In the house where instrumental post-rock lives, there’s no room to swing a cat with all the bands in there at the moment. Hailing all the way from Madrid, will Toundra find a room for the night? Not only that, but does Vortex stand out from the crowd to warrant adding this album to your collection?
Well, the intro goes straight for the heart of cinematic rock, including using timpani, before launching into “Cobra”, the first track proper. A nice, meaty, riff-driven piece with hard hitting, furious drums keeps the excitement levels high. The song eventually moves from the furious to the joyous, as a great 6/8 groove appears and the guitars head off into a world of simple yet satisfying chords and melodies.
“Tuareg” segues straight in afterwards, helping form a great pair of opening tracks. Initially similar in sound and feel to “Cobra”, with plenty of layered guitar, fast drumming and loads of reverb, it then develops into a heavy, syncopated eastern tinged riff-fest with some real crunch for the middle section. The final part of this 8 minute epic shows a more dynamic side of the band, with some classic reverb-heavy picking and a great lead guitar melody peaking out here and there, leading into an understated, quiet end.
It’s pretty clear at this point that the band have benefited from the high quality recording and mixing of this album. Let’s be honest, this sort of cinematic rock needs great production to elevate it to a high definition widescreen experience, otherwise it would fall flat pretty quickly. From the punchy bass and dominating riffs to the great stereo panning and quality reverb (which the album is soaked with), the band make the most of it.
Now that the scene is set, “Cartavio” and “Kingston Falls” form another ‘pair’ of tracks that show off the more subtle dynamics of the band and their command of simple, yet effective melodies. These offer nothing new but provide a nice break before heading into the longest track on the album, “Mojave”. At 11 minutes, I went in expecting an epic slog-a-thon. Starting with some programmed drums and more reverb than St. Paul’s Cathedral on a Sunday morning, it has a menacing air surrounding it. The dark chords and deep drums create a sense of unease as the track develops, making me feel unsure of what was around the corner. Would there be danger, or would I see light at the end of the tunnel? The latter it seems, as major chords appear from the murk. The syncopated grooves from Guillermo and the chunky bass really are the stars of the latter half of this track, underpinning everything. The last two minutes feature a real classic heavy eastern riff that is the star of the album!
A lot of the album follows similar sounds and textures – a mix of laid back grooves, heavy riffs and pounding drums and bass. There are some great moments here and there, but for fans of this genre, there is nothing startlingly new. Just to mix things up right at the end, Toundra finish with “Cruce Oeste”. Unlike the wall of sound that I was used to at this point, this track offers some serenity and really joyous moments. As the last of the shimmering chords fade from the speakers, you are left with a nice sense of closure to the journey.
With the limited palette of guitars bass and drums, and no vocals to help connect to the listener, Toundra do suffer from a lot of the tracks sounding alike. In addition to this, the quite similar structures to the songs means that I was left with something very familiar to other bands out there with this style. They do try to mix things up with adding shorter interludes, such as “Roy Nearly” and “Cartavio”, but these are so short that they sound like out-takes or throwaway ideas with little substance.
If you are a serious fan of Long Distance Calling, Mogwai, Nordic Giants et al., then this is definitely worth checking out. Instrumental post-rock has a habit of become the ‘elevator music’ of metal, but Toundra offer just enough to avoid this black hole. I hope to see further innovations as they grow to be part of the classic Kscope stable!
Notable Tracks: “Cobra”; “Tuareg”; “Mojave”
FFO: Nordic Giants, sleepmakeswaves, Long Distance Calling, Russian Circles, Mogwai
Vortex is released on the April 27th 2018 on Kscope records and you can purchase it at Burning Shed. Follow the band and find out more on their Facebook page. It’s also available on vinyl for all you crate diggers!