Burnt Belief- Etymology

By Aaditya Chandrasekar

Published on Sunday, October 26, 2014

Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin first teamed up with Alchemy Record founder and guitar virtuoso Jon Durant on the atmospheric Dance of the Shadow Planets in 2011. Shortly thereafter, Burnt Belief was formed with a self-titled record released the next year. A juxtaposition of Durant’s lush guitars and synths with Edwin’s dark grooving bass work, the album opened a up a world of haunting ambiance marked with an endless pallet of sonic textures. On Etymology, the duo continues to develop their spin on ambient prog rock, and they do pretty well.

What struck me most about this record is the group’s increased focus on rhythm, with contributions from percussionists Vinny Sabatino, Dean McCormick and Jose Duque. “Chromatique” starts off the album with a piece that could have fit perfectly into Porcupine Tree’s Anesthetize. After a few measures of eerie ambiance and drum machine, Sabatino kicks in with a speedy linear groove coupled with a classic Edwin bassline that serves as a foundation for Durant’s wailing harmonized guitar melodies. “Dissemble” continues this exotic vibe and throws in some nifty tabla and Ponty-esque violin work from classical violinist Steve Bingham, who returns for several other tracks on the record. With “Precis”, we are treated to what I would call “classic Burnt Belief”. With the bass providing a solid rhythmic backbone, Durant and Edwin empty oodles of synths and guitars before finishing off with a bass solo laced with harmonics. The first thing that comes to mind when “Hraunfossar” starts playing is Sigur Ros. It bleeds Sigur Ros. It’s even named after a waterfall in western Iceland. Above the gentle guitar clouds and synth beats are reverb-drenched flute, guitar and synth solos, which develop into a catchy theme propelled forward by a steady groove from the rhythm section. “Convergence” is a riff fest for bass and “Rivulet” continues the album with a somber feel that is followed by “White Keys”, featuring some smooth funk-style bass playing at the end. “Not Indifferent” is the behemoth of this record. Though it takes its time to build up, the guys are seriously progging out when it does, and it is definitely worth the wait. With “Hover”, we get a nice break with a relatively minimalist upright bass and guitar duet before the more cheerful “Chimera” comes in with an addictive rhythm and an ethereal ending. “Squall” is my top pick from this record, with Bingham’s phenomenal violin playing being the highlight, and a vibe that reminds me a bit of Igorrr in its swirling guitar/mellotron-induced madness.

The production of the record is high quality, as should be expected by musicians of such high caliber. The synths are lushly laid out with Durant’s guitar clouds to create a foundation that allows the lead melodic instruments to cut through the mix with clarity. The rhythm section has a similar balance with the crisply produced percussion and drum machine juxtaposed with Edwin’s thick bass tone to boost the music to new levels. Another aspect of the record that stands out to me is the effective use of well-crafted harmonies, from the dual guitars and layered synths in “Chromatique” to the sublime bass-guitar interplay in “Hover”. One of my issues with the record, however, is its fairly structured nature. It seems as if each song begins with a guitar-based soundscape followed by a bass and/or percussive groove paired with solos that circle on general themes. This lends itself to an experience where if one is not listening with much focus, it is difficult to differentiate some of the pieces from others – a challenge especially present in instrumental music.

Etymology strikes me as the logical step from Burnt Belief’s self-titled effort. Not only has the duo has incorporated a more diverse range of percussive instruments, but it has also expanded melodically and harmonically. However, I still cannot shake the feeling that this record, as well as the last, is more of an opportunity to experiment rather than a cohesive opus. While there are some moments that evoke emotions in me, they are diluted. On the other hand, there are fascinating ideas being thrown around that kept me listening. It is for listeners seeking such an experience that I recommend this album. However, having heard what Burnt Belief has rolling around in their heads, I look forward to a release where these concepts are used to create tunes that have a stronger sense of identity.


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