Láquesis - Láquesis Album Cover as reviewed on The Phantom TollboothLáquesis is a strong debut release, full of powerful ballads, soft instrumentals, and enough musical technicality to satisfy fans of both classic and contemporary eras of progressive rock.

Artist: Láquesis
Progstreaming (temporary)
Label: Viajero Inmovil Records
Time: 9 tracks / 56:00 minutes

Hailing from Argentina, Láquesis is a prog band who have been playing together for nearly eight years, though this eponymous album, released late in 2013, is their first studio release. Láquesis reveals both the band's collective level of musicianship and the superb compositional chemistry that exists between its members. Diego Actis (keys), Guillermo Caminer (guitars), Ariel Loza (bass/vocals), Martin Puntonet (vocals), and Martín Teglia (drums/percussion) together represent a strong collaborative effort, bringing together elements of jazz, Latin fusion, and progressive rock into their writing. Stylistically, they remind me at times of Riverside – both in the multilayered vocals (harmonic "aahhhs" creating vocal beds behind the main vocal melodies, partial echoes, etc) as well as in Caminer's playing style. At other times, I think of The Flower Kings, Pink Floyd, and even Kansas. The fact that they sing both in English and Spanish also adds another layer of complexity to their overall approach to music.

The first track on Láquesis, "Efecto Placebo," is both a powerful album opener and a good first impression of the band's compositional techniques. Láquesis utilize Loza's 5-string bass heavily to add low end to the overall mix. Actis' ambient Moog and synth patches contribute layers of depth as well: the moments are far and few in between where the keys aren't adding something to the mix. "Efecto Placebo" utilizes these elements and more, managing to be grungy, driving, and reflective throughout its 7:00-minute duration. Thematically, the band offers an interesting philosophic insight into human individualism in this opening track. Puntonet encourages the subject of the song that he/she is strong enough to make it alone, without the aid of the person he or she has been using as a crutch – as a "placebo" – and without the aid of divinity either: "In spite of desperation, be brave in every sense / Don't raise your eyes to heaven / Your soul will guide you well." At the same time, he sets the ultimatum that the rules of existence exist either to be learned or to be broken, and encourages abiding by decorum in order to overcome moral and emotional illness. Puntonet's vocal seems a little shaky in his soft register, but is supremely powerful on the chorus, and there are some fantastic 3-part harmonies on the closing lines of each chorus. Caminer and Actis trade solos during the instrumental section toward the 4:00-minute mark of the track, adding seconds and musical content to what would otherwise be a fairly straight-forward rock tune.

Following the rousing opener, Láquesis takes an instrumental turn for three tracks, beginning with "Tema X," "X Theme." The composition begins with atmospheric keyboard pads as the drums and bass fade in, looping a cyclical riff in 5/4, until the synth takes the lead and the rhythm cuts to half-time. Actis switches to an organ patch for the 7/8 transition, then maintains the lead riff while the band plays in syncopated 4/4 beneath him. Utilizing compositional elements like rapid time changes, varied instrumentation, and unexpected dynamic shifts – in this case, another flurry of a synth solo before everything fades and an isolated piano trills the main riff – are what Láquesis do really well. As the band returns in a restrained 6/8 groove, Caminer plays a bluesy solo and then turns the lead over to Loza, just before an orchestral reprise takes the track to its conclusion. "Tema X" is the closest thing to an art rock or ambient track on the album, and floats in the idea of obscurity or anonymity which its title suggests.

"Hamacamatic" follows immediately on the heels of "Tema X." This is a fast-paced, old-school prog tune, an 8:00-minute high-energy romp, centered on a riff pilfered from "Carry On My Wayward Son." "Hamacamatic" is full of big unison sections where guitar and bass lope together, providing the song its momentum, as well as several heavy passages that lean once again into the 7-string and 5-string Ibanez guitars Caminer and Loza respectively favor. This track makes great use of theme and variation, as nearly every section of this elongated jam utilizes the central theme in different forms, meters, and instrumentation. After the explosive introduction, the band immediately lulls into a jazzy, fusion groove, providing the bed for Caminer to play another solo. I particularly like the way Loza returns to the main riff beneath the electric guitar, keeping the song rooted in its original musical concept during this passage. Actis switches to string patches to introduce an odd-time ascending passage, what seems like a steady 2/4 until the final beat of every fifth measure gets cut in half, resetting the loop. This concludes in another emotive guitar solo, and the song transitions from there into straightforward grunge chugging – "Immigrant Song" with string and synth patches to accompany. The band collectively switch back and forth between a 6/8 triplet feel over the halftime drums and the 4/4 drive before returning one final time to the central theme.

