Bogdo Ula – The Return of the Sons of Ra (2013)

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They gathered for five days at this countryside studio in Finland, plugging in and recording whatever happened. And what happened, as Bogdo Ula began crafting the completely improvised Return of the Sons of Ra, was one of the most inventive, unconventional and, frankly, quite loud things in my recent memory. Guitarist Samuli Kristian, bassist Jean Ruin and drummer Ivan Holder spend so much time drawing outside the lines here that the point of having paper at all seems silly. Bogdo Ula stripes the walls with their boundless creativity.

“Yours ’Til the End of Dance” opens the project with a spacious intrigue, as Kristian’s dark guitar lines intertwine with a series of layered explorations from Horder on the cymbals. Eventually, a searing cadence begins to takes shape, but only in brief spurts. Ruin’s bass flourishes only add to the track’s abiding sense of certain doom. “Suns of Ra” begins well out into the stratosphere, as Kristian’s experiments with sound take on a decidedly alien bent. A dissonant feedback from Ruin is accompanied by these apocalyptic runs across the kit from Horder towards the song’s end, creating an enveloping moment of brilliant confusion.

The Return of the Sons of Ra continues to unfold in much the same manner of its remaining seven tracks, none of them shorter than four and a half minutes and several going more than seven. These are musical conversations being held in real time, with a premium put on out-of-the-box ingenuity. At one point, for instance, Ruin loosens his bass strings in order to achieve something outside the instrument’s typical soundscape. At another, he simply bangs the bass on the floor.

“Killing Horizon” paints a portrait of enveloping rage, as Kristian unleashes fists full of serrated lines. Horder and Ruin set an active, portent-filled foundation for these journeys of the mind. “Full Hypersurface” returns this project to deep space, as Bogdo Ula work with darkness and silence. There are times when the tension of their pauses is gorgeously unbearable. Then, as if finishing one another’s unspoken sentences, the trio leaps into a scorching, anthemic conclusion.

It’s tempting to categorize this as jazz, if only because of its improvisational nature. But, really, The Return of the Sons of Ra has more to do with the endlessly inventive free-form weirdness of Frank Zappa on albums like Shut Up ’n Play Yer Guitar. Tracks like “Aludra,” with its girder-shaking bass lines from Ruin, octopus-armed rhythmic explosions from Horder and bloody-fingered riffing from Kristian are simply too rock-focused – too completely heavy – to have a reference point in the world of jazz, even during the 1970s heyday of fusion.

“IO Gas&Coal Company Wish You Bon Voyage,” as if on cue, provides another rocket-ride respite, with Kristian settling into a contemplative vibe while Ruin and Horder sprinkle asteroid dust everywhere. This musical ebb and flow gives the musical narrative found on The Return of the Sons of Ra a few needed moments to exhale. They are grounding moments, even if the sounds are utterly out of this world. By this, the second half of Bogdo Ula’s album, what comes next has become apparent, however: “Arc’s Come Down” arrives like a dirty bomb next, boasting a combination of stunningly guttural, animalistic sounds from this inventive trio. Unlike many of the more aggressive tracks here, this one never settles into anything resembling a groove, though. There are no boundaries on this song – or, really, on this album.

After a series of twilit thoughts, “Flank Speed” doesn’t so much coalesce into a song as begin to fall apart – at full speed, and full volume. Bogdo Ula then closes out this brain-bendingly interesting journey with “I Left Tomorrow,” a suitably weird walk through sounds that are by turns completely mystifying and then utterly ferocious.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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