Odin Irgel Rock’s second album “Back to the Cave,” released last month, brings a surprisingly new voice to prog rock. According to Rodrigo Nickel, “Back to the Cave”, refers to the dinosaurs of prog that inspired him in his musical journey. Odin Irgel Rock was originally only saxophonist and keyboardist Nickel’s solo project, which explains the sax-dominated sound of the album and why the name of the band is an anagram for Rodrigo Nickel. He recorded his first album all by himself, similar to “Up the Downstair” by Porcupine Tree, the album we last reviewed. In contrast, the instrumental album “Back to the Cave” was recorded at a live show with the collaboration of the fusion band, ZDP. It’s really hard to believe that the live show was Rodrigo Nickel’s first gig ever, as the recording sounds as effortless as a studio recording.
Diego Porres: bass
Gustavo Zagonel: guitar
Rodrigo Nickel: sax, keys
Wilson Demarchi: drums
1. Pitfall (3:48)
The start of this album will make you scream “I’m not ready for this!” (That’s what she said.) “Pitfall” starts with an upbeat sax melody without any setup or intro whatsoever; it immediately dives in, as though Rodrigo Nickel, the band leader, shouted to the rest of the musicians in the heat of their first gig: “We only have 27 minutes left! No time! NO TIME!” (She also said this.) After a quick 3/4 break, the main melody returns, but 2 semitones lower. It then moves back to normal in an ascending chromatic fashion. Looking at this chromatic movement, Odin Irgel Rock must also have had inspiration from 60s bebop records. For the first minute of this album, I was puzzled as to why the lineup included a guitarist, the sax-heavy first part of “Pitfall” was just enough for me not to click out of this underrated piece of jazzy prog. When the guitar joins in the melody, you realize: it’s going to be a hell of a ride! It’s crazy how much the song shifts focus. For 5 seconds, you can only anticipate the guitars in the rest of the song, next you get on your knees and pray that a drummer like Wilson Demarchi exists. After the 5-second sax and guitar melody comes a drum solo supported by only 2 notes from what you think to be the main elements of the Odin Irgel Rock sound: sax and guitar. The satisfying fast drum chops, unfortunately, do not last long, and the real “pitfall” starts with the re-entrance of sax and guitar. The song includes solos from all the main instruments forming the album’s unique sound. The sax solo starts with an unbelievably loooooooong note; bless your breath, Rodrigo! On the contrary, it lasts only a few seconds, just like the drum solo. The guitar solo is the longer one out of the three. It starts out with a few blues patterns that we all know and loves. At the 2:51 mark, you will make a stank face. Mark my words, you will, because the arpeggiated run at that point of the song can only be described by an “Ah!” or maybe an “Oof!” and definitely by the expression achieved by clenching every single muscle of your face just as you smelled something fishy. The solo only gets better from that point on, but it doesn’t last long until the repeated main melody of the song and the sax-guitar-drum back-and-forth ends the song and leaves you with the need to hear more. At last, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
2. Blue Rose (5:59)
The second track of the album, Blue Rose reaches for the audience and grabs their attention for a six-minute-long journey. Even though it is the longest song on the album, it never loses its rhythm because of its perfect pacing. It never suffocates the listener with too much energy and always keeps them on their toes thanks to its distinctive parts. With each of these parts being unique, this song contains as much material as an album. This six-minute long song can be considered as a show-off from Odin Irgel Rock because every member had a chance to show their talent.
Blue Rose introduces a blues-influenced, uplifting lick to the audience and increases the energy to the maximum. With perfectly placed breakdowns, this song escapes from repetition and accomplishes to fill the audience with energy. For some, this two minute part can be a complete song, but for Rodrigo Nickel, this is just an intro. For Odin Irgel Rock this is not enough so they push the limits furthermore. Gustavo Zagonel continues the song with a funky guitar part so that the listener understands that “Blue Rose” is in a constant transformation. Then, Rodrigo shows his talent once more, but with another instrument. This time with a keyboard, Rodrigo surprises the listener with a mysterious and effective synth sound as impressive and juicy as the tone of his saxophone. While Rodrigo is performing his solo with keyboards, Diego creates this impressive bassline that coincides with the funkiness of the guitar. This bassline is as complex as a solo so that the audience experiences two solos at once. Throughout the song, the bassist never takes the easy way and always comes up with something unexpected. The complicated bass parts make this song way better with its amazing tone and fill. Talking about the fills, Demarchi’s drum fills are one of the key elements of this song. His complex rhythms carry this song for 6 minutes and help listeners to distinguish parts of this song by changing his drumming.
