Published by Alessandro Violante on June 26, 2017
How many times does it happen you recognize, while listening to some albums, that they sound like you have already listened to the same sounds too many times? How many times do you listen to a new album by one artist you like and you realize it’s just copy of the previous one? Probably, often. Rarely we have the feeling we are listening to a very unique, genre crossing, album which is the result of the constant research made by the artist. This happens when the artist has strong songwriting and music skills.
That’s just the case of Ophelia The Suffering, coming back with her project Aphexia (Ecstasphere‘s alter ego), with her sophomore album The Gates (with, as usual, Lisa Schwabe artwork), released as always by Dirk Geiger‘s Raumklang Music, follower to Breathe, released two years ago.
While listening carefully to this release, the first thing you notice is the skills shown by the Hamburg-based musician. She creates here an album that is more than a collection of songs belonging to a particular genre (IDM) in which, just like in a Classic symphony, few motifs are the starting points from which the entire composition is developed. That of Ophelia is IDM contributing in dignifying electronic music, a genre considered by someone easy to make. The Gates proves this is not true. Forget the cold, intelligent and mathematical sound distinctive of English label Warp Records. Aphexia gives life whereas Artificial Intelligence did the opposite, by means of her warm vocals, highly-melodic ideas and thanks to a piano able to warm the soul of old school fans too. Sometimes so called popular music is criticized by them, but here they will find some “high” music references difficult to imagine, closer to the sound of Wien-based Classical composers.
It’s beautiful to think The Gates could be considered a point of arrival in a research started some years ago in Ophelia’s head, having she, in the meanwhile, “fed our head” for four years. Ophelia leaves behind her rhythmic industrial influences, which were quite strong in her previous album Breathe, opening greater gates and choosing to make something more personal. At the same time she remains loyal to her style, doing it without any fear. Aphexia music has stronger relationships with Classical musicians than with those drawn by critics who recently tried to trace a linkage between Autechre (and English IDM) and Wien-based Classical music. Ophelia here demonstrates she use the same music language and vocabulary of them, showing at the same time the greatness of Classical music and her composition skills.
This linkage can be often clearly found in the album. Just think about the opener The threshold, a song in some way linked to her previous tracks, while being a bit different, highlighting an improved songwriting skill. There’s a philosophical elegy of beauty in how the piano emerges in the song more freely than in the past. The piano isn’t simply a part of her collage, but a real instrument, drawing its melodic motif with strength and beauty. The angelic voice and her melody, here clearly heard for the first time, becomes a leitmotif, returning again, more or less clearly, in the following songs. This happens even in the opening notes of Nocturnal revelation, as well as in the titletrack, which closes the first half of the album. Not only the melodies are more sophisticated, complex and best-thought, but also the claustrophobic rhythms are less geometric and regular, just like in the aforementioned Nocturnal revelation. Battered heart is perfect in its engaging melodic motif, a song taking our breath away with piano notes which let a basic electric guitar riff exploding into the song, then leaving space to Ophelia voice. Collide shares some ideas with The shadow play, already contained in Carnival of catharsis, her sophomore album as Ecstasphere. One of them is the starting slow tempo piano motif, which increases progressively in the end.
However, the listener will find the most interesting and atypical songs in the second half of the album. Silent resurrection is a song recalling, in its vocals, popular music while dignifying IDM music and transforming it into a warm genre, very far from tortuous sounds which sounds too cold and not made by living humans, too artificial. In this song, in which Ophelia expresses her human fragility with strength (as admitting weaknesses is harder than not doing it), the warm vocals, the melodic motifs drawn by string instruments, and the syncopated IDM rhythms coexist together very well. A song that could be defined as “pop”. The embrace is a clear example of what said above about the relationship between Classic and electronic music. As in a popular reduction of a forma sonata, here the masculine and the feminine themes drawn by the piano perfectly alternate themselves, one following the other, and a similar thing could be said for Rapid cycling, recalling Classical music forms too.
The short Reference one progressively let a piano motif emerge, which is also the main theme of the excellent final song Made of glass, the best episode of the album. In this divertissement, in which also a theremin emerges highlighting a passion for prog music (part of her background), similarities with Classical ouvertures can be recognized. In Classical music it has the role of introducing the theme used next, and here the same is done by Ophelia. It’s also the first time she lets her irony emerge in her music. Another Classical music form, the reprise, can be found in the new versions of Breathe and A cure (here AF.fective cure), the first one contained in the aforementioned Breathe, the other in the first Ecstasphere album. Freed from any rhythmic industrial influence, the first song let the melodic piano and her angel-like vocals emerge, while the other one underlines the uncommon melodic ideas of the original song, transforming distortions into a clear bassline. The result is these songs have a much warmer feeling.
Another interesting experiment is The recollection, curiously pointing towards Middle Eastern sounds, introducing, for the first time, an uncommon melody never included in her previous releases. Also the use of tribal-like syncopated drum sounds is an interesting new facet of her sound, evoking far and fascinating landscapes. Frames has more of a cinematographic atmosphere and sounds vaguely like an ambient piece, but the climax of the album is, undoubtedly, Made of glass, connected in some way to Sonnenkuss, the bonus track included in her digital-only release Klangporträts III, as these are her best songs so far, and dominated by the main theme of the aforementioned Reference one, here developed in detail, resulting in a marvelous, full of humanity and aesthetically brilliant, finale. The vocals contribute in adding more strength to an inspired song, never letting technique overcoming its pathos.
There aren’t any fillers within The Gates, nor less inspired songs. Rather, there is a very complex and yet clear work, which is much more than a common IDM album. The result is that of Ophelia crosses the boundaries between electronic and Classical music, giving it a feeling sometimes forgotten while paying an intelligent tribute to the second one, and highlighting the brilliant songwriting skills of a musician, Aphexia, which keeps on growing with every new album, imposing her music as one of the best “industrial” projects of the recent years.
Label: Raumklang Music
Rating: 9, 5