Finland’s Onségen Ensemble are somewhat of an oddity. Formed in two thousand and four, they’re only now, in the last quarter of twenty twenty, getting around to releasing their third full length, the interestingly entitled Fear. I say ‘interestingly’, as after listening through a handful of times, to this epic east meets west spaghetti western of an album, the last thing I’m left with is Fear.
Brushing up on my Onségen Ensemble knowledge, and knowing that they’ve manifested and evolved over the last sixteen years, much like any petulant sixteen-year-old, it’s almost impossible to even dare to categorise this band without being reminded that they defy categorisation. Through looking into the band for reference for this piece, I came across words and phrases such as ‘mystical trip’, ‘space rock’, and ‘heavy prog’, but the term that really jumped out at me, as way of description was ‘prog oddity’, which I believe is probably the best classification I can give it without pigeonholing too much.
Ok, so Fear is the third full length Onségen Ensemble outing, and it picks up the torch from previous album Duel, and debut feature Awalai, which were released in two thousand and eighteen, and two thousand and sixteen respectively. Before this, there had been a couple of mini albums, but as the band were evolving, these never made it to full album status, and therefore are more of a completest indulgence, more so than essential for the masses.
I would love to run down all of the contributing artists, but after researching this, heavily, names and musicians come and go, and I wouldn’t want to drop a name in if it isn’t the case right now. I believe at this point in time there are nine members of the ensemble, and that, in part, explains the rich soundscapes, on this essentially instrumental album, as with nine personalities this can, I imagine, get very charged.
Luckily what comes across is the passion, and each one of the nine is highlighted wonderfully. The musicianship is incredible, its rich, lively, and at times feels more freestyle than it is structured. This makes for a really unique experience, and with each track coming in at between five and nine minutes long, even with just seven tracks, it’s a mighty amount of time, expertly filled with otherworldly psychedelic and ethereal tones.
Right from opening track Non-Returner, this album seems to fall in to two distinct musical themes, Western, and Eastern. There are moments where you feel you’ve been thrust into a Spaghetti Western, images of Clint Eastwood and bandits fill the thoughts, while a moment later you’re transported to the Eastern plains of the orient, and a complete parallel in sound. It flits between periods of heavy, stoner richness, then suddenly drops back to an ambient haze, and without even noticing the change in tempo, you’re off on another journey.
It flits between periods of heavy, stoner richness, then suddenly drops back to an ambient haze, and without even noticing the change in tempo, you’re off on another journey….
Several bands come to mind to make comparison with, not any exact matches, but The Ocean and Tool both resonate with me. It’s indulgent for sure, but in the best possible way. After recently experiencing the latest The Ocean album, the one thing that has changed in me is my appreciation in taking the time to build the mood, and not rush any part. I suggest Tool as well, because what you always get with Tool, are these multi layered performance pieces. With trademark Tool, the music rumbles on, its rich, and the rollercoaster of sounds truly make it a listening experience, more than just a collection of songs. That is what makes this so interesting, it’s the layers.
There was a time when anything over five minutes seemed a little much for me, but now, through the passage of time, I can fully appreciate the time and passion that goes in to longer works, and it isn’t all about fast, heavy, pumping aggression. There’s so much more that I never truly appreciated before, but works such Fear have really changed my opinions on what I used to believe were just self-indulgent and overblown, works of art.
To pick out any particular highlights isn’t even possible really, the ongoing soundscape nature of all seven tracks together make it feel like one long piece, and therefore to point at any specific part just isn’t possible. The production work is also to be commended, it captures every working part, and is arranged in a way that everything gets equal exposure, nothing is pushed aside in favour of anything else, and the attention to detail really makes this a fully encompassing experience.
If you already know of Onségen Ensemble then I’m sure you will already know what you will be getting, the highs and lows are phenomenal, and if you’re new to the band, then the best way I can put it is like this… if you want a fully immersive experience sonically, then the best way to listen to Fear will be with the lights out, and headphones on, so you have no distractions. If you’re looking for face melting guitars, blast beat drumming, and death metal screams, then this won’t appease any of those cravings, it couldn’t be any more opposite if it tried, but its unique, powerful, and enthralling all at the same time.
If you chose to jump in with both feet it will definitely introduce you to something new, and could well be the start of an incredible new phase of listening pleasure, which will broaden your musical horizons, and could very well take you somewhere you never thought possible.
Scribed by: Lee Beamish