After the synth solo, a bluesy guitar solo enters the scene. Harmonizing with the bass, this solo can satisfy even a hard-rock fan even though it is being played clean. Gustavo made the right choice by using clean for the guitar. With this clean tone, everything he does has its personality. Even when he is shredding, he manages to do justice for every single note. As a contrast to the clean guitar, a growling saxophone with synth effects to make it more grizzly follows the guitar solo. With its fast passages and effective long notes, this solo is the definition of a prog-rock saxophone solo. Rodrigo Nickel is a guy that cares about the tone in his songs and this pays off. The synth tone and the saxophone tone blend to create an indistinguishable harmony. Then, in the end, the song slows down, Demarchi’s drumming creates a heaviness in the song, the bassist forms a catchy melody and the main man, Rodrigo shows that, damn, he can play the sax.
3. Agora ou Nunca (4:23)
The third track of the album, Agore ou Nunca (which translates to “Now or Never” in English), is a song dominated by the saxophone. This is, in some way, a signature of the Odin Irgel Rock sound. The song opens with a single chord from Gustavo Zagonel’s guitar that is to let the listener know that a new song is starting. Like the name suggests, the song has a rushing feel and the change from the single guitar chord to Rodrigo Nickel’s saxophone is so sudden that it compels the listener to pay attention to this new saxophone riff. This, in itself, is something risky in rock music and the place that was always dominated by the guitar has a change of role, which is really for the better because it helps the song carry a jazzy element throughout.
Before the actual drums kick in, the saxophone riff is reinforced by Wilson Demarchi’s cymbals, and by only using them, Demarchi signals that something louder, and more like rock, is about to come. And with a smooth transition as the saxophone repeats the notes that it played at the beginning, the song really starts and the listener can feel the urge of slowly nodding to the groove. Beneath an evident and memorable musical line, the saxophone is free to add some flavor to it and act like vocals as it is being reinforced by the rest of the band. At some parts, it feels like improvisation because of the laid-backness of the saxophone, this also makes it seem sort of like a sax solo. Though it is a nice section, it feels “too” dominated by the saxophone and maybe would have benefited from showcasing the other instruments a little bit more, like adding small fills for them. Although it then transitions to a great guitar solo, maybe there could be a duet, a musical dance between the guitar and the saxophone to make the music more dramatic.
For the guitar solo, it sounds like Zagonel used an overdrive pedal to achieve the sound, which is a good balance between the distortion of rock and the classic clean guitar, that fits the song’s overall mood. Consisting of both slow and fast parts, Zagonel’s guitar solo, underlined by a subtle yet effective bass line by Diego Porres, lasts more than a whole minute and carries the feeling of rush that I’ve mentioned earlier, also thanks to Demarchi’s cymbal work and fast drum fills. This solo sounds like the most improvised part of the track and still, it feels as if it specially belongs to this song and this song alone. And this is the beauty of Zagonel’s playing on the album. Near the end of the solo, someone from the audience can be heard wowing and if I weren’t listening to the song alone with headphones (not to disturb my dear neighbors), I would definitely do the same. It’s these small details that make live albums much more enjoyable, it captures the audience’s initial reaction which makes the whole experience a lot more sincere.
In the last minute of the song, saxophone once again takes the stage and Nickel plays some improvised parts that blend in with the saxophone parts before the guitar solo. For the listener, this makes it feel like a recap of the song in order to make it more memorable. It is in this last section that we truly sense the power and grittiness of Nickel’s saxophone.
4. Luz no Fim do Tùnel (4:29)
Translated as “The light at the end of the tunnel”, the fourth track “Luz no Fim do Túnel” starts with a bass groove that smells like something between Chris Squire and Geddy Lee’s bass tone. Then we get to hear the battle of riffs between Rodrigo Nickel’s catchy saxophone playing and Gustavo’s balanced yet exciting guitar. Combining different elements of music genres all over the world, the song starts with a 70’s prog groove, turns into an uncategorizable sax-guitar duet to reggae beat(where the guitarist strums at the off-beat). Those different elements form the core sound of Odin Irgel Rock – creating an unheard soundscape while still making the music interesting and inspired.
