bunsenburner blaze brighter than ever as the sextet serve up Rituals – a multi-faceted album of instrumental soundscapes that confidently walk the tightrope between expressive improvisation and impervious oneness.
German outfit bunsenburner have not always existed in their current form, but something about the formula of the present line-up is obviously working in the creative department: latest album Rituals has arrived less than a year after previous record poise, which in itself was an entertaining listen (and the first to attribute the project name to a full-band effort). Originally brought into being at the hands of bassist and producer Ben Krahl in 2012, bunsenburner currently consists of people in decidedly close orbit to Krahl – long-term friends, as well as individuals who have performed together in various bands and at varying points over the years.
Their music pulls together the predominantly (but not exclusively) metal and jazz proclivities of its members, beamed through kaleidoscopic lenses of improvisation and experimentalism. The result is a fascinating display that comprises fragments of ambient doomgaze, the freedom of modern jazz, and towering walls of sound associated with more rock-centric realms such as psychedelia and stoner. Hasty allocation of genre tags now out in the open, it should be said that bunsenburner pride themselves on a refusal to withhold or restrict their creativity in order to fit boxed-in tropes; while attributes and comparisons may abound throughout the twelve songs on Rituals, their conscious decision to avoid self-pigeonholing for the sake of broader appeal ultimately affords both band and listener a great deal of freedom throughout the listening experience.
Rituals well and truly has the mantra of ‘something for everyone’ locked in its sights: the vast array of musical expertise and background possessed by each member of the six-strong collective paves the way for music that’s engaging and interesting to listen to. Six diverse, experienced entities all converge to strike a chord of pointed focus; the focus in question is to write enjoyable music so awash with inherent variety that anyone with an open mind can find features to savour. Let’s dig into some, shall we?
“Dustbowl” kicks the ceremonies off with a sonically charged starter that serves as a mouth-watering appetiser for the wider picture of Rituals. The ingredients? A fuzzy, heavily distorted riff wrapped around thick, lumbering low end, and some tasty atmosphere to surround crisp and intricate drumming. “Pack Hunt” follows this scent for groove and density, sniffing out my personal soft spot for instrumental juggernauts before the follow-up ambush of “Pathfinder”. Here, the main driving riff – a recurring foundational strand on Rituals – starts with more of the fiery urgency we’ve heard so far. Yet, towards its end a nocturnal ambiance takes over. Is it an opportunity to rest and take a breath from the mammoth slabs of noise thus far? A change of direction, perhaps?
Not exactly. Instead, as we move further into the album, more abundant but varied cascades of noise await. Quite literally, in fact, as the next track’s title reveals: “Cascades” pulls us into an ensuing maelstrom that entices with increasingly frenetic drum work and volatile demeanours. As the storm churns, emotional and tonal shifts can be heard. These are among the most appealing elements of Rituals – and bunsenburner in general – as they embody the experimental, off-the-cuff aspect of the band’s approach to making music. One moment, it’s thick globs of distorted fuzz from the numerous guitar parts involved, then an equally disarming quietude settles in and synth tangents fray the musical direction, like butterflies escaping frantically from a shattered jar.
Rituals took a similar route to poise in that it was recorded live, but with a hefty emphasis on incorporating improvisation, which you can see in action in the video above. According to information on Bandcamp, it involved, ‘certain segments and motifs being planned beforehand, but with the main forte coming from open-ended teamwork’. This marked unanimity among the band permits them to take a musical nucleus and construct absorbing compositions around it. There’s a natural risk that comes with this, but listening onwards through softer offerings such as “Threnody” or the pulsing of “CCC”, you cannot help but admire the togetherness of bunsenburner. It enables them to experiment and create freely – unhindered by commercial expectations, unwilling to produce a dozen soundalike tracks, unafraid of veering from the predicted path.
The more experimental, atmospheric components of their sound should not be underestimated or overlooked, either. “Got A Light?” embarks on an untethered stroll of auditory distraction, while the following deluge of “Rain Chant” takes our journey down a different path once again with clean strums. Listening to Rituals can be disorienting at times, loosening your grip on what sort of album you’re actually ingesting (which remains the whole point). It’s undoubtedly for the best in formulating a worthwhile and memorable journey, though, as the more raucous second half of “Rain Chant” will thunderously attest to.
“Journey in Satchidananda” – a rework of the 1971 piece by Alice Coltrane – revisits the lingering, restless ambiance of earlier songs on the album. This time, instruments both analogous and digital all get an opportunity to shine, flooding the peaks and valleys with flourishing electronica and riffs over the course of its eight minutes. The sense of pacing is welded together superbly by the drum work, and pondering basslines do well to root the more melodious elements when others stray (not that the bass doesn’t do its own fair share of this elsewhere). Rituals draws to a conclusive end with “/imagine” – an invitation or instruction? On my part, the mind wandered to a sparse and remote place where I was left to contemplate what I’d just heard amidst ringing percussion and ominous shrouds of sound.
Rituals shows without hesitation that the boundaries created to fence in the countless avenues of music are there to be ventured beyond. The separative borders between metal, jazz, electronica, rock, and even more region-specific sounds are fictitious, and bunsenburner are a true force intent on proving this with their organic, unpredictable, and arresting music. Sweeping soundscapes and crushing riffs? They’re here. Pensive, hypnotic percussion and layering? You got it. Intricate and interesting? Absolutely. Rituals is a charming, charismatic record that showcases everything good about breaking down musical barriers – what more could you want?