Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Rational Diet - On Phenomena and Existences (2010, Altr0ck)

I recently posted my review of Rational Diet's 2008 album, At Work.

After the jump you can read my review of their latest album, released through the wonderful Italian label, Altr0ck.

Expect reviews of the other three recent releases on Altr0ck coming soon:
Aranis - RoqueForte
Yugen - Iridule
Picchio Dal Pozzo - A Live

A rational and well-balanced diet

Not many bands manage to astonish me with how they progress and evolve from album to album; little
opportunity do I get to hear bands that while keeping their core sound and style, are able to bring
something new into their palate, produce an updated aural image of themselves.

Rational Diet is one such group.

I've read that this band's music poses a challenge to some listeners, a barrier of disharmonic noise
and orchestral chaos. I for one hear magical harmony, mysterious and eerie ambiance and highly
calculated and intricate composition, arrangements and stellar musicianship. The production is also
of high quality and brings forth all the small details and intricacies that can easily get lost in
such a rich and layered album.

Rational Diet's music has a diverse range of sounds. From ominous and disharmonic sounding sections
to more rock-oriented segments, from slow and relatively calm to a chaotic-like frenzy-driven
rhythmic bit. Their music is such that it's eerie, sharp and in-your-face one minute and then it
gradually morphs into a softer-edged sound with a more harmonic nature. This album presents a
variety of these sounds, much like a diverse and well-balanced diet. Each of the 14 compositions on
the album presents varied and distinct pace, mood and approach, all unified by the band's sound and
playing. This array of templates is at times applied in one song (Sleep Is A Teasing Man, and
Passcaglia In Beautiful And Furious Worlds are two examples). 

Moreover, the instruments themselves are wisely used to achieve this effect, as the violin is
usually the lead "offensive" and abrasive sounding instrument while the piano and organ serve the
opposite end and the rest serve both "camps" as needed. This group does a wonderful job of composing
modern classical music and presenting it in a rock-like setup.

Some of the pieces on the album, poems of sorts, show an interesting development for the band; A Man
Went To Sleep, Sleep Is Teasing A Man and In Five Steps are such songs. These have a more intimate
and exposed feeling to them in the sung parts, though they also contain the instrumental frenzy that
characterizes the group.
The other tracks are prime example of this group's playing prowess and arrangements skills. Take for
instance Bet On A Marked Card. Rational Diet takes a theme, layer it with all their instrumental
lineup, add a second thematic section to which the melody shifts, play it fast and furious and the
result is a bombastic musical punch to the face. What I find most admirable here is the writing for
each instrument and adding it all up to fit together and achieving harmony between them and one
effective sounding musical short piece. Another feat I appreciate is that they write mostly short
and succinct pieces and don't linger on unnecessarily. I would however, like to hear how they would
tackle a longer composition, how would they construct and arrange it (they had longer pieces in
earlier albums but I'd like to hear what they would write now).

A feature I find wonderful in their music and in this album in particular is the interplay between
the instruments. Take for instance, track 10, Private Secrets of Machine; hear how the violin and
piano interact, pose each other a phrase and the other answers or counteracts it. All the while, the
drums provide a propulsive beat, maintaining suspense and tension, aided by the bassoon and guitar.
Some would probably say that at some point, the violin and piano lines become just random babblings,
aimless meanderings; however, I hear carefully composed opposing streaks of melodies. These may
sound disjointed at first, but upon repeated listening will reveal their "intention" and projected
melodic paths unveiling their magic.

I must say a good word about the production, which provides a clear and crisp sound in which I'm
able to hear all the instruments, even those whose volume is such that they tend to be at the back
of the mix and both low and high ends are heard well in this recording.

On Phenomena And Existences is a dense, odd and intense listening experience. This is an album that
requires full attention to grasp all of its richness as well as small intricacies. I find it to be a
wonderful step forward in the band's output, a great follow-up to their previous release, At Work.

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