Another nice reference to another old prog rock monsters made by the guitar and sax riff after the reggae part where they played a similar riff to the main riff of “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. King Crimson was another band that highly benefited from sax while pursuing the different prog sound that they were after. It is certainly hard to create somewhat unique and not-similar sounding while studying and listening to another band that plays the same style and has similar instrumentations. It is another thing that Odin Irgel Rock was able to achieve.
Their riff is followed up by a juicy-laid back blues solo-making us wonder if there is any style of music that Gustavo is unable to play. The harmonic duet between the sax and the guitar continues as they mess around with different time signatures and as they put a heavier sound.
Throughout the album lots of brave references made to the people that once came out of the “Cave” and inspired musicians all over the world with a progressive sound-and thanks to them the music has evolved on so many different levels and nowadays some bands like Odin Irgel Rock are able to create authentic art while being encouraged and inspired by such bands.
5. Argento (3:56)
The fifth track of the album, “Argento”(in English, it means “silver” – which may refer to the ancient ages of prog-rock just like the album name), starts similarly to the other tracks of Odin Irgel Rock. Messing around with dissonant chords, the song surrenders itself to the melodic phrases of highly technical guitarist Gustavo Zagonel and little sauces of the drumming from Wilson Demarchi. While constantly changing the scales and styles that Gustavo plays, we get to hear a musical feast from the band. As the song proceeds, he plays some riffs from the song “YYZ”(one of the best instrumental songs ever from the awarded album Moving Pictures) of Rush, that once written by Alex Lifeson, one of the “dinosaurs” of the prog that is still alive, thus making a classy reference to one of the most iconic and unusual guitarists ever. Since Gustavo played some Alex Lifeson riffs and his playing style reminds of Lifeson, it is not hard to see what we’re his influences.
While the guitar continues to show his talent off with professional improv, a disturbing sound (similar to a signal voice that comes from old TVs or an old cellphone ringtone) takes the whole emphasis. Then, the song reminds us of the eclectic intro of the song, finishing with classical improv instrumental release. Throughout the song, we get to sail through the melodic phrasings of Spanish guitar to the eclectic style of prog and everything in between – thanks to the virtuosic guitar playing of Gustavo Zagonel.
6. Fire Walk with Me (4:20)
The opening of the final track from the album, called “Fire Walk with Me”, reminds the listener of King Crimson’s “Pictures of a City”, from their chef-d’oeuvre: In the Wake of Poseidon. This doesn’t come as a surprise since Rodrigo Nickel himself said that the inspiration for the material in this album came from the “dinosaurs of prog”. For a live show, it is always a good idea for a small band to end on a more hard rock song (but not just any hard rock song) to leave a good impression on the audience, so that they would leave the show energetic and ready to buy more music from this band.
In the section that follows, there is an obvious contrast between slow and fast, soft, and loud which adds a more unique perspective to the song and actually grabs the listener’s attention. To be more explicit, I’m talking about the slow notes that are suspended in the air just long enough to pull us back into the loud, rock part with drums and bass. It is a risk because not many songs use a technique like this, outside of more experimental genres like jazz and progressive rock of course. Speaking of jazz, it made me think about Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and its middle section (with the contrast between the 9/8 piano and 4/4 saxophone part).
Especially in this song, Rodrigo Nickel’s saxophone sounds more electronic, almost a synth-like sound. This fits well with the tone of the song and helps the saxophone stand out more from the rest of the band. By altering the sound of his saxophone according to the song’s requirements, Nickel proves to be a versatile and adaptable player. The next section (which is more like a transition) of the song uses silence as a tool to make the song more interesting and memorable. This time, saxophone repeats the same pattern of notes, therefore giving more space for the other band members to build upon. This transition leads to a section with what sounds like an odd-time signature (I would say 7/8). Again, by using odd-time signatures, Odin Irgel Rock signals their roots deep within the genres of progressive rock and jazz fusion.
Under a clear instrumental accompaniment (thanks to Wilson Demarchi on drums, and Diego Porres on bass), the band members are free to improvise and add some small bits here and there to make the music richer. Near the end, the song returns to where it started to emphasize on the main riff that the song pretty much revolves around. It sounds like the hard rock side of King Crimson in their early days (with songs like “21st Century Schizoid Man”) and Odin Irgel Rock does a very fine job blending their influences together. But this does not mean that they just copy what came before them. Instead, they put their own emotions into the music to create something truly personal and worth listening to.