Azusa – “Heavy Yoke”


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.

For those not paying attention to extreme music at all, Azusa is a new 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.  Certainly and unlikely combination of talent.  Back in 2014, Christer met David at a Benea Reach show 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. After some failed attempts incorporating metal/thrash male vocalists, they shifted to looking at female vocalists remembering Eleni from her time with the hardcore band Jumbo Jet.  During the whole recording process the whole band only managed to be in the same room 5-6 times due to everyone’s commitments and life in various countries, but through the magic of the internet, it all came together.  For those wondering, yes, the band is looking to tour…

“Interstellar Hands” opens up the album and provides a great introduction to what is to come on the album within the first 40 seconds.  After a quick drum roll, the rest of the band comes in with a blinding, furious fast and short guitar riff only to settle into a quiet, interlude filled with clean guitars and Eleni Zafiriadou’s soft, smooth, airy vocals.  That calm is short-lived as the opening riff comes back in force backed by Eleni Zafiriadou’s loud, near ragged, screaming vocals.  The song itself takes many more twists and turns alternating between beautiful and calm and furious and fast.  The band member’s pedigrees come through in this song as one can hear elements of TDEP and Extol as well as the incredible musicianship and flawless production.

“Heart of Stone” starts out a bit more traditional and straightforward in structure. Liam Wilson and David Husvik provide a nice groove rhythm and Christer Espevoll’s  guitar serves as a good foil for Eleni’s old-school hardcore style vocals.  As the song progresses Eleni’s provides some beautiful clean vocals over the top in different sections and Christer Espevoll even has a guitar solo.  What impresses me throughout this album is that band takes advantage of opporunities to introduce complexity into the melodies and rhythms as evidenced by Husvik’s subtle drum work in the quieter parts of this song.

“Heavy Yoke” continues the trend where a first time listener will struggle to anticipate how the song will progress.  I’ve listened to other bands aim for this but fail in providing the same experience as the different sections lack smooth transitions or seem to change for the sake of change and not with purpose.  Here again I’m impressed with the range of styles Eleni Zafiriadou can pull off with her vocals.  On “Heavy Yoke” we hear her screaming vocals alternate with the smooth and then stretch even more toward the ragged edge in screaming the chorus.  All the while the clean vocals she has in the song are silky smooth and a great contrast.

“Fine Lines” continues to bring the unexpected.  A slow, somewhat plodding early rtythm settles into a bit of a groove as Eleni’s clean vocals now remind me a bit of Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio and the somewhat short song breaks down into parts with a piano and in general seems like if this album were a live set, would be a time for the band to recover from the opening fury while still playing interesting music.

“CALM BEFORE THE STORM” screamed out acapella-style opens “Lost in the Ether” and immediately lets the listener know the rest break is over.  Much of this song is stripped down, allowing Eleni’s screaming to be the dominant force and also allowing the complicated drum patterns from David Husvik to be more clearly heard than on other songs.

At this point in writing the review, it’s become painfully obvious that this could go on with descriptions for every song as they are all so different is structure and style and yet still manage to be unmistakably Azusa songs.   “Spellbinder” and “Eternal Echo” veer more toward thrash, technical death metal while “Programmed to Distress” has more of a goth/doomy feel and features only clean vocals.  Christer Espevoll shows his guitar chops in “Iniquitous Spiritual Praxis” with a great solo set amid a thrashy background  that eventually blends into Eleni’s clean vocals as the song heads toward calmer waters.

Azusa have pulled together a most impressive debut album, while somehow managing to stay beneath the radar with members from bands that legitimately put Azusa into the supergroup category.  Some projects just never seem to mesh, while in this case it’s as if the band members were purposefully chosen for their ability to mesh into a machine capable of producing intricate arrangements where songs can twist and turn from the beautiful and peaceful to the powerful and furious .  The range of vocal styles from Eleni Zafiriadou combined with the exceptional musicianship of the band allow Azusa to create songs that are an incredibly complex blend of raw fury and emotion and take the listener on an amazing journey.

Rating: 9.5/10

Written by John Jackson

Track listing:
1. Interstellar Islands
2. Heart Of Stone
3. Heavy Yoke
4. Fine Lines
5. Lost In The Ether
6. Spellbinder
7. Programmed To Distress
8. Eternal Echo
9. Iniquitous Spiritual Praxis
10. Succumb To Sorrow
11. Distant call

Band Members
Eleni Zafiriadou – Voice
Liam Wilson – Bass
Christer Espevoll – Guitars
David Husvik – Drums

Release Date: November 16th. 2018

Record Label: Solid State Records / IndieRecordings

Weblinks: Facebook / Instagram / Website / Twitter

Buy the album here:
First Paradox
Norway: Nordic Mission

Video for ‘Heavy Yoke’

Video for ‘Interstellar Islands’


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