It is not an everyday occurrence that a genuinely unique prog-oddity from the far north of Finland manages to challenge the weirdness factor of the true northern prog-oddballs from Rovaniemi, ABSOLUUTTINEN NOLLAPISTE, who started making waves somewhere in the 1990s. The most arctic regions of Finland have a distinct vibe that shines through in almost any form of art. Now, it most certainly seems that a band born in 2004 is channeling that northern spirit with a unique touch, this time with a bit more of a metal approach. The third studio outing of ONSEGÉN ENSEMBLE, titled “Fear,” was released by Svart Records on November 20th, 2020, and it is truly a mesmerizing sonic trip. It is a kaleidoscope of arctic quirkiness, sounding as though the band had sculpted the songs to resemble the eccentric characters of the American television series Northern Exposure. This Nordic bunch is on a wild horseback ride through the spaghetti western landscapes of Sergio Leone with an arctic twist, mixing different sub-genres of rock – psych, post, or prog – with reckless abandon.
When I tried to gather up some information about the band from their Facebook profile, I was greeted with a somewhat cosmic hodwy, “just imagine yourself for a moment connected to the earth, connected to all life on the planet and the universal energy.” It sounds a bit new-agey and druggy. So, not having really listened through the album yet, I was struck with quite an unsettling premonition. Is this just another wild bunch whose favorite pastime is to indulge in lengthy and artsy magic-mushroom-induced jams? Thank God, no!
The opening track, “Non-Returner,” is a slithering quagmire of riffs that snakes forward in a somewhat textbookish, proggy time signature. I cannot really tell whether the riffs would hit more close to home on a vintage KING CRIMSON album from the 1970s or a more recent TOOL release. The percussion track has a strong Danny Carey vibe to it, but there is something vintage about the band’s prog aesthetics too. At around 1:40, the Morricone-vibed trumpet delivers a surprise blow that I certainly didn’t see coming. The spaghetti western feel only intensifies when the vocals are introduced. Now, this something I don’t get to hear every day: Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo revisited with fractal-like prog-metal riffs. In terms of metal, the mood is closer to the debut album, “Diary of a Dead Man Walking,” by the Finnish post-metal group, BETRAYAL AT BESPIN, minus the post-hardcore vocals.
ONSEGÉN ENSEMBLE was born in 2004, although their debut full-length “Awalai” was not released until 2016. Their sophomore album “Duel” was released 2 years later. Taking the time to get things right has proven to be worthwhile. The big wheel is starting to turn in the band’s favor. On this new release, there is a noticeable shift in mood. It was conceived under the tutelage of the awarded UK-based producer, Jaime Gomez Arellano, which might have something to do with the fact that “Fear” is by far the band’s most mature and expansive album to date. It is an album that gives a whole new meaning to the word, “cinematic.” Twangy post-rock guitars are not the most novel trick in the composer’s handbook for creating strong visual impressions by musical means only. Yes, it has been used ad nauseam in contemporary soundtrack works, but these northern weirdos have a way of making it sound refreshingly good. “Sparrow’s Song” is a paradigm example of such an approach. Yet, the album is something much more.
The mellotron magic in songs such as “Earthless” has all the trademarks of those prog-folk odysseys from the 1970s. You can easily hear echoes from a cavalcade of British prog-pioneers. Then, there is a hint of kraut-rockish summoning of the ancients too. The title track, in particular, resonates with the air of this particular trance-inducing type of music. The Finnish post-rock outfit, MAGYAR POSSE, would be a perfect companion to share the bill on a Saturday night if only these post-rockers were still around.
Closing the album, “Satyagrahi” sounds like an appropriate piece of exit music for a film. The song has all the characteristics of something closing to an end. Whether it feels like a relief or like heartbreak is really up to the listener. The album unfolds like a 3-hour movie with a deep story and certainly is not for everyone. ONSEGÉN ENSEMBLE is best suited for those who have a liking for the kind of slow-paced story-telling that feels like a never-ending labyrinth of unexpected twists and turns. When the music stops, emerging from these sonic reveries feels like stepping out of a movie theater with the remnants of illusion still dangling from the corners of my eyes. Although, I still kind of wish that the band’s Facebook profile was a little bit more informative and less about tapping into the cosmic consciousness.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
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