Often, I can feel my friends roll their eyes when I start to regale them with the latest non-conventional, post-whatever, word salad description band they have never heard of that I have been listening to repeatedly in order to write a small essay on (not to forget the boss either when I turn in those word limit threatening pieces). But that’s what I get for giving them a hard time for listening to Volbeat I guess.
So, imagine their delight when I offered up the hard-to-pin-down sounds of Sheffield, UK’s ‘post-rock, sludge metal, math rock, psychedelia, prog and retro-synth ambient’ instrumentalists Dead Cosmonauts (love the name) who have enriched their experimental sounds ‘with the inspirations of socio-political sci-fi novels and cinema’. In my more self-aware moments, I can’t see why they don’t just tell me to fuck off either.
But stick with me and I’ll tell you why Parasomnia, their first full-length album, recorded by Adam Zejma (Naisian) and mastered by Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) deserves your ears as they chart a journey through meditative, emotional, sonic soundscapes that sees them searching for answers in themes of defiance, hope and new possibilities.
In the year that the Cambridge Dictionary voted ‘hallucinate’ as its word of the year, giving the additional context of AI mimicking human writing and producing false information, a concept album about the blurring of lines between reality and nightmares and the cold chaos and despair of modern life almost seems a fitting way to round off 2023 in the face of next year’s oncoming storm.
Liminal Space (65 mins REM, vitals = stable) begins this epic six-track journey, slowly with sounds of whale-like cries and through this peaceful dawning harder post-rock sounds emerge. Alexei’s bass is jittery and the track shifts and never seems to settle into a comfortable groove, making it feel like a coordinated attack on the nervous system. The heavy double bass stabs fade and return with higher pitched guitar notes glancing off the stately riffs that feed into the uncomfortable vibe. At times it sounds like the struggle for maintaining sanity in the face of disaster.
As the piece expands, it becomes a spacey, hypnotic mosaic, rockier and never freeing you of that sense of unease – I could probably talk about the composition and subtle nuances of this track for most of the review, even before the subdued samples and moments of haunting stillness creep in.
The quiet sedate droning build to Beneath The Choking Sky that takes up half of the track sets up the atmosphere for the luscious-sounding tremolo guitar before the complementing baritone makes things feel like they are hinting at the journey not quite being, right before the closing sample speaks of anguish and things like ‘toxic breeze’.
Kenopsia is the dramatic centrepiece in the heart of Parasomnia. Blinking electronics and samples sign the start of a post-apocalyptic journey. Once again light guitar, frenetic drumming and rumbling bass chart an upbeat tempo led by the wandering lead and swirling synths which contrast the deep plod and heavier undertones. As the drama builds the sense of urgency once again ramps up and the mood gets more intense and the buried, almost guttural vocal-like sounds of despair that help close the track express the helplessness, rage and frustration inside.
Dead Cosmonauts deliver hooks, riffs and thunderous drumming, coupled with a tenderness and narrative that begs to be heard…
It is in these shifts and musical twists and turns that the story-telling heart of the band excels. Like all good instrumental bands, the art of building an emotive narrative without the use of lyrics means this must be transferred to the sweeping and soaring compositions to stir and guide the listener, so when they are not punctuating the mood with samples to inform the audience, they have to work hard to create something beautiful and captivating.
The shortest piece on the album, the ambient, sample heavy In Spirals It Took Everything returns to the synthesised fluttering’s, like the console of a spaceship firing into life at the start of some sci-fi movie franchise feeling beautiful and serene in the moment of peace that it brings.
The chirping of birds and insects clashes organically with the dense atmosphere mimicking the sound of lapping waves before Swallowed In Dark Waters adds a more menacing tone and mutates into a dark piece similar to fellow UK instrumentalists Sons Of Alpha Centauri’s SS Montgomery. Here the ebb and flow is, at times, furious and brooding often within moments of each other like you are flotsam and jetsam caught on the proverbial dark waters.
The final ominous samples (all of which were provided by radio presenter Alibhe Máiréad) usher in A Vision From The Valley Of Dry Bones with a chilling assertion that ‘no one is coming for you’. The last track on Parasomnia continues the dark mood with delicate guitar notes that abruptly get shellshocked by a distorted rumble, crashing drums and chiming zings. The moody bass anchors the track once more as the electronics play off the staccato high strong notes.
The continuity that flows throughout comes from the pulsing rhythms which feel determined, if not exactly hopeful, and as it reaches the climax, the finish is swift and almost brutal in style, like the end of a movie with a sequel already on the slate.
The use of the word liminal denotes a transitional phase of a process and Dead Cosmonauts use this theme to weave their conceptual tale, a distorted nightmare of mournful synths and effects pedals, that is somehow mesmerising and beautiful.
I said near the start I would tell you why it deserves your ears, and that is because Parasomnia is ambitious, intelligent and emotive art. Instrumental music may not be to everyone’s liking, but Dead Cosmonauts deliver hooks, riffs and thunderous drumming, coupled with a tenderness and narrative that begs to be heard.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden