Album: Charge
Review by Julian Gorman
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Mystical melodies float freely from the improvisational wonder that is Bogdo Ula.  Stirring up crazy jams of guitar, bass and drums, the Finnish trio works in the psychedelic rock space left behind by the likes of Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa, minus a singer.  Beautiful minor key knots are untied in unexpected ways as the band progresses from abstraction to a seemingly well-organized song that should have taken months of practice. Charge is an album on the brink of transcending, pushing the boundaries of rock to its limits and beyond exploring the outer space in the genre.

Many of Bogdo Ula’s songs are abstract works of art, meant to be experienced with patient ears.  The progressions are well worth the while, swelling to the point of powerful crescendos indicating their vast technical abilities.  The epic nature of Bogdo Ula is immediately apparent from the start.  The title track opens casually, introducing us to the jam theme.  Little extemporaneous outbursts of sound are held back like the lid on a pressure cooker.  By “Ultraviolet” the anticipation is already overwhelming as the band builds off each other’s energy.  Lead guitarist Samuli Kristian is so intense that at times his tapping technique is on par with Eddie Van Halen, but with more blues and less ego.  This is the stuff guitar legends are made on.

This is especially noteworthy on “Stratosphere” where the guitar climbs as high as it suggests and at blazing speeds.  Yet, the intense forays into guitar madness are always balanced by a return to the jam, making bassist Jean Ruin and Drummer Ivan Horder the rock that brings Kristian back down to earth again.  It is a well attuned band to be sure, that knows what the others are thinking and can anticipate the oncoming music, almost as though they all have a psychic connection to one another.

As all the songs on the album are jams, sometimes the lead guitar does get a bit repetitive, despite the level of proficiency.  Similar themes running through a few of the songs make them difficult to discern as separate entities.  The album does, however, listen very well as a collective work rather then a collection of singles; more like a rock opera.  Almost like movements or modes in classical music, the melodies fit well together on the album, making it great for a long listen.  Even with this slight redundancy, the common theme builds and the zenith is never disappointing.  The amount of care being given to these songs is eminent and it’s hard to ask for more.  However, the difficulty of the lead guitar parts may cause much of their artistic beauty to be overlooked, if not overwhelmed.

“Nautical Twilight” meanders a bit too much.  Through intrepid and curious, the song at times sounds dissonant and random.  Despite a high quality of performance from all the band members, it doesn’t sound as together as some of the other songs.  However, as it is immediately preceded by “Ra-Union,” the songs make more sense together, with the build at the end really getting complex and intense.  The break-down about 4 minutes into “Ra-Union” is truly mind-blowing, with all the artists thundering away on their instruments.  Drums pound up the fervor of the band as the lead guitar rockets off of it, somewhere up into outer space, with agile slap-bass accentuating the intensity and bringing it all in for a landing.  This style is truly soul searching, exploring and curious in nature, yet still abides to proper musical form and modern modus operandi of rock and jazz blues.  Much experimental music borders on cacophony.  However the relationship between these artists is so tight that most of the time one cannot even tell the music is improvised.

Bogdo Ula is playing some overwhelmingly technical music and creating it out of thin air.  One might say it would be more difficult to actually transcribe this music on paper, as the unique quality of the freeform would be lost.  It is the unique sense of mystery that makes Charge so intriguing, when the listener has no idea what is coming next and neither does the band.  There is so much artistic ingenuity that this band has more potential then meets the eye, or ear for that matter.  Despite some lulls in the album, the progressive builds in Charge make it well worth the time.  This is definitely a band to watch as their creative insight into improvisational intergalactic rock grows.

Review by Julian Gorman


Album: Charge
Review by Anthony Fantano
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

With an emphasis on composition and planning, most of today’s musicians seem to leave the idea of exploration behind. But the wish to experiment is what has brought music to the zenith it’s standing at today. Both musicians and listeners benefit from this desire to discover new sounds and ideas, but not everyone will make the bold attempt to find what’s truly novel. Only the brave will charge headfirst into uncharted territory, finding no use for fear or second-guesses. This is Bogdo Ula.

This trio’s music is something some may dub “unclassifiable.” Of course, Bogdo Ula isn’t coming out of left field. Every track on their new album, Charge, is rooted deeply into a rich history of jazz and rock fusions. It’s the free-wheeling modal exploration of John Coltrane’s latter years combined with the bold guitar work found on the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s quintessential debut, The Inner Mounting Flame.  All of this exploration is more emotional than stylistic, but it’s exploration all the same. Sure, Bogdo Ula isn’t the first group to leave their music up to chance, but each musician probes sound differently.  This makes Charge unique by default. Whether or not that journey is a preferable is for the listener to decide.

It’s not that rocky of a ride, though. Bogdo Ula’s final destination might not be known at the beginning of these eleven tracks, but this album’s full hour of material displays tight musicianship and dynamic interplay between the drums, guitar, and bass. It’s as if the band is slowly trudging through a sandstorm. What lies ahead is unclear, but they make sure to never lose track of one another. This band travels as a unit, listening closely to every step they make as a whole.

As far as the recording goes, the production here basically gets the job done. The drums and bass are dry, and though this album couldn’t be made without them, the guitar is really what gets the star treatment. All six strings are given a bright tone, a generous volume, and loads of shimmering reverb that echoes every sound, even the most dissonant chords, proudly.  The musicianship is where the real meat and potatoes are. Ivan Horder plays like a true jazz drummer, and lets his cymbals do most of the talking on this LP. His fills are intricate, and his toms are always well-placed. If the guitar solos are telling the story, Horder is adding the punctuation. Jean Ruin’s bass is the band’s strongest foundation. Even as the drums and guitar play dangerously close to unintelligible, Ruin is maintaining sanity behind the scenes. Without him, Charge would make a lot less sense.

Last, but not least, Samuli Kristian must be mentioned. It’s clear his guitar has some sort of god complex going on, but this is one instance where the bark matches the bite. Even when there are no wrong answers, Kristian has a knack for making the right decision. He displays great technical ability in his solo work, but occasionally pulls back for a mind-bending jazz chord one might hear on a Bill Frisell record.

It can’t really be said what is and isn’t out of place on Charge. When musicians have given themselves complete and utter freedom to contribute whatever they feel at any given moment, all concepts of right and wrong are thrown out the window. In theory, the only possible fault would be letting hesitation set in, and there’s certainly not much of that here.  This album doesn’t question or wonder. It sits at the pilot’s seat and wildly pushes every button, flips every switch, and pulls every lever. These tracks are a maddening tailspin, and it’s amazing no one’s been hurt. The craft has landed safely, but we’re missing a few pieces of luggage.

Review by Anthony Fantano