"Puestas de sol," "Sunsets," is the album's instrumental epic. Nearly 13:00 minutes long, the track goes through a number of variables. It begins restrained, with simplistic piano and clean guitar above a watery bass line. Caminer takes the melody on the guitar, and the band loosely keep time with him. Reverb-drenched piano assumes the helm and brings the song gradually into its second incarnation. At 2:30, the synth becomes the prominent voice over growling guitars, but this sudden surge of energy only lasts momentarily before another fadeout. Over vocal pads and string patches, the song swells in 6/8, passes through a unison passage, a Caminer solo, and a neat little segment of synth in 7/8. The 6:00-minute mark introduces some unison stabs, chops, and then a smooth jazz bass solo. Caminer's lead toward the 7:30-minute mark is done on a Stratocaster and channels David Gilmour in his approach. Actis takes the melody once again, this time on the synth, and then the track fades. The softest, most tender point on the entire album seems to be here, at the 9:45-minute mark: the fragile and momentary lull before the gritty build to the song's final culmination. From there, Caminer's soaring guitar drives the track to its restful conclusion.

After twenty-five minutes of instrumental music, Láquesis' fifth track features bassist Ariel Loza on vocals (who also graciously sent me a translation of the Spanish lyrics, because apparently my high school training in the language didn't amount to much). "Lemuria," the name given to a hypothetical lost land, recounts the story of an ancient civilization "sleeping an eternal dream" due to an unbreakable enchantment. This is the first track on the album for which Caminer uses the acoustic guitar. He is backed by string patches, hand percussion, and gorgeous flute accompaniment. String and vocal pads provide the ancient, archaic feel of the track, invoking a sense of wonder and mystery. There is a beautiful moment at the 3:00-minute mark where the band fades and grand piano mixed with strings fills the silence. Waves whisper faintly in the distance as the notes linger, and then the band return powerfully with syncopated hits in 6/8. Actis changes to a pipe organ patch, like the bellow from a cathedral in the lost city, and Loza mourns the fact that it is better to be a city forever locked in time than to be overcome by mortality – a wistful perspective that could apply either to the one looking in or the one looking out. "Lemuria" represents some of the strongest, most intentional orchestration on the album, and is perhaps my favorite standalone track.

Thematically, this is the perfect setup for the "Las Moiras" suite. Together, these four tracks are a 17-minute piece of instrumental music, dedicated thematically to the Moirai, or "apportioners" of ancient Greek mythology – more commonly known as the Fates: Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter) and Atropos (unturnable), the determiners of human life and existence. Clotho spun the thread of life, Lachesis measured the amount of allotted to each person with her measuring rod, and Atropos was responsible for appointing the manner of death. Stylized as a trio of femme fatales on the album's cover, the three Moirai play an important thematic role in the album's concept as well as in the band's name itself.

Part I, "Láquesis," opens majestically with big guitar chords and swirling synth. The decision to begin with the persona of Lachesis is perhaps a creative twist on the traditional story, and establishes the allotter as the predeterminer of the entire process. The suite's first movement drives for the first three minutes before fading into its reflective second segment, featuring an elongated guitar solo over supporting string pads. The strings fade into the piano-only entrance of Part II, "Cloto" the spinner. Caminer joins the piano with a harmonizing riff on the acoustic guitar, and then accompanies Loza for harmonizing/unison runs in call-and-answer style with Actis' piano. The track abruptly becomes upbeat and lighthearted, led by airy synth and undergirded by double-tracked acoustic guitars and string patches. Loza solos in his high register when the track fades back into a softer movement, Teglia teases the cymbals at the enigmatic conclusion, and then everything fades to silence. In stark contrast to the previous movement, "Atropos" musically represents the merciless final cut – the final stroke of fate. Caminer takes a huge solo during the body of this third movement, accompanied by warbling organ and restless bass. Approaching its conclusion, the track fades to synth and vocal pads before the final cutoff. Part IV, the requiem for the departed soul, begins with a mournful string arrangement, and from there transitions into a funereal march, led by bass stabs, until Caminer's rhythmic, single-note picking enters – reminiscent of "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1." The concluding minute of "Requiem" channels elements of metal with big double-tracked guitars, Teglia's double-bass, and Caminer's pick squeals. The final outro riff concludes in an absolute flurry, a ferocious ending to the album as a whole and a perfect thematic conclusion to the "Moiras" suite.

Láquesis is undoubtedly a strong debut release. My only real complaint is that I would have loved to see each of the four movements in the "Moiras" suite arranged seamlessly – still divided into separate tracks, perhaps, but without any breaks in between – just to strengthen the overall story and represent the interconnected nature of the Fates. It's a nitpick, certainly, and regardless of my personal opinion, the band have a lot of work to do in the future now that they've set their own standard so high. They've used their near-decade of experience to establish who they are as a group of musicians, and now they've got to figure out exactly how to use all the tools in their toolbox for a quality sophomore release. In particular, Puntonet's strong vocal ability would be a good element to explore more thoroughly in the future, as well as incorporating more varied instrumentation and tonality. Judging from what they've already accomplished, the horizon can only broaden.

I enjoyed this album with my first listen. It has a lot of easily memorable moments, from guitar solos to fast-paced rhythmic sections to impressive chops. However, it was only upon subsequent listens that my appreciation for the depth and intentionality the band put into their compositions really began to broaden. There's a lot packed into this album – more to discover with each listen. Symphonic at times, almost always majestic, Láquesis is full of powerful ballads, soft instrumentals, and enough musical technicality to satisfy fans of both classic and contemporary eras of progressive rock.

Justin Carlton


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