Over the last few years, I have come across a couple of Vespero albums. This Russian avant-garde group has made a huge impression on me with the likes of 2020’s ‘The Four Zoas’ which I described as deep, meaningful and superb, so when Ark asked if I would be interested in hearing more of their material, I was of course intrigued, especially as the first two albums I listened to were a collaboration. Ángel Ontalva is guitarist with October Equus but has also released a series of solo albums, often with other musicians, and 2018’s ‘Carta Marina’ was the first of these with Vespero. The Carta Marina was the first map of the Nordic countries to give details and place names, initially published in 1539, and that is the inspiration for an enthralling release. 

While Spaniard Ángel Ontalva has more of a fusion style, Russian group Vespero are far more avant-garde in their approach, but somehow, they manage to keep it all together and create something that is vibrant, exciting, and always pushing forward. The Vespero line-up were Alexander Kuzovlev (guitar, mandolin, mixing), Alexey Klabukov (keyboards, synth), Vitaly Borodin (violin, dictophone loops), Arkady Fedotov (bass, synth, noises) and Ivan Fedotov (drums, percussion), so we not only had two guitarists with distinct styles but there were other lead melody instruments involved, and the trick was to keep it going as a harmonious whole. The result is an album which toys with the weird and discordant yet tends to keep it controlled and not as free wheeling as one may expect. This is massively complex music, with incredibly fluid lines from Ontalva, and although I believe this was recorded separately, one can imagine everyone in the studio just bouncing ideas off each other. One of the things which really stands out for me with this collaboration is that it does not sound like one: this feels very much like a single band pushing out and creating new direction and styles.

One never knows where this music is going to lead, or who is in charge, as ideas bounce between players, seemingly directed in one area and then it turns and moves in on itself as the living form takes control. This is an incredibly impressive piece of work, exciting, innovative, and essential.
9/10 Kev Rowland