Founded in Portugal in 1996, Saturnia is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Luis Simoes. The latest Saturnia release and the fifth to date is AlphaOmegaAlpha, released on Stefan Koglek’s Elektrohasch Records label. Though Saturnia has always been Simoes’ project he wasn’t always the only musician on the albums. And after several spins of this epic set of music its startling to my non-musician, non-technical mind to realize that except for a couple spoken word contributions Simoes recorded the entirety of AlphaOmegaAlpha himself, utilizing an arsenal of guitars, sitar, tempura, bass and bass pedals, philicorda, Farfisa, Hammond, theremin, flute, vibraphone, dulcimer, and various other keyboards and synths.
Recorded between 2007-2011, the album is a sprawling 2-CD set of 15 tracks that for me is the ultimate marriage of Space Rock, Psychedelia and Prog Rock. To understand this coming together of Space Rock, Psych and Prog I’ll quote Simoes’ response to a 2004 Aural Innovations interview question about his influences:
Yes, from the old days, Pulsar, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, the whole German scene (early Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel etc.) also the big prog names like Genesis or Yes, although to a smaller extent. I always liked these artists because of their utter free creativity, for doing cool music for its own sake. From the more contemporary influences, which are mainly electronic related, I would say Portishead, Alpha and all the English electronic scene from 1990 onwards, what got me into this was the fact that the evasion and freedom that I always loved about the old hippie bands totally disappeared from the “normal” music scene and it somehow landed on the trance/dance/electronic/trip hop etc. sub genre. Maybe due to the fact that both of these movements were strongly related to drugs. To mix these two bubbles was, for me, quite inevitable. I think it is also important not to forget that there are also other styles very influential in the Saturnia sound, I mean, Indian classical music, easy-listening music and also contemporary composers like Luigi Nono.
As tempted as I am to follow my usual style of commenting on each track there is waaaay too much happening across these 15 songs to do that. So much of the album is pure mind-music, gently carrying the listener through space on a cloud and doing so while creating intricately constructed music. I’ll touch on some of my favorites to give you a feel for what AlphaOmegaAlpha is about and the variety you can expect.
The set opens with I Am Utopia, with its driving rock beat and lulling vocals, winding, backward psychedelic guitars, acid guitar, barrage of alien electronics, and heavenly orchestral-Mellotron backdrop. Rings Of Smoke features jamming jazz piano against a heavy rock beat, full choir symphonic backing keys, roaring and somewhat threatening machine like effects, freaked out electronics, and brief spoken word narrative (words by Goethe) by Stefan Koglek. The keyboards and percussion on Clepsydra bring to mind Pink Floyd circa Wish You Were Here, but there’s a far more deep space head-music element to the music, and I love the guitar on this song which is equal parts molten lava and wasp sting. Alpha Omega is over 13 minutes of mid-70s Pink Floyd shot into cosmic floating space. The prominent Mellotron on Mikado Players & Lotus Eaters conjures up a blend of In The Court Of The Crimson King meets Space Ritual meets Wish You Were Here. I love the space-Bluesy guitar licks with UFO electronics dancing around it. Simoes’ Indian influences are apparent on Moving Mandala, with trippy jamming sitar and Indian percussion, but also a cool grooving rock beat and spaced out electronics, and the vocals remind me of a song from a 60s film that I can’t quite place. Mellifluous is a mind-melting mixture of intensity and cosmic drift, with its eerie keyboard melodies, Mellotron, liquid trip guitar, and spaced out electronics that sound like an alien swarm of bees attacking, but also with a drugged, lullaby 60s feel to the vocals. Tetrahedron is full blown 70s heavy rocking in DEEP space, with its conga-like dance grooves, heavy Hammond organ and some of the most ripping guitar on the album. And Cosmonication is a great closing track, which struck me as a mixture of early Genesis, Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, but with the Saturnia focus on putting a spaced out cosmic spin on everything.
In summary, this sucker is gonna be way high on my best of 2012 list. There’s not a weak track in the set. I just FEEL good after listening to the entire album under headphones. Simoes skillfully brings together multiple influences, creating two hours of blur bliss for Space-Psych-Prog Heads. Highest recommendation!
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz