360 (INRE 043)
360 is the 4th album by Asura. Ultimae Records released Life², Asura’s third album in 2007. Although the first two albums were very well done, Life² was a beautiful, homogeneous release, filled with gorgeous, ambient/trance influenced down and mid-tempo numbers. Some listener’s complained however, that a few songs had beats too upfront relative to the wonderful music. Fortunately, such issues have been addressed in 360. But where does it rank as a chill/downtempo release? Read on for more.
1. El-Hai (featuring Ayten) on 360 opens the story with a marvelous, ethnic influenced downbeat number. It involves beautiful, foreign, female vocals backed by a rich and atmospheric backdrop. Gentle instrumental sounds enter, in addition to vibrant melody/sound work, a tribe-esque drum composition/score, and what appears to be numerous, organic elements. The song is beautiful, dreamy, and infectious. This is a fairly simple song, but its lush atmosphere, elegant, ethnic influence, and sound produce a strong and delicious recipe. Excellent track.
2. Regenesis on 360 begins atmospherically. The first half of the song appears more ethnic, ambient-influenced via downbeat. The idea behind the song’s direction here, reminds me of some of the incredible direction/work on 2009’sSolar Fields – Movements album. But through the vision and sound of Asura. The result is equally stunning. Without dragging, the atmospheric world here opens up at around 3:27 to one of the most gorgeous melody/sound compositions. I initially had no idea where this was going, until it elevated my senses in the second half like a mid-tempo rush, burst of flavors. The melody work in the second half is superb, and makes every second leading up to it worth it. Outstanding track on this 360!
3. Altered State (Album Edit) on 360 is a remixed, remastered, more homogeneous and enjoyable version than the previous one from 2008’s Opus Iridium compilation. I felt that the beat was too loud/noticeable in that version, and took away from the song’s potential. In that sense (among others), the remix is a big improvement over the original. Furthermore, the song seems to have more of a variety of structure than previous tracks so far. Beginning with warm, ambient notes, soon integrated into atmosphere, the song establishes a solid foundation early on before the beat arrives. A unique and catchy/mechanical sound effect that enhances the first act, and at 2:52, things really get moving. A catchy instrument around 3:50 works well with the driving rhythm, as the atmospheric backdrop gradually washes away the beat to accommodate an interlude. The transition here is smooth, and makes the song feel more substantial and whole. While the melody/sound work stood to me more on the previous track, this is a remix nonetheless. The artist has given new life to a vision that had so much potential to grow; such growth is realized here. This is an excellent, superior remix/version of 2008’s solid/downtempo Altered State song by Asura.
4. Atlantis Child starts off with a gentle, ambient-trance influenced introduction. The beat kicks in to the smooth surroundings at 1:55. What appears to be piano drives enhances the warm rhythm. The first few minutes are great, with tasteful foundation development. My issue is the passionate, male vocal hymns that enter at 3:11. I love the melody/note, the idea behind the voice; I think the delivery would have been more effective (and less distracting to the music), had an actual instrument, such as a violin, or something creatively tweaked been used instead. Asura’s work is just so immersive on 360. I feel less involved whenever the voice/effects appear. Around that (and they’re by no means bad), the song’s terrific. The middle section involves the beat switching up; petals appear to be incorporated. There’s a distorted effect, most prominent from 4:34 to 5:00 that sounds great; it builds interest and flows well with the returning harmonies after a solid transition. The track ends with several more hymns that I’m just not a big fan of. Overall, this is great, if not excellent song. I simply wish the hymns were replaced with a complimentary instrument, as I feel less “free” to the music with them in. Great track.
5. Erase on 360 seems to be the most different sounding track on the album, though it’s in Asura’s soul. This is due to a variety of psy-influenced work early on, a changed up beat, sound effects, and some dynamic, faster-paced mixing than previous tracks. Naturally, this all takes place with attractive sounds. There’s not much of a lead melody in the first couple minutes, but the psy approach is catchy. This would grow repetitive sooner or later naturally, and after a catchy, crunchy moment, a sensitive and engaging instrument enters. The beautiful sound/notes provide depth and feeling. But around this strong section, the song arrests my attention the least relative to the others. Also, the very end, when things are sounding strong (at roughly 5:09) involves a brief, male voice (like a shout) of emotion that removes me, to some degree from the song’s finesse. I understand some artists incorporate voice bits for personal reasons, to give the song more emotion, impact. But I find Asura’s work so much more effective without them, at least on this album. That said, some listeners may not mind it. At least the vocal bit here is less lengthy (though more noticeable in contrast) than those on the previous track. To be fair, tastes differ. That said, I think a different song here (closer to the magnificent work around it) would have complimented the album more. Nonetheless, this is a solid track.
6. Halley Road has seemed to garnish a buzz on the internet due to its melody/sound work. It’s like a sun dissolving the rainy clouds, or a transcending experience involving body, mind, spirit, and Source. If you’ve heard the samples, you have an idea of how great this song is. The track on 360 is surprisingly simple. The first half of the song evolves into an elevating score, buildup; the second is like where that ball of energy/buildup is released. So much is accomplished with so little here. Even though the song is set to one, continuous path, its heavenly sound and delivery is beautiful. Wonderful work!
7. Longing for Silence is (for me at least) even better than Halley Road. As with the previous gem, this compels in being simple, but has more layers, emotionally. The song tells a story, or chapter that is sad, and poignant. The song becomes very evocative at this point, with the entrance of what appears to be a gentle instrument coupled with subtle, female hymns. Remember the end of the film, “Man On Fire” with Denzel Washington, when he (John Creasy) gives his life in exchange for the little girl’s? As the antagonists are driving him away, powerful music (like in Gladiator) scores the scene as the camera focuses in on John’s eye. A song like this would work wonders in a scene like that. It’s beautiful, sad, haunting, and contemplative. Another superb track.
