For 15 years now, the Rune Grammofon label have been releasing some of the most adventurous music around. The new, self-titled debut from Grand General upholds this legacy in every way. Grand General is a powerful set, stuffed with monster riffs, psychotic prog, and wild jazz-filled flights of fury. There are so many elements to this band that I hardly know where to begin.
The opening 12:20 tour de force "Antics" is a hell of a start. Guitarist Even Helte Hermansen's metallic guitar is the first sound we hear, and when it gives way to the searing violin of Ola Kvernberg, we lift off into the stratosphere. The tempo picks up, the rest of the band fall in, and suddenly we are in fusion territory. But this is not the "fusion" of the late '70s that made that term the kiss of death, this is the real deal - as practiced by cats such as Miles and Mahavishnu. "Antics" is powered by the relentless drums of Kenneth Kapstad, and is a dark miasma of feedback roar. It is the musical equivalent of sticking one's head into the lion's mouth.
"The Fall of Troy" comes next, and proves that "Antics" was no fluke. At first, it feels as if Hermansen's guitar has taken a trip to the darkside, but the tone quickly turns imperial. The grand pomp of the track is majestic, and shows the vast range of musical forms Grand General are comfortable in.
These tricky bastards have something new to offer at every turn. "Clandestine" is perfectly titled, as it is sort of a sneak attack on the unsuspecting listener. Deceptively low-key after the one-two punch of the previous cuts, "Clandestine" shows another side to the band. It feels almost like an introductory piece, yet as it builds upon itself, we realize that they are constructing a mammoth wall of sound before our very ears.
If "Clandestine" seemed to come out of left-field, "Tachyon" is from another galaxy. This tune builds and builds upon the basic theme only to slip completely off the radar into the world of pop. There are no words, but the lines of Hermansen's guitar are so lyrical as to tell their own story. If it was not clear before, it certainly is by the time of "Tachyon." The music of Grand General knows no boundaries.
The keyboards of Erlend Slettevoll are a constant presence on the album, but are a huge factor in "Ritual." The mysterious atmosphere is fascinating, made all the more so by the zigzagging guitar and drums. "Ritual" is an otherworldly tune, and not easily nailed down. The song is as "out there" as anything one could imagine, yet the solid bass of Trond Frones holds it all together.
Finally we come to "Red Eye." Sometimes a title says it all, no matter how it is interpreted. I always thought Wired by Jeff Beck was self-explanatory, and the same goes for "Red Eye." On this song, Kvernberg's violin sounds more "metal" than just about anything I have ever heard. The way he bends the strings and even uses feedback are incredible. The whole band are on fire here, and "Red Eye" provides an excellent book-end for the album.
The names Ola, Even, Erlend, Trond, and Kenneth do not exactly roll off the tongue, but maybe they should. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, the world is a lot smaller, and it would be great if the industry recognized some of the fantastic music coming out of Norway. Congratulations to Rune Grammofon for 15 years in business, and congrats to Grand General for making one of the most impressive debuts of 2013.