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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Aziola Cry

Ghost Conversations

Review by Julie Knispel

Aziola Cry is an instrumental trio from Chicago consisting of Chapman Stick, guitar, and drums. Their music is dark, unrelenting and complex, drawing as strongly from first generation progressive artists (such as King Crimson) as from today’s practitioners (Tool). Formed in 2004, over a year of writing and wood shedding resulted in Ellipsis, a thematic eight-song album telling a story of loss and inner turmoil.

Jason Blake shows masterful skill on the Grand Stick, utilising the instrument’ full range of timbre to add richness to the band’s3-piece sound. Mike Milianiak seems heavily influenced by players such as Robert Fripp and Steve Hackett; while he is first and foremost a metal player here, he shows a penchant for nimble single note playing and an ear for tone that are very similar to those guitarists. That influence moves him above more traditional metal guitarists. Finally, Tim Stickradt’s drumming is never staid or boring. He plays with extreme precision, doesn’t waste space or play fills where they aren’t necessary, yet also has a raw energy and controlled abandon that keeps the music driving forward into the darkness that it seems to seek out naturally. 8 months on Aziola Cry have released a new 3 song EP titled Ghost Conversations. An all too brief listening experience at just over 23 minutes, the three wholly instrumental tracks on Ghost Conversations have distilled the band’s musical abilities and styles to their purest state.

The album’s artwork is fitting and evocative. Created by graphic artist Micka Klauk (additional examples of her art are available on the official Aziola Cry website), the moody sepia-toned art helps to create a feeling of despair and mood well suited for the music held within. The cover art is eerie, with slightly faded lettering on the cover adding an otherworldly, ghost-like feel. In a time where it often feels that cover art is the least worried about, least focused on portion of an artist’s package (unless that cover art is meant to highlight a performer’s...ahem...assets), it’s pleasing to see a band like Aziola Cry issuing a package that is complete both inside and out. Ghost Conversations is all too short with a length just over 23 minutes. It is a listening experience that will leave you breathless and exhilarated...and potentially afraid to see what lurks around the corner.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Ghost Conversation I
“Ghost Conversation I” opens the album ominously, with eerie, dark soundscapes acting like synthesizer foundations. Brief stabs of guitar or higher pitched Stick playing break the quiet, funereal mood slightly before brushed cymbals herald the imminent entry of the full band. The song suddenly takes on a dirgey, industrial metal feel, not unlike the 2003 King Crimson performing a twisted rendition of their 1984 track “Larks Tongues in Aspic III.” Jason Blake’s Stick pulses, Mike Milaniak’s guitar keens, and Tim Stickradt’s drums hold the proceedings together with laser precision. The band’s metal leanings just as quickly drop from the mix, more soundscapes and chimes adding deceptive levity to the mix.
Ghost Conversation II
The listener lulled by the soundscapes leading out of the EP’s opening track will be startled into a more awake state by the sudden burst that is “Ghost Conversation II.” A rockier piece by far, Milaniak’s guitar soars like some ancient bird of prey over the shifting rhythmic sands. Moments remind of classic, early King Diamond musically, with clean picked guitar and sustained melodic lines over scattershot drumming. Aziola Cry’s industrial roots show in a heavy middle section, near blast beat drumming and a thick powerful mix pushing the band into incredibly heavy arenas.
Ghost Conversation III
The EP closes with “Ghost Conversation III,” perhaps the most straightforward and heaviest composition on the release. Even here, straightforward may be a misnomer, as there’s little traditional or typical in the song’s arrangement, with walking bass lines and MIDI-processed guitar (or Stick) “piano” adding a very cool feel and interesting sonic seasonings to the mix. It’s a heavy and textured piece that closes out the release powerfully.
 
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