Critics of the genre, and there are many, will be apt to tell you that post rock has but one trick, oft-repeated across any number of Isis and Mogwai-worshipping acts, whereby the band in question identifies a motif that they slowly build to a point where it tips from gentle meandering into searing, distorted, guitar-driven mania. To an extent that criticism is a valid one, but it ignores one central point – the ability of a given band to invoke said melody and imbue it with enough of their personality to make their endeavour unique within the admittedly limited field. The paucity of bands who actually pull this off means that the door is wide open for bands who do offer something new and in Cosmonauts Day post-rock fans will be delighted to discover that the band have indeed carved their own identity into the genre, partially as a result of incorporating traditional elements of Russian music into the muscular sludge-metal framework that the songs are built around, making for an album that sounds in turns familiar and alien, the traditional elements jarring against western ears and all manner of suitably spacey melodies adding yet another layer of unconventionality to the whole.
That’s not to say that Cosmonauts day are too complex to be enjoyable, too alien to be comfortably absorbed or too intelligent to simply assume the position of heads down and hair flailing and decimate brain cells with periods of out-and-out brutality; the band do all these things, but they do so on their terms, their sinewy riffs often giving way to intense barrages of white-heat and fury that threaten to vaporise the listener upon contact. Featuring just eight tracks, ‘paths of the restless’ is a forty-minute ride through post-rock/sludge territories that is rather like driving through a once familiar city that has been re-developed in your absence, the underlying space is still the same but the scenery has irrevocably changed, in this case for the better.
Opening with ‘the captain’, the territory is initially familiar as ambient effects slowly arrange themselves into the form of a melody, howls of feedback abating before soporific percussion and low-in-the-mix chugging riffs take the song forward into the forbidden realms of Red Sparrowes and neurosis. It’s a well-worn mix that the band do well, and the undeniable power of the riffs coupled with the ever-more-powerful percussive assault keeps you on your toes. However it is when ‘the art of being nothing’ hauls itself into being that you realise the band are onto something special, the music twisted to fit the band’s own unique set of influences. The music is heavy, powerful, but also spacey and hypnotic, the squalls of guitar overlaying the central melody at odds with the traditional post-rock sound. Then there’s the random time changes – the central section of the song that would fit just as comfortably on a Fugazi record – the serve to keep the listener entirely off guard whilst the band batter your senses with yet another monstrous riff. ‘Cave of trees’ is equally squally, the riffs lurching out with sudden ferocity, whilst the lead part that flows over the bridge of the song sounds as if it has been lifted from some 50’s, alien-themed B-movie thanks to inventive use of tremolo and unconventional playing technique. ‘Rift’ sees things calm down with a soothing, reverb-laden sound offset with jazzy drums and simple melody. Still recalling Fugazi at least as much as Isis, it’s music to drift to, the melodies gently overlapping and washing over the listener but with an ever-present edge lurking just beneath the surface making it feel like you’re dancing on the blade of a knife.
Stealing the eerie opening from Pink Floyd’s ‘live at Pompeii’, ‘blackout’ slowly emerges from a devastating bass hum, noise and skree skittering across the surface before a soul-destroying sludge riff pours out of the speakers like so much molten lava, the heat instantly fusing synapses and destroying nerve endings. A blissfully short track it fades out after a mere two minutes to be replaced by the beauty of the Pelican-esque ‘Satellite’ which is as sudden and unexpected as a ray of light breaking out from behind a storm cloud to briefly illuminate the rain-soaked surroundings you’ve been travelling through. Such appearances can be deceptive, however, and whilst ‘satellite’ may promise hope, ‘the great disease’ promptly snatches it away with its eerie, reverberating guitars that soon become whipped up to a dense metallic roar that is as unstoppable as it is inevitable although the ensuing exploration of light and shade via tense dynamic structures is both thrilling and varied. Final track ‘the last watchman’ sees the album close on a suitably light note, elements of piano and subtle delay permeating the darkness found elsewhere and hinting at a future that is not so apocalyptic as the dense rumble of the heavier tracks found elsewhere.
Instrumental music is always difficult to pull off, the absence of lyrics leaving a gaping hole that lesser bands so frequently struggle to fill. By developing their music to incorporate as many different elements as possible, Cosmonauts day have transcended any such problem and, simultaneously, put their own unique spin on a genre that can sound fairly interchangeable at its worst. Certainly fans of acts such as Tides of nebula, red Sparrowes and mogwai will find plenty here to enjoy and engage with and if you like music that takes you on a journey of the imagination then ‘Paths of the restless’ with its beautiful artwork, subtly woven atmosphere and often stunning music will prove to be a journey worth taking.