Eyebrows hit the roof when Gazpacho themselves ask us to be patient when listening to their new record. In all fairness, they’re right in doing so.
Soyuz, the Norwegian art rock outfit’s tenth studio album, has slipped from the vice of an overarching narrative that has held their post-Night albums together so tightly. 2009’s Tick Tock heralded the adversities of Antoine de Saint-Exupery; 2014’s Demon spoke in whispers of satanic possession and 2015’s Molok threatened the very universe itself. Here, Soyuz is simply tied together by the idea of life’s fleetingness. You would assume Soyuz to be a rather modest addition then, given Gazpacho’s impressive history.
However, Soyuz doesn’t struggle in finding something to present to us – in fact, there’s too much the album tries to offer, and it takes a lot of patience to let it all sink in.
When the singles ‘Soyuz One’ and ‘Exit Suite’ were unveiled – I couldn’t believe it. I’ve dreamed of a Gazpacho record spun from electronic threads as long as I can remember; it’s lurked in the haze of Missa Atropos, but never before has Gazpacho dabbled in electronica to this extent. Their signature pensive, atmospheric and often bohemian rock is still as brilliant as ever; but it’s the synergy with the booming electronic percussion of ‘Fleeting Things’, ‘Soyuz One’ and its immensely satisfying reprisal in ‘Soyuz Out’ that are utterly fantastic – the latter even teases us with argeppiating synths that make me giddy.
However, therein lies the problem: ‘Soyuz Out’, and by extension Soyuz as a whole, teases us with interesting motifs and electronic sections, but never fully commits to them. The latter are used sparingly in ‘Hypomania’ and ‘Rappaccini’, and not at all in ‘Sky Burial’. Even the more progressive tracks, ‘Emperor Bespoke’ and the aforementioned ‘Soyuz Out’, are harder to fall in love with than ‘Hypomania’ or ‘Fleeting Things’ as, quite ironically, their motifs are fleeting. The lack of electronic moments in some tracks isn’t a deal breaker in and of itself, but their inconsistent use throughout the album highlights the erratic flow and aesthetic clashes of Soyuz.
Speaking of ‘Hypomania’: its existence is utterly bizarre. It’s an excellent track, one of the best on Soyuz, even, but ‘Hypomania’ would fit perfectly nestled between ‘California’ and ‘The Secret’ from Bravo – Gazpacho’s debut released a whole 15 years ago. The driving alt-rock riff; the catchy chorus offset by eerie verses; and the simple-yet-effective drums work brilliantly in isolation, but having ‘Hypomania’ sandwiched between the ominous ‘Soyuz One’ and ‘Exit Suite’ feels very jarring. Yet again, it’s another showcase of Soyuz’s lack of focus and flow.
The album’s consistent themes of transient life and isolationism do make up for the album’s musical mismatching. The death of lone astronaut Vladimir Komarov explored in ‘Soyuz One’ and ‘Soyuz Out’; Tibetan funeral rituals in ‘Sky Burial’ and the bittersweet fading memories in ‘Fleeting Things’ make for a Gazpacho record as dark as Demon. Though the fairy-tale of ‘Emperor Bespoke’ and the alt-rock aesthetic of ‘Hypomania’ subtracts from the album’s bleakness; the sombre lyrics twinned with the gentle strings and Jan-Henrik Ohme’s tender voice in ‘Rappaccini’, and their intensity in ‘Sky Burial’ are some of the album’s highlights. The attention to detail in the overall ambiance in each track, especially ‘Soyuz One’ and ‘Exit Suite’, is superb and some of Gazpacho’s finest yet.
Soyuz is an album at odds with itself. It wants to depart from Gazpacho’s previous concept albums, but wants to retain its prog aesthetic; it wants to dabble in electronic music, but then it abandons it; it wants to be dark and brooding, but then it drops ‘Hypomania’. This isn’t to say that the songs themselves are poor; most are excellent and by themselves trump those found in Molok. However, Soyuz’s parts are so aesthetically polarizing that the record makes for a disorientating listen, and I think Gazpacho knew this in asking for our patience.
Ultimately, Soyuz holds the potential for an excellent Gazpacho record, but it lacks the focus and coherency that made every single album they’ve put out since Night so compelling – and patience can only alleviate that so much.