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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Abstract Rituals Altered Waves (2023)

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Very good EM with a few short tracks that would have deserved a few more minutes

1 Altered Waves 3:21

2 Paradigm 3:52

3 Ginema 5:54

4 Crystalline 1:39

5 Eclipse 6:14

6 WT 4:27

7 Prescence 4:47

8 After Earth 5:23

9 Wintermute 2:02

10 Dr. Time 4:47

(DDL/K7 43:06) (V.F.)

(Berlin School)

People talk a lot about Abstract Rituals' ALTERED WAVES in the circles of the progressive electronic music (EM) world. In other words, the Berlin School genre, retro as well as neo. In fact, it was one of Cyclical Magazine's 12 selections for October 2023 issue. Abstract Rituals is the project of Japanese musician-synthesist Mike Donzella. Inspired by the Berlin School movement of the 70's, his music is like a reel of short films dipping into that zone where the paranormal flirts with the frontiers of science fiction. If some people think of Tangerine Dream, the most convincing parallel I can draw is with Arcane's music, with this series of short tracks conceived around cinematic arrangements rich in its varying emotions. This very short album, barely 43 minutes, was designed primarily for the cassette medium. A few were still available at the time of writing this review. It is also available in download format on Abstract Rituals' Bandcamp site.

The title track wastes no time to put us in the moods of ALTERED WAVES. Its atmospheric opening features twisting guttural waves and distant, sibylline chants circling it, while a band of shimmering arpeggios begins to ripple in waves. This fusion of waves and lines in perpetual motion is the hallmark of this album. Here, chthonian voices and distortion effects invite themselves into this slow ballet of musical waves and fluorescence for a distance of 90 seconds, before the sequencer invites a light sequence of ambient rhythm to oscillate. Even with the distant thumping of a pulsing bass-line, the rhythm remains ambient, preferring to weld the tonality of the sequences to the opening band of shimmering arpeggios. Paradigm follows with a rather catchy electronic rock led by a good pulsing sequenced bass-line that runs so fast you forget its few zigzagging inflections. A swarm of arpeggios and sequences follow the rhythm, adding a more nervous dimension to this fiery rhythm that Mike Donzella sprinkles with copious synth solos. After the short chant of a flickering synth wave, Ginema reaches our ears with a seductive sequencer structure that is both rhythmic and melodic. The pattern is above all minimalist, undulating its movement in an ode to the Berlin School, where shimmering arpeggios are grafted in symbiosis onto the rhythm. The synth disguises a new chant, and the sequencer activates a new line whose bass-sequences undulate with greater velocity and firmness. On this repetitive upward movement typical of the vintage years and anchored in its minimalist formula, Ginema makes shine arpeggios that festoon like a new Halloween anthem. The synth throws nasal tunes and melodious solos whose spectral side goes hand in hand with the cinematic ululations of the ambiences. It's a solid track that breathes more of Paul Lawler's adventures in Arcane than Tangerine Dream, though both styles are very similar.

WT is conceived on the same principle, but with a stealthier, wolf-step-like rhythmic movement, set off by a swarm of vividly flickering arpeggios. The synth solos have a more vintage tone in this track. Crystalline is a short track with a gloomy melody undulating like a vision of a ghost wandering through a long, old-fashioned corridor. It's very much in keeping with the essence of the album title. Eclipse is my favorite track on this short collection of EM that is ALTERED WAVES. Its opening is like a modern-day Phantom of the Opera, with huge apocalyptic synth layers. The sequencer activates its 2-step rhythm sequence, which hops and gallops between the fluty harmonies of a mellotron as divine in the Tangerine Dream universe as in that of Brendan Pollard. Mellotron is also synonymous with layers of gothic vocals and orchestral haze, covering the essence of a track that could have come from the sessions of Stratosfear or Encore. Hypnotic, mythical and amazing! The pace gallops more briskly on Prescence, a track with a remarkably effective horror-cinema ambience. Aside from the charms of the fluty solos, the synths have the essence of apocalyptic trumpets that suit this mad rhythmic race to escape the maze of horror. Somewhere between an ambient rhythm and a ballad carried along by a Berlin School flow, After Earth lays the foundations for a pleasant lunar melody right from its opening. Arpeggios sparkle with an upward cascade of singing stars, their dust tracing philharmonic craters. If the first part of the track exudes the sonic poetry that emanates from Mike Donzella's ideas, the second half of After School takes the melody and reshapes it into a rhythmic nursery rhyme, with a Middle Eastern tune glued to its skylight. The movement is more catchy, and the sequencer draws inspiration from Steve Roach's early waves of analog rhythms in his Traveler album, with a beautiful waterfall effect. Wintermute arrives with a beautiful, hyper-melodious ballad that flows like a slow, dreamlike waltz across the vast plains of space. Dr. Time concludes this first work from Abstract Rituals with a cascading rhythmic movement. A rising structure, always conceived on the shimmering aspect of the sequences and its contrast born from these jets of bass pulsations, where the abysses meet this barrier of astral corals which delimit these 2 territories resulting from an imagination soaked with this music which has no dimension but that which we impose on ourselves.

ALTERED WAVES is indeed a fine album of EM, a fine first calling card for Abstract Rituals that hints at some rather interesting potential. I can't wait to hear the rest. And especially to hear tracks that are a little more elaborate, as there are some tracks on this album that deserved a few more minutes...

Sylvain Lupari (October 16th, 2023) *****

Available on Abstract Rituals Bandcamp

(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)

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