A Hermitage


Bella Union, 2016


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


You ever hear something completely original and pretty damn cool? That's what Jambinai's third album is.

The South Korean band comes up with a simple concept: take traditional Korean instruments like a haegum (like a fiddle), piri (bamboo flute) and a geomungo (zither), then add crushingly loud modern heavy metal guitars, with maybe a wordless vocal or two. K-pop this definitely is not. Badass is definitely what it is.

There's always the risk of gimmickry in things like this, but A Hermitage avoids that entirely. Think of Paul Simon's Graceland and how that expertly blended African rhythms to English pop, and you'll get a sense of how the trio comprising Jambinai pulls these disparate sounds together. To me, this is the epitome of the spirit of progressive rock in 2016; not 20-minute songs about dragons in 13/5 time, but something that pushes boundaries, that you haven't heard before, that is melodic and catchy and original.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"For Everything That You Lost" is an easy highlight. It expertly tells a story with no words, moving from a haunting picked midsection to a dramatic piano break with an electric guitar arpeggio punctuating the background while cymbal swooshes and ghostly voices set the scene. Both sections build up to the point of tension and then release into the next before fading out with some acoustic guitar.

"Abyss" creates a swarming drone, underscored by acoustic guitars and the geomungo, adding martial drums partway through to increase the tension. Rapper MC Ignito adds a lengthy rap in Korean over top of the music. Unless you speak the language, his words will be lost on you, but it's still arresting all the same and would be a catharsis, I imagine, for someone who understood the obviously tough verbiage. 

"Deus Benedicat Tibi" is four minutes of noise assault, dissonant at first and then brutal, segueing into the lovely acoustics of "The Mountain," which starts off gradually but adds on layers as it plows along before coalescing in a cacophony of noise in the last minute, all the while keeping the tension building. "Naburak" doesn't have as much to say as the others, and "They Keep Silence" closes with a distillation of all that has come before, but in a very slightly more accessible way. It's a song with obvious East Asian overtones and instruments, infused with Western drums and electric guitars, treated with seriousness and an inescapable magnetism.

Ilwoo Lee, who plays guitar and the piri, said his band avoids classical and jazz the way other Korean musicians have done when attempting to blend styles, and as such Jambinai is "darker" than other Korean traditional bands. Hell, Jambinai is darker than most American bands, even the laughably silly ones that try really hard to be dark and scary; it's surprising what a zither can do for drama. 

I guess the closest comparison to a Western band is King Crimson, a prog rock outfit that used swaths of cacophonic noise, stretches of lovely melody, no real sense of humor, and an arresting, doom-laden approach that earned them a cult following. Equal parts aggressive, dramatic and thoughtful, A Hermitage is one of the most interesting and original rock album of the year.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2016 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bella Union, and is used for informational purposes only.