Opus Symbiosis are a modern/experimental progressive rock band from Ostrobothnia, Finland. The band formed in 2003 with current members including Christine Sten (vocals), Victor Sågfors (guitar, keyboards), Daniel Hjerppe (drums) and Janet Kackur (bass) but the band often feature guest musicians on their studio releases. The band have released four albums since their formation, each one attempting a different sound from the last as they experiment with fusing an alternative/indie rock style with a very modern prog rock sound that can be compared to the likes of Pure Reason Revolution. Their latest 2020 release, ‘Fata Morgana’, is possibly their most ambitious offering, taking a larger than usual step away from their back catalogue as they infuse a dominant electronic sound on this concept album – it’s prog but not as you know it!
The band has come a long way since their first self-titled release in 2009. They themselves claim their debut to be a random jumble of compositions built up since their formation in 2003; an important first offering, nevertheless, that demonstrates their early experimental fusion of alternative/indie rock with prog rock. I could easily compare the guitar work, which is the dominant force here, with Mansun, a band that likewise fused an alternative style of rock with prog rock, particularly on their album ‘Six’. Their sound from here begins to develop into something darker; ‘Mute’ (2011) features a bleaker album cover depicting what looks like a post-apocalyptic world. The sound on this album reflects this, with keyboard and synth now featuring in their music, including (what I think is) a very distant but eerie mellotron in the background of a couple of the songs on the album – the prog aspect featuring here…but not too obviously! This post-apocalyptic theme has become central to their catalogue of music, a theme that features on their next two releases: ‘Nature’s Choir’ (2012) and ‘Monsters’ (2013). This next fact will impress a lot of people; if you remember rightly, I mentioned that the band often feature guest musicians. Well these two albums feature the one and only Pat Mastelotto on a few tracks, well known for being the current King Crimson drummer – this is an undoubtedly impressive achievement for the band to have such a renowned musician play their music. Unsurprisingly he also features on the band’s latest album, ‘Fata Morgana’, which again carries on with the theme of a post-apocalyptic world. In their own words, ‘Monsters’ focuses on “a planet covered in ice” but on ‘Fata Morgana’, the ice has melted and the planet is now covered in water (as is pictured on the album cover).
Despite the planet being covered in water, the music isn’t weighed down by a heavy sense of melancholy and darkness but instead it is lively, playful and light-hearted. What differentiates their latest album with everything else they have previously done is the reliance on electronic sounds that puts the previously dominant guitars to the back of the stage. The electronic sounds throughout the album are reminiscent of Genesis’ ‘Duke’ album, rarely differentiating from this sound which neatly ties every song together without having anomalies that would awkwardly stand out and belittle the conceptual nature of the album. In relation to this, there is an arguably strong 80’s influence that mingles with the modern progressive sound on this album. The drums hint at this notion; the opening track ‘Red Light in the Sky Traffic’ begins with a drum fill that gives the listener an opportunity to hear the 80’s drum effects that the drums have been treated with – listen out for the fills as well! The opening track is also a great gauge of how lively and energised this album is, going from a full, rapid introduction into a sparse vocal section showcasing Sten’s flawless vocals, it almost borders ambient. This is then quickly followed by an almost funk-like bridging section led by the keyboards which quickly transitions into what I would call a chorus – this is then all repeated again…all this in just 3.40s! Such relentless pace is another consistent feature of the album, whether it be through fast musical phrases that jump out unexpectedly, experimental sounds that keeps the listener guessing or song structures that attempt to fit in as many musical ideas as possible within a short time frame – it is a lot to digest in just one listen. Oh and by the way, the acrobatic bass part in this opening song is provided by non other than Tony Levin – yes that’s right, there are two King Crimson stars featuring on this album. Moreover, Pat Mastelotto provides drums on the track ‘Sand’ which details the people’s struggle to save Africa from being submerged underwater. As a track, it is a little slower in terms of pace but features a rapidly descending motif on synth strings that occurs throughout the song and a funk-style section near the end that showcases a brass section – there is still a lot to take in. ‘Lucifer’ is the closest example of the bands previous sound in earlier albums, as the guitar features more prominently; this is no surprise considering how aggressive it is compared to the rest of the album, the music echoing the feelings of an isolated survivor alone in a nuclear submarine. The final two tracks on the album, ‘Captain Tree’ and ‘Vega’, are the most beautiful on the album, slower and more reflective; again it is sometimes appropriate to use the word ambient at points during these songs. I particularly admire the synth solo that precedes Sten’s final cry out of emotion at the end of ‘Vega’ – a gorgeous close to an ambitious album!
I have barely scratched the surface with ‘Fata Morgana’ as every clever detail would take an indefinite amount of time to note down; a lot of blood, sweat and tears have been poured into this which makes the seven year gap between this release and their previous release understandable. I recommend you listen to this all the way through more than once as it is impossible to absorb everything in just one listen. The level of musicianship and creativity is immeasurable at this point – whatever they release next, you can be assured it will blow your mind as it has blown mine!
Written by Dominic Sanderson.
You can find Opus Symbiosis on Facebook and Instagram. Their new album is available to stream on Spotify!