8. Getsemani is a provocative, mature ambient piece. It begins with thunder, dark clouds, followed by strong ambient notes that tell an incredible chapter to this story. There is so much emotion throughout the track. Upon hearing it, I have currently experienced internal imagery (and feelings associated with) a post-apocalyptic world. As the song plays out, I see a balloon floating. A little girl’s shadow appears frozen in dust from a nuclear explosion, and a child some miles away endlessly on a corner, clutching his stuffed teddy bear. From death comes rebirth anyway, from “perceived” destruction is change, and without change, we remain stagnant, stoic, the same. That’s what I get from the song anyway. From loss and sacrifice comes a deeper understanding of who we are (beyond our adopted ego). Maybe this philosophy, or at least the post-apocalyptic scene I imagined was not the artist’s vision here. The latter likely wasn’t. Regardless, there is so much feeling throughout the song. I’m sure many listeners will interpret the track different ways. I find it raw in emotion, kind of like Golgotha on the previous album, but more ambient-based. This track seems to have impressed my girlfriend more than any song on 360. She was speechless (in what later I learned was a good way; she was affected), and we shared our personal feelings associated with the song afterwards. Getsemani is powerful and superb from start to finish.
9. Le Dernier Voyage begins with chilling, icy atmosphere. Since Halley Road, this album has gone from excellent to outstanding, a solid A from me. Anyway, the first two minutes involve a healthy blend of ambient-influenced rhythm. Intriguing tunes enter at 2:01. Not just any old tunes, but carefully selected, beautiful sounds like liquid flames in a world of ice. Another arrives and supports the blissful voyage, soon joined by numerous soundscapes. The backdrop simmers for a bit before the arrival of an even stronger band at 3:12. The first half of the song could almost be described as two solid, curiously integrated developments, before choosing a complimentary (initially invisible) direction better than both, or in other words, evolving. The sounds fade for a breezy transition that opens up to a beautiful, beat-driven part. From 3:50 forward, the track sustains strong formation, and remains gripping until the final seconds. Even with what appears to be some experimental work over the sixth minute (doesn’t take away but) enhances the spirit with floating ambient notes. The final third of the song has an infectious, celestial/ambient layer that ever so slightly reminds me of the gorgeous ambient notes on Hallucinogen’s L.S.D. track. In short, it’s superb, and adds delicious icing to the current life. This is yet another example of the evolved sound I love from Asura. The song’s arresting, without any vocal bit(s) to remove me from the immersive experience. Excellent track.
10. Virgin Delight begins with a wave of dreamy ambient that takes over the senses in the first two minutes. I visualize flying freely above the clouds. The gentle beat arrives at 2:05, along with a sustained tune that initially stood out to me a little too much, but its grown me. It’s here that I notice the influence from Solar Field’s wonderful “Introduction” track on the Mirror’s Edge soundtrack. I love the first 4:47 minutes of this song. I’d give it an A- to an Aalone, but I’m looking at the whole. Many lush soundscapes and warm melodies swim throughout this creature, reflecting peace, freedom, love, and light. It appears that Magnus’s gentle sound has been re-imagined to some degree, and the result is intoxicating. The female vocals from 3:41 to 4:47 flows beautifully with the other sounds. The beat leaves at 4:02, and beginning at roughly 4:48, a psy sound effect-driven interlude takes place. Unfortunately, the interlude seems too broken up, even a little random at times; it’s ultimately less substantial, fulfilling, and confident than the previous section, and unfortunately off-sets the rest of the track for me. Maybe it’s here possibly to reduce the sense of repetition. I feel that an opportunity to elevate the first 4-5 minutes to a whole new musical level of greatness (before seamlessly merging with the final act) has been missed. So in short, the middle segment is far less riveting and satisfying than the work around it. Otherwise, the song has many nice elements, a heavenly sound, is different in many ways than Intro on Mirror’s Edge, and I’ve fallen in love with the first half. The overall track is simply not the masterpiece I had hoped to perceive it as.
In conclusion, 360 is the best Chill/Downtempo album I’ve heard so far all year. Simply put, this is Asura’s most passionate, beautiful, and best album yet. Some of the work is relatively softer than Asura’s previous work, and this “less intense” with the beats (for instance) approach I find more effective, satisfying. The beats aren’t too soft; they’re simply less evasive as they were on a few tracks in Life². There appears at times some influence to Solar Fields – Movements album, but this feels like a true Asura release, albeit one that has evolved, improved dramatically (in some ways) from 2007’s Life². My gripes are that I wish an instrumental sound was used in Atlantis Child as opposed to the male hymns (appearing at times). The “hymns” don’t destroy the track; some people may enjoy them. I simply don’t. Add that to a couple sounds, whispers (towards the very end of Erase). And the last track, though influenced to some degree from Magnus’s self-titled “Introduction” song on the Mirror’s Edge Soundtrack, could have done more to separate itself (and possibly triumph its beauty in the middle) from it. Aside from these few quirks however, the album is stunning. I could throw a dart and any track it lands on will be great; that’s when you know an album is really special. The album is so beautiful actually, that it’s hard for me to not recommend this album to virtually anyone into music, especially listeners of downtempo, chill, ambient, etc. This is one of those albums that I think almost anyone who hears it will either like or love. For the record, I have yet to hear a better Chill album in 2010. Asura’s 360 was well worth the wait. It’s fantastic.
Jon Cocco – psynews.org