Sonus Umbra - 2020 - A Sky Full of Ghosts
(64:34; Sonus Umbra)
1. Antidentity 7:02
2. Bleary-Eyed People 8:09
3. Desolation Dreams 3:28
4. Hidden in the Light 20:52
5. Losing My Insanity 4:33
6. The Last Menagerie 7:09
7. Time Is Running Out 2:54
8. The Waves Will Devour the Sea 6:25
9. Apogee 4:02
Roey Ben-Yoseph - vocals
David Keller - cello
Rich Poston - guitars, keyboards
Steve Royce - keyboards, flute
Tim McCaskey - guitars
Andy Tillotson - drums, guitars, keyboards, sounds
Luis Nasser - bass, keyboards, sounds
Bill Harrison - percussion
Steve Katsikas - piano
Mara Kovacevic - voice
US band SONUS UMBRA have been active for more than two decades at this point, with quite a few different line-ups over the years delivering material on seven studio albums so far. "A Sky Full of Ghosts" is their most recent production, and was self released at the very end of 2020: In the very nick of time for Christmas as a matter of fact, on December 22nd.
My experience with Sonus Umbra as a band unit is that they are quite the diverse entity, and that the overall style may well fluctuate quite a bit from one album to another. At least that is what my more or less trusty memories tell me. I also seem to recall that the band can be fairly quirky. But in the case of this most recent album of theirs, I dare say that the current incarnation of the band have crafted something that may well be regarded as the band's very finest moment whenever it's time to do a retrospective on the band sometime in the future.
Fairly challenging, eclectic progressive rock is what we are treated to this time around. Compositions that twist and turn in major ways and minor ways, instrumentalists just as able to deliver subtle details as more dramatic impulses, transitions aplenty but also both careful and dramatic theme developments. Some of the songs may, arguably, be just a bit rough on mood, atmosphere and even structure, but you'll have to listen hard to find such moments amidst everything that is going on throughout. This isn't a wall of sound affair either, with three hundred layers of textures polishing off any rough spots. Instead the band will surprisingly often lean on more sparse passages with few layers of sound and the contrasts or harmonies of two or three dominant instruments carrying the passage in question.
Musically the band is a bit all over the place too, or perhaps inclusive is a better word. Occasional dips into heavy progressive rock and even symphonic progressive rock can be found, but the dominant aspects of this production are placed in altogether different territories. Something of a foundation, I guess, might be the kind of folk-tinged progressive rock that Jethro Tull explored way back in the day, with elegant flute details and wandering plucked guitars with occasional guitar riffs entering the fray. But Sonus Umbra also takes those tendencies and runs them through a Gentle Giant oriented filter, adding a ton of minor and major quirky elements to the proceedings too, as well as lightly flavoring these landscapes with more careful and elegant touches borrowed from the type of music often described as singer/songwriter these days. Some subtle psychedelic elements are lightly sprinkled over these landscapes here and there as well, and the use of dramatic effects, while sparingly used, is also executed to perfection. Cue the middle part of the massive epic length 'Hidden in the Light' as a prime example of this. In addition it should also be mentioned that the role of the cello is important, and central on the occasions where Sonus Umbra decides to take a left turn and nod ever so slightly in the direction of chamber rock.
There's a lot going on throughout this album, and the creators are also well aware of the fact that songs that are constantly in motions of change can be a hard listen. Hence passages that are calmer and explore elements in a more detailed and elongated manner have also been included, as well some songs that hone in more on gentler atmospheres, if not for the full length of the song then at least for longer periods. We as listeners are given moments to breathe, which at times is needed on this album. That my notes for this album is perhaps three times as long as this review will probably be a bit of enlightening information for fellow reviewers.
"A Sky Full of Ghosts" is a solid slice of progressive rock with many fine and at times brilliant moments. You will not find the time to get bored when listening through this one, as a lot is going on throughout. Possibly an album a bit too challenging for some, but for those that are fond of material described in this manner this one may well be regarded as quite the gem due to that very aspect of this production. If you think that an album described as vintage Jethro Tull explored through a Gentle Giant style approach and orientation sounds like a fun thing to investigate, chances are good that you'll be smack bang in the middle of my presumed target audience for this CD.
Olav "Progmessor" Björnsen, April 2021