CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Dualistic – Dualistic

Dualistic – Dualistic
(Losen Records. LOS 214-2. Review by Rob Mallows)

Imagine if you will a musical Venn diagram. In one circle, people who like jazz; in the other, people who like heavy metal. The area where those two overlap is, I wager, rather small. But in it you would find me, and Norwegian piano/keyboard player Bernt Moen.

Dualistic is exactly the sort of album you would expect to bridge that gap between these two – on the face of it – opposite ends of the musical spectrum. It’s hard and brutal – maybe not to Slayer levels, but certainly Megadeth or Rammstein-gauge heaviness. The sound is uncompromising, unfiltered… and terrific fun, all “heavy riffs and the expanded harmony of improvised music” as the composer writes in the liner notes. But it is also, at times, soft and melodic.

Moen started his musical life in a rock band at aged 13 before moving to LA and then Boston to the Berklee College of Music to study jazz. But his love of metal never left him and clearly he had no desire to choose between his two musical loves. So why not capitalise on this duality?

Helping him fuse this weird alchemy are Fredrik Sahlander on electric bass and Tobias Øymo Solbakk on drums. Together, they have the feel of metal band, rather than a jazz trio (even the band photo is suitably hardcore, none more black than Norwegian metal!). Interestingly, both Moen and Solbakk are associate professors – who said metal’s for long-haired welders? These guys know what they’re doing in creating this hybrid, and they do so wilfully and with a lot of panache.

So what does it sound like? It’s about 65% metal, 35% jazz. Opener Introduction is all 32nd and 64th notes –- think Ethan Iverson channelling Yngwie Malmsteen – and brutally simple in execution. It’s a chaser of lighter fluid and absinthe which leads into Downdraft, which has an industrial metal vibe (a Rammstein-E.S.T. cocktail) in the straight-groove bass line and steelworks-heavy crash cymbals. But over this Moen weaves a fluid waterfall of triplets, descending and climbing, which smoothes out the heaviness and hits the sweet spot on the right size of challenging.

Third track Atomized switches things around, so it’s about 70% jazz and 30% metal heaviness. Simple power chords, propulsive bass but, in the gaps, some interestingly obtuse inversions and flights of fancy from Moen which are at the more experimental, free-form end of keyboard jazz. The combination is tremendously exciting.

The longest track is the fourth, Wøørk, which has the feel of being this album’s ‘long track’ (every metal band has one), at over eight minutes. It begins conventionally, but cranks up the energy about 90 seconds in – with some strong synth work and tremendously rewarding, but utterly simple, bass work from Sahlander. It contains moments both largo and prestissimo, and the quality of the soloing stands with anything I’ve heard on the piano over the last couple of years. The very definition of a roller-coaster track.

Traveler also conforms to metal convention – it’s the slow, ballad-y track – but it’s one with simplistic charm and a sharp edge. The best track is the sixth, En Rimelig Hard Idé. It is a stark, dystopian post-modern jazz nightmare, which one imagines should be accompanied by a grainy super-8 video of crows, broken glass and church burnings. At points you just want to run away, but the sheer unadulterated power – you have to play this one at high volume – is animalistic in its intensity.

This album is not going to appeal to most jazz fans. It lies at the furthest edges of what’s achievable with a hyphen. But jazz-metal, at least here, is tremendous fun, and worth a try.

And the hardest working person on this album? Piano tuner/tech, Åse Tveit.

Categories: CD reviews

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