Alexander Lycke – Vocals,
Per Schelander – Bass & Vocals,
Johan Hallgren – Guitar & Vocals,
Martin Larsson – Drums.
1. Lonesome Cry
2. Take Me With You
4. Never Let You Go
5. What You Resist Will Remain
6. Until It Ends
8. M.E 2020
As a band, ASTRAKHAN have an interesting history of late. Consisting of members from PAIN OF SALVATION, ROYAL HUNT, HOUSE OF SHAKIRA and more, they’re a prime example of not compromising on their wants as a band. How many other bands out there can say that they are a progressive rock band who also fancied touring the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar? 2020 saw the release of the live album of that tour, and 2021 now sees their fourth output in the cheerily-titled, ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’.
It feels somewhat lazy to draw a comparison with fellow Swedes OPETH. What, just because both are Swedish bands and play progressive rock, there should be comparisons drawn? Now, thankfully, the press kit is the saviour here as OPETH are listed as a “sounds like” band, and you can certainly see why when considering their countrymen’s recent excursions to 70s prog worship. What sets ASTRAKHAN apart, however, is that the wish to be a band of that era is far more subtle, and their work on ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ displays hints of a more modern focus in songwriting.
There are still elements of bombast on display, with the soaring vocals of opener “Lonesome Cry” and the despairing “Youtopia”, whilst the progressive elements that include Middle Eastern-influenced melodies are clear on the likes of “Take Me With You” and “Never Let You Go”. Yet it never ventures into indulgent territory, where a number of those records from that era would go and lose scores of listeners. The thematic grounding that threads throughout the record – “ broken relationships, broken dreams and an endless love and passion to music” – serves the record well and ensures a tight focus on proceedings.
Conversely, there is always the worry with records claiming to be “progressive” that they play to the form book so much that it becomes middle-of-the-road. Again, the themes present on ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ – and arguable absence of lofty concepts – seem to work in its favour. Nothing like the pain of disintegrating relationships to focus the mind on music, eh? In many ways, the album can feel quite cathartic, not least in the rage-filled heavy that is “Control”, but that’s entirely the point – an emotional purge of the trials and tribulations the band has endured recently.
While there are some similarities that can be drawn with their Swedish chums, ASTRAKHAN’s latest can be considered a solid, focused effort that lives its own life. The riffs are fun, the vocals impassioned and features some tasteful prog forays that hark back to yesteryear, yet feel modern enough to avoid sounding like a rehash. Stylised as “dark, cinematic progressive rock”, ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ may be that rare occurrence where it lives up to the niche genre name. Prepare to feel.
Review by Lee Carter