Shalash Band - Shalash

10 songs
51:34 minutes
***** *****


Vintage instrumental progressive rock music performed solely by a keyboard player and a drummer? I though I had come across everything there is, but Shalash Band from Moscow really manage to give the genre a new spin. My first fear was of course that a band of only two guys playing each their instrument might border on the side of minimalism, but thatís not a worry with Dmitry Karavaev (keyboards) and Maxim Smirnov (drums, percussion). Although the band has only been around since 2016, they released this year already an EP and a longplayer. The latter is simply titled Shalash and offers ten glimpses into the strange sonic universe of these two classically trained musicians.

I have to admit that at first I felt a little lost. Itís obvious that Shalash Band is mostly influenced by the keyboard antics of the late Keith Emerson, but the sounds used by Dmitry Karavaev are so unusual and sometimes downright weird that I didnít know if they did this on purpose or just because they couldnít afford the same material than which was used during the Seventies. But I got hooked, and I had the album in heavy rotation, and the more I listened to the songs, the more hypnotic the melodies became. The strange sound palette is what elevates Shalash eventually from more conservative progressive rock albums.

I wonít go into each and every song now, but still try to give you an impression. The opener 54321 stars with a static infused vocal intro, followed by something which sounds like a bass guitar, but probably is just a bass mode on the keyboards. The drums join in, followed by a nervous keyboard line underlaid with organ chords. While the drums are functional and help maintain the sonic foundation, itís Karavaevís hyperactive use of often three different keyboard parts at the same time that makes you think you are listening to a fully-fledged band, although one without a guitarist. 12/8 is at eight minutes the longest track on the album and starts like a bad acid trip, which is soon substituted by a warm electric organ chord reminding of the early Procol Harum, and then we get an incredibly sad melodic performed on a weird whining synth sound that gives the whole song a certain comic flair. From a compositional point of view, this song has the level of truly serious music, and therefore this juxtaposition with humorous elements transform the music into something unique that even a Frank Zappa could only have dreamt of. V.S. starts like a soundtrack for a Nintendo game, and afterwards showcases high speed arpeggio runs from out of this world. S.Z.ís beginning comes with deep earnestness and reminds of Wendy Carlosí A Clockwork Orange soundtrack, with the song then segueing into something like The Niceís rendition of America.

I could go on like that, but I suggest you better make the sonic discovery yourself. Seldom do I come across an album that really amazes me, and even rarer is this the case with instrumental albums. Shalash Band are something truly special, like the spirit of Keith Emerson filtered through the campy vintage lounge lens of Finnish synth rockers Aavikko, but thatís just an approximation. Shalash Band are one of the few bands that can be serious and fun at the same time. Once you get used to their special sound palette, you will be drawn into their incredible songs, and there is no way out of it. This is one of the few times that I had to hand out a maximum rating!

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