Opusculus – Consonant

Opusculus are a trio based in Montréal (Canada), where they were first formed in 2004 by drummer Michel Landry. The current line-up, featuring guitarist Jocelyn Maheux and bassist Thierry Alexandre Zambo, has been together since 2007. Part of the material on Consonant, the band’s debut album,  released in the second half of 2010, dates back from their early years. All of the three members have extensive musical training and experience; the band are also quite active on the live front in their home town, both as performers and organizers of musical events, though they are still relatively unknown outside Québec. Fiercely proud of their independent status, Opusculus fly the flag for all those bands who would rather take risks rather than bow down to market pressures.

The mention of a  power trio hailing from Canada is inevitably bound to bring Rush to mind, and the legendary Toronto outfit is indeed listed among the main influences on Opusculus’ music. However, while Rush’s output has always been based on songs, even in the days when they still wrote 20-minute epics, Opusculus have adopted a sharply different approach for their debut album – which is basically a single, completely instrumental composition divided into 20 movements (or, as the band put it, “a 20-chapter epic song”), each named after a consonant of the English alphabet. Though employing nothing more than the basic rock setup of guitar, bass and drums, the trio produce an impressive volume of highly complex music, aided by superb sound quality that lends a detailed, multi-dimensional feel to each instrument’s contribution.

The CD’s press release points out that Consonant was inspired by a wide range of musical genres, and as such likely to appeal to fans of such iconic bands as King Crimson, Rush, Porcupine Tree, Liquid Tension Experiment and Tool. While all of those acts base their sound on a finely balanced mix of creativity and outstanding technical skill, most of them also employ vocals and more conventional song structures, as well as keyboards, seen by many as an almost mandatory ingredient of progressive rock. Indeed, although the lack of the depth and fullness that keyboards can provide to instrumental music can occasionally be felt on Consonant, the classic “power trio” format encourages the three musicians to push their own boundaries, weaving a tight web of sound with the rather minimalistic instrumentation at their disposal.

Clocking in at almost 62 minutes, Consonant is bookended by its two longest segments, which seem to summarize the  whole of the band’s musical conception in a more articulate fashion. The remaining 18 tracks, all between 1 and 3 minutes, run into each other without any clearly defined pauses, though often distinguished by sharp changes in mood and pace. Like a statement of intent, opener “B” introduces the listener to the three instruments’ seamless interaction – alternating aggressively riff-driven sections with more sedate ones, which spotlight Thierry Alexandre Zambo’s role in providing a steady, rumbling stream of bottom end to complement Michel Landry’s acrobatic drumming. The track reminded me of Rush in terms of style rather than actual sound, with the rhythm section playing as much of a starring role as the guitar, though Jocelyn Maheux’s amazing performance runs the gamut from harsh, metal-infused riffing to laid-back, melodic soloing. The band’s wide- ranging network of influences is clearly displayed throughout the album, from the strong King Crimson vibe of “C” and “S” to the mellower, jazzy feel of “K” and the Latin suggestions in “G”. The almost 8-minute “Z” wraps up the album by juxtaposing two very different styles such as the relaxed, faintly hypnotic warmth of reggae and the obsessive angularity of math-rock. The latter influence pervades most of the album, with some of the frantic, high-energy drum parts reminiscent of heavily percussion-focused bands like Battles or Don Caballero.

Complemented by stylish though slightly disturbing cover artwork, Consonant is a very ambitious project, especially for a debut album, and a bit of an acquired taste on account of its idiosyncratic format.  Definitely an attractive proposition for fans of instrumental progressive rock with a high degree of complexity and eclecticism, the bare-bones instrumentation, frequently repetitive patterns and occasional bouts of dissonance may put off those who prize carefully structured compositions with plenty of melody to offset the technical brilliance. However, while the album might have benefited from some editing here and there,Consonant is an intriguing first effort by a trio of very talented and dedicated artists, and would deserve to get more exposure in prog circles, especially when all-instrumental bands are discussed.

Tracklist:

1. B (5.34)
2. C  (3:02
3. D  (1:39)
4. F  (1:36)
5. G (2:03
6. H  (3:48)
7. J  (3:39)
8. K  (2:56)
9. L  (3:41)
10. M (3:00)
11. N  (3 :11)
12. P  (3 :23)
13. Q  (3 :34)
14. R  (2:00)
15. S  (2:41)
16. T  (1:24)
17. V  (1:48)
18. W (2:34)
19. X  (2:38)
20. Z  (7:50)

Line-up:

* Jocelyn Maheux – guitar
* Michel Landry – drums
* Thierry Alexandre Zambo – bass

Links:

http://opusculusprog.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/opusculus

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