Personnel: Kavus Torabi (guitar); Michael J. York (woodwinds); Emmett Elvin (Fender Rhodes piano, synthesizer); David J. Smith (keyboards, drums, percussion); Antti Uusimaki (keyboards); James Sedwards (bass guitar).
Audio Mixer: Antti Uusimaki.
Recording information: Orgone Studios, North London (06/05/2014-06/07/2014); The Elms, West Pennard (06/05/2014-06/07/2014).
After Cuneiform's 2013 release of the epic studio-CD/live-DVD set History of the Visitation, Guapo returned in 2015 with their third album on the label, Obscure Knowledge. A full two decades after the arrival of Guapo's debut EP, Hell Is Other People, Obscure Knowledge finds sole original member drummer David J. Smith joined by bassist James Sedwards, guitarist Kavis Torabi, and keyboardist Emmett Elvin -- the same lineup heard on History of the Visitation's 42-minute studio disc. That disc and this 43-minute album are configured similarly, both consisting of three tracks, with the first in the 26-minute range, a middle track of less than five minutes' duration, and the final track in the neighborhood of 11 to 12 minutes. In contrast to the earlier disc, however, Obscure Knowledge consists of a single suite indexed into three parts. With its title inspired by Native American psychedelic rituals and Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, which chronicled the author's first experience with the psychedelic drug mescaline, one might expect Obscure Knowledge to be well suited for soundtracking a trip to astral realms, and for certain listeners that could very well be true. But don't expect subtle accompaniment to a gentle, blissful opening of the third eye.
"Obscure Knowledge, Pt. 1" packs a monster wallop, its heavy organ-guitar-bass-drums prog blasting out of the gate with an ascending progression and ELP-powerful theme before the band begins pounding away in an unvarying measured tempo, Elvin layering counterpointed keys over the repeated low blast of Torabi's guitar and Sedwards' bass. There are shifts in the root chords, phrases, and accents, but for the most part Guapo are unflaggingly committed to a mechanistic forward push that gradually takes on a more expansive character as thick drones, sustained roars, and feedbacky tones gain more prominence in the mix. A sudden turn into stop-and-start riffage and flirtations with tunefulness don't stop the overall momentum either, but somewhere past the track's midpoint, the foursome locks into a tight bridge and heads elsewhere, with rather Frippish guitar-and-keyboard riffing presenting a different approach to hypnotic repetitiveness -- although Smith and Sedwards crash in with a sudden trainwreck now and then to keep you on your toes. The band shifts into organ-fueled heaviness in 13/8 before circling back to some earlier motifs and then exploding everything outward through fusion-prog spectacle into a slamming groove that surrounds Torabi's relentlessly tolling guitar with apocalyptic funk. It took nearly 26 minutes to crash through those Doors of Perception, but finally Guapo shapeshift into their own version of "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" with the four-and-a-half-minute Terry Riley/Hindustani-flavored dronescape "Pt. 2," which some listeners might consider the album's most psychedelic-friendly interlude thus far. But this is no time to bliss out, because "Pt. 3" lurks right around the corner, with Smith driving the band through escalating tightly wound Crimsoid and Present-esque ostinatos straight into the heart of the yowling vortex. Have you reached the Mind at Large yet? ~ Dave Lynch