This is a stunner. Monolithic opening salvo “Black Hole”‘s relentlessly exhilarating rhythms course along steely traceries laid down by Stale Storløkken’s electric keys. Elsewhere those traceries shimmer with exceptional delicacy, entwining with exquisite sensitivity around the keen, incisive electric guitar of Reine Fisk: witness the hymnal intro to “Atlantis”.
Fisk is a veteran musician, best known outside Norway for his work with Dungen and Terje Rypdal. He joins elephant9 on four of Atlantis‘s seven tracks. Having first joined elephant9 onstage at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, the completeness of his integration with the trio, especially on the epic title track, is astounding.
The guitarist plays both soaring solos and textural embellishments that combine dynamically with Storløkken’s electric piano, coursing over multiple false plateaus to a final pinnacle of rarefied sound (and, less pleasingly, a sudden, confounding fade-out).
Fiske’s use of nylon-string guitar and bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertson’s switch to 12-string acoustic on the shimmering “A Foot in the Bath” evokes Jimmy Page’s resonant acoustic on the folkier moments of Led Zeppelin III or Physical Graffiti, but the following “Psychedelic Backfire” is the album’s heaviest offering: a glowering intro preceding a remorseless bass-grind, doom-drum accumulation of sonic mass alleviated only by a lowering, slow-grind middle section.
Elsewhere, Eiltertsen’s churning bass melds with Torstein Lofthus’s polyrhythmic pulse in irresistibly compacted, propulsive rhythms, over which Storløkken’s overdriven Fender Rhodes and whorling Hammond sound like gloriously funked-up extrapolations on John Lord’s space-truckin’ solos for Deep Purple, but the Emerson Lake and Palmer comparisons make more sense on Atlantis than they have on previous elephant9 albums: there’s a comparable monomaniacal intensity to Storløkken’s immersion in music of comparable ambition.
The closing number, sans Fiske, aurally pans in on a frenetic live jam of funky, fuzzed-up deep-bass groove, bustling percussion and bristling Hammond, the trio careening through what could be the musical chicanes of an ultimate, adrenaline-fuelled car-chase soundtrack. This will no doubt make for a thunderous live show climax. Bring it on.