"Onségen Ensemble is a group of northern musicians whose first assemblage was formed in the beginning of the twenty-first century, with it's musicians drawn from various genres such as jazz, stoner, prog and black metal."
This is the spare information from the bands facebook page. It took the band about a decade to release their first album and it seems there have been numerous changes in their lineup. The profile shows a total of 11 past members. This might explain the vast pool of influences to be found on Awalaï. And if the album manages to do one thing in the best possible way it is the fusion of its components to something coherent.
The description of the sound is actually a fitting one, but if one tries to break their recipe down to a single style, Stoner/Progressive Rock is what defines the overall sound for the most part.
First thing to stand out is the production value. Every instrument has its space in this recording. Guitars and drums sound lush and warm. Dynamic is key and the fact that this album was not mixed to be as loud as possible is underlined by a maximum album gain of 6. This adds a lot to the whole experience and I was able to listen to this album several times in a row without ever getting tired.
For the most part Onségen Ensemble are an instrumental band, yet the whole album is filled with vocals. The key to this oxymoron is that vocals are part of the instrumental ride, they play along and never force themselves to the front. In the same way the band mixes genres, they combine several vocal styles to something that just works. There are some rare growls, choirs, clean vocals, female and male vocals and more. And not once does it feel out of place, never does it feel forced, instead it adds to the whole experience where voices are just a tiny part of the whole.
The title track is a standout track, because of its heavy use of keyboards, that provide the leading melody of this piece. A somewhat haunting melody, supported by a driving bass line and a choir. When the song reaches its peak moment with guitars taking the lead, keyboards and voices blend into one indivisible unit. Intense. When a flute adds another layer before leading into the emotional highlight of the album, one look on the playlist makes one realise that a new track has been playing for a few minutes already. The flow is that good from start to finish, new songs, while all having their own distincive melodies are hard to spot because this thing is meant to be consumed as a whole.
But what does it actually sound like? It's hard to find similarities for something as varied, but I felt reminded of Kingston Wall in some moments. Not as song oriented and much more spaced out they share a similar drive. Add a healthy dose of Space Rock and the will to experiment and you get a vague hint of what to expect. Kingston Wall also being a finish band it's quite likely that the band was an inspiration.
A Ride. This term has been overused in the description of albums, yet it is what defines this album. It is just executed so bloody good. The sum of its influences/genres/voices should not work, but it does in a way that screams "classic". And this is exactly what this album will become. A classic.