Azusa emerges from the relatively unknown, combining members of Extol, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Sea + Air into a frenetic, chaotic, powerful, heavy, and at times ethereal sonic blend that is everything you’d expect and more from this talent.
Asuza burst onto the scene in 2018 as a project from Christer Espevoll and David Husvik of Extol handling guitars and drums, Liam Wilson of The Dillinger Escape Plan on bass, and Eleni Zafiriadou of Sea + Air and ex-Jumbo Jet on vocals. The result was an amazing debut filled with elements of thrash, hardcore, and pop presented in a sometimes chaotic blend of very technical metal with Eleni Eleni Zafiriadou’s beautiful and brutal vocals. From a historical view, Christer met David at a Benea Reach show in 2014 and the two started jamming 6 months later. During that time the two, who were The Dillinger Escape Plan fans, learned that Liam (from TDEP) was into their former band Extol and they reached out and the suddenly the band just needed a vocalist. Eventually they remembered Eleni from her time with the hardcore band Jumbo Jet and the result was Heavy Yoke. For Loop of Yesterdays, the band was anxious to pick up where they left off and in the words of bassist Liam Wilison, “Heavy Yoke was the initial impact, Loop of Yesterdays is the aftermath.” Once again the band recorded at David Husvik’s Hawk Studios in Oslo over a series of marathon sessions that started before Heavy Yoke left the pressing plant. Like before, Nick Terry (Turbonegro, Serena Maneesh) handled mixing giving mastering engineer Jens Bogren (Opeth, At the Gates) a lot to work with.
Heavy Yoke was one of those albums you don’t know what to expect and are blown away almost immediately…I think I mention it took 40 seconds into the first track in my review. Loop of Yesterdays similarly wastes no time before exploding into a chaotic mix of metal much like the opening track on Heavy Yoke. Eleni’s vocals begin with near-ragged screaming hardcore vocals but as the song twists and turns, quieter moments appear and the ultra-tough, combative edge softens to a softer, beautiful near whisper which later in the track is layered over the fast metal riffs.
Learning that the band started recording this before Heavy Yoke was finished being pressed makes a lot of sense and the band has carried that momentum into this recording. Interestingly, the songwriting and compositions do seem a bit more varied and the band more comfortable in their approach to the songs as if they had spent a great deal more time together than they really have. This is a band that is not searching for their sound, but one that has found it on the first album and simply refined it even further.
“Detach” was one of the tracks I was most interested in from the point that the band asked Alex Skolnick (Testament) to contribute a guest solo and given his penchant for both thrash and jazz, this makes a lot of sense. I’ve been in awe of Alex’s renditions of Rush tracks during the Covid-19 pandemic as he has partnered with Ra Diaz (Suicidal Tendencies) and Charlie Benante (Anthrax) to jam out some Rush songs and post them online..worth checking out while in lockdown. Back to Detach, the song starts out with a heavy chugging riff and Eleni screaming of the top but also brining in some softer vocals as a counterpoint, which accentuates the heavy nature of the song. David Husvik’s drums provide a solid foundation for the song and Alex Skolnick’s solo at the end of the song does not disappoint. “Monument” was one of the band’s videos for the album and coincidentally, one of the simpler arrangements but does showcase the contributions of all the members very well, from Eleni’s rough screaming to smooth, clean vocals, to Husvik’s drum work and Liam Wilson’s bass lines moving the song along to Christer Espevoll’s guitar work both in driving riffs and melodic solos.
Not until “Support Becomes Resistance” does the listener get a break and there is so much going on the songs up to this point that the short, thirty second respite of clean guitars and atmospheric keyboards is welcome. The calmness abruptly shifts into “Monument” which opens up largely as a hardcore song that somehow manages to have some clean, non-aggressive vocals in it that actually make sense as well as melodic guitar solo whose smoothness contrasts well with Eleni’s rough screamed vocals.
“Loop of Yesterdays” opens up with some ominous sounding clean guitar and multiple layers of Eleni’s spoken vocals that is at once haunting and beautiful and seems to be preparing the listener for the inevitable explosion of full-on metal chaos even amidst, the beautiful strings and ethereal vocals, but that chaos never manifests…until the next track. “Rapture Boy” features one of the more complicated riffs punctuated nicely by Husvik’s drum work. The way the band starts and stops during the song and then shifts into jazzy moments where Liam Wilson’s bass lines can be heard more clearly is one of the newer elements Azusa brought to their sound for this album and with the quality of the mixing and production, the complexity of the soundscape is captured very well.
For me, the unpredictability of the Azusa albums is one of the aspects of their sound that draws me in. Many of the elements included were ones that I would not think could work within a single song and are ones that I am not a big fan of in general but when combined in this manner they work. Things like the distorted bass lines in “Skull Chamber” and the guitar parts that sound very jazzy and prog-like all backed by Husvick’s fast double bass and spoken lyrics are elements I wouldn’t have thought could go into the same song, while a more straight-ahead metal riff I and bass line n “Kill-Destroy” is something that would make perfect sense and yet here they are on the same album.
After just one album, Azusa have refined their overall sound to a level most bands don’t approach after many years and albums. Loop of Yesterdays takes everything from Heavy Yoke and expands on it while bringing in some more of a prog and jazzy feel at times as if their overall sound needed anything more. The performances on the album are just as good as on the debut and the production/mixing/mastering is at the same level as well. This is one of those bands where the members brought a range of different styles and great talent to the table and instead of choosing one path, the band has chosen to incorporate everything the various members can contribute. The exceptional musicianship, strong songwriting and complex arrangements with vocals that shift from the furious to the beautiful and back within a song, make Loop of Yesterdays an experience that brings out more with every listen.
Written by John Jackson
1. Memories of an Old Emotion
2. One Too Many Times
3. Detach (feat. Alex Skolnick)
4. Seven Demons Mary
5. Support Becomes Resistance
7. Loop of Yesterdays
8. Rapture Boy
9. Skull Chamber
10. Kill / Destroy
11. Golden Words
12. Ritual Aching\
Eleni Zafiriadou – Voice
Liam Wilson – Bass
Christer Espevoll – Guitars
David Husvik – Drums
Release Date: April 10th. 2020
“Heavy Yoke” (2018) review
Record Label: Solid State Records / Indie Recordings
Video for “Monument‘
Video for ‘Kill-Destroy‘