Whalephant - Kamma

12 songs
64:43 minutes
***** ****


The blue whale is the biggest animal living in the sea, and the African elephant is the largest animal living on land. Combine these two, and you get Whalephant. Does that mean that Whalephant is the biggest band in the world? Probably not, although the ensemble, founded in 2009 by Nickolay Inshakoff, consists currently of nine musicians. Together they play a very idiosyncratic kind of symphonic progressive rock that really seems to have found a niche of its own.

First things first: there is not much information about the band to be found on the Internet. They do have a comprehensive homepage, although written in Russian with Cyrillic letters, but thanks to Google Translate, I was still able to get some information. The band released six singles in the years 2014 and 2015, and this year they have finally published their Ė probably Ė debut longplayer Kamma, with twelve songs clocking in at a little over one hour.

The first two songs already make up for nearly one quarter of the album, and you get the impression that you are in the presence of an instrumental band. The opener and title track Kamma is a seven and a minute long epic, starting with a sense of elegy, before halfway through the song, the electric guitar and the rhythm section give it a more rocking feeling, with the clarinet freely soloing over it all. Windrose is at eight and a half minutes the longest composition on the album, and just like the opener, starts in a trippy psychedelic way with a didgeridoo part before it turns into a mellow, spacey prog rock track reminding a little of early Seventies Pink Floyd.

Itís only with the third track Stars On The Cloth that vocalist Ekaterina Bakanova joins in. Her high and clear voice is a true pleasure to listen to, coming across like a mix between a young Anneke van Giersbergen and a less new agey Enya. This kind of melodic music can run the risk of sounding trite and banal, but in the hands of composer and arranger Inshakoff, we donít have to be afraid of that. The rich and lush instrumentation often owes more to classical music than to rock, but in the end, Whalephant manage to bridge the gap between entertainment and serious music more than you could have hoped for. Despite the great vocals, the band continues with a another instrumental. On The Wing starts with a strings part before a trippy synthesizer joins in, and the violins playing some kind of Rondo Veneziano part over a jazzily complex rhythm section. Love Of Dragons is another heart-warming progressive pop track that takes its charm from the beguiling vocals and the unusual instrumentation. The electric piano is a pleasure to listen to, and the clarinet, normally not an instrument to be heard in the context of rock music, also has found its steady place in the bandís sound. Daskuul is an instrumental track that starts out like something from the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange, with the weird synthesizer sounds pioneered by Wendy Carlos. Then it turns into a nicely grooving progressive rock tune that shows the influence of King Crimson. And so the album continues, alternating vocal and instrumental songs. And yet I want to point out the incredible Childhood, a seven-minute long piece that once again begins slowly and melancholically with violin and piano, before giving vocalist Ekaterina the opportunity to shine at her brightest, together with a childrenís choir.

Kamma has been released as a digital-only album, but that doesnít mean that itís just another record without any physical form. In fact, the music has been produced in a most professional manner. The compositions are full of depth and splendour, allowing you to discover new details with every time you listen to the album. This band deserves to be listened to by a lot of people, and it can only be wished to soon they will get the attention they deserve internationally. This is really one of those albums where you donít expect much at first and are then left awed, not knowing what to say. Grab it while itís hot!

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