just a little pretentious as a musical approach? Sure, but Guapo execute well enough to make up for it.
As the opening cymbal wash from “Jeweled Turtle” fades into an incantatory string-and-percussion dirge, Elixirs announces in no uncertain terms that the music to come will ooze darkness. Though this band’s roots are mired in jazzy, nerdy esoterica, Elixirs is a surprisingly threatening album. The broad range of instrumentation (guitar, bass and drums, but also xylophones, cellos, tons of keyboards, and more) and ritualistic rhythm section allow Guapo to evoke a kaleidoscope of horror-movie textures, mercifully without resorting to “boo!” volume spikes. Even the album’s brighter moments—like “Twisted Stems: The Heliotrope,” with its murmured singing and sleepy bassline—are turned slightly sour by subdued but persistent feedback and ominous bells. Guapo sounds more like ten or twelve musicians trying to weird you the fuck out when there are actually only four. Much of this can be attributed to the skills of multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan; the rest of the credit goes to the painstaking hi-fi production, which goes a long way towards selling the band’s orchestral feel.
So no, Elixirs isn’t metal in any way. That said, it’s still an extremely compelling chunk of freewheeling music (and bonus: Jarboe of Swans fame sings on “Twisted Stems: The Selenotrope”). It’s refreshing and unpredictable, even if it does owe a pretty major debt to the aforementioned bands as well as art-rock types like Popol Vuh and the super-dorky Magma. This is apparently Guapo’s sixth album—they started out as some kind of hardcore-type band; Neurosis has company—and it’s easily good enough to compel a cynical fuck like me into checking out their catalog. Give this a listen if Blut Aus Nord just doesn’t hack it for inducing cold sweats anymore.
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