YAWN — Materialism (review)

YAWN — Materialism album cover Album · 2022 · Avant-garde Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Norway has been a powerhouse in the last couple decades in both the worlds of progressive rock and metal but has also been prolific in wildly unclassifiable forms of experimental music ranging from electronic jazz to bizarre otherworldly space rock and even pop music but despite all the explorative avenues the Norwegians have pioneered, bands like Oslo’s YAWN remind me that there is still much uncharted territory in the world of music and sometimes one simply has to step outside of the box to find a new niche of musical expression. Outside the box these Norwegians did indeed step and this debut is amazingly constructed.

The band YAWN is fairly new having only formed in 2019 but has just released its unique sounding debut MATERIALISM which showcases a band that has found its own sound right from the beginning. Featuring the lineup of Torfinn Lysne (guitar), Oskar Johnsen Rydh (drums), Mike McCormick (guitar, electronics), Simen Wie (bass) and Tarjei Kjerland Lienig (synthesizer), YAWN comes off as a professional start up with a beautiful website, hefty touring schedule and rave reviews from critics who fancy those crazy bands that defy genre tags. Add to that a stellar production job which allows the varying elements of the album to shine!

In this case YAWN easily enters the databases of metal sites, progressive rock vaults and jazz lists as it incorporates all these musical styles and more into a freeform menagerie of improvising stylistic shifts that sound as if they are somewhat composed and somewhat just freefall musical spontaneity. MATERIALISM is basically a set of 16 tracks that drift from one style to another thus creating an album of continuity with polymorphic grooves, raucous rhythms and musical progressions sort of overlapping, trading off and offering divine contrapuntal support. The tracks all run into each other and in the end meaningless as separate units. No vocalist to be heard. This is completely instrumental.

The opening “Cement III: Gobsmack” immediately defers to the majestic Meshuggah for a series of oddly timed djent chugs that will immediately please the metal crowd but slowly but surely cede to atmospheric turbulence which becomes the dominant force as “Cement III: Fall Out” takes the baton but as that short chapter sputters out and leads to “Cement III: Restart, Reload, Rebuild” which reprises the Meshuggah like stomps and djentish rhythms. Eventually it all takes on a jazz-fusion approach with the guitar introducing a soloing method not unlike John McLaughlin. The track strays from the metal paradigm for a while but returns for a suffocating climax. The first act ends and then is followed by three more.

In return visits i realize YAWN is sort of like what third stream is to the world of jazz, namely the mixing of Western classical and jazz only adding progressive metal and electronica. I guess this is some kind of fourth stream. Who knows if we actually classified genres logically as in the biological sciences, perhaps we’d even be up to sixth stream by now but whatever the case, this is definitely unique and has my full attention even upon return visits. The second act begins with the mondo bizarro electronic piece “Chaos I: Artificial Superstition” but is followed immediately by the agro-metallic “Chaos: Greed” which offers an interesting array of djent power chords, avant-prog guitar licks in the vein of Fred Frith / Henry Cow. The repetitive nature of the guitar allows the drums to go berserk and the atmospheric backdrop to swoosh around like an MF. The next “Chaos” entries the ante with more guitar, more electronica, more, more! This act ends with a series of Aphex Twin styled electronica.

The “Lachrymator” series of acts revisit the Messhugah stomps with a more dramatic war march drumming pattern accompanied by intermittent melodies from the keyboard. Game of Thrones theme song sorta material here! It gets weirder though with bizarre Art Zoyd styled avant-prog type of stuff going on. Weird angular electronic rhythms with freaky ambient sounds in the background. It’s totally left the metal world at this point and gone into the world of Sun Ra only in electronic form! As “Lachrymator II: Tripwire” unfolds, it basically has built off the previous avant-groove and adds a bit of (somewhat) melodic guitar over it. This is definitely avant-prog with a metal edge but a bit more digestible for the uninitiated. The guitar licks become more steeped in the world of jazz. Almost Mahavishnu Orchestra in musical approach. The final chapter of the “Lachrymator” returns to the Meshuggah djent stomps but also adds an equal amount of atmospheric prowess with a strong keyboard riff that alternates with the increasing aggressiveness of the metal. This is like a duet, an instrumental beauty and the beast if you will. The act ends in a slowing down of the tempo.

The fourth act “Tokamak IV” starts out in pure ambient mode but morphs into some sort of Indian raga mimic but evolving into a 90s ethno-tribal-dance fusion that will surely scare all the metal heads who have dared stick around this long. Haha! It’s very short but out of the blue for sure. The track morphs into the next only adding the jittery angular guitar back into the mix but still not metal, just avant-prog. Given the title of the track is “Tokamak IV: Fluorescence & Entropy,” it only makes sense that this is supposed to be a musical expression of opposing forces although it’s not at all clear if they are at war or finding a truce :/ ~~~ The final two minute “Tokamak IV: Confluence” ends with a bang bringing back a metal stomp with electronic freakery that culminates in a progressive free for all that sums up the entire album. Nice.

Wow. This is not an easy album to grasp. Anybody hung up on genre labels will not get this at all. This is music nerd central where all of musical consciousness congregates for a play party. Metalheads will find this too non-metal most of the time. Jazz lovers will hate the non-jazz elements etc. This album really is the true meaning of progressive however with ideas that connect it to the past but takes bits and bytes from previous musical expressions and simply stitch it all into a new musical tapestry. All i can say is that while many avant-rock / metal acts delve into a world of their own making for the sake of exploration, YAWN has crafted a musical experience that actually maintains a logical continuity throughout its merciful 37 1/2 minute run. Yep, if this was too long it would have derailed but perfect for its unorthodox presentation. Personally i love this a lot. Not perfect but daring, bold and brilliant. This album demands multiple spins in order to adapt to its demands. It’s easy to write off such albums immediately due to a short attention span but for musical nerds like me, this is fucking brilliant!
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
2 months ago
Glad you liked it! It's certainly not easy listening for sure. It's rewarding for those who give it a chance though. It's actually an album i've been returning to.
2 months ago
This was quite the experience Mike, I enjoyed it a great deal - only managed to listen on the earbuds for now but will respin on my good headphones at home later - thanks for the